Mr. Speaker, I am pleased this afternoon to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-55.
I was in the House earlier today when the minister of trade made his very enthusiastic uncritical comments in support of the bill that is before us. I listened very carefully to what the minister of trade had to say about what the impact of Bill C-55 if implemented in its current form would be on the shipbuilding industry of this country.
I expected that he would speak in an informed way about what are some very serious concerns which are widely shared not just by a small corner of this House, not just by 30 New Democrat members of Parliament, but by a great many people across this country, particularly on both coasts, in terms of the very worrisome impact this free trade deal will have on the shipbuilding industry. Far from hearing him give appropriate attention to the very legitimate concerns that are widely shared and widely expressed, he more or less dismissed those concerns. I do not want to misrepresent him in any way, but I think he referred to them as certain sensitivities. He said there were certain sensitivities that had arisen in regard to shipbuilding.
I do not know the minister of trade personally, but I have to say that is one of the world's greatest understatements. Perhaps he is prone to understatement, I do not know, but it certainly does not do justice and it does not deal fairly with what are very deeply rooted concerns. From my point of view and that of the New Democratic caucus, these are well-founded concerns about what the impact of this deal, if it goes ahead unamended, will be on thousands of jobs in this country.
Having said that, there is a very unhappy history, one that is very much shared by and is the joint responsibility of a succession of Conservative, Liberal and Conservative governments. There has been a complete failure by any of those governments over the decades to put in place the kind of comprehensive, coherent, national shipbuilding policy that would have served this country so much better than the kind of fits and starts, piecemeal approach to shipbuilding. It has often been an approach that has been based more on short term electoral considerations than on the very fundamental issues that underlie the need for a comprehensive national shipbuilding policy.
My own experience and exposure to the inadequate responses of the succession of governments began when I was leader of the New Democratic Party in Nova Scotia. There were very real, well-founded concerns about the impact of that lack of a national shipbuilding policy in my own riding in Halifax. At that time I was proud to represent the riding of Halifax Fairview, and before that, Halifax Chebucto. Both of those provincial ridings were very much impacted by the policy, or more accurately, the absence of a national shipbuilding policy. That had an impact on the Halifax shipyards. We have systematically allowed that to happen in this country. Other countries, and one most notable in the context of this debate is Norway, have understood that there cannot be a sound, competitive shipbuilding industry if there is not a net comprehensive national policy.
I recall attending federal NDP conventions in the early 1990s. I think 1991 was one of the occasions when I was part of crafting and piloting through a very comprehensive policy that was adopted by the New Democratic Party. We called for that national shipbuilding policy. Before I ever came to Ottawa and continuing since I entered this chamber in 1997, the New Democratic Party has been very consistent and very persistent in continuing to press for that national shipbuilding policy.
We still do not have it. When the Minister of International Trade refers to “certain sensitivities”, his words, with respect to the disastrous impact that this trade deal, unamended, could have on our shipbuilding industry, he is being extremely insensitive to both that pathetic history of governments of his party's stripe and of the Liberals in not securing a sound base for a robust shipbuilding industry that can continue to compete in today's world.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with our current shipbuilders and our current shipyard workers in terms of their ability to compete, but we have had such a fits and starts approach to this industry that what has effectively happened is that Norway foremost, but other countries as well, has invested in a smart, orderly and far-sighted way in its shipbuilding industry. It has in the process established itself as a competitor that will be a huge winner from the trade deal that is before us. I say good for it.
Some people ask, what is wrong with New Democrats? After all Norway has had a proud tradition of being a social democratic country committed to high wages, committed to practically the whole range of policy objectives that the current government and the Liberal government before it completely pushed aside as not the domain of government intervention. In fact in Norway the government has intervened in a very smart way to build up its shipbuilding capacity, to train, to invest in the hardware, software and infrastructure needed, in the tax policies and so on.
It is not some kind of unexpected development that Canada finds itself at such a disadvantage in relation to competing with a country like Norway. What is unexpected, but I suppose we should come to expect it, what is absolutely unacceptable and impossible to understand for a lot of people whose jobs are at stake is what on earth Canada has been doing in the meantime that has allowed us to be so vulnerable.
It is not just New Democrats who are speaking out on this, although before I go to some of the other voices and some of the other interests very much concerned about the devastation in the shipbuilding industry that can result from this trade deal, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore, who is not able to be here today. I have to say that if he had been in the House to hear the minister talk about certain sensitivities, I think he probably would have had a heart attack. In fact, he had an accident and because of his injury was in hospital yesterday being operated on, and therefore, he was not able to be here today. He has never failed to take a stand on behalf of the shipbuilders and the shipyard workers in this country from the day he entered public life.
It is not just the Nova Scotian members of Parliament in the New Democratic caucus who have been very vocal, knowledgeable and persistent in putting forward their concerns. There are several members from British Columbia. For example, there is the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. The Nanaimo shipyards are very important to the local economy and obviously for local jobs. There is the member for Victoria. In Victoria the Esquimalt dry dock is very important. The Lower Mainland and the Vancouver members all have expressed their concerns articulately. However, it is not just New Democrats who have spoken out.
I would like to read briefly from some of the testimony before the parliamentary committee when Karl Risser, president of Local 1, which was originally the Marine Workers' Federation but is now affiliated with the Canadian Auto Workers Shipbuilding, appeared before the committee. He did so not just on behalf of the proud members who have a long history with the Marine Workers' Federation and today are affiliated with CAW, but also on behalf of the Shipbuilding, Waterways and Marine Workers Council that has done a lot of collaboration and coordination around its concerns about this impending devastation to the shipbuilding industry. He stated in committee:
I am here on behalf of the workers in the marine sector...to express our opposition to this agreement. Canadian shipbuilders find themselves competing for work in domestic and international markets on far from a level ground. Other governments, Norway for one, have supported the shipbuilding industries for years and have built them into powers, while Canada has not. We have had little protection, and what little protection we have left is a 25% tariff on imported vessels into Canada, which is being washed away by government daily through agreements such as this and the exemptions being negotiated with companies.
I will not go on at length, but he makes the important point that ministers of defence over the years have acknowledged how important shipbuilding is to our defence. I know there are some members who will rush forward in this context and ask what my concern is now because we have some important new shipbuilding activity happening with respect to the submarine refits and to the frigates. That is absolutely true and it is very welcome, and I acknowledge that, but with respect to defence and shipbuilding, there has never been a comprehensive approach taken to this and, therefore, we have not had orderly procurement nor long term planning and investments. We have had major investments into important contracts from time to time but then just a drought for very long periods.
Someone who is not familiar with the shipbuilding industry may say that it is not the government's problem. Do we want the government investing and awarding contracts to shipyards to build naval vessels that we do not need? No, but that is not the point. The reason we need a comprehensive national shipbuilding policy is because of the very heavy investment of public dollars into contracts that are awarded for naval vessels and, most recently, major contracts with respect to frigates and subs. Without a comprehensive national shipbuilding policy, all that investment would fall idle if we did not have a commitment to Canadian shipbuilding of non-defence vessels.
It is not surprising that a lot of concern has been expressed. Unwisely, the government felt that, because of opposition from the existing shipyards and in the absence of a national shipbuilding policy, which, understandably, marine and shipyard workers across the country will be very opposed to, it could award the major contracts for both the frigate and the submarine refits and that would shut them up. It felt that would keep them busy in the short term and that they would not dare speak out because they would be so grateful.
However, what they understand, what they committed to and what they lobbied a long time for was not just the immediate investment in contracts that would benefit them individually as workers or their families, but they had pleaded the case and put forward comprehensive proposals for what a national shipbuilding policy should look like and they still do not have it.
Therefore, there are major concerns about what will happen to our shipyards and to the jobs of our shipyard workers over time.
The point was made that Norway should be the kind of country with which we would welcome entering into trade deals, and that is true, but that does not mean we can turn our backs on the legitimate problems that have arisen, not because of what it is looking for but because of what we have failed to do in terms or appropriate investments.
As I indicated, many other people have expressed concerns about the impact of this. Some may suggest that it only affects the shipyard workers. However, in his testimony before the committee, the president of the Shipyard General Workers' Federation in British Columbia stated:
The Canadian shipbuilding industry is already operating at about one-third of its capacity. Canadian demand for ships over the next 15 years is estimated to be worth $9 billion in Canadian jobs. Under the FTAs with Norway, Iceland, and now planned with Korea and then Japan, these Canadian shipbuilding jobs are in serious jeopardy. In these terms, this government's plan is sheer folly and an outrage.
Is it only the workers who have spoken out? No it is not.
In his testimony before committee, Andrew McArthur, speaking on behalf of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada but long-associated with Irving Shipbuilding Inc. and now in retirement, said:
So our position from day one has been that shipbuilding should be carved out from the trade agreement. We butted our heads against a brick wall for quite a number of years on that and we were told there is no carve-out. If the Americans, under the Jones Act, can carve out shipbuilding from NAFTA and other free trade agreements, as I believe the Americans are doing today with Korea, or have done, why can Canada not do the same? ...We have to do something to ensure shipbuilding continues. The easiest thing is to carve it out from EFTA. And if you do one thing, convince your colleagues in government to extend the ship financing facility, make it available to Canadian owners in combination with the accelerated capital cost allowance, and you will have as vibrant an industry as exists
However, what has not happened is the kind of response to the expert advice given by those involved in the shipbuilding industry and by the concerns put forward by the shipyard workers themselves.
I want to come back to where the Liberals stand on this. I could not help but think how consistent they have been, and they are consistent if nothing else, on the budget, on the extension of the Afghan counter-insurgency mission and with regard to climate change. They have railed against them, have talked about the problems with them and then have voted for them or did not vote at all.
Today we heard the trade critic for the Liberals say that they really had concerns about shipbuilding. He knows the problems and spoke a bit about them but then said that they would monitor the effect of this on the shipbuilding industry.
In conclusion, I want to indicate that the New Democratic Party cannot support this bill without a carve out for the shipbuilding industry and without any indication that some of the agricultural implications have been adequately addressed.