Mr. Speaker, as I stand today to speak to Bill C-2, yet another free trade agreement, I am concerned for the workers of Hamilton and for Canadian workers as a whole.
Canada has gone through over 20 years of free trade agreements. In my riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, particular the Hamilton East portion, I have watched this seemingly endless parade of companies that have left Hamilton or closed as a direct result of free trade. My observation is that most Canadians do not feel free trade is free at all.
I watched Burlington Street in Hamilton go from a dynamic, bustling centre of manufacturing to a mere shadow of its former self. In fact, the very day the original draft free trade agreement was tabled, the first one between Canada and the United States, Firestone Canada in Hamilton, on the words of that draft agreement, closed its once proud plant on Burlington Street.
We, the labour movement and organizations like the then brand new Council of Canadians warned them, Because most Canadian cities were within 100 miles of the American border, we warned them that with free trade and the removal tariff barriers our plants owned by American companies would move or close.
I take absolutely no satisfaction in having been right. During the first two years of that original free trade agreement, between 1988 and 1990, Ontario lost 524,000 manufacturing jobs. Canada and Hamilton, in particular, quite literally bled jobs to the United States and Mexico.
Hamilton, long known for steel production, was once one of the leading textile manufacturing sites in all of North America. Those plants are long gone. During the past 20 to 25 years, Canada and, to a great degree, much of the free world has been on the track, a track comprised of deregulation and free trade as espoused first by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney.
For evidence, look to today's crisis in the American market, a place where business was conducted in this wild west environment. Now we can see the outcome, the lack of proper regulation or deregulation and the requirement of enforcement. It is almost like the sheriff left town and Wall Street ran rampant with that reckless abandon, which we have become so aware of in the last few months.
Canada once had an auto pact, which protected our market and ensured employment in that important industry and the associated support industries. The Liberals, when in government, let that agreement slip away. Now we not only have cuts to auto plants, but Hamiltonian steelworkers are being laid off. In fact, we are seeing thousands upon thousands of support jobs lost along with those direct manufacturing jobs.
For Hamilton and Hamilton steel plants, this has proven to be devastating. No orders means no work which means layoffs.
As I said before, I can recall in 1988 when the labour movement and other organizations like that newly minted Council of Canadians were warning that this day would come if the Government of Canada signed on to that free trade agreement.
Similar warnings were issued in 1993, regarding NAFTA. The Liberals were at the front with those warnings. In fact, they were warning themselves. They made promises that they would not sign onto NAFTA, which they did shortly after winning that election.
Today Canadian industries are very fragile. Industries like shipbuilding, in particular, need attention from their government. Canada has been known worldwide for the quality of our shipbuilding, but other countries have worked hard to protect their shipbuilding with massive subsidies to aid their development, such as with Norway. Canada has lagged and has not had the comprehensive strategy to protect this important industry.
At committee, the New Democratic Party tried to protect this industry with no less than 16 motions, which were turned back by the chair with the aid of the Liberal Party members present. For the information of the members present today, shipbuilding is exempted from NAFTA.
At committee, the Shipbuilding Association of Canada made it clear that shipbuilding must be removed from the Canada-EU trade agreement. This agreement would reduce Canadian tariffs on ships from 25% to zero over 10 to 15 years. If we allow this to happen, we will lose our market altogether.
Members also need to know that the United States has always protected its shipbuilding industry ever since the Jones bill of 1920. That legislation protects the U.S. capacity to produce commercial ships. The Jones act requires commerce between U.S. ports on inland waters to be reserved for ships that are U.S. built, U.S. owned, registered under U.S. law and U.S. manned. In recent years the United States has implemented a heavily subsidized naval reconstruction program. All of this is to the direct benefit of its shipyards and its U.S. workers.
Where has Canada been? Canada can and must do the same thing. Canada must separate shipbuilding from this free trade agreement.
Finally, the shipbuilding sector must be completely excluded from the agreement, as I have said. The government should immediately put together an enhanced, structured financing facility, along with an accelerated capital cost allowance for this industry. An important component would be a buy Canadian strategy.
We have heard this buy Canadian strategy at a number of levels. We heard it first when the United Steelworkers made representation to the Congress in the United States on the buy American plan.
Within the free trade agreements to which we are now party, there are provisions that allow for a buy Canadian strategy. They allow for municipalities and provincial governments to buy Canadian. There are some limitations to that, but the Conservative government does not seem to want to entertain this option at all. In fact, the so-called free traders of the world raise their arms in concern when it happens, but that could be the very foundation for the salvation of not only shipbuilding, but our manufacturing sector altogether.