Mr. Speaker, we have had a very interesting debate today. When we started this morning, nobody expected it would move along this way, but it has been certainly interesting.
The Conservative Party will support the bill because we support free trade. However, this has given all of us an opportunity to talk in a wider frame about free trade and the sorts of problems that do or do not occur.
Before continuing on Bill C-21, I would like to mention an exchange that took place a little earlier between myself and a member of the NDP. He talked about unfair competition and that if there was unfair competition, we would surely want to have protection in place for the companies that were subjected to this unfair competition.
That hits pretty close to home. Prior to being a member of Parliament, I was in business for myself. I had a company with 10 employees, and at one stage in the 1980's, we were in the facsimile business, selling fax machines. That was about the time when Office Depot and Staples started expanding into British Columbia. They were opening stores in the Vancouver area where I was selling fax machines. Suddenly people could buy fax machines from Staples and Office Depot for a couple of hundred dollars less than the fax machines I sold.
I guess my colleague from the NDP would probably argue that was unfair competition. This big box store was coming in taking away the livelihood of my employees and all the stuff that went along with it. However, I did not look at it that way.
When we say it is unfair, unfair for whom? It was wonderful for consumers. Now they could buy a product at $200 less than they could from me and more people could afford it. As a result, Office Depot and Staples could employ many more people than I could. They could sell the types of products that they could bring into the marketplace, which the small retailers could not.
Instead of crying, weeping, going to government and demanding and asking for help to protect my business, I sat down and took a look at what Staples and Office Depot could not do that I could as a small business entrepreneur. I discovered that my technicians were trained to service the fax machines, and they could service the machines that were sold by Staples and Office Depot. What is more, the market became bigger because Office Depot and Staples were selling a lot more fax machines than I ever could, so we had more servicing opportunities than we ever had before.
I also looked around at products. We chose a line of specialty telephone equipment that Staples and Office Depot could not sell because it was too complicated and required too much pre-selling for a customer to understand how it would be beneficial.
There are always ways for an innovative business person to move aside from problems that are created by a free marketplace and to find something else that works. It is called niche marketing and it works really well. That is why Northern Telecom is so successful. It is in a niche market. It started at a time when virtually no one serviced that part of the telecommunication equipment market. It has become the world leader in the supply of telecommunication equipment.
When we talk about bills like this one and the whole environment of free trade, we have to remember that free trade has really and truly helped countries like Canada. All of the other countries of the world that have opened their borders now have higher living standards, better wages and just generally a better environment because of free trade.
I left this example until after I had given my own personal example. One of the Bloc members earlier talked about a manufacturer of paper bags in his riding who was distressed because those bags could now be made more cheaply in China. I assume this manufacturer has complained to his member of Parliament about this terrible state of affairs and has asked what the government can do to protect his paper bag manufacturing plant.
I am making some assumptions, but I think they are a reasonable assumption. The correct approach is to be honest with that manufacturer and tell him that the government policy is free trade and that he will have to work out a way to make his business work in this environment, not with government subsidies, not with protection from tariffs. Rather he should look at what he is manufacturing.
If somebody else is knocking him out of the marketplace, he should find something else to make. Perhaps he can make a specialty plastic bag, one of those wine carriers we see being sold a lot now. They are very much in vogue. There is string attached, and it is a nice type of plastic bag or paper bag in which to carry our wine when we go out to visit someone for dinner. There could be gift bags. There could be a whole range of different options for that manufacturer to get back into the marketplace in an niche market that cannot be touched by China because it is too small for that mass market and yet very profitable. There are other examples like this, too.
I am originally from New Zealand. As hon. members would know, in the mid-nineties New Zealand went bankrupt. What happened? It had to remove almost all the subsidies and grants that were given to farmers in New Zealand. My goodness, there was a lot of wailing, weeping and moaning about what would happen, and certainly a number of farmers went bankrupt. However, within 10 years there were three times as many farmers in New Zealand as there were prior to the removal of subsidies because farming had suddenly become profitable. Farmers were able to use their initiative to find niche markets.
At one stage some farmers in New Zealand were providing most of the mozzarella for Pizza Hut in the United States. They discovered they could make a quality mozzarella at the right price to fill that niche market. Farmers had been making orange cheddar previously, which everybody made, and governments filled warehouses full of cheddar that nobody needed. It was wonderful. The New Zealand farmers were forced into the position of getting off that government reliance and on to the idea of niche markets.
I do not know if hon. members have ever been there, but they should take a trip to New Zealand, go to a supermarket and take a look at the dairy department. They will be astounded at the variety and choice in that supermarket. There are so many cottage industries in the dairy industry making specialty cheeses for the yuppie market, I suppose we could call it. In addition, there are flavoured whipping creams in New Zealand. We can get kahlua whipping cream and grand marnier whipping cream. We cannot even get that in Canada because it is still illegal to sell alcohol added to those products. It is not that simple, but the removal of subsidies and grants has spawned an industry and initiative that was never there before.
I will give a home grown example. In British Columbia in the early 1980s the wine industry was heavily subsidized. Anyone who grew grapes would be guaranteed to get a huge government subsidy to stay in business. Everybody knew the wine was absolutely awful. Everybody knew it was dreadful stuff. The government of Bill Bennett at the time removed the subsidies.
Other colleagues from British Columbia will remember the screaming, yelling, wailing and moaning. Everyone was going out of business. It would be just awful. What has happened? It encouraged the industry to take a long, hard look at itself, to get rid of the junk grapes that it was growing, to start growing quality grapes and to get good winemakers from around the world. Winemakers came from France, New Zealand, Italy and Germany to help the industry develop, and now look at it today. British Columbia produces world-class wine.
Governments do not do anybody any favours by providing grants and subsidies to business. It stifles initiative and it stifles a choice in the community for consumers. It keeps prices high. If they wanted, everybody in the House could have a BlackBerry and most people could have a computer at home because of free markets that allow those products to be manufactured at a low enough price for the average person to buy in a store in Canada.
I can remember when a computer could only be purchased from a specialty store and cost $12,000. When my business purchased its first computer in 1979, it cost more than $12,000. Very few people even sold a computer. It had 12 inch floppy discs that we put into it. Only 80K of information was held on one of these great big discs, and it cost $12,000.
I had a Future Shop flyer in front of me earlier today. We can buy a desktop computer now, with a monitor and with 2.8 gigabytes of storage, for $499. What produces that sort of situation is free and open markets.
That is why at the end of the day we will be supporting the bill, because we truly believe in open markets and the reduction of tariffs. In fact, the only thing I am unhappy about with the bill is that it does not remove the tariffs completely. It maintains in place preferential treatment for some countries and less preferential treatment for others. At least it has been a step along the way, because when I immigrated to Canada in 1979 it was very much like New Zealand had been earlier with lots of protective tariffs in place and very high prices for a lot of products. It certainly is a much better environment today.
Before I finish, I need to mention something that was mentioned earlier by some of my colleagues and that is the unholy rush in which the bill is being pushed through the House. The government must have seen this situation coming up at least a year or two ago. There was a sunset clause on these tariffs. Everyone knew they were to expire very soon. Why did the government leave it until so close to the expiry date? The expiry date was to be June 30 this year. No one can tell me that no one in government recognized a year ago that this was going to happen.
Why did the government leave the bill until two or three weeks before an election call to bring it to the House? Now we are rushing the bill through without proper consideration of alternatives in order to make sure that it can stay in place when we go to an election and the House will not be here to make sure that it is done prior to June. This is typical of what has been happening in the House over the last few weeks.
I have been working on Bill C-3 which deals with the definition of political parties. That bill was introduced in the House when we came back after prorogation. The minister persuaded us that he wanted it to go to committee before second reading so that we could study the bill and make wise amendments to it and so on.
The minister indicated that he was truly interested in hearing input, that we were in a new era, that we would be getting rid of the deficit of democracy around this place. What happened when we went to committee on Bill C-3, the very first question I asked the minister was whether he or his department had contacted anybody affected by the bill and his answer, incredibly, was no.
Here we were with a bill already before committee prior to second reading. It had only been introduced and it went straight to committee and the minister had not even told the people affected by the bill that it was in process. Why? He wanted it through quickly because if it is not in place by June, it is a similar sort of situation. We have the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the Elections Act will fall apart if we do not have an amendment in place by June, so the minister is panicking to get this bill in place and through the Senate.
In fact, the bill was supposed to come back today. The minister tried to get unanimous consent in the House to waive the customary three days' notice to bring it back and to put it on the Order Paper today. He could not get that consent, but there is this rush to get the bill back into the House because the government knows it is running out of time. It wants to get it through before the election call. Instead of having proper consideration of the bill, informing the people who will be affected by it, getting some news releases out and making the public aware of the bill, he is trying to get it through as quickly as possible with the fewest people possible noticing as well.
In committee I asked the minister if he had notified anyone. His response was no. I asked if we were getting any witnesses. His response was no. It ended up that the opposition, the Conservative Party, had to filibuster in order to get some witnesses, to even be able to tell the people affected by the bill that it was happening.
We filibustered in the committee and about a week later we managed to get the Chief Electoral Officer in as a witness. Also, at my request, the head of the Communist Party of Canada was able to come from Toronto. However, the government would not allow anyone else from the small parties, such as the Green Party, who would be affected by the bill.
The two witnesses gave their testimony. The Chief Electoral Officer raised some terrible problems with the bill and suggested some very wise amendments. Right after the witnesses appeared, the minister wanted us to go ahead and do the clause by clause study of the bill. We had to threaten filibustering again in order to even consider the evidence given by the witnesses.
Some very wise amendments were suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer. We met again a few days later in committee with the minister having given an indication he was open to discussion about the amendments but in the end he would not approve any of them.
What a futile exercise it turned out to be in the same sort of circumstance as this bill. It is rushing through legislation without proper consideration, without hearing witnesses and without giving proper amendments so a faulty piece of legislation will be back in the House, I am sure, in the next few days. It is going to be rammed through the House so that we can go to an election and it is crammed with problems.
The Chief Electoral Officer said that Bill C-3 is forcing him into a position where he will have to make judgments about the purposes of political parties. In order to register them he would have to determine whether the Liberal Party of Canada, for example, actually has a purpose.
Mr. Speaker, how would you like to be in that position? That single person who is supposed to be non-partisan, completely independent of any of the political parties will be put in a position of having to determine and then sign off on paperwork that he is satisfied that the political party he is registering has a political purpose. That is the type of legislation we are getting because of this unholy rush to get things through before an election.
I realize that the bill before us is not quite as bad. It deals with a situation that has been well discussed in the past. It deals with free trade. It certainly has given us an opportunity, as I mentioned, to talk a fair bit about free trade today and to get some of our concerns on the table. We have heard a variety of opinions expressed today.
There are some who would like to see us move back to more protectionism. The members of the Bloc, whom I like to call the NDP of Quebec, would like to side with the NDP and see more protectionism. They think that would be helpful but it is not. All of the evidence that a person can gather shows that protectionism destroys jobs. Protectionism reduces consumer selection and choice. Protectionism increases prices for the consumer and it does not help people's living conditions or working standards.
The best way to achieve those goals is to have the type of environment that Bill C-21 produces, an environment of lower tariffs, freer trade and more opportunity.