Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise to speak to Bill C-24, which outlines the government's resolution of the longstanding softwood lumber dispute.
It was interesting to listen to the member who spoke previously. He says it is a dispute that he has been following since he was elected in 1988. I have not been here for quite as long as the previous member or as long as the Speaker himself, but this has certainly been a dispute that has attracted the attention of Parliament and the country since I was elected in the year 2000.
It certainly affected our trade. It was the biggest trade irritant between us and our greatest trade partner south of us, the United States. It was certainly impeding what I would consider a very successful trade agreement, NAFTA. It was certainly having an impact on that.
It is perhaps helpful to remind ourselves just how successful that agreement has been in the sense that I believe softwood lumber consists of about 3% of the trade between Canada and the United States, while 95% of the trade between the two countries goes through irritant free. That shows exactly why it was so important to address the softwood lumber issue. That 3% in fact was very much affecting other trade areas.
I want to compliment the Minister of International Trade for tackling this head-on. I know he certainly did as much as he could in the former government, but certainly since this Parliament started he has been very active on this file.
I think it is important for us to remember exactly what we were facing as a government and as a country. We were facing two choices. The first choice was to continue the route of litigation, to continue to try to win disputes through NAFTA and the World Trade Organization to force the United States to recognize that we were not subsidizing our lumber industry, our forestry products industry, and to try to force the Americans to reduce the countervailing duties and repay the upwards of $5 billion they had collected to that point. That was the choice. The choice was more litigation.
Looking at that, I think we have to be honest with ourselves. The fact was that this was not a resolution. The fact was that we would be spending more in legal fees to go down that route. The fact was that we would probably be discussing some form of loan guarantee program and putting taxpayers' money at risk in order to support our industry.
The fact is that there was no real end in sight, because if we won another NAFTA dispute, another resolution, the United States could simply change its own legislation, start another series in litigation along this route and we would be no closer to a settlement than we were two, three or 20 years ago. So we had a choice. We had a choice between more litigation or this resolution.
In fact, I know that a lot of members of the House have been very critical of this agreement, but I will say quite honestly that this agreement is better than I thought we as a government could get in the first place. I thought the Americans would never sign an agreement of this type. In fact, I want to review some things that are in the agreement and some of the benefits that accrue to Canada.
The agreement eliminates the punitive U.S. duties and returns more than $4.4 billion to producers to provide stability for the industry. It spells an end to the long-running dispute. It obviously addresses the massive trade irritant between ourselves and the United States. U.S. countervailing and anti-dumping duty orders will be fully and completely revoked. The absence of U.S. trade remedy action under the agreement will offer a period of stability for the industry, which will allow Canadian companies to make the investments necessary to ensure that their competitiveness goes forward.
There is also an issue that some members are raising now in portraying what kind of export tax would have to be paid if certain provinces go over a prescribed limit. In fact, as members know, there are two choices. Option A is the export tax if our exports rise above a certain level, but there is also option B, which is the quota and a small tax. What this does is keep these moneys in Canada, in the provinces, thereby allowing the provinces to not only direct their own forestry practices but obviously address situations that may arise.
One of those situations is in my own province of Alberta. Members will know, and certainly members from British Columbia will know, of the seriousness of the pine beetle devastation in that area of the country. Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to survey from a helicopter how much had actually been affected by the pine beetle. It was incredible. One had to see it to believe it.
The concern from the Alberta industries is that the pine beetle will make its way into Alberta very shortly. It would cause some of the producers to want to harvest more quickly, as they did in British Columbia, and therefore the amount of exports would go up.
The agreement allows the Canadian government and the provincial government of Alberta to deal with that situation by having the resources come back to the province and then the province can deal with that situation. Rather than have the United States collect those duties, it allows the provinces to deal with it in a much better way. There is an option between litigating it with possibly no resolution, probably no resolution in sight. In my view, this is the best possible agreement that could have been negotiated.
As I mentioned, it makes a $4.4 billion immediate cash infusion into our communities across the country. It is one thing to talk to the industry itself, and the Minister of International Trade has identified that over 90% of the industry supports this agreement, but let us talk to the communities that are most affected.
Hon. members should talk to the people in those communities, mainly in the rural regions of our country. We should ask them if they want a situation where they will be paying duties, there is no resolution, and they do not know whether they will have a job in a year or two because this situation could carry on, or do they want to have the situation resolved? Do they want to have some stability? The companies in various provinces would then know what kind of situation they are dealing with and have some cash infusion to make their company more competitive.
It is incumbent upon members who are critical of this agreement to put on the table exactly what they are criticizing, to say what specific measures they would want to see in place that the agreement does not address. They should be realistic in the sense that there are two sides to a trade dispute, two sides that have to come to the table and two sides that have to come to an agreement.
In my view, the agreement is the best possible agreement that Canada could have signed. As I mentioned before, it is a better agreement than I thought we would have been able to get. I would like to encourage all members of the House to support the agreement. The Bloc Québécois is supporting it.
I am very surprised that the Atlantic Canadian members of the Liberal Party are not supporting the agreement. It is a very good agreement for Atlantic Canada. Responding to a previous question, a very good question from the NDP to my colleague from Atlantic Canada, I would agree with him. As a westerner, as someone from Alberta, I would say Atlantic Canada, by its forestry practices, deserves this exemption. I, as a Canadian from western Canada, support that.
I want to finish up by saying that I did have the opportunity, and companies across this country have been very open to all parliamentarians, to see firsthand what the industries do and what their workers do. I have seen all aspects of the forestry industry in this country and have been amazingly impressed.
We hear the expression “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. If anyone has been to a softwood lumber facility, and they should go to the one near Prince George, they would see the computer system that measures every single log and the IT system that follows that. If they went to the mill just outside Calgary in Palliser, they would see the way that all the employees, aside from just working in the plant, are also upgrading their skills, learning how to move up the system, and taking logs that other companies may not utilize and turning them into a wood product that they can then export. It is a fantastic industry and one that all Canadians should be very proud of, but it deserves some stability. It obviously deserves our government's support.
We have signed, in my view, the best agreement possible. It is obviously supported by the large lumber producing provinces and it should be supported by all members of Parliament. I encourage all members of Parliament to take a serious look at the agreement, to support it, and to support our lumber industry across this country, but most important, to support the families in the communities who really need a resolution to this issue.