Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to stand and contribute to the debate tonight. I have listened intently to my colleagues on this. I have had some interesting thoughts go through my mind as I heard the debate and the rationale for how they are trying to explain to Canadians their position on the softwood lumber agreement.
This is an issue that is very near to my heart and to the hearts of my constituents. I do not believe there is a community in my riding that is not impacted by the softwood lumber industry.
Actually, it is even closer to home than that. I have a son who is a professional forester who works in the industry in my riding. I believe I have a fairly good understanding of how this industry impacts the communities, particularly in rural Alberta and in rural communities right across the country.
When we think of the 360,000 jobs across the country, those are primary jobs. We are talking significant numbers, especially when we understand that the spin-off effects in the rural communities for these primary jobs are one in four or one in five, depending on where they are.
To say that it is a big issue in my riding is an understatement. I think I have to explain that before I get into the debate on the softwood lumber agreement and what is actually before Parliament and before the country at this time to work this out because it has major repercussions.
We also have to see it in the light of the other two major industries in my riding, which is the beef industry and BSE, the agriculture industry and it has some effect with regard to the relationship between the United States and ourselves.
As well, I would like to talk about the oil and gas industry which is the third primary industry in my riding. It would be hard to say which one of the three is the biggest in my riding . I would it would be a draw because they impact in such a significant way. They all have repercussions in what we are talking about because we are actually talking about the NAFTA agreement. It is not so much about the softwood lumber agreement. We would like to think it is about the softwood lumber agreement but it has escalated beyond that.
If the United States of America does not respect the ruling of the NAFTA panel in the dispute settlement for softwood, it does not respect it as a dispute settlement mechanism for any of the industries in which we trade with the United States, our largest trading partner.
We have to understand just how important this is to the relationship between the United States and the 95% or 97% of the industry that is going without a dispute at the present time. We hear that on both sides of the border.
However there is a message for the Prime Minister and for the American President that they have to understand. When we look at who has been hurt and who has not been hurt with the way this disagreement has unfolded, we have to understand that it is the politicians on both sides of the border who have not necessarily been impacted. It is the people on the United States side of the border who have been impacted. It has raised the price of their homes by $1,000 on average because of the duties, the countervails and the increased costs of lumber to those American citizens, but it has not necessarily impacted the politicians in the same way. They are trying to play the political game, trying to win seats in their ridings and they are trying to protect forest industry jobs and so those senators and congressmen are really talking about politics at the local level.
Here in Canada we see the same sort of nonsense going on. It is not that it impacts the politics in the House so much. It has impacted the industry and it trickles down to the communities across the country and impacts those individuals. It is the communities and the industry that have lost. I know there is a mill in my riding that has had to shut down and I know mills across the country that have had to close over the last number of years as we played politics with a lack of leadership on this issue.
Who has won? It certainly has not been the people of the United States and it certainly has not been the people of Canada. Who has lost? Obviously the politicians on both sides of the border have not lost enough.
We have to understand that when we have a dispute settlement NAFTA panel, negotiations for the dispute settlement have to be recognized. If they are not recognized, then we have a situation where we will not be able to move forward on any kind of trade security for any industry. It does not matter if it is BSE, softwood lumber, oil and gas, the auto sector or any other industry in which we might be trading with the United States.
Where are we at right now? We are in a situation where it is not just about the softwood lumber industry. In fact, it probably has less to do with that and more to do with the other industries. The reason this is so frustrating for us when we ask the Liberal government to at least ante up the money to look after the court settlement for our softwood lumber industry is that it is not just about softwood. It is also about the respect of a trade relationship.
There is an old adage that if a handshake in a relationship with a business partner or a deal is not adequate, all the paper in the world likely will not save the deal. That is what we are seeing right now with the United States, that laws and treaties are not enough, that a mature, secure relationship is based on a commitment of trust and clear communications and that treaties and laws are no substitute to a good relationship.
We have ruined a relationship with a trading partner, the United States, over the last number of years and it has been challenged and compromised. In this House, we have had inflammatory words toward our American trading partner, our largest trading partner, for a significant number of years and because of that ,we have seen disputes.
I also said that BSE had something to do with this because BSE was not about health and safety. It was not health and safety risks that caused that. What it had a lot to do with was bad politics. We saw the worst of politics happen and that is why the border was closed to beef and why it was also opened to beef.
What should we do in this situation with the lumber industry? First, we should respect the NAFTA and return the $5 billion. If we do not do that, then what we are really saying is that NAFTA does not matter and that the courts really do not make any difference.
The second thing we absolutely cannot do is negotiate away the strong position we have here. I sat and listened to my colleagues from the Liberal side, particularly, talk about a unified voice, a unified voice by the industry and by the parties. My colleague from Vancouver North just talked about the mixed messages by the Prime Minister where he might negotiate, will not negotiate, will negotiate. All that has happened in the last 24 hours. However, the day after the NAFTA ruling, we have the trade minister suggesting, in a quote from the Montreal Gazette , “I think this is very significant for Canada because it will help us in the negotiations”.
What negotiations? They are saying, “Let's not negotiate”.
On the very same day, in the Globe and Mail he is saying, “I think the NAFTA ruling enhances Ottawa's negotiating position”. If that is not a mixed message compared to what we are hearing today from this Liberal Party, I do not know what is.
What are the Americans to think when they hear that kind of rhetoric coming from the party in power of our Canadian government on an issue that has gone on this long and that should have been well thought out and well planned out long before this time?
Are we negotiating away our position or have we negotiated away our position just in the last 24 hours because of what our Prime Minister is saying? We certainly give a compromised position. We have compromised our position because of this kind of nonsense and this kind of rhetoric.
The United States also needs to understand that if we are going to move forward in a reasonable way with a relationship on other trading issues, we have to respect the agreement that was signed, which is a free trade agreement, and its dispute settlement. If that is not the case, then we have some serious problems that are a lot deeper than just softwood.
The fourth thing is how we get around that. We have laid an option on the table, which is to negotiate with an envoy to the United States.
I had an opportunity to attend a Canadian-U.S. conference about three weekends ago. It was an opportunity to talk with a lot of the congressmen and the senators at that time and we laid out a position. We have been victimized in softwood. We have been victimized in beef. We will not and cannot be victimized in oil and gas.
We invited them to come up to visit the tar sands of Alberta so they would understand what 1.4 trillion barrels of oil look like. We wanted them to know what they might be compromising in souring a relationship in trade and that it would leave us no choice but to secure other options than just the United States with regard to the oil and gas industry. That is not putting any threats out there. That is a just security as a sovereign nation.
Don Manzullo, one of the congressman I met at the meeting, agreed with opening up the border. He said that the tariffs, countervails and the nonsense of the money should stop and the money should be given back to Canada. He said, “Seven times Canada has won, not in Canadian courts but in the United States courts, so they need to respect that”. Those are the kinds of messages we need.
We are getting some of that support and here is what happened in Washington today. House majority whip, Roy Blunt, said that we need to open up the border. The softwood lumber trade alone adds $1,000 or more per home and we need to have the border opened up, especially in the wake of the disaster of the hurricane where they are going to have a tremendous need for our softwood lumber industry.
Americans are understanding more now than ever more that they should drop the tariffs and countervails and start talking sense. It is not because of how it impacts our ridings. It is how it is impacting their ridings and we need to understand that.