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.