Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise to debate this issue. It is very important, especially given the fact that as we look at another trade agreement we have our current agreements that are not being complied with. We have seen this government capitulate with regard to softwood lumber. There, we were able to pull a defeat from the jaws of victory. We had won the court cases and had the victory through the dispute resolution process, but we decided instead to settle for defeat.
The consequence of that, as we have heard from the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, is that the industry has basically become a net exporter of raw resources and has a diminished capacity for secondary post-production, which is the real value of some of the skill set training and knowledge of Canadian workers. That is important to recognize because we further undermine our ability to protect this country and also prosper by becoming a net exporter of resources.
This Parliament is moving forward rather quickly with regard to a trade agreement with European trade partners. We have been neglecting the United States file, as the Americans have put a buy American caveat in their legislation for their stimulus package. That has led to quite a bit of confusion right now and the government in question so far has stated only that it would monitor the situation and talk to people.
Yet, it has not set up a plan B. Unfortunately, a plan B is very important. Even if the government did not want to move on that particular issue right away, there should be work and at least the admittance to do that because we are not taking advantage of opportunities. There are classic examples of this.
This trade agreement is tied to the stimulus package in the sense that it is an opportunity to be able to do new and exciting things. Even if one took the minister's words to heart regarding our over-capacity, we have heard counter-evidence to that effect. The member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River has invited the minister to come up to his riding to see where ships used to be built. Even if we were at the point where we had 10 years of work, as the government chief whip said, there is nothing stopping us from increasing capacity here and developing it further.
That is important to note because it is all well within our rights, especially when we look at the current trade agreements and the fact that we are partners with the United States. A lot of the American defence procurement is done in a way that protects its workers and also its national interests by making sure its defence capabilities and manufacturing base is there. Some of the technological advancements, through many of these procurements, are very beneficial to other parts of the economy, not just the workers who are doing the work on the line or in the research and development phases, but also as it spins off into other technologies and other uses of new goods and services including materials that make up everything from computers and electronics to new types of construction elements that can be applied quite often in a civil society.
When we look at the Canadian side, we do not believe it is okay for Canada to sit back and depend upon others to manufacture some of our most important aspects to make sure we have a safe, sovereign country. The most recent glaring example has been the Navistar truck plant in Chatham, Ontario, which could have been retooled to produce a truck for our military. Instead, we are sending a quarter of a billion dollars of money down to Texas so that the Navistar facility there will have the jobs. It will have the advancement of the technology as the trucks are improved. It will also secure a number of different contracts in the future. Here, we are vulnerable to seeing our plant, which is already at a diminished capacity, firing hundreds of people and leaving for Mexico. That is sad.
We have heard the argument that we cannot do anything about it. That is absolutely nonsense and it is not true. We can have that procurement under the current trade relationship we have. No one would place blame, just like we do not blame the United States if it has particular aircraft or different types of military elements that it wants to ensure it has in its actual custody. Then, I could understand the argument regarding national security. The Americans would at least have the basis for that. We could engage them in a wider attempt to open up both of our nations for a fairer policy. However, we do not challenge that. We just surrender and run up the white flag.
Lately we have Canadians whose jobs we saved just a few years ago. The Liberals at that time said they could not do anything for Navistar in terms of retooling and training to produce a new vehicle because it would violate NAFTA and be against all the rules. There were a whole bunch of lies and misconceptions.
The government finally capitulated and a small investment went into that facility. The men and women of the Chatham and greater southern Ontario area benefited, and they paid it back into the coffers of this country quite significantly because they paid income tax and made donations to the United Way, making sure their families could stay in the municipalities and that property values did not slide. There was an opportunity for them to feel secure with their families and to send their kids to school to get an education.
Instead, what have we seen? We have seen the government, with one-quarter of a billion dollars, say that Texas can have that, and that by the way there are no rules and nothing to worry about, and that it is just going to sit back on the sidelines.
The sad thing is it is not only the years of lost production and manufacturing and the potential of new contracts that could be won by that type of very modest investment and retooling; on top of that there is the ability of the workers to have self-confidence and of the the community to continue to function in the way it has. The departure from at least engaging in that policy, or at least discussing it, is also leaving out the echo effect that would be quite viable with that type of investment in the Chatham facility. From that we would see the servicing and all the other elements of the trucks that could come from the facility if they wanted to, or we could look at some type arrangement that way.
That is why we are really upset with regard to the potential loss in the shipbuilding industry. It has been noted that Norway has set up a series of investments over a number of years for hard infrastructure that has allowed it to build up its actual capacity. That is fine. It is something Norway decided to do, but it is something we should not ignore. As New Democrats, we are not alone in being concerned about that element and about the reduction of our tariffs over a series of years, which could really undermine our ability. That is what is concerning about it, especially when we look at investors.
If we have so much work, as the minister says, although we have heard evidence counter to that, why would someone want to invest further into this country when there is the competitive advantage in Norway and we would be catching up at this time?
That concern has been expressed by others, even in the private sector. One of them has been Mary Keith, a spokeswoman for Irving Shipbuilding, who said the agreement announced Thursday “is a devastating blow for Canadian shipbuilders and marine service sectors. The Government of Canada is continuing its 12-year history of sacrificing Canadian shipbuilding and ship operators in the establishment of free trade--”