Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-24 which will implement Canada's obligations under the recently signed softwood lumber agreement.
Two weeks ago, the hon. Minister of International Trade joined with his American counterpart to sign the softwood lumber agreement. I have been in the House for almost 13 years and for all the time I have been here this softwood lumber issue has been a real serious bone of contention between the United States and Canada. It has been a serious irritant between our two countries and it has affected not only the lumber industry but trade generally in a very negative fashion between our two countries.
I am delighted to see this agreement finally reached. For those who have been following this dispute, I am sure many of us really thought it would be something we would never see in our time in politics, certainly in my case, or in our lifetime. There simply had not been any progress made on this issue until the past few months when our trade minister and the Prime Minister, and our Canadian Ambassador to the United States took this issue and paid special attention to it and finally made things happen.
Is everyone in the industry happy with this agreement? Absolutely not. There could never be an agreement quite frankly which would satisfy everyone in the industry, but does the industry recognize that this deal is a good deal? Yes, it does. It realizes that it is simply better than anything that has been talked about in the past seriously and certainly anything that has been agreed to in the past.
This agreement has left Canada's lumber industry, which has been in an extremely unstable position for a long time, finally with an agreement that it can count on for the next several years. I am delighted to be here speaking to the implementation of the bill which would actually implement this agreement.
Working with our American counterparts, Canada's new government was able to accomplish something that governments have not been able to accomplish in the past and this agreement is one which is highly favourable to Canada and to Canadian industry. Some others in the House have talked about the specifics of that. Some others have certainly talked about the importance of the money which will flow to the industry at a time when the industry is having serious problems. Lumber prices have dropped quite dramatically and the industry is in trouble. We recognize this. A lot of jobs depend on this industry.
This is an issue which is not just talking about the financial situation or finances, it is talking about jobs in the softwood lumber industry. There are tens of thousands of jobs in this industry and this agreement will allow most of those jobs to be kept where otherwise they would not, they would be lost. This is an agreement which is clearly good for the softwood lumber industry. It is good for the lumber communities, for workers in those communities, and it is good for our country. The softwood lumber industry is a huge industry in this country. The importance of this industry is not to be understated.
This agreement ends costly litigation which has been going on for the 13 years I have been in the House. It ends that costly litigation. It takes our lumber producers out of the courts and provides stability for the industry and it returns $4.4 billion roughly to Canadian businesses, to companies involved in the softwood lumber industry.
As I said, it is such a vital time for the industry, a time when the industry is in a serious state of decline with prices declining, many companies on the brink. I would suggest that this money will keep many of those companies from going out of business and those jobs being lost.
Clearly, this is a good agreement for Canada. Bill C-24 will allow Canada to fully implement its commitments under the softwood lumber agreement. That is what Bill C-24 is all about. As anyone watching would know, it is not about rewriting a deal. That is not on the table. The deal has been signed. The deal has been finalized. This is simply about implementation. Both governments have agreed to this deal. It is an agreement between Canada and the United States. This is about the implementation of the deal.
Bill C-24 will permit the government to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and on refunds of duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize payments to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other acts as a consequence of this deal. That is what this agreement is all about, to make it clear.
When listening to some others in the House and their presentations, we would never know that. Members would think that this bill was somehow about the agreement itself, about renegotiating the deal. Of course, that is not at all what it is about. That is not on the table. That is not going to happen. It is a good deal. I think we should be delighted that that is not going to happen.
As parliamentarians consider the merits of this bill, I would ask that they also consider the alternative to this agreement. This is something that I think is worth every one of us considering. The fact is we do not have to look too far into the past to see what life would be like without this agreement.
Our lumber producers have spent the better part of the last two decades engaged in a number of drawn out legal battles with the United States. We have had some that have said that we are going to win these and we should go ahead. I will talk a little bit about that in just a minute.
These members have missed firsthand the deep influence of the protectionist voices in the United States. They know the toll, both human and financial, that this dispute has taken. These long drawn out battles have had an extremely negative impact on the industry. Despite the clear cost of letting this agreement slide, some will continue to say that Canada was on the verge of a complete legal victory and should continue down the path of litigation.
Let me be clear on this point, even if, and it is a big if, even if Canada were to be ultimately successful when it comes to litigation, the United States industry could file a petition and request the imposition of new duty orders immediately thereafter. If we were successful in this round, the Americans would refile and would continue with the litigation.
I might add that this possibility was raised by the U.S. trade representative Susan Schwab herself when she was in Ottawa to sign this agreement. It has been raised by many others in the past. We have seen from the history of what has happened over the past two decades that the Americans would do that. That is exactly what could happen.
Any members of the House who are suggesting that we should just carry it through and finish with this agreement, and we will win and we will get all the money back, the $4.4 billion plus almost another billion dollars, they are not being realistic. I would ask parliamentarians to consider those people working in lumber communities right across this country, to consider what taking this risk and what taking this course of action would do to them, and what they would prefer, a continuation of this dispute, all the time, effort and money that this path requires, or the practical and immediate solution offered by this hard won agreement.
I would ask the members of this House to carefully consider these two alternatives. Those are the only alternatives. They are the only real alternatives that are before this House, to either take this deal, which is a deal many in the industry have said is not exactly what we want. It is not a perfect deal and we know that, but it is a good deal. It is good for the industry, good for companies involved, good for workers and good for the country. So do we take that deal, or do we take our chances on litigation? I would suggest that continuing litigation is really good for lawyers, but it is good for no one else.
I would say that the odds are extremely high that the litigation would continue for some time down the road, new challenges would be brought forth, and in the end we would have an industry in turmoil. I would suggest that a lot of companies would go out of business over the next year or two under that scenario, and this agreement will prevent that for many of them. Because of that, this deal will save a lot of jobs for people in the softwood lumber industry.
After careful consideration of the facts, I am confident that parliamentarians will come to the same conclusion that the provinces and the industry have come to, and that certainly I and members of my party have come to, that this agreement is in fact the best option for our country.
Today I ask all members of the House to support Bill C-24. This bill will help us to write the final chapter in this dispute. It will put it behind us and get us back to the business of making a more competitive North America and a more competitive and prosperous Canada for generations to come. That is what this deal will do.
For members who are talking like they will not be supporting the deal, I am confident that after they have talked to people in the industry in their areas and considered the consequences of this not going through, we will get enough support in the House. I am confident that this implementation legislation will pass and we will move on to some other critical issues facing our country right now, issues that we should be dealing with on an urgent basis.
I am looking forward to any questions that members opposite may have.