Mr. Speaker, just like me, you sense the determination that characterizes the Bloc Quebecois and its members when the time comes to discuss an issue that is at the core of Quebec's economic vitality, since it concerns our natural resources.
I clearly remember that when the current Quebec premier was the Minister for International Trade he said in his policy statement that Quebec was a trading nation. When that statement was made, 40% of Quebec's production was exported. This percentage has since increased, because that was some years ago.
We cannot debate the motion before us without paying tribute to the hon. member for Joliette, who proposed it and made us aware of the importance of not renewing the Canada-U.S. trade agreement on lumber.
I thank the member for Joliette for showing tenacity, for displaying extreme perseverance, and particularly for being a good teacher. This issue could be debated strictly in boring economical terms, but it is one of the great strengths of the member for Joliette to always succeed in showing both the economic and human dimensions of the issues for which he is responsible.
I thank him and I hope that all the political parties in the House will support his motion, which is not a partisan initiative.
Regardless of which side members may sit in the House, they can support this motion. Why? This motion says three things: there is a natural resource; there is an economic resource to be exported; and there are producers who have complied with the rules of the game. This is what we must discuss.
Even though they followed the rules, producers were prejudiced by the imposition of a countervailing duty that should not have been imposed. Let us start by establishing the importance of the lumber sector in Quebec's economy.
Once again, before getting to the heart of the matter, I hope that we can count on all the political parties represented in the House to support the motion.
I must say as well and without any partisan overtones that we have a few grievances against the Minister for International Trade. Despite his support for the motion—he is redeeming himself but barely—we must include in the equation when we discuss these issues the fact that the Government of Canada has shown itself to be a miserable defender of Quebec's interests in the matter of lumber.
Had it not been for the vigilance of the member for Joliette and his colleagues, we might think that the government would be tempted to renew an agreement that was once again prejudicial to Quebec lumber producers.
Members can rest assured that things will not happen that way because the Bloc Quebecois is here and we want to pass on the baton to all those wanting to work with us in defending the interests of Quebec.
Since I have the full attention of the Chair, I want to tell the Speaker that Quebec is the second largest provincial producer of lumber in Canada, with 25.5% of production. It is therefore easy to understand the importance of the Bloc Quebecois motion in keeping with the mandate to provide a strong defence of the interests of Quebec, a mandate we received in a resounding majority in the latest election.
Quebec is the second largest producer of softwood lumber, with approximately seven billion cubic metres a year. I think that the importance of this sector for Quebec is well understood.
It is not just a matter of production. There is also the matter of keeping jobs. That is why the member for Joliette was so eloquent and appealed to us as parliamentarians to vote in favour of this motion. If this agreement is not renewed and Quebec's softwood lumber producers are allowed to return to a full free trade position, over 30,000 jobs in the softwood lumber industry will be on the line. That figure was for 1999, so it is extremely current.
Still bearing in mind the member for Joliette's wish to present the latest statistics, I remind the House that 20,430 people were employed in the sawmill industry and 10,000 in forestry.
As far as Canada is concerned, the relationship between the economic forces of Quebec and those of the other provinces is very clear. That is why I was pleased earlier to see members from Alberta, British Columbia and the maritimes rising to speak and express their support for the Bloc Quebecois proposal. This bodes well for all the virtual and potential possibilities of a partnership between a sovereign Quebec and eventually the rest of Canada.
I would not want the member for Joliette to think that I was going to forget a piece of information as key to our understanding of this debate but the lumber industry contributes more than $4 billion annually to Quebec's economy.
Over 250 municipalities are developing, growing and taking shape around the wood processing industry. This industry provides 100% of the manufacturing jobs in 135 towns and villages.
I could go on and on with examples of the importance of this sector, but I think that all members of the House have understood that this is an important battle.
From the early 1980s to 1996, and I do not think this is too strong a term, a trade war, economic guerrilla warfare, was being waged between Canada and the United States around softwood lumber. I understand that Canada, which includes Quebec since we are not yet able to have our own policies on this, has been accused of unfair competition and preferential policies in this industry.
The Americans are, we must admit, barking up the wrong tree. It is my understanding they were under the impression that we could not even provide fair competition. Quebec producers, I would remind hon. members, were forced to assume a countervailing duty of 6.51% although they had proven that they were not being subsidized.
I trust that all hon. members will understand that this 6.51% duty had to be added to the existing production costs. We can imagine what this means for price setting by the producers concerned. When we look at the issue in a little more detail we see that the actual rate of subsidy to Quebec exporters was a teeny tiny, insignificant 0.01%, a Lilliputian amount that is a far cry from 6.51%.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois has been so vigilant in this matter. We cannot accept that in 2001, 2002 and 2003—I think that the agreement expires in March—these countervailing duties will be maintained.
The government of Quebec, which is very activist, asked the federal government, which has a minister responsible for international trade, that the countervailing duty for Quebec exporters be reduced to 0.01%, as I just mentioned.
However the inescapable, sad and totally unacceptable fact is that the federal government was unable to protect Quebec's interests and that lumber producers were not charged what they should have been, that is at a rate of 0.01%.
In Quebec 92% of the forest is publicly owned. This shows how true it is that Quebec is a land of natural resources.
However, a demonstration was made by us—and the hon. member for Joliette will correct me if I am wrong—and even by the U.S. department of commerce. This made us realize that the market price for lumber from private woodlots had nothing to do with any unfair practices but was truly closely related to what could be anticipated, given the natural market forces.
I see that my time is running out, but I remind hon. members that we are seeking unanimous support of the House on this issue, which is not a partisan issue.