Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Etobicoke North for bringing the subject and interests of softwood lumber to the House, although I wish today we had been talking about it in an emergency debate. The Speaker's ruling, which declined the request, was most unfortunate. I think this is one of the more serious issues facing especially the rural and regional parts of Canada.
I have a few concerns with the member's motion. There were media reports almost a month ago that the trade minister was going to enter into a quota deal with the Americans and that he was trying to encourage softwood lumber producers in the provinces to get in on this deal. We really do not know if he was doing that because the comments were through the media. The biggest problem Atlantic Canada has with that is it would be buried under any kind of a pan-Canadian solution when it came to the quota system.
British Columbia, for example, would argue that it would be entitled to 50% of that quota. That means the other 50% of the quota would go from Alberta to Newfoundland, and that would simply be unjustified. Instead of fighting with the United States, we would be fighting among provinces. That is something we would fundamentally oppose.
As well, the hon. member knows that close to 80% of all lumber cut in the maritime region is cut on private land. We have always been exempt under the Maritime accord when it comes to duties and tariffs, as compared other provinces, from Quebec to B.C. To lump us into a pan-Canadian solution would be very detrimental to the people of Atlantic Canada.
Diana Blenkhorn of the Maritime Lumber Bureau, which represents the lumber producing industry within the Maritime provinces, has been dead set against the initial quota deal. To achieve some sort of semblance of its industry and to get things moving, it would probably accept something which would entitle it to a lot more board feed into the United States. The danger of that is we would let the United States off the hook in terms of what we would do with the $2 billion that have already been collected.
It is not often I agree with the Conservative Party, but we would agree that the government should exhaust all legal concerns prior to going forward with any kind of a deal.
This motion is a little premature because we need to exhaust every legal recourse that we have at our disposal. We met, and I am sure the member for Etobicoke North has met also, with various lumber producers and home building associations in the United States. They have been encouraging us to hold tight and be steadfast in our determination in order to beat the Americans, I guess, in their countervailing ways. We have also been encouraged to have further dialogue and ensure that all legal concerns are met. They believe and we on this side of the House believe as well that we would win those legal battles and legal challenges.
Instead of the Americans getting almost 48% or 52% of the moneys already collected, they would get nothing. It is not theirs. That money was paid by lumber producers for their intents and purposes, and they deserve to get that money back. A lot of these companies are counting on that money to come back to them.
This is not the first time we have been in a legal battle with the United States. If I am not mistaken, this has been ongoing for many years. Every time the Americans are unable to compete with us on an open market, free trade basis, they stand up on their hind legs and slap on duties or tariffs, and we know why. We know the political pressure in the United States is extremely strong. The pressure that states like Mississippi and Tennessee put on their senators in congress and on people everywhere is very strong.
The American association we met with the other day indicated that close to 100 congressmen and congresswomen were onside with Canada's efforts to stop this. We know that the price of lumber in the United States has gone up, which raises the price for homes, and the consumers in the United States are the losers on this one.
The government entered into free trade and NAFTA talks in the eighties and nineties. There were sets of rules and parameters on this one.
The fact is that the United States just cannot get up every time we beat it at something, because we have better quality, a better workforce, better production, a better product and a better price. Because the Americans do not like it, they will stand up and say, “Whoa. Back up the truck. We're going to put this huge tariff on the Canadian industry because we're getting pressure from our own lumber producers”.
The big question, which I do not think can be answered by anyone, is this one. Will the United States government, even if these legal challenges go through in Canada's favour, do anything about it in an election year? That is a good question. Would the U.S. government have the honour to accept what WTO or NAFTA would say in the final legal resolution of this, give the money back to Canada, reopen those borders on a free trade basis the way they should be--at least that is what we were led to believe--and allow these industries and their forest communities to continue their practices?
At the same time, we also have to ensure that Canada deals very openly with the provinces, and not just with the premiers of the provinces or the heads of those industries, but with labour groups, which are being left out of the conversation.
Why should small town mayors, small town business associations, small town chambers of commerce and labour representatives be left out of this discussion? They are the ones who have the most to lose in all of this: the workers in the mill, the guys cutting down the trees, and the small companies throughout all of British Columbia and for that matter right across the country. The forest industry in my home province of Nova Scotia employs a tremendous amount of people. They are hurting right now. They do not know what the future is going to hold.
Over the years we have asked the government to do a few things. While the legal challenges are on, we are asking that the government assist these companies and assist the provinces in dealing with their workforce, at the same time knowing that if we win--and I am sure we will although I know it is a bit of a risk--all that money will come back to the federal government. At least it would show the workers, their families and the communities that the federal government is on side with them, that we know we are right and the United States is wrong. Doing anything else other than that I think would be a little premature on this one.
So although there are some good elements in the motion the hon. member has presented, at this time we will not be able to fully support it. To repeat, we believe that all legal recourse must be exhausted first and that clear, open and transparent discussions should also be invoked, not with the provinces alone but also with the companies and with the labour representatives.
Also, we know full well that we have many friends on our side in the United States, representing millions of Americans. We are not alone on this one. We think it is a small minority of various companies and states within the U.S. that is putting terrific pressure on the political system in order to keep this going and make it that much more hurtful for our industries in the process.
Again, though, what we really require in the House is not just an hour-long discussion on softwood lumber. I think we need an emergency debate on this, so that Canadians from coast to coast to coast can actually hear the debate. We on this side of the House really do not know, except through the media half the time, what the government's approach to all of this is. What is the government doing as of today on the softwood lumber file?
The finance minister was in the United States the other day, we understand. What discussions took place regarding this file? I know there are many other trade issues that the finance minister possibly talked about, but why are we left in the dark? Why are Canadians not aware of what discussions are taking place right now? We are the representatives of the people. I have six mills in my riding. They constantly ask me what the government is doing. I have to go back and somehow try to get hold of someone within the departments and ask, “What is going on?” I get the same bureaucratic answer.
I would really like to be able to go back to my riding and go back to the mills, their workers and their families and say, “This is exactly what the government is going to be doing”. Right now I cannot do that. That information is lacking, at best.
I want to thank the House very much for this opportunity to speak on behalf of my party on this very important issue. I thank the hon. member for his intent in the motion, but at this time we cannot support it until all legal recourse is done and we can get back to the table to negotiate a proper trade deal with the United States when it comes to issues of softwood lumber.