That, in the opinion of this House, the government should set up an assistance program for the softwood lumber industry and its workers, to support them in the face of the unjust decision by the American government to impose a 27.2% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States, the program to continue in effect until such time as this conflict has been resolved.
Mr. Speaker, please take note that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Jonquière.
As you just mentioned, we are tabling a motion asking the government to set up, as soon as possible, an assistance program for the softwood lumber industry and its workers, to support them in the face of the unjust decision by the American government to impose a 27.2% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States, the program to continue in effect until such time as this conflict has been resolved.
This debate was made necessary by the May 2 decision of the United States International Trade Commission to impose, effective May 23, 2002, anti-dumping and countervailing duties totalling 27.2%.
It is important to remind the House that this decision made on May 2 this year is the result of a long administrative process on the part of the American authorities and of an extremely fierce fight between the Canadian industry and the American industry, which started on April 2, 2001, that is more than a year ago, because the Americans questioned the forest management procedures of the federal and provincial governments, and their support of the softwood lumber industry in Canada and Quebec.
Obviously, it was evident right from the start to all provinces, the industry and the parties here in the House that these allegations were false. Moreover, in previous instances—for this conflict has been going on for 20 years now—Canada has always won out, except when it has got down on its knees and accepted the Americans' orders.
A year later, here we are faced with an outcome that will have disastrous impacts on the industry, the workers and the communities. It is extremely important to keep in mind that, in Quebec alone, there are 250 municipalities whose living is connected with the lumber and forest industries, and which will be affected. If the sawmill were to end up closing, this would be more than just the closure of one company. A whole community would be at risk of disappearing.
In this situation that is so difficult for the communities, it strikes me as totally normal for a responsible government to act promptly to put in place programs to support the industry.
On the government side, the Minister for International Trade tells us that industry was not affected. All the statistics are available. He has only to consult the Statistics Canada bulletins. Production has dropped, deliveries have dropped over the course of 2001, particularly at the end of that year, when the countervailing and anti-dumping duties were imposed temporarily.
These duties will amount to in excess of $2 billion annually for the Canadian industry as a whole, and in excess of $500 million for Quebec alone. These are duties imposed by the Americans.
According to the industry, 10,000 jobs would be affected, and close to 2,000 have already disappeared. All stakeholders in the industry, both labour and management, agree that this is an extremely serious situation.
I will quote, as an example, a press release from the Association des manufacturers de bois de sciage du Québec, which states the following:
Since September, Quebec's softwood lumber manufacturers have had to slow down activities, either through temporary shutdowns or by cutting shifts. The North Shore has not been spared. It is estimated that 6,800 jobs have been affected in the entire province. The figure for the North Shore is about 1,100 jobs affected, or 17% of the Quebec total.
The situation is dramatic, even from the employers' point of view. As for the labour point of view, here is one example, a statement by the president of the CSN's Federation of Paper and Forest Workers:
Thousands of people are at risk of losing their jobs. Temporary solutions must be made available to them, and to the affected communities and regions, if we are to get through this crisis.
Turning now to the FTQ Syndicat des communications, de l'énergie et du papier, we can quote this from the executive vice-president, Clément L'Heureux:
A strategy must be found to help workers. One way is to pay the surtax, another is to increase domestic demand for lumber by building social housing, for example.
So, the stakeholders are obviously unanimous in pointing out the need for an assistance program.
In the May 3, 2002 issue of La Presse , the Minister of International Trade is quoted as saying:
Something must be understood. Jobs are lost because of normal market restructuring. The government cannot necessarily step in every time there is natural restructuring of the market market in some industry. This distinction has to be made.
According to the minister, what is at issue here is not the softwood lumber crisis, not the trade dispute, but restructuring.
That is what appeared in La Presse . Of course, the minister may tell us that he was misquoted. Furthermore, that same evening, I took part along with him in a debate on this topic on TQS. He backed down, saying that this was not what he had meant. He meant that some jobs had been lost because of restructuring, and the others because of the softwood lumber crisis.
Unfortunately for him, I have the transcript of the briefing that he held on that same day. He said it clearly, as shown in this excerpt:
As of yet, there have been no job losses directly related to the situation with the United States. Exports to the United States are currently on the increase. Jobs were lost because of normal market restructuring. The government cannot step in whenever natural restructuring takes place in the market or in an industry.
This is extremely worrisome for sawmill workers, communities that live off that industry, and businesses. At a time when the Americans are telling us that, as of May 23, they will impose countervailing and anti-dumping duties of 27.2%, how can one be so irresponsible as to clear the Americans and downplay the impact of their sanctions? This is extremely disrespectful to the industry and to workers.
For the Bloc Quebecois, the situation is clear: we must strongly condemn U.S. protectionism. It is clear that the measures taken by the Americans are in violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or of the agreements that they signed with the World Trade Organization. We will win our case before the panels of these organizations. We must condemn American unilateralism regarding this issue and others. However, this does not excuse the government's irresponsibility in this issue.
This was to be expected, and this is what should have happened on May 2: the government should have reacted energetically to this American action by announcing a program to help the industry make it through this crisis, to help workers, so that they do not become the victims of the U.S. sanctions.
Instead, as I just read, the minister cleared the Americans. He had time to prepare for this. On May 2, the International Trade Commission merely confirmed the decision made by the U.S. department of commerce on March 22. So, the minister had over one month to prepare a response to this American action and develop a plan.
This is May 7, and he is still telling us that he is consulting, that things are going very well with the provinces, the industry and the unions. What I see is unions taking to the streets, be it in Chicoutimi or Montreal. All the press releases from the Quebec Lumber Manufacturers' Association or the Free Trade Lumber Council, the FTLC, are asking the federal government to set up an assistance program. As for provincial governments, they are all condemning the federal government's inaction one after the other, be it in Quebec or in British Columbia. So, it is time to act.
On reflection, I think the attitude of the Minister for International Trade, like that of the federal government, is entirely in keeping with the whole strategy they have had in place since the start of this crisis. What they have failed to understand is that this is not about traditional negotiations. This is, above all, a political problem. All of the commentators and analysts are saying that the upcoming elections in the United States will considerably hinder Canada's chances of a negotiated solution to this dispute.
So there has to be a plan right now. We cannot wait until more jobs are lost and more bankruptcies occur. There has to be a plan to help the industry. We have proposed a number of measures. There was one for big business, one for small and medium business, one for forestry companies, one for secondary and tertiary processing and a whole series of measures to change some of the employment insurance rules, which everyone has long been calling for, to help the workers in this industry and the communities involved get through this crisis.
I hope the Liberal members, like all the members of this House, will support our motion in the context of this debate.
If the federal government really had the concerns of Canadians and Quebecers at heart, it would respond immediately by setting up this assistance program. We are prepared to support it. But no, this government prefers propaganda and to spend $600,000 on a people's almanac to commemorate the glorious life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who divided the country in two.
I call on this House in its entirety to support this motion. I call on the Minister for International Trade and the government to wake up and announce right now an assistance program to get through this crisis so that, in the end, when all proceedings are done, we will win at the WTO and under NAFTA.