Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on Bill C-24, otherwise known as the softwood lumber products export charge act.
The dispute has been of particular interest to me, as the lumber industry is an important contributor to the economy of my riding of Churchill. It is certainly a critical issue and is of critical concern to the men and women who work in this industry in my riding.
Not only has the softwood lumber sellout been an issue of considerable local concern, but it is of course of concern throughout the country given the immense trade that takes place between Canada and the United States. This trade has a long history. It has developed over time and represents a history that is fundamental to the trade between our countries.
Today, over 37,000 trucks cross over the Canadian-American border daily. In 2003, two way trade in goods and services exceeds $441.5 billion, which firmly establishes Canada and the U.S. as the world's largest trade relationship. The economies of our two countries are intertwined. Cooperation and respect are therefore essential components in order for this relationship to flourish.
No one in the House can deny the importance of trade with our closest friend and nearest neighbour. Trade is a two way street and it must be mutually respected in order to maximize efficiency. To this end, various trade courts and tribunals have been established to assist if and when trade disputes emerge. In fact, while exhausting such avenues in respect to the longstanding softwood lumber dispute, it was ruled in a variety of courts that Canada's practices in the softwood industry complied with international law.
Whether we took our case to the North American Free Trade Agreement tribunals, the World Trade Organization or U.S. courts, Canada always seemed to come out successfully. As recently as July 14, 2006, the U.S. Court of International Trade ruled in favour of Canada, concluding that the American tariffs and duties were in fact illegal. As well, NAFTA and WTO judgments were clear that our industry was not subsidized.
If this was indeed the conclusion, why did Canada settle for anything less? Canadians deserve better. We had won all the challenges and it is believed that the U.S. would have exhausted appeals within a short period.
The Conservatives did not fully appreciate, it seems, all that was at stake. There was much more at stake than simply the capital that was owed. First, Canadian sovereignty was at stake. Canada must have the courage to stand up to even the strongest of powers. Second, ensuring that the United States respected our trade agreement was also at stake. This settlement sets the stage and ensures that Americans do not take our agreement seriously.
This in effect highlights another point: the credibility of our dispute mechanism. By compromising the rulings found by the dispute resolution provisions of NAFTA, we are destroying the credibility of the dispute mechanism as a whole. Moreover, and most important, I have spoken with the industry in my riding and I would like to take this time to talk about its position and its displeasure.
The United Steelworkers in my riding have expressed great concern and frustration with this agreement. The union represents forestry workers in many communities throughout my riding and across Manitoba. Those communities include Thompson, Wabowden, Cranberry, Moose Lake, The Pas, Birch River, Swan River, Roblin, Neepawa, and even Winnipeg, which is not in my riding.
The president of the local has denounced the agreement, and on August 24 he stated, “This is a devastating deal with possibilities of having even higher penalties imposed on our lumber exports when prices fall, and a quota system legislated by the U.S. that will downsize operations”. He went on to say, “[The Prime Minister] has done nothing in this effort to meet with Canadian workers and hear us...This isn't a respectful agreement. This is a sellout”.
This represents the concerns and the position of the forestry workers in my riding. They believe this deal is a sellout. The minority government has simply abandoned them.
While the softwood lumber dispute was certainly on the forefront, its existence was by no means unique. In fact, a number of other trade disputes have emerged between Canada and the United States in the past. There have been disagreements with Canada Post and the Canadian Wheat Board among other things.
When the minority government finalized its agreement with the U.S., it in effect sent a strong message to both Canadians and Americans.
Canadians, particularly those in trade disputes, despite how many international court challenges they win, now understand that, under Conservative leadership, there is a possibility, and a very good possibility, that they will be compromised. Simultaneously, Americans, particularly those in trade disputes, despite how many international court challenges they lose, now understand that, under Canadian Conservative leadership, anything is possible.
Are Canadian industries wrong to believe that if they find themselves in a trade dispute, the government may settle for much less than they deserve?
The agreement has left $500 million for the American lumber industry. This $500 million should have been returned to Canadians. This so-called deal created an export tax, which at current price levels, is higher than current U.S. duties.
Canadians deserve better. The men and women working in the forest sector in my riding have worked too hard to have the government simply sign their industry over to the Americans.
In addition to this disconcerting precedent, the agreement has already begun to have consequences on production. For example, as a direct result, one of the operations in my riding in northern Manitoba had to eliminate the night shift, immediately. It has also stated that further employment opportunities will be reduced as a result of the agreement.
This is an outrage. How could the industry in my riding possibly approve an agreement that would have such negative implications? How could I, as their respected member of Parliament, support an agreement that would cut jobs and lower wages?
The Prime Minister and his government bullied the Canadian industry with an ultimatum. The Conservatives have illustrated that they are willing to punish sectors of the industry and companies that refuse to support them by leaving them behind, and this is exactly what has happened.
Canada is a strong country. There is no good reason why a Canadian government must compromise and sacrifice our industry. We owe it to our lumber industry to support them with a solid deal.
Despite what they argue, there were alternatives. The Liberal Party proposed a supplementary aid package that included: $200 million over two years to enhance the forest industry's competitive position, improve its environmental performance and take advantage of the growing bio-economy; $40 million over two years to improve the overall performance of the national forest innovation system; $30 million over two years to improve the competitiveness of the workforce, promote upgrading of workplace skills and provide assistance to older workers impacted by forestry industry layoffs; $100 million over two years to support economic diversification and capacity building in communities affected by job losses in the forest industry; $30 million over two years to develop new markets for Canadian wood products; and $200 million over two years to fight the spread of the pine beetle in B.C. forests.
In addition, the previous Liberal government offered the industry to either accept a negotiated settlement or continue the justified legal actions, which we would have supported by providing loan guarantees, reinvestment support, community and worker adjustment and assistance with legal costs. The Liberal Party also offered solutions and alternatives to the forest industry.
I have risen today to speak on behalf of the forestry workers in my Churchill riding and, indeed, all workers across the country that have been left with the consequences of this careless agreement. I have joined them in their fight to ensure they have a future and proud livelihood.
Canadians deserve better. With this in mind I can never support such an agreement.