Mr. Speaker, today I stand to debate and discuss a unique event in Canadian history.
Never before have we as a nation snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as we have with this Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute. Never before have we fought a trade dispute in the courts, won case after case, and then dismissed these victories. Never before have we thrown the rule of law out the window.
Never before have we given up our leverage in negotiating before the agreement. Never before have we caved in to meet an artificial timeline of our own making and never before have we bullied our own industries to please the United States.
Never before have we had a government that has gone to bat for political expediency instead of going to bat for hardworking Canadians.
Simply put, this softwood lumber deal, this complete capitulation, is wrong.
On the eve of his re-election, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway said that he would be the Prime Minister's worst nightmare. By the way the member has botched this deal, I would say that his wish has definitely come true.
This agreement that the minority government has rammed down Canadian throats makes a mockery of free trade and seeds our domestic sovereignty. It creates a sliding scale export tax that, at current price levels, is actually higher than current U.S. duties. It abandons all our legal victories and gives up $1 billion to secure peace for only two short years.
It cedes our decision over domestic resource management to the United States. It caps our share of the American softwood market. It contains anti-surge provisions that cripple the ability of our forest industry to deal with unexpected circumstances, such as the rise of the pine beetle infestation in British Columbia, a problem, I might add, that is being further exacerbated by the complete lack of environmental policy by the minority Conservative government. However, that is an issue I will save for another time.
This deal exposes Canadian firms to needless uncertainty by agreeing to a monthly measurement for surge protection when U.S. demand is highly variable on a monthly basis. It encourages other sectors and other U.S. companies to seek political decisions to gain protection from Canadian industries, all but guaranteeing more disputes in the future.
Even American lawyers think Canada got suckered. Canada's so-called new government took the terms of our surrender and now Canadians will have to pay the price.
How did we get to this point? In May 2002, the Government of the United States imposed a countervailing and anti-dumping duty of 27% on Canadian softwood imports. Canada's Liberal government challenged this swiftly and comprehensively. It brought forward cases under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and the United States' own court of international trade.
The NAFTA panel struck down the United States' injury determination in September 2003, again in April 2004 and then again in August 2004. These legal victories brought the duties down from 27% to 20% on December 20, 2004, and then from 20% down to 11% on December 12, 2005, steadily relieving pressure on our lumber industry and its workers.
We proved that our lumber industries are not subsidized, do not cause injury, do not threaten injury and do not dump their products in the U.S. markets.
This past March, a NAFTA binational panel decided definitively that Canadian softwood lumber is not subsidized. That panel's decision was to take effect on April 28. The United States had to either comply with this ruling and drop its duty to 2% or file an extraordinary challenge on April 27. The United States used its last legal trick. It in fact did file an extraordinary challenge, allowing it to continue to force Canadians to pay $40 million a month in illegal duties.
However, far from being just another legal stalling tactic, this would have been its last tactic. NAFTA's strict timelines for challenges required a decision no later than August 10, and not even the Americans thought it would go in their own favour. Once that decision had been made, it would not be appealable. Five years of litigation were about to pay off. No more tricks were left in the book, except one. In January, the Conservative Party came to power and determined to end the softwood lumber dispute no matter what it would cost the industry.
In April, the minority Conservative government, eager to get any type of deal together no matter how bad it would be for Canada, hastily agreed to a two page deal with Washington, signing it before the provinces or the industry had time to analyze its effect.
What happened next was a naked betrayal of Canadian lumber producers. The Prime Minister, eager to please his new buddy, George W. Bush, agreed to a U.S. request to suspend our challenge, wiping away years of legal victory. The Prime Minister gave up our biggest bargaining chip for absolutely nothing. Compounding this error, the minority Conservative government then announced that it wanted a final text by June 15 so it could get legislation through the House before the summer break.
If we want to get concessions in negotiation, we do not give away our bargaining chip and we do not announce our own artificial deadline. Industry representatives call these blunders amateur hour at the negotiating table and amateur hour it was. To meet its self-imposed deadline, the minority Conservative government gave up a lot and got nothing in return. It gave up $1 billion in illegal duties. It agreed to a convoluted set of export taxes and quotas. It agreed to end litigation, litigation that we were winning. It lost control of our very own forest industry and it got no concessions in return.
The deal was botched by the member for Vancouver Kingsway and it was botched badly. Now our forestry industry and our forestry workers in Canadian communities from coast to coast to coast will have to pay the price of the minister's blunders.
Over 360,000 Canadians are employed in the softwood industry. Canada has a well-earned international reputation for the quality of our products. It is not, however, been an easy time for our forestry industry. It is already facing pressures from our higher Canadian dollar, higher energy prices, lower housing starts in the United States and shrinking demand for global newsprint. This botched deal will only worsen their plight.
Industry associates warned us months ago that this deal was not commercially viable. The Ontario Forest Industry Association estimates that it could cause as much as a 10% industry job loss. The Bank of Montreal expects shutdowns of both lumber and pulp and paper facilities. The Free Trade Lumber Council warns that sawmills dependent on exports are particularly vulnerable. The Independent Lumber Remanufacturing Association warns that this deal would all but destroy their sectors.
The minority Conservative government continues to bully our industries into submission. The Prime Minister has backed softwood industry representatives into a corner and left them with no choice but to concede to this flawed deal. It has gone so far as to promise to slap a new 19% penalty tax on duty refunds going to Canadian producers who refuse to sign on to the deal and then to delay those payments for two years. These bullying tactics may work inside the Conservative caucus but they will not fly in the forestry sector.
The minority Conservative government has abandoned our lumber industry by refusing to provide loan guarantees for the duties that are rightfully ours. The government has tried to divide Canadians, pretending that there is no other solution.
However, there is a better way. Canada can say no to this botched deal and do what we should have done from the start, which is to see our NAFTA challenges through to the end. We should immediately implement an aid package that, first, will invest in improving industry's competitiveness; two, will invest in the skills of our workforce; and three, will work to develop new overseas markets for our wood products.
We all must remember that it is not just Canadian producers, but American consumers who lose from these illegal duties as well, because they are the ones who will have to pay higher prices for their homes. We should continue our effort to build political alliances of lumber consumers in the U.S. against these illegal duties.
Indeed, before the minority Conservative government caved in we had already secured the support of 150 congressmen and congresswomen to oppose the restrictions on softwood imports.
The Liberal Party cannot support this deal in good conscience, not when there is a better way. It is our duty as the official opposition to stand up for the interests of Canadian lumber producers and the interests of 360,000 hardworking men and women who are employed in this sector of our economy.
The Liberal Party of Canada stands opposed to the minority Conservative government's humiliating surrender and it opposes this botched softwood lumber deal.