Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-2. I particularly want to acknowledge the tireless work of two members from the New Democrats.
The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, of course, is a very familiar voice in this House and has called consistently over the years that I have been here for a shipbuilding policy. The reason we are speaking today in this House is because both the Conservatives and the Liberals have failed on that account.
I want to turn to some of the work that the member—
I was going to say “the minister”. That would be an improvement, if we had here a minister from Burnaby—New Westminster.
I want to refer to some of the work that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has done in connection with identifying some of the issues around shipbuilding. When he tabled a dissenting opinion, what he said was that Canada's shipbuilding industry is not operating anywhere near its maximum capacity and lacks support from the federal government.
Canada is the only major seafaring nation without a strategic plan for its shipbuilding industry. Unlike Canada, Norway has used its period of tariff protection to invest heavily in an expanded shipbuilding industry, making it competitive and efficient. It was thus able to phase out its government subsidies by the year 2000.
Because the shipbuilding industry has been worn away for so long by a lack of interest from the federal government, by the time the tariffs are dropped in 15 years, if no aggressive policy is put in place, there will be little left in Canada other than foreign shipbuilding firms.
The major concern, of course, is that this trade bill reduces tariffs on ships from 25% to zero over a period of 10 to 15 years, depending on the type of products, and nothing happens for the first three years.
Why does it matter?
I want to draw members' attention to a news release from 2007 that was titled, “No celebrations Friday for BC shipyard workers”. It talks about the fact that BC chose to build ferries in Germany. What we see is not only the fact that we could have had the capability to do it here, but as this particular article states,
While BC Ferries holds a $60,000 party in Germany for 3,000 people on Friday, there will be no celebrating the launch of the first of three German-built Super-C Class ferries that have cost the province 3,500 direct and indirect jobs and the loss of $542 million in investment, says the BC Shipyard General Workers' Federation.
By investing in shipyards in this country, we not only create direct and indirect jobs, we not only generate significant amounts of dollars in new investment, but what we always fail to calculate when we are looking at costs of shipbuilding are the returns to government. Those workers pay taxes, and successful businesses pay taxes. That needs to be factored into any kind of equation when we are talking about support to our shipbuilding industry.
When the committee was hearing testimony on this, there were a couple of industry people who came forward and talked about the importance of shipbuilding and why we should exempt shipbuilding from this particular agreement.
George MacPherson, the president of the B.C. Shipyard General Workers' Federation, at the standing committee on trade, on March 3, 2009, said,
The Canadian shipbuilding industry is already operating at about a third of its capacity. Canadian demand for ships over the next 25 years is estimated to be worth $40 billion.
Andrew McArthur, from the Shipbuilding Association of Canada, said,
The position of the association from day one is that shipbuilding should be carved out from EFTA. We have been told categorically time and again by the government that we do not carve industries out. We raise the question of the Jones Act in the U.S., which was carved out from NAFTA. We are not allowed to build or repair for the Americans. The Americans have free access to our market. So industries do get carved out. I'm sure there are numerous other examples.
So we have industry and labour arguing for this.
I want to touch on a couple of companies on Vancouver Island.
In my very own riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, we have the Nanaimo Shipyard Group. This shipyard has been in business since 1930 and has been in the same location, in the Newcastle Channel. It has over 10,000 square feet of covered area. This company mainly carries out refit and maintenance on DND, Coast Guard, and BC Ferry Corporation vessels. It also carries out work on deep-sea cargo vessels, fishing vessels, tug and barge fleets, yachts, fish farming service vessels and other coastal vessels. We can see that it has a wide range of experience in terms of the kinds of repairs it does.
Point Hope shipyard in beautiful Victoria was first established in 1873. Some have said it was the first shipyard in B.C. In fact, the ways were of wooden construction. It has a very significant history. It had written a letter to a number of ministers and talked about its long history, but it also pointed out their capabilities. It said:
Point Hope's capabilities extend to the construction of complete steel and aluminum vessels up to 1,500 tons and 60 meters in length.
It went on to talk about the fact that it was ISO certified. It was also applying for additional ISO certifications so that it would meet environmental standards. It said:
We are a key participant in Canada's defence and industrial marine sector providing significant employment and revitalization in the core of the City of Victoria. Point Hope is a success story and a model for the industry and has the capabilities and resources to continue to grow and expand.
We should be standing up for our shipyards. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster says that we should stand up for Canada. The shipyards and labour have some solutions. The Nanaimo shipyard has written to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates saying that it is the owner-operator of a small to medium-sized enterprise engaged in shipbuilding and repair. It employs approximately 100 to 150 people in four locations, Halifax, Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Victoria.
The shipyard talks about the fact that so many of the small and medium-sized enterprises have either gone bankrupt or been forced out of the industry. It has asked why the Government of Canada, in the context of a larger shipbuilding strategy, does not have a policy that carves out some work for the small and medium-sized enterprises. It has pointed to the example of what happens in the United States.
The United States has something called a small business administration program. I will not go through all of the details on this, but it is a really good example of how the U.S. government has created categories for contract opportunities reserved exclusively for small and medium-sized businesses. There is a whole procedure that small and medium-sized businesses can access.
In case members do not think there is not widespread support from shipyard workers in industry, I want to quote from some letters.
One letter is from the Shipyard General Workers' Federation of British Columbia, dated March 11, 2009. This is written to the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, but it feels so passionately about this that it wanted to ensure some of its words were said in the House. It says:
The Shipyard General Workers Federation represents approximately 2,000 skilled members who work in the shipyards, marine manufacturing and supply industries, and in the metal fabrication shops in British Columbia's coastal communities.
In its letter, it is requesting that, at the very least, the industry should be exempted from EFTA. It says:
We urge the government to recognize and act in the interest of this vital and strategic sector and develop a comprehensive industrial strategy that has as its' objective the long term stability and viability of a shipbuilding and marine fabrication industry on both the East and West coasts.
In the Pacific Northwest, which includes Victoria and Nanaimo, we know that between the major retrofits that used to be available through Point Hope and some of the other shipyards, we also have a significant number of small pleasure craft. I do not have the exact numbers, but it has been rumoured that in the whole base, including Washington and Oregon, there is up to a million small pleasure craft. When we are talking about a shipbuilding industry, we are not only talking about large-vessel building. We are also talking about the smaller pleasure craft. There is a whole range of abilities there.
A national shipbuilding strategy needs to look at that range of abilities. The fact that we have the longest coastline in the entire world, that we literally do go from coast to coast to coast, could be a significant economic driver in many of our communities. It used to be.
In the words of the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, we need to remember shipbuilding. It was one of the founding industries in our country. When I talk about coast to coast to coast, I am not ignoring the inland waterways, which the member for Welland rightly brought up. However, I want to focus on the west coast for now.
We have the ability to rebuild that industry. We still have infrastructure in place. I urge the members in the House to not support this bill, carve out shipbuilding and develop that national shipbuilding strategy.