Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter into this debate on behalf of the good people of the riding of Winnipeg Centre, especially as we enter the final hours of the final stage of this very long, drawn out and controversial piece of legislation, Bill C-24, which as anybody watching will have realized implements the softwood lumber agreement.
It would be helpful in this final stage of debate to summarize and perhaps detail for Canadians who may be watching just what transpired in this whole agonizing drawn out process, this roller-coaster ride that we have been taken on, which has led us to the point where we are today.
It seems that the Prime Minister and the new Conservative government are moving at warp speed to integrate Canada's security and foreign policies with the U.S. and to shred any competitive advantage over the U.S. in areas such as lumber and wheat as well as an overall harmonization and integration on any number of facets in our relationship with the United States.
It seems that the Conservative government is voluntarily and unilaterally giving up the competitive advantage that we enjoyed over the years in the softwood lumber sector and, as raised by my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie, the sale of our superior wheat, a Canadian brand of wheat that is in such great demand around the world. I will speak to this later.
Bill C-24 deals specifically with the softwood lumber agreement. To set the context for my remarks I would like to remind Canadians that days before Ottawa bludgeoned Canada's lumber industry into this deeply flawed softwood lumber agreement, the Vancouver Sun published the details of a leaked letter from the Bush administration to the U.S. lumber lobby.
In this letter the American administration confirmed its objective was to hobble the Canadian industry for seven years. This should have been shocking to Canadians. Having our competitors reveal in a leaked letter that the administration's intention was not to achieve fairness in the North American marketplace for softwood lumber, but to hobble the Canadian industry should have made us all sit up and wonder who negotiated this deal and wonder if they were really acting in our best interests. I cannot blame the administration for being aggressive that way because it is very good at defending its own domestic industries. This is only the beginning.
What we learned and what our colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has been trying to point out in every way that he knows how, to alert Canadians to the realities of this deal, is that the Americans will get to keep $450 million of the illegal duties they were collecting. They will get to keep this money to grease the wheels for the protectionist republicans in the White House who were facing tough fights in their mid-term congressional elections. With no strings attached, $450 million goes not to the government of the United States, but to the republican administration to wage war on Canadians who are financing this attack on our trade relations.
Canada's timber industry would be forced to subsidize an ongoing illicit attack on itself. What kind of deal is that? It makes one wonder who would negotiate terms and conditions like that on our behalf. Who are we sending to do our bargaining for us in this regard? It is astounding. All of this is going on with the explicit consent of the Canadian government.
There is even more. This is where a worrisome trend is beginning to develop, a motif, one of the characteristics of the current government. When the industry balked, the current government used intimidation, which is now almost a hallmark of our new Prime Minister.
On August 4 the Globe and Mail quoted a senior government official's warning that industry opponents to this deal “should prepare themselves for the consequences of rejecting it and...might want to start contemplating a world where Ottawa is no longer in the business of subsidizing softwood disputes”.
In other words, they were told that if this deal was voted down, if they did not support this softwood lumber deal, they should not expect Ottawa to help them in any future and subsequent deals. It is some kind of economic blackmail to lord this over the heads of the industry players, saying that if this deal is voted down, if industry players trust their best instincts and vote this deal down, then Ottawa will not help in any subsequent deals. The only conclusion Canadians can draw is that this softwood deal is a deal that is managed of, by and for the American lumber lobby.
Here is the most worrisome thing--and I will say this as clearly as I can because it is a complex notion--even more worrisome than the billion dollars that we are leaving on the table in illegal tariffs and duties collected by the Americans. The most worrisome thing yet is that a supposedly sovereign nation has signed on to an unprecedented clause which requires provinces to first vet any changes in forestry policy with Washington. To me, this is more damaging.
People studying this deal 20 years from now will probably find that the most alarming thing about it is that we have voluntarily forfeited our sovereignty to manage our own affairs in the softwood lumber sector. This is where it raises a question: how in God's name did the Bloc Québécois support the ruling party, the government, to get this deal passed when it is all about sovereignty? I have heard a thousand speeches by my colleagues from the Bloc about Quebec's sovereignty and how they did not want the federal government to trample on the jurisdiction of Quebec to control its own affairs as it pertains to its resources. I support the Bloc in that argument.
How, then, can the Bloc support a softwood lumber deal that has this unprecedented and precedent setting clause that requires provinces to vet any changes they may want to make, perhaps in the stumpage fees, the quotas or the amount of cutting in certain cutting areas? Any of those changes will have to be first cleared with Washington before the provinces can implement those changes. It is an affront to Canadian sovereignty. It is an affront to Quebec's sovereignty. But that is the softwood lumber deal that we are about to sign.
One of the things that people often overlook in all the hype about how thankful we should be that the Conservative government gets along with the Americans is the reality that Canada tossed away a significant victory, which we won not before the virtually useless NAFTA panels but from the U.S. Court of International Trade. It ruled that U.S. duties on Canadian softwood lumber were illegal.
In other words, we were winning the court challenges that we threw aside when we went into the softwood lumber agreement. We snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory, as it were. If only we had stayed with that route. I have heard the minister and others say that they could not keep throwing millions and millions of dollars to lawyers in never-ending court challenges. That is true, but they were not never-ending. We were winning them. We were within a hair's breadth of winning them. We were almost there. We were within days of winning when the government announced that it was going to accept a far inferior package.
That is what is incomprehensible about the artificial urgency on the part of the Conservative government to accept a deal that is substandard. When we could have had it all, the government left a billion dollars on the table.
This is the second time that a Conservative government has done this. Let me take people back to 1986, when the GATT, the World Trade Organization's predecessor, issued a preliminary finding on the legality of U.S. lumber duties against Canada. The government of Brian Mulroney at the time, bent on negotiating a free trade agreement with the U.S., abruptly aborted the challenge, with eager acquiescence to the Americans.
That is another example of where we were well on our way to winning our argument that U.S. lumber duties against Canada were illegal. That finding, too, was nipped in the bud before it could take effect. The finding was never published. It does not take a paranoid mind to assume that the GATT had ruled for Canada. Mulroney foreclosed on the GATT ruling because it would have wiped out his entire argument about the necessity of a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States.
It seems to many of us that free trade is like a computer virus coursing through Canada's social, economical and political systems, eradicating everything unique. Everything that is unique and special and advantageous must be eliminated, it seems. We must harmonize with the United States, it seems, but we find no fault in leaving the Americans with the advantages they enjoy in the industry sectors where they do things better than we do.
But it seems we are supposed to forfeit anything that we do better than they do. The first agricultural casualty in that regard was the prairie wheat pools. They corporatized. They were hoping to surf on the private American market. Instead, they surfed on losses and put the Canadian Wheat Board on a timeline. The Americans began gunning for it before the ink was even dry on their signature to the initial free trade agreement in 1989.
I live in Manitoba, and for those of us who live in the prairie provinces, I can tell members that since then the Wheat Board has been subjected to 11 separate U.S. trade attacks. The cry, as with lumber, has been “unfair subsidies”. The U.S. does not just want to eliminate a formidable competitor in the world wheat market for its multinational agriculture business; it wants that agribusiness to capture the price advantage enjoyed by superior Canadian wheat. This is the pattern that is developing. This is the worrisome motif that is developing in trade relations as contemplated by our new Conservative government.
It is as if the new Conservative government is prepared to do the Americans' dirty work for them in terms of these two specific trade irritants. As an example, it has now begun a process to abolish the Wheat Board's monopoly. I will not go into that in any great detail other than to say there have been very worrisome things happening in recent days. Mussolini would be proud of the current Minister of Agriculture because he slapped a muzzle on the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board.
The directors are not allowed to defend their own best interests. They are not allowed to represent farmers and to advertise in any meaningful way why the Canadian Wheat Board, which has a business case that shows it, is in the farmers' best interests. The government has taken draconian measures to make sure that the Wheat Board directors are not heard, to the point of cancelling a meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food today, in fact, so that the directors could not make their own case. I will not dwell on this except to say that there are such natural and obvious parallels between these two longstanding trade irritants between our two countries.
I will simply say this, and perhaps I can do it best by quoting John Morriss, the editor and publisher of the Farmers' Independent Weekly, who says that a dual marketing board is “a chimera”, that it cannot work. He asks farmers to recall the voluntary central selling agency, which was run by the pools in the 1920s, and the voluntary Canadian wheat board, which began in 1935. Both of these voluntary wheat board organizations had spectacular bankruptcies. They were likely the two biggest business failures in Canadian history. The voluntary Canadian wheat board lost $62 million in 1938-39, which was an enormous sum at the time and the largest bankruptcy in Canadian history.
The way we explain this is really quite simple, even to a lay person like me. The reason a dual market for marketing Canadian wheat will not work is simply this: if the open market is higher than the initial payment, then the board gets fewer deliveries, and if the initial payment is higher than the market, it gets those--