Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver Island North for having tabled in the House on this very day this important resolution on softwood lumber which I am very pleased we have been able to support unanimously already this morning.
If we were able to support it very easily and unanimously this morning, it was that the member for Vancouver Island North was generous enough to describe in his resolution the actual policy of the government. As this is the policy of the government we were quite pleased to get up with members of the other four parties and support this resolution.
It is very useful today that the House of Commons allied yesterday all 10 provinces at the federal-provincial conference in Ottawa. All 10 provinces and the 3 territories stood by the government, by the very policy we have been advocating, by the two track strategy that we have designed. Such a show of unanimity has been quite rare on the softwood lumber file. That made Canada stand united and when Canada stands united it stands tall.
I believe that it increases our chances to get the sort of resolution to the dispute that we care for: a long term policy based resolution that would give Canadian softwood lumber unfettered access to the market in the United States. This is what we are after.
We have had some success lately with the Bush administration. We had extraordinary success last week obtaining for Canada's export of steel into the United States an exemption of U.S. action. This is very good news.
Our international trade policy has been very active and we have been engaging with the United States. We have not always been pleased with its actions but we know that we can deal with them. We hope very much that in the course of the next few days, in the course of the next week, the unanimous message will be sent from this House, the unanimous message sent by all 10 provinces and the 3 territories, a message reinforced and supported by 95% of Canadian industry and by the stakeholders that actually think we are on the right track.
I believe that what has been done on this file is very useful. Unfortunately I heard this morning a number of opposition members who, despite this unanimity, despite the very fact that the resolution is being supported by all members of the House, were insinuating that the government had not done a thing on the softwood lumber issue. They were trying to say that we did not see the termination of the agreement come March 31, 2001. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1999 I appointed a senior facilitator to consult with Canadians on the options for our industry. In December 1999 the government began a formal consultation process with Canadians, with provinces and with stakeholders in the industry, two years before the March 31, 2001, termination of the earlier agreement. We knew it was coming.
In 2000 I went to British Columbia. I met with the industry. I met with the stakeholders. I met with the British Columbia government at the time, the NDP government. That government could not come to the table in a meaningful way. I am not talking about some members of the Alliance who unfortunately decided this morning that we had done nothing prior to that date, but the opposition knows full well that we tried to engage with the then government of British Columbia that had responsibility for managing forestry in that province and could not do a thing at that time.
There was uncertainty in that province and it could not engage in addressing the issue by preparing forceful, constructive forestry management improvements for British Columbians. I must commend the extraordinary contribution of the Campbell government, and in particular its minister of forests, Mike de Jong. They were elected on a platform that included forestry management practices.
I would like to talk about the sovereignty issue. Some people have been saying that Washington is dictating our forestry management practices now and that Canadian sovereignty is at stake. This is revisiting history. A few months ago the Campbell government was elected on a platform proposing changes to the forestry management practices of that province for the benefit of British Columbians. It was elected, so the changes proposed were not dictated by Washington. They were part of the platform on which the government was elected.
We are discussing on that basis what the Americans could deliver in terms of unfettered market access and free trade, considering our decision in our country supported by Canadian citizens to improve our forestry management practices.
What saddens me most is that the former leader of the Alliance, the member for Okanagan--Coquihalla who aspires to becoming national leader again, played the divisive politics of regionalism today. I was astounded by the ignorance of that member when he said the Prime Minister of Canada, who is completely committed to our work on softwood lumber, would have moved if there had been jobs in the Saint Maurice riding.
The Saint Maurice riding is the heart of the softwood lumber industry in Quebec. He said if there were 20 jobs in Saint Maurice he would have moved. This is absolutely ridiculous and it shows the ignorance of a man who aspires to becoming national leader again.
The Prime Minister does not need to have the softwood lumber industry in his riding to care about it. I do not have softwood lumber in my riding of Papineau--Saint-Denis which is a very urban riding, but I care about British Columbia's softwood lumber industry. At the very beginning of my term as Minister for International Trade I travelled back and forth to British Columbia, engaging with industry, engaging with the provincial government and working very hard, so much so that I have their total support now for the action we are taking.
I was saddened by that unfortunate approach to regional politics on an issue that requires for us to be united. That is what we have been doing. We have one more week before the March 21 final determination by the Americans and we want success. We will not negotiate a deal at any cost. We want a good deal for Canadians, but we know that it would be a lot better to make a resolution with the Americans that would bring a long term solution based on policies in our country.
In connection with the softwood lumber issue, we also managed to get the industries at both ends of the country working together. Both east and west engaged in a dialogue as never before. Despite sometimes diverging interests, representatives of the industry from Quebec, from British Columbia and from throughout the country understood that by working together we would get better results.
Today, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I wish to say a heartfelt thanks to the industry and the unions from throughout the country, which, on this occasion, worked together. I wish to thank the government of Quebec for supporting the initiative and the approach recommended by our government. The government of Quebec has also chosen to take the approach of improving its forest policies in the coming months and years in order to win us free trade with the United States.
I am very happy that, yesterday, the Minister of Trade, Mrs. Papineau, and the Minister of Natural Resources and Forests, François Gendron, congratulated us and thanked us for our leadership and work on this issue. It is this approach which will enable us to do much better in our dealings with the United States and to hold our heads high. We have received support from throughout the community.
On Monday, Mike de Jong, the forestry minister of British Columbia, visited us with representatives of industry, leaders of communities and unions as well, and aboriginal representatives. It was beautiful to see how these British Columbians, caring for their industry, came here to express their unity and support for the approach that everyone in the country supports.
The number of representatives that we have had has been extremely useful all along. I for one have discovered wonderful friends in British Columbia. Mayor Kinsley of Prince George, whom I met with a number of times over the years, and I have been on the phone and have been able to develop a friendship over the file. Together we care about solving this. There is also the mayor of Squamish, Corinne Lonsdale, whom I visited over a meal in Squamish and who has become a good friend as well because we care passionately. Because a minister comes from Quebec does not mean that he cannot be a true Canadian and care for an issue in the country that mostly affects British Columbia. That is despite what the former leader of the Alliance insinuated today, along with a number of other Alliance speakers. We in the Government of Canada care for all Canadians, whatever the issues.
I believe very much that our two track strategy is quite useful. I believe very much that our negotiations with the United States are in exactly the right direction in the sense that we will not negotiate a deal at any cost because that would be to the detriment of our people and we know that very well. We will, however, spare no effort in the next week to make the very best effort. That is what Canadians are asking us for. That is what industry and provincial leaders asked us for yesterday. I am extremely pleased that the Prime Minister is in Washington today and I know very well that he will be raising it with President Bush. That will be quite helpful. I am extremely impressed by what we have been able to do over this issue so far.
It is certain that we are now awaiting from the U.S. administration an effort equivalent to the one Canadians have put into it.
We have made the effort to get the provinces, which have jurisdiction over forestry resources, to agree to some major changes in the way we manage our forests, in our best interests. We will not, of course, be giving up our crown lands, the public lands we have. This is the way we do things in Canada, and we want to remain Canadian, with our own model, our own approach.
We are, however, prepared to introduce some elements of transparency. We are prepared to establish some elements of a procedure for price setting that will be very close to the realities of the market.
No one wants a free lunch in the United States market, that is clear, but we are ready to make some changes in our provincial practices. What would count very much is if the United States would now engage fully as an administration in being as creative as we on the Canadian side have been at identifying the ways in which it could guarantee us market access in the United States for the long term, with a mechanism that would guarantee us that access for the long term. That is very important.
The administration realizes that it too at one stage will have to push back on some of the coalition members in the United States who are resisting because basically they just do not want any deal at all. They just do not want any successful resolution to this one. I am not talking about the majority of them. I am talking about the more vocal ones who are resisting the resolution.
We have allies in the United States. We have allies among the producers, who want a resolution to this dispute. We have allies among the consumers like never before. The consumers have organized in the United States and they have been able to get support, along with our Canadian embassy. I want to thank all members of parliament of all parties who participated in parliamentary delegations and who went to Washington to explain to Americans the different system we have and to explain that being different does not mean we are subsidizing.
I want to thank all of those who have contributed and are contributing to the success we are having in Washington now. I hope very much that the Bush administration, like it did on steel, realizes the particular circumstances of Canada and realizes that it is in the interests of their home buyers and their economy that they have a dynamic home building sector in the next few months to make sure that the recovery we have seen in the last few months will actually become even more concrete and more solidified.
This rare unanimity we Canadians enjoy is extremely useful. It means that we can move toward free trade as far as softwood lumber is concerned, but free trade that will, of course, respect who we are and where we are at. We are entitled to our difference.
Clearly, we in Canada are different as far as our Crown lands are concerned, our public land. We want to maintain this system and to make it more transparent, in order to be sure that the Americans can understand how prices are set, in order for there to be true free trade.
We have a good case, however, We are not going to sign an agreement regardless of the price. We know that, if it comes to that, if the negotiations are not successful in the coming week, we would have a very good case to submit to the World Trade Organization and would also have a very good case to submit to NAFTA.
Thank you for your patience, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to all members of this House for supporting this motion, which fits in perfectly with the path being taken, the policy of our government, with the unanimous support of the ten provinces of this country, and the partners in the industry.