This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.

Topics

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand today to address this issue.

Bill C-24 is, obviously, of immense importance to the people of British Columbia, a province that supports about half of the logging industry in the country. It is also of great importance to all of us.

We have heard variations from across the country of the impact in different regions and certainly in British Columbia itself there is a variety of impact on different aspects of the forest industry.

Value added manufacturers have a different interest than interior logging and mill operations. Coastal logging operations have a different interest than the interior ones. We have valuable coastal cedar being logged and being unfairly coupled with other types of timber being sent to the Untied States and it should have had a varied approach.

We have also heard the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley talk about the private land logging in the Atlantic provinces which were never caught by the subsidies here.

We have companies in northern Ontario and Quebec that are hurting desperately. To answer the question of the Bloc Québécois as to why they would support it, I fear the softwood lumber companies are facing a situation where they simply cannot afford not to take back only 80% of what they have paid under illegal dumping and countervail charges and neither can their communities and the workers.

In the other cases, we have interior forest companies in British Columbia that are highly efficient, have rationalized, are some of the most efficient mills in the world and have been making profits, notwithstanding the illegal countervail and dumping penalties, and they of course cannot afford to take only 80% back.

We have a range across the country and it is incumbent upon the Government of Canada to ensure that it embraces all those interests, which, obviously, is a complicated thing to do.

Let us look at what has happened in softwood lumber over the years. The Minister of International Trade and I have seen various aspects of this over the last 20 years. We have watched the trade in softwood lumber with the United States and various disputes that have come about over it.

We hear often from the government that it has never been managed trade in softwood lumber with the United States. That was certainly true before the free trade agreement but after the free trade agreement it was supposed to be free trade, not managed trade, and yet in various iterations and agreements where governments have given in to the pressure from the American industry, we have had quotas and we have had export duties. Now we have quotas and export duties. I fail to see how that can be a victory in terms of the softwood lumber industry.

Let us say clearly and out front that this is not about subsidies for the Canadian industry. I hope we all know that. The World Trade Organization and NAFTA panels have said it over and over that it is not about subsidies to Canadian softwood. It is about protectionism in the United States. That is what it is, that is what it will always be and I think we had better call it as it is, put it right in front of us and remember that as we see what happens going forward in the future.

We have pressures from the United States that simply will not let up. My great fear is that with all the immediate, perhaps, benefits to some aspects of the industry, some communities and their workers, that this agreement might provide in the short term, this does not provide the stability that is being suggested.

Let us think about where we were a year ago. Yes, the former Liberal government had pursued this for over four years on a number of tracks. Litigation was certainly one of them and, my goodness, it was certainly expensive and continued to be expensive. However, going through the WTO panels and the NAFTA panels where we were in the minority against the Americans, where they had two members and we had one, we continually kept winning and we have finally came close to the end. After four to five years of expensive litigation, we have come before the U.S. court of international trade, which is an American domestic court.

The one thing the American administration, quite apart from Congress and the individual sectoral lumber industry in the U.S., has always said is that at the end of the day it will change its rules because it does not want to be subject to super national arbitrations or decision making dispute resolution systems.

We got through those and then into the U.S. courts and won at one level. Yes, that could be appealed, but it was getting so close.

Yes, it is fine to talk about and it is important to appreciate the cost of continuing litigation, but it is extremely important not to throw away all of the work that has been done by litigation with the agreement of lumber councils across the country, the softwood industry, individually and collectively, the producing provinces and the federal government. We went forward and finally got to the point where it could be won and it is being thrown away. Let us not forget what we are throwing away when we measure the value of the so-called stability of this agreement.

We fool ourselves if we think we can sit here and rely on the United States in all its complexity, whether it is the administration, the Congress or sectors of their industry, when it has shown in this case its persistence in flouting the rule of law and going forward with arguments that are not being accepted by the various courts and panels.

Will we get stability with this? We know it may go for seven years, it may go for nine years or it may go for three years. I would not put a lot of trust at this stage in the system. However much the administration may intend at this time to see it go for many years and provide stability, it is not entirely in control of this issue. I think the evidence of the past suggests exactly the opposite, that we should not count on stability into the future. The fact is there will be no stability without the rule of law, which is what we are talking about here. Can we depend on agreements, on international trade obligations, on rulings of dispute resolution panels and, eventually, which we were close to, U.S. domestic courts themselves?

Yes, litigation is expensive, but to throw it away now in the name of perhaps a false stability when we are so close to a good outcome in the American courts is a great risk.

We then look at the Byrd amendment. We keep hearing from the government, depending on how it wants to scale and emphasize the amounts, whether it is U.S. dollars or Canadians dollars, that we are giving back over $1 billion American to the United States, to be used by both the the administration and Congress for projects that may be of assistance in their re-election campaigns at various times and to help various sectors of different industries in different parts of the country. Half of that $1 billion will also go to the industry itself which has been using every opportunity to encourage its government and its Congress to flout the law and avoid its responsibilities. How can we put trust in that?

The reason only half of the money will be going to the industry is because the Byrd amendment, which would otherwise allow all of it to go to the industry, over $1 billion American, was found to be against the WTO rules. Now we find, even after this agreement was signed with Canada, the American administration is appealing that WTO ruling. How can we put trust in stability in the future and in the good faith of this agreement when no sooner have we signed it than there is an attempt to get double the amount to go to the softwood industry in the U.S. to be used against Canadian industry and Canadian interest? That is not much of a deal.

We heard the member for Edmonton—Leduc say, quite appropriately, that the softwood industry, as important as it is, and it is immensely important to the province of British Columbia, is only 3% of our trade with the United States. He asked why we would worry that we do not have perfect free trade in this area when it represents such a small percentage of our overall trade with the United States.

I will tell members why we should worry. We should worry because it is a bad precedent. Ninety-seven per cent of our trade with the U.S. could be exposed to the tactics that have proven successful through the government's agreement in the softwood lumber industry. What kind of a precedent do we want to set? What kind of a risk do we want to take with this type of agreement? I suggest it is a short-sighted agreement and it does not bring stability. There is nothing in this agreement that should convince us, from past behaviour, that this will provide stability into the future.

We are not just leaving $1.4 billion or $1.5 billion in the United States as the member for Edmonton--Leduc has mentioned, which may ultimately all go to a competing industry there. We have not talked about the other $1.4 billion that was presented by the former Liberal government a year ago to go toward a number of initiatives to assist the industry in this country, the communities, and the workers. This must be added to the other $1.4 billion. Now we are getting into really large sums.

Those adjustment projects were meant to go to a whole range of things. We have heard of loan guarantees, litigation support and coordination for further negotiation. We have heard of taking the argument directly to the American consumers, one of the parties, in addition to Canadians, who are being hurt over all these years by this illegal U.S. action against Canada. The homebuilding industry and the homebuyers with aspirations to afford a home are being hurt by this U.S. action.

Where has Canada been putting its initiatives in supporting communities, workers and the industry? I will just focus on something that has not been talked about a lot and that is some of the community economic adjustment initiatives of the former government that actually bore fruit, helped stabilize communities, helped get people back to work and helped to provide some strength and support to the individual firms that were threatened.

Let us take the British Columbia part of that softwood adjustment initiative as an example because it is the province I come from. Over the last three years in the last government, $50 million went through community economic adjustment to hard hit resource communities around British Columbia. It went to diversify the economy in those communities in a number of stabilizing, helpful and growth stimulating ways.

When we look at diversification, an industry, which is a commodity industry, or part of it is, that is boom or bust vulnerable given the fluctuations in international commodity prices, that makes us extremely vulnerable. We need to add value. We need to diversify the product by adding value to widen the profit margin so that if there is a fluctuation in commodity prices we can withstand those fluctuations within broader profit margins.

In British Columbia, 145 programs were funded by the federal government in the amount of $50 million. A further $95 million was leveraged which went into 140 communities. One of the important objectives of that was the diversification by adding value added industries and providing support for them. Otherwise, we look for diversification in resource dependent communities to diversify markets. That is where a lot of this investment went and it is where part of the $1.4 billion that had been planned by the previous government would have gone.

I know that 11 ministers in the last Liberal government visited China. Of interest to all of us when we were there was how to diversify our markets away from a dependence on the United States into that huge China market. Forest products, home building and forest product-related sales and markets were a major focus of our initiatives, and those can never be forgotten.

The third part of diversification that we have to look to as an industrial strategy to move ahead and ensure that our resource-dependent communities are not subject to boom and bust or to illegal trade action by countries such as the United States, our biggest trading partner and therefore the one that can have the greatest negative impact on us, is to diversify into other sectors of the economy.

These adjustment funds, highly leveraged through private investment, also went into tourism, into economic infrastructure of various types and into the value added part of the forest products industry. About 30% of the projects, 140 or 145 projects, that were supported went to first nations to help them in their economic adjustment and over dependence on commodity-based forest products.

This is the way we need to go forward, along with litigation and negotiation and along with considering loan guarantees or whatever might be put forward. It shows an understanding of the economy, the vulnerability in our communities and the need to take a broader approach.

I am extremely concerned that we have traded away an agreement in which there is no guarantee whatsoever that there will be stability going long into the future. If the behaviour of the past is any guide, it should suggest to us the opposite.

We have a quota. We have duties. These export duties, and let us not shy away from it, are nothing more than an additional tax, and that is a tax that is going to be on our industry. Where will that money go? We have not heard about that. We can be sure that it cannot go back into the forest products industry or we will have a cancellation of this agreement with countervail action by the United States as fast as we can blink an eye.

Canadian business is being taxed this extra amount. As we have heard a number of people say, if we think through this situation, before the ink is even dry, before the ink was even applied on the agreement, the export duty, for which our industry is vulnerable, already exceeds what the illegal countervailing and dumping duties were. This really goes beyond imagination. It may give some short term relief, and any relief is good, but this is not something that we should not count on or cheer about.

I am very curious that, with the much vaunted new relationship of the new government with the George Bush administration, all we get out of that tremendous new arrangement and relationship is a bad deal. If this is all we can extract from that new relationship, then I am not sure it is particularly helpful to Canadians, and that will be seen in the end.

There is another aspect to this that is somewhat troubling, and I think it should be, to all of us. I do not for the moment suggest that the Minister of International Trade or the government has intended this, but there is an aspect of bullying that has been going on, which sits there underneath the surface in a very troubling way. It is about taking advantage of an industry that is on its knees and the communities and workers who are dependent upon that industry.

It is an uncomfortable feeling that we have to be very cautious of as we try to craft trade and industrial policy in the country, which is so diverse. We do not want to extract, through undue or unfair pressure, from vulnerable areas of our country or aspects of our industry anything that is not in the long term best interests of the industry, its workers or the communities.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Vancouver Kingsway B.C.

Conservative

David Emerson ConservativeMinister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is a lawyer. He understands, or ought to understand, what is going on in softwood lumber and some of the litigation surrounding it. I think the hon. member knows that we are winning most of the cases. We expect we would continue to win most of the cases, but we have to recognize that even with another final win at the court of international trade, it is an appealable case. Right there we are pushing a settlement out another year and half. Then we would have to look at a couple of years to recover the duties. We would not see any money in the pockets of Canadian companies for somewhere between two and four years.

The hon. member also should know that in this case the litigation is not just about countervailing duties and alleged subsidies. There is also an issue of anti-dumping and going into a weak cycle in the lumber market. It is much easier to demonstrate or at least make a plausible case against dumping and we would be in a situation immediately. I can assure the member that the U.S. industry is ready as we speak to launch more cases, both anti-dumping, new injury cases and new countervailing duty cases because the very programs of assistance the hon. member refers to would certainly be countervailed and attacked. There is absolutely no doubt about that. We would not even be finished the old litigation, but would be faced with new litigation and new interim duties. Last time the interim duties started out at 27% and it took us five years to get them down to just over 10%.

The idea that there are both a tax and a quota, there is a choice. Some regions can opt for a tax no greater than 5% and apply a quota. Some regions can opt, as would happen in British Columbia, for only a tax and no quota. Therefore, there is not both the tax and a quota unless a province were to opt for that option.

The hon. member is from B.C., and Premier Campbell of the government of British Columbia is in town. Has the hon. member talked to Premier Campbell and asked him if he felt bullied into this agreement, because Premier Campbell is supporting it, as is the industry in B.C.? The reason they are supporting it is because they put in place some new policy reforms, which this agreement protects. Those policy reforms would be attacked without the agreement.

The very tax that would be place in low markets will get capitalized, as the hon. member knows, in lower stumpage payments in a competitive bidding situation. The idea that it is a new tax is really not right. It is a displacement of stumpage by an export tax.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. minister is highly expert in this area and knows the complexity, as well as anyone in our country, of the industry in British Columbia and that it is not uniform. There are companies which have very different interests from the interior to the coast. There are value added forest product companies that are not in agreement with this.

The Premier of British Columbia is coming to town and I am sure many of us will meet with him tomorrow. I will be very interested to hear from Premier Campbell on two issues.

First, we are perhaps feeling a lot of pressure on our own sovereignty, provincial sovereignty in this case, in terms of pressure from outside the country on forest practices in British Columbia. All of us have denied from the beginning that there was any subsidy. The Minister of International Trade and myself have both said in the House very loudly that this is about protectionism not about subsidies. Yet British Columbia has been forced to adapt forest products in any event, and that is troubling looking into the future in terms of our sovereignty.

Also, I am worried about, and I will be interested in how we will work together with the government of British Columbia and now Alberta, how we will deal with this surge in production because of the mountain pine beetle infestation and how that will play into this agreement. We will be scrambling for international markets other than the United States to have some place to sell this wood that will be cut at a much higher rate, but we will be unable to sell it into the United States under this agreement. That should be of real concern to us.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Emerson Conservative Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raised the surge issue. Members should know that in British Columbia, under the surge provision in the agreement, there is a billion board feet of flexibility in terms of permitted surge before the surge mechanism cuts in. The surge mechanism is at 110% of the base year shipments. The surge mechanism is also not fixed in time. It moves as U.S. consumption moves over time and that will allow the surge to grow as the market grows.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting further clarification of it and I look forward to speaking with the minister, as well as with officials from British Columbia, as to how we will manage that effectively. There is certainly a huge challenge for the whole western area of Canada and Yukon with this infestation.

I go back to my comment. While this is an immensely important sector of Canadian industry, it does, as the member for Edmonton—Leduc has said, only represent 3% of our total trade with the United States. If we are giving in to what is really simply an industrial pressure sector in the United States on this part, what is to stop them or not encourage them from taking similar action in other sectors of the economy where they see fair competition outperforming the American economy in those other sectors?

Yes, I am a lawyer and one of the things one learns in law before anything else is the importance of precedent. By backing away from the precedence we have had in terms of the litigation we have pursued in favour of the dangerous precedent of caving in and admitting that we cannot rely on the dispute resolution mechanism of NAFTA or on the promise of free and fair trade, we end up with neither.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the public watching this are aware, by the comments made by the minister, of how important it is to avoid litigation unnecessarily and understand the implications with respect to the industry.

However, there must be another huge body of opinion that is concerned with the issues of precedence and rule of law and the notion that in a relationship with another country, a country with which we have 85% of our exports, we not find ourselves where there is no respect for that rule of law, sliding in that slippery slope on grease skids, and where there is retaliation in other sectors. I can see a large body of opinion looking at it this way, if there is not the kind of natural justice that comes along with the respect for the law.

We have gone through international tribunals. We finished with another international tribunal, the International Court of Appeal. It was my recollection that there was an attempt, without prejudice, to go through the American justice system, the courts of appeal, with respect to finding precedence whereby we could get a decision in the American courts.

Was that pursued? As we speak, is there any opportunity to pursue that? I think I have indicated how important it is to our public to be responsive and responsible to what precedent this might create in other sectors in the future?

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the real concern I have is the Canadian industry interests that have pursued their interests at the U.S. Court of International Trade. If they continue to pursue that, then they cannot sign on to this agreement, and will be hit by this punitive 17% extra tax.

I put this back into the realm of the unpleasant word, bullying, to force the industry to come together whether they may think it is in their bests interests for themselves, their communities and their workers or not. That is part of the dark side of this and the reason why this debate is so important in the House this week.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-24 which will implement Canada's obligations under the softwood lumber agreement. Let me say right off the top that I urge all members of the House to support this bill.

The main point I would like to make is a simple one, that the softwood lumber agreement is good for industry, it is good for lumber communities and it is good for Canada. It is an agreement that, as we have been saying here, enjoys a broad base of support. It is an agreement that brings many benefits to our lumber industry. It is an agreement that will help us take the next steps in building a stronger economic future for Canadians and Americans alike.

Let me start by saying that the agreement did not come about by itself. It is the result of a strong Canadian position, one forged with the active involvement of industry and provinces.

In fact, in direct response to industry concerns, the agreement contains two important clarifications. One is a 12 month standstill period upon expiry of the agreement, under which the U.S. cannot bring new trade action against Canadian softwood producers. There is also a requirement for a six month notice period if either party wants to terminate the agreement--of course, we do not expect that to happen--also with a 12 month standstill period if the U.S. should terminate the agreement early.

In response to Canadian industry concerns regarding the exemption of coastal logs and lumber, the U.S. has also confirmed that it is prepared to engage in early bilateral discussions to ensure the agreement operates in a commercially viable manner.

The agreement also stems from the dedication of countless officials across government and on both sides of the border.

Ambassador Wilson and Ambassador Wilkins and their staff here in Ottawa and Washington deserve our thanks for their hard work and steadfast commitment. We owe a great debt to the member for Vancouver Kingsway, our Minister of International Trade, for finally bringing this agreement to completion.

The provinces along with our softwood lumber industry were instrumental in shaping Canada's negotiating position. The premiers of British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario in particular deserve our appreciation for their ability to see beyond partisan concerns and add their support to our efforts to put an end to this dispute.

Most significantly the agreement is the result of a new tone at the top. When our Prime Minister met with President Bush in Cancun earlier this year, they decided to give solving this issue the momentum it deserved. Thanks to their efforts and leadership we are now able to turn the page on this dispute.

This is an agreement to be proud of. It is a practical and flexible agreement that ends this long-standing dispute on terms that are highly favourable to Canada.

Frankly, I am having a hard time understanding why all B.C. MPs are not supporting this agreement. The Liberal government of British Columbia supports the agreement. In fact, B.C. forestry minister Rich Coleman asked the opposition to support the agreement. How could B.C. Liberal and NDP MPs vote against it?

The majority of the industry in B.C. supports the agreement. How could B.C. MPs not support this agreement?

The Liberals were negotiating a bad deal for Canada, especially for British Columbia. They were ready to sign a deal and only backed off so that they could run an anti-American election campaign, a campaign that did not work.

Moreover, the agreement directly responds to specific issues and concerns raised by industry and provinces. For instance, it recognizes provincial market based reforms and preserves provincial authority to manage their forest resources as they see fit.

It contains an anti-circumvention clause, a clause intended to prevent either government from taking action to circumvent or offset commitments made in the agreement. For example, grants or other benefits to producers or exporters of softwood lumber products are not allowed because they would offset border measures. But a number of measures are explicitly cited as not constituting circumvention.

For example, provincial timber pricing or forest management systems as they existed as of July 1, 2006, including any modifications or updates that maintain or improve the extent to which stumpage charges reflect market conditions, including pricing and costs are excluded.

Fluctuations in stumpage charges that result from such modifications or updates resulting from changes in market conditions or other factors that affect the value of the province's timber, such as transportation costs, exchange rates and timber quality and natural harvesting conditions do not constitute circumvention.

Actions or programs for the purpose of forest or environmental management, protection or conservation, including actions or programs to reduce wildfire risk, protect watersheds, protect, restore and enhance forest ecosystems do not constitute circumvention.

Payments or other compensation to first nations for the purposes of addressing or settling claims also are not subject to circumvention.

Note that with respect to British Columbia, the market pricing system will be considered a provincial timber or forest management system that existed as of July 1, 2006. The protection of the management system in B.C. has always been B.C.'s most important issue. At the insistence of Canada, these protections were included in the agreement.

I am happy to say that the agreement enjoys the support not only of our two national governments but also the clear majority of lumber companies and lumber producing provinces. In short, it will put an end to this long-standing dispute and begin building a brighter future for Canada's lumber industry and the 300 mill communities and 300,000 forestry workers and their families who rely on it.

The next step belongs to parliamentarians. I encourage them all to support it. As parliamentarians consider the merits of this bill, I would also ask that they consider the alternative to this agreement. It would not be a bright future. They have been there before. They have seen the toll, both human and financial, that this dispute has taken and we need to bring an end to this.

After careful consideration of the facts, I am confident that parliamentarians will come to the same conclusion that the provinces and industry have, that this agreement is the best option for Canada. I ask all members of the House to support this bill.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, in early June postal delivery ended abruptly for over 53,000 homes in rural Canada. Citing the health and safety concerns of it employees, Canada Post gave only one day's notice when it announced an indefinite suspension of delivery on select rural routes. Canada Post is a crown corporation. Since then, those 53,000 homes have been without delivery. People have been waiting for months to find out how the government would react to that.

We have heard from the president of Canada Post that there were no instructions given by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister indicated at that time that he was working with Canada Post and had given instructions.

In the House in response to a question, the minister responsible for Canada Post indicated that it would be treating all Canadians fairly and would ensure that Canada Post would deliver everywhere. Over 800,000 residents depend on rural route delivery and 53,000 are now without that delivery. They must travel miles to community post offices, other postal outlets, community stores, wherever.

We on this side of the House understand that it is very important for the delivery people to be safe, but we have heard from the government side that it would ensure safety and that studies would be done. Canada Post has engaged the National Research Council and is working with the unions. The unions have said that it was an overreaction, yet we are still waiting to see how these people would be taken care of.

What we are seeing is the intention to reduce or eliminate rural route delivery. We have seen great hits on rural Canada. Youth are having to leave rural Canada and go to urban areas. We see the tax rates in these communities being lowered. We see services being abandoned. There is the example now that campsites are not being financed. The investments that we were making in high speed Internet access to rural areas are being abandoned and not being implemented. People are afraid and wonder what is going to happen.

Elderly people living alone in their communities depend on Canada Post. People who are mobility challenged need mail delivered to their homes. It is a question of security for these people.

The minister has said that all Canadians would be treated equally. The question I ask of the parliamentary secretary is quite simple. When will the government stand up for rural Canada? When will it stand up for all people across this country and ensure that we maintain rural route delivery across the entire country?

6:30 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member and all Canadians that this Conservative government has been standing up for rural Canada for many years. We are the only party who has done so.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to comment on rural mail delivery as well. The government is not only supportive of rural Canadians but it understands the importance of ensuring that they receive quality rural mail service. It is for this reason that it has been made abundantly clear to Canada Post that the government will continue to champion the moratorium on the closure of rural post offices.

Concerning the present situation and the disruption of service that has been felt by some Canadians, it is important to note that these service issues are as a result of health and safety concerns expressed by postal employees. I am certain the member is not suggesting that we ignore postal employees and their safety.

In the past six months a few hundred rural mail carriers have raised these concerns. Some have even exercised their legal right. I am sure the member is not suggesting we take away their legal right under the Canada Labour Code to refuse to work. These employees have raised two areas of concern. The first relates to road safety, particularly in rural communities or on rural roads that have seen a dramatic increase in traffic volumes as many rural roads in Canada have. It has changed. The rural road system has changed.

Further, some of these roads are not wide enough to pull safely off to the side of the road to deliver the mail without carriers having to worry about what is coming one way or the other way as far as safety is concerned.

The second issue relates to ergonomic safety. Specifically, the complaints are about the repetitive motion of stretching across a vehicle to deliver mail. Sometimes postal workers do this stretching up to 200 times a day and it is considered to be an ergonomic safety concern. Rightly so, Canada Post is concerned for the welfare of its employees, as it is legally obligated to be. Of course, the government is committed, as it always has been, to ensure the safety of Canadians.

Health and safety officers from the Department of Human Resources and Social Development have been called in to investigate the matter because it is a very serious matter to the government. These officers have determined that these safety concerns must be corrected immediately because they are safety concerns.

Upon receiving the orders of the federal health and safety officers, Canada Post implemented a series of measures to ensure the continued delivery of mail. Where roadside danger exists, alternate forms of delivery have been provided to customers, including delivery to a central point such as a local post office or a community mail box as an immediate but interim measure. In each case, Canada Post is working closely with the affected communities to ensure that delivery is maintained in such a way as to protect both employees, which is very important, and rural residents.

Let there be no doubt that the government, the Prime Minister, and the minister take this very seriously. The responsibility of all employers is important to ensure that their employees have a safe working environment. I am sure the member would agree with that.

In addition, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has already made clear in a statement to the House that the government's strong commitment to rural mail delivery continues. Toward that end, the Prime Minister and the minister met with the Canada Post CEO on June 1 and subsequently, on June 9 the minister met with the chairman of the board of directors of Canada Post as well as the CEO of Canada Post and is continuing to monitor the situation closely because it is very important to the government.

The government is supportive of rural Canadians, as it always has been. It will stand up for rural Canadians and it will do whatever it can in its power to ensure that they receive quality mail service.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, of course all members of the House are in agreement that we have to protect the safety and the health of our employees, but these people themselves have been telling us that it was an overreaction.

There has to be 24 hours' notice before cancelling rural route delivery for 53,000 people. There is no opportunity to have consultations with the communities. There is no opportunity to have consultations with the employees on how we could do it. It is true, perhaps, that we may find alternate ways, but the fear is that those alternate ways may become permanent. People may have to drive 20 kilometres to get their mail once a day, putting a lot more vehicles on the road and making it a lot more dangerous.

We remember when we said there would be no closure of post offices, but many have been moved into private outlets. We have seen closure of those private outlets since then by Canada Post, not necessarily by the minister, nor policy change, but independently done by Canada Post. Canadians have been confused by the messages that have been given by the minister, the Prime Minister, and by the president of Canada Post.

I implore all members of the House to support Canadians in rural Canada and protect rural route delivery for all Canadians.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing more important to the minister or the Prime Minister than protecting Canadians. That is why they took the step. The previous Liberal government pulled an ostrich, put its head in the sand and ignored what was going on. This was going on during the member's tenure in office.

That is why Canadians made a difference. They made a choice in January of this year to have a different government so something would be done. And something has been done.

First of all, we have to make sure that the law is respected, that all Canadians are treated equally, and that we continue to have some form of rural service that is going to be adequate for Canadians, but we have to stop within 24 hours because it is an issue of immediate safety and harm. It is not an issue that can be dealt with two or three years from now. The issue is that people are actually dying from traffic accidents when they stop to deliver the mail. It is an issue that actually causes harm.

It is something that the government has had to do. It is something that Canada Post has had to do. We are doing the best we can, and by much better by far than has ever been done before, to make sure that rural Canadians are treated very well by this government.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Huseyincan Celil fled China in the mid-1990s and became a Canadian citizen in 2001. In absentia, China sentenced him to death on charges of organizing a political party to work on behalf of the Uighur people.

The Uighur Canadian Association argues that Mr. Celil's role in organizing them was to demand their rights through non-violent means as protected under the UN's universal declaration of human rights. It has appealed to the Canadian government for assistance. That is how I got involved in this case.

On April 10, I posed a question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in which I laid out the situation: Mr. Celil had been sentenced to death in absentia for defending the human rights of Turkish Muslims in Xinjiang province. Access to Mr. Celil has also been denied to his family and to Canadian consular officials.

I asked the government if it would take all possible legal and diplomatic steps to defend Mr. Celil's human rights and to save him from inevitable torture and possible death. The foreign affairs minister responded that he was concerned and that he would take all necessary measures.

Again on April 25 I asked about this. Mrs. Celil was in Ottawa and wanted to meet with the minister. The minister refused. I raised the question that day and he finally acceded to meet with her.

On June 15 I asked again about this situation. This is where it gets a little complicated. Mr. Celil was in Uzbekistan visiting family. Uzbekistan is part of an organization which is almost like Interpol. It is called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This basically means that it would accede to the extradition request. China in fact requested the extradition of Mr. Celil to China. Prior to the government doing anything, he in fact was extradited to China.

No one knew where he was. The Government of Canada has had no contact whatsoever with him. There has been no consular access. This has been in violation of the Vienna convention as well as the bilateral agreement we have with the Chinese on diplomatic affairs.

Despite the protestations of the government that it has been taking all necessary means and diplomatic measures to try to intervene in the case, the fact of the matter is that there has been absolutely no response whatsoever from the Chinese government or the Chinese embassy with regard to this case. In fact, there has been no meeting between the foreign affairs minister and the Chinese ambassador yet, this after eight months of the minister being in office.

This is an indictment of the shape of relations with China. There is only one way that we are going to have an opportunity to fight for Canadian citizen Huseyincan Celil and that is to re-establish strong relations with China so we can discuss these important diplomatic affairs.

I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could please explain this to Canadians. Why is it that our relations with China now are in a shambles? What is the government going to do to make absolutely sure that this relationship with China is returned to one of strength and mutual respect?

6:40 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for raising this issue.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade officials, upon being informed that Mr. Celil had been extradited to China, made immediate representations to the Chinese government, both in Beijing and in Ottawa. I can assure the member that repeated representations have been made and continue to be made on a regular basis to the Chinese authorities, seeking access to Mr. Celil and confirmation of his well-being.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs personally raised this issue with the Chinese foreign minister last week at the United Nations meeting and during the ASEAN meeting earlier this summer.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade officials continue to maintain regular contact with Mr. Celil's family in Canada. The Minister of Foreign Affairs personally met with Mr. Celil's spouse.

As the hon. member will be aware, the booklet “Bon Voyage, But...”, which is handed out with Canadian passports, outlines the assistance Canada can and cannot provide to those of its citizens who are detained abroad. When a Canadian is detained outside of Canada, the judicial process is governed by local laws and regulations. Dual national Canadian citizens face even more difficulty if they are detained in their country of origin. In some cases, access is denied to Canadian consular officials.

Chinese authorities refuse to recognize Mr. Celil's Canadian citizenship. They consider him a Chinese citizen. However, let me assure the Canadian people and the hon. member for Mississauga South that Canada continues to stress he is a Canadian citizen.

Finally, I would like to assure the hon. member that we are making every effort to obtain immediate access to Mr. Celil in China. We will continue efforts to confirm Mr. Celil's well-being and to ensure that he is afforded due process and his rights are protected. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will continue to be involved personally in this case.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, if one listens carefully to the parliamentary secretary, it is clear that the conversations going on between China and Canada are one-way. Canada has been making representations, but there have been no responses whatsoever. That is a fact. Under the Vienna convention and under the agreement we have with China on diplomatic affairs, it must require consular access, what charges the person is being faced with to assure that there is going to be due process of law, and the condition of the detainee and that he is being properly treated.

None of these things have happened. In fact, since the extradition to China there has been absolutely no consular access whatsoever. We have a situation with just one-way communication. This is unacceptable. What is the government going to do to improve relations with China so we can start talking about bilateral diplomatic issues?

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I outlined in my response, the Minister of Foreign Affairs met with the Chinese officials and Chinese foreign affairs only last week at the United Nations. We have been actively involved in this case from the moment it was brought to our attention.

Repeated representations have been made and continue to be made on a regular basis to the Chinese authorities for Mr. Celil's safety and security and to bring about a positive outcome.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has been involved in this case from the beginning and he will continue to be.

Privacy concerns do not allow us to discuss the specifics of individual consular cases. Communications between sovereign states are confidential and we do not release this information, but I want to assure the member for Mississauga South that even I have met with the Chinese ambassador. I do not agree with his assessment that relationships with China are not on a sound footing.

As a matter of fact, relationships with China are very strong because we have a strong friendship. We continue making these representations. We have a lot of channels through which we can communicate with the Government of China and we have been doing so.

6:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:47 p.m.)