Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak at report stage of Bill C-24, commonly referred to as the softwood lumber bill. It is with great disappointment that we have witnessed some of the actions of the members opposite trying to make our committee non-functional.
The hon. member said that he liked me, but it is with great sadness that I find that the hon. member is taking me off his Christmas card list. This is not the spirit of the season and I hope he reconsiders.
During the 2006 election of the Conservative Party of Canada it outlined its softwood lumber strategy. In that platform the Conservatives promised to be tough with the American government, defend the Canadian softwood lumber industry, and stand up for the forestry worker and help the struggling communities.
Looking closely at the Conservative platform, specifically the small section on forestry, we see several promises. I would like to take a moment to go through a few of those promises today and how they apply to Bill C-24. One promise was to get tough with the Americans on this file. The Conservatives promised they would: “Demand that the U.S. government play by the rules on softwood lumber”.
I do not think that anyone who read this promise thought for a second that what the Conservatives really meant was they would turn their back on years of hard fought negotiations, turn their back on the cornerstones of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and turn their back on the sustainability of forestry communities. In their haste to appease the Americans and score some political points they capitulated on issue after issue.
Over the years our previous Liberal government fought time and time again through trade panels and international dispute resolution mechanisms to win battle after battle on softwood lumber. Whether it was at WTO or NAFTA, time and again we won those rulings. Admittedly, time and again the Americans appealed these rulings. Protecting their domestic lumber industry was paramount. One need only look at the Byrd amendment to see the lengths they would go through to secure their industry and by extension, the power of the lumber industry of the United States was going to work against us.
Big lumber in the U.S. wanted to limit access to Canadian softwood lumber into what the Americans perceived as their God-given domestic markets despite NAFTA and WTO rulings. Quite frankly they lobbied, bullied and pushed, and dragged out the process in the hope of maximizing their profits and waiting for someone to come along and give in to their demands. That opportunity materialized in the form of the Conservative government across the floor. So desperate were the Conservatives to get a deal, to show action on this file, that they stormed ahead and committed to a flawed agreement.
This agreement has concerning implications, not only for the softwood lumber industry but for other Canadian producers. Polls show that Americans are in support of free trade in principle. In fact, 66% of Americans are in favour of free trade; however, this support crumbles the second that the so-called free trade is not in their best interests.
This is not entirely surprising, but it does point to the fact that if today we capitulate on the softwood lumber, what will be next? Will it be beef, automobiles or grain? Who knows what is going to be next? That they have given in on this file shows lack of resolve, again for cheap political points. The Prime Minister pointed out some kind of great new bond with the American administration but is, frankly, a travesty.
This brings my comments on Bill C-24 to another promise made by the Conservative Party in its blue book. On page 19 in the Conservative 2006 platform it states that the Conservatives would defend the rights of Canadian producers and demand the “return of the more than $5 billion in illegal softwood lumber tariffs to Canadian producers”. We on this side of the House know only too well that the Conservatives are not that good with the math. In 1993 we inherited their deficit mess and we worked long and hard to balance the books of this mismanagement.
That being said, here we are today, and the Conservatives have lopped off a full $1 billion from their promise. That is $1 billion in illegal collected duties. That is $1 billion of our Canadian economy. To lop this right off and give it to the American administration and to the lumber industry, not only demonstrates the Conservatives are bad at math but they are bad negotiators. It is clear to all but the party opposite that at least half of this funding will be used by the American lumber industry to fund legal and political attacks against our industry.
Can we imagine $500 million of Canadian money being used by the American lumber industry to lobby against us? It is unbelievable. The Americans must have thought it was Christmas back in the spring when this deal was being made, and it will be Christmas again when the legislation is passed.
The Conservatives are throwing away the lumber industry to the wolves. With Bill C-24 they have backed the Canadian softwood lumber industry into a corner, and what is worse, they have given the American lumber industry a stick, a $500 million stick. What is more, after just 24 months, Canada's proud new government has given its opponents an escape clause to walk away from the deal. What shrewd negotiations, they have given away all we have gained through our trade agreement resolution process.
They have given opposing industries in the United States funds to lobby for two years against our industry, at which time they can pull the plug and possibly gain increased domestic and international ports again, financed by our Canadian funds. That is how the government protects its domestic industry. That is how a government fights on the international stage for just treatment.
Recently, the Prime Minister has been going around suggesting that he does foreign affairs differently than the past government. He does it differently all right. He walks a different walk and he talks a different talk indeed. He is walked over by the Americans, has miscommunications with the Chinese, and he ignores the European Union. That is hardly a stellar new approach.
Realizing my time is short, we could talk all afternoon on the travesty done here. I want to finish my comments by remarking briefly on the excellent work of my colleague, the Liberal critic for international trade, the member of Parliament for Beauséjour.
In the House we are all aware that Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador traditionally receive what is called the Atlantic exclusion. This exclusion recognizes that the lumber industry in Atlantic Canada is different because it is primarily conducted on privately owned land. The Americans have perceived this to be more in line with their domestic market and have therefore waived the tariffs that they impose on the softwood lumber imports from the rest of Canada.
When the recent softwood lumber deal was struck, the exclusion was in that agreement. However, when Bill C-24 was tabled in the House of Commons, the legislation did not have the same language. The Maritime Lumber Bureau raised these concerns with the hon. member for Beauséjour and other parliamentarians. The result was an amendment which was passed at committee to make the language more clear to ensure the continuation of the Atlantic exclusion.
I want to applaud my colleague's work on this amendment and his efforts to work out a deal so the new wording in the bill could be included and the exclusion maintained in exchange for our cooperation with some of the amendments put forward in committee.
We hope that the government resists the urge to roll back these improvements that are part of the report stage amendments. This betrayal will be noticed by the provincial governments, and must make members, like the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, very happy with the changes in these rollbacks.
Despite this agreement at committee, I want to be very clear that our party does not support Bill C-24. It is flawed legislation brought back by the Bloc and the Conservatives where possibly they tried to make improvements such as the Atlantic exclusion. The reality is that we have been duped. We can only hope that our interventions here at report stage will make members in the Conservative Party come to their senses and pressure their leaders to have the bill withdrawn from the House and negotiate a new deal for the betterment of all softwood lumber producers.