Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to have a few moments to put my thoughts on the record on this important piece of business before the House.
I represent a constituency in northern Ontario that is very dependent on forestry for its economy. It is important that all of us who represent ridings from this important part of our wonderful country speak clearly, concisely and passionately about subjects that have impacts on us. In northern Ontario, we have an economy that is very exposed and fragile. Government decisions such as this one throw an element of instability into a market that is already unstable because of the vagaries of that market to begin with.
We in northern Ontario--and I use the word “we” in light of the fact that I have met on a number of occasions with representatives of the forestry coalition in northern Ontario and with members of municipal governments across northern Ontario--will feel the impacts of this agreement. These representatives speak to me and to our caucus and members of the Liberal and Conservative caucuses very clearly about the impact of this agreement on them. They speak about the reality as it exists right now in northern Ontario where forestry is concerned. It is “the perfect storm“, as they say, of which this agreement is an important part.
In northern Ontario, we need government to be in partnership with us. As has been done over the years, we need government to work with communities in the north to bring some stability to that part of the country. Without that stability, without those communities and without those partnerships, a very important element of the Canadian economy, the resource sector, the forest industry, will be damaged. In my estimation, that damage will be irrevocable. That is what I have heard very eloquently from concerned community leaders and the industry itself in northern Ontario.
They have said that we had come to terms with the free trade agreement. We were not crazy about it when it was first introduced and passed in the House, but in looking at it, and being as we are in that part of country, resilient people who come up against challenges every day because of the geography, the weather and sometimes the isolation that we experience, we came to terms with the agreement. We brought to the table the best minds we could find and were able to take advantage of it to develop a sector of the economy that was, for the most part, robust and exciting. It provided jobs and supported communities. It contributed to the overall good times that we have had over the last 10 to 15 years as far as the economy is concerned in this country.
However, we have gone to court time and time again with the Americans because they kept fighting back and trying to take advantage of loopholes. They brought grievances to the table that were really non-existent according to the framework of the free trade agreement. The industry and communities and others spent hard-earned scarce dollars to carry out those legal proceedings. In each instance, Canada won the battles.
Yet here we are now with the Conservative government of the day willing to roll over, play dead and be a patsy for the Americans. In a very real and important way, this will have negative implications for the forestry industry in northern Ontario. It sends the wrong message.
As members know, Canada relates with the American economy in some very direct and immediate ways on a daily basis. In almost every sector of our economy, the U.S. is our major trading partner. What if we find ourselves now and in the future having to roll over when any sector in American industry stands up and feels that it is being harmed in some way by our good work, our ingenuity and ability to create product, ship it across the border and sell it at a competitive rate to communities and individuals in that jurisdiction? What if the industry that we are competing with down there can simply stand up, take us to court and play us out over time so that we spend all our money trying to defend ourselves?
Then, when the government of the day, the Canadian government elected by the people of Canada, in partnership with the American government and that industry, simply says it is wrong and it will fix it with a new agreement that does not reflect or respect the legality or even the spirit of the free trade agreement that was in place, or the vehicles that were in the agreement to resolve disputes, what trust do we have or can we have in any agreement that we will enter into with that country down the road?
I can imagine all kinds of scenarios where that in fact will be the reality. More than anything else, we need stability in the economy of northern Ontario. We need to know what the rules are. We need to know, when we invest our money, work hard and do those things required of us to be competitive in the world we are moving into and the global economy in which we now operate, that we will be successful, that we will be able to provide jobs, sell our product and keep our communities not only viable but vital in the world that is ahead of us.
The agreement that we are debating today and have debated over the last couple of weeks, this agreement that the government has capitulated on, that the Liberals have said that they will vote against but really did nothing with when they were in government for 13 years, will have a devastating effect in northern Ontario for that industry sector.
Over the years government has understood that it needed to be at the table, that it needed to be a partner and that it needed to come with some real tools into areas like northern Ontario if we were going to stabilize our resource based economy.
Mr. Speaker, you know, coming from Manitoba, and I know, coming from northern Ontario and having been a member at Queen's Park for 13 years, that the resource sector has been almost totally ignored for about 10 or 15 years. The capital barons of the world, particularly the U.S. capitalists with all the money, have been turning to the very new-fashioned and attractive high tech industry. They forgot about the backbone, the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes of the Canadian economy, which has been there since the beginning of time and will continue to be there and be our staple. They forgot about that and allowed the powers and the winds of the market to batter us to and fro to the point where now we are in difficulty and in some instances in desperate shape.
Governments of different stripes over the years have known and understood that. In Ontario, we have had Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats. Manitoba has had New Democrats. Here in this place we have had Liberals and Conservatives. They knew they needed to be there in a more meaningful way, not just capitulating and turning over whenever the Americans got upset with us. They knew they needed to have vehicles like FedNor and the provincial ministry of northern development and mines. They knew they needed to be present in those communities and working with us.
The bill we have before us today is a slap in the face. It turns its back on and walks away from that very important resource sector economy, the forestry sector, which is reeling in northern Ontario today. I dare say that if we go forward with this, we will, all of us, in one way or another, reap the negative consequence.