Madam Chair, I begin the debate today by noting that we have been honoured to have the presence of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State of the United States in Canada this week. However, while Secretary Rice's visit is welcome, it has highlighted the fact that Canada and the U.S. are facing one of the most serious trade disputes in the history of our bilateral relationship, and that of course is the dispute over softwood lumber.
This dispute is about a very significant industry. The lumber industry generated some $33 billion toward our trade surplus in 2002 and employs about 360,000 Canadians in over 350 communities in literally every single province and region of this country. But it is more important than that. From Canada's perspective, this is a critical moment in the future of our bilateral relationship because it deals with the willingness of the United States government, particularly Congress, to accept binding multilateral or bilateral trade decisions.
In case after case, before GATT, the WTO, and NAFTA, it has been found in the end that Canada is not illegally subsidizing its forestry industry and that will be found again. Yet, despite our strong legal case and repeated decisions in our favour, the Americans continue to collect duties, now close to $5 billion, in countervailing and anti-dumping duties from Canadian mills.
Most recently, the NAFTA extraordinary challenges panel ruled that there was no basis for these duties, but the United States has so far refused to accept the outcome and has asked Canada to negotiate a further settlement. Let me repeat what I have said before, and let me be as clear as I can. This is not a time for negotiation. It is a time for compliance.
The NAFTA panel process is supposed to be binding. It is supposed to trump domestic American politics. The danger of a failure to uphold this decision goes far beyond the impact it will have in towns dependent on the lumber industry whether they are in British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick or anywhere else.
Quebeckers, especially, overwhelmingly supported free trade in 1984, and it has proved very profitable to Quebec and all regions of this country. The time to negotiate the free trade agreement has passed; it is time to enforce it.
If the U.S. industry is able to pressure the government not to return duties when it has lost its last NAFTA appeal, it will not matter if most other trade is dispute free. If the rules are simply ignored, then the very basis of a rules-based system is threatened and the future of all Canada-U.S. trading relations could be profoundly affected.
I have to address how the government has handled this latest development. Over the past two months we have seen no less than three phases in its response. First, it has been complacent. This follows five years of this dispute and five years without a plan. I will remind the minister who is here tonight and remind the House that after the extraordinary challenge decision was rendered, this trade minister ran out to the media and insisted on our willingness to negotiate. That was the wrong message. Then, on top of that, for week after week the Prime Minister sat on his hands and did not call the President of the United States to express our concerns on this issue.
Second, the Liberals entered a second phase which was the anti-American hard line, not just critical of the United States actions on this decision, not just criticizing the United States in a speech in the United States, but a brutally, gratuitously critical speech of the United States and its entire system of government by our Canadian Ambassador to the United States. Then on top of that, sending the part time revenue minister, who I will refrain from impersonating tonight, over to play the so-called China card, as if we had suddenly discovered that China now exists.
Third, we have now entered the third phase of the Liberal Party's reaction which is the in-between reaction that the deputy leader of my party just referred to, waffling, dithering, looking for signs, and sending mixed messages. Messages such as: we will not negotiate, but we might negotiate; we want to negotiate; we will never negotiate unless we get our money, but we may negotiate even if we do not get our money.
These are the kinds of mixed signals we have had in the last 48 hours and at the very time when we did not need it when the Secretary of State was here. Now that the Secretary of State has left, we are back to the hard line message tonight and the slogan “respect NAFTA”. It all comes down to this slogan “respect NAFTA”.
Americans and Canadians will recall that the Liberal Party was the one who opposed free trade and NAFTA; that the Liberal Party was the one who committed to pulling the plug on them; and that, after Mr. Mulroney signed this historic agreement, the Liberal Party was the one who committed to tearing it up, against the best interests of Canadians and Quebeckers.
The Liberal Party now talks about respecting NAFTA, but it is all about credibility. We are at an impasse with a big customer and it is all about credibility.
What credibility does the Liberal Party have when it opposed NAFTA and wanted to rip it up? What credibility does the Liberal Party have when it shifts strategies on a daily basis and blows goodwill at the United States on issues that do not matter, making ill-considered comments and criticisms and decisions?
What the industry needs now, of course, is a plan; a plan to help after five years. No more time can be lost in developing a plan. Help must be given to our forestry industry and communities to fight this ongoing battle.
For years this party, and I need to say the other parties with who we often disagree, the New Democratic Party, including the Bloc Québécois, all of us have been demanding help for the industry, for communities, and for workers. We have asked the federal government to assist companies with their legal fees, with loan guarantees to cover the costs of illegally collected duty and, of course, particularly in British Columbia, to fight the pine beetle epidemic before it devastates the industry on a national basis.
All of these initiatives are long overdue and the time for action is now. We need to move quickly and decisively to help our softwood industry.
Now is not the time for more anti-American bluster because the Americans see through it. Now is not the time for inaction, for dithering or delay, nor is it a time to play a game of winks and nudges, and looking for signs. Now is the time to be clear and to stand up firmly for this country.
Now is the time, quite frankly, as soon as we can, in my view, to ask the people of Canada to put in office a government that will take a different approach to our relationship with the United States. I have said on many occasions that this country needs to understand not only its own interests but the interests we have in our shared relationship. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans when we can, so that we can sit eyeball to eyeball with them when we must at a time like this.
The government has shown over the past 12 years the capability of doing neither. We can do better and Canada can do better.