Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I stand today in support of this very important motion made by the hon. member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl. He has demonstrated in the House, year after year, since he was elected, that he is a passionate champion and rigorous defender of the interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, along with the member for St. John's East. The two of them represent a duo of members of Parliament who routinely and consistently stand in the House and stand up for fairness, justice, and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. They should be applauded by the people of that province for their efforts on their behalf.
I want to talk briefly about what the motion today is about, but, more importantly, what it is not about. The motion is about the commitment made by the federal government to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to secure provincial government support for the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union. In short, it is about the official opposition, the New Democrats in the House, requesting that the governing Conservatives honour the clear commitment they made that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador would get a $400 million transition fund, made up of $281 million from the federal government and $120 million contributed by the provincial government, in exchange for Newfoundland and Labrador giving up a very important policy tool, the minimum processing requirements for their fish products in Newfoundland.
What the debate is not about is the merits of CETA. It is not about the economics of trade. It is about one thing. It is about when a province of our federation can expect its federal counterpart to honour a clear commitment that is made to it. That is what this debate is about, and now I will go into that in more detail.
First I want to talk about the importance of fisheries and seafood to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I do not think we have to belabour this point. I think every Canadian is well aware of the importance of that sector to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and in fact all people who live in the Maritimes, as well as the rest of Canadians who benefit from the hard work of those people in that sector.
In 2013, the seafood sector in Newfoundland generated $1.1 billion, and provided employment for over 18,000 people, mainly in the rural parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, where alternate sources of employment are not so easy to get. Therefore, the fisheries sector is critically important to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The average annual export value of fish and seafood products from Newfoundland to the European Union is approximately $120 million per year. CETA does contain a comprehensive schedule of tariff reductions for seafood exports that we all think will benefit the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and in fact all of Atlantic Canada. There are tariffs as high as 25% on seafood products. Ninety-six per cent of the European Union fish and seafood tariff lines are expected to be eliminated by CETA once, and if, it is in place at some point.
Let us review some of the basic facts of this dispute. Newfoundland's fish processing sector generates hundreds of millions of dollars in value to the Newfoundland and Labrador economy. The minimum processing requirements policy tool has been used by Newfoundland to secure value-added jobs in rural areas across that province, regions that have suffered from low employment since the cod fishery's collapse.
Newfoundland and Labrador has tightly guarded the right to manage MPRs to generate employment in the past. In short, the policy tool of minimum processing requirements has been very important to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and, more importantly, the people of that province.
In January 2012, Ocean Choice International, a major seafood corporation, requested a permanent exemption for MPRs to permit the export of flash-frozen whole fish for further processing overseas. The Newfoundland government refused that request, highlighting the need for “ensuring the long-term security of resources for the benefit of future generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians”. Members can see that two or three years ago, the Newfoundland and Labradorian government was emphasizing the importance of minimum processing requirements.
In January 2013, the Newfoundland government stated that it was pushing for maximum local benefits in the CETA deal. Minister Hutchings of that province added, “We will only support a deal that is in the best interest of Newfoundland and Labrador”.
What happened is that the heavy-handed tactics of a secretive and insecure government started to show its hand. CBC reported that the federal Conservatives were in the province to negotiate with Newfoundland over the removal of MPRs. In other words, the European Union was requesting the Canadian government to give up MPRs, and that, in turn, caused the Canadian Conservative government to turn to its counterpart in Newfoundland and request that the government give up its historic important tool of minimum processing requirements.
In a speech to the St. John's Board of Trade, Premier Dunderdale said at that time that “...the Muskrat Falls loan guarantee nearly fell apart when Ottawa suddenly demanded [that] the province give up the requirement that fish landed in Newfoundland and Labrador be processed within the province.”
It was the first time that we saw the pressure on the Province of Newfoundland by the federal Conservatives, going so far as to threaten the pulling of federal loan guarantees for a very important electrical generating project in Newfoundland.
On October 23, 2013, Bill Hawkins, the chief of staff to the Minister of International Trade, wrote an email to the Newfoundland government, which said that transitional programs “of up to a combined total of $400 million that would address fish and seafood industry development and renewal, as well as workers whose jobs are displaced in future” will be provided by the federal government.
What happened here is clear. Newfoundland negotiated the agreement with the federal government. In exchange for giving up the important policy tool of minimum processing requirements in that province, the federal government agreed to provide transition funds to help the province, in the sum of $280 million. Combined with $120 million from Newfoundland, the fund would be $400 million, which would be integral and necessary for the people displaced by the ending of minimum processing requirements in Newfoundland to transition to other employment. There was zero mention at that time that those transition funds were in any way linked to Newfoundland and Labrador having to demonstrate that there were job losses or negative consequences as a result of the implementation of minimum processing requirements.
I am the official opposition critic for international trade, and I can tell members that when the Conservative government does link the payment of federal transition funds to provinces for displacement due to CETA, it says so.
The Conservatives said directly to the provinces that if there are negative consequences suffered by the provinces over changes to the intellectual property provisions of CETA, in other words, costs to the provinces for increased prescription costs as a result of CETA, and if the provinces can demonstrate losses, the federal government will compensate.
The federal government has said to the dairy industry of this country that if the dairy industry suffers losses and those can be demonstrated, it will provide funding.
The Conservatives said no such thing to Newfoundland and Labrador when it came to the provision of transitional funds.
Here is the other thing. On October 2014, the Minister of State for Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency was quoted as using the term “fishery transition initiative”. At that time, in late October 2014, ACOA officials, for the first time started to say that the province would have to demonstrate damages to the federal government as a result of the elimination of MPRs before funding would flow.
On December 11, 2014, the new premier of Newfoundland, Premier Davis, met with the Prime Minister to discuss this issue. He clearly said to the Prime Minister that the federal transition funds were unconditional. They had nothing to do with Newfoundland demonstrating losses. It was money that was intended to flow to the province of Newfoundland purely as a result of giving up the minimum processing requirements and there was no condition attached to that.
Here is what Premier Davis said, coming out of that meeting:
[It] really solidifies for me that you can't trust the federal government.... You can't trust [the Prime Minister's] government.... We bargained in good faith.... We believe[d] we had an agreement in place, that we had a deal set.
That is not the official opposition saying that the federal government reneged, that the Conservatives reneged. That is the Premier of Newfoundland saying that.
Let us explore the argument the Conservatives are making in the House that, “Oh, no, the federal Conservatives always intended the Newfoundland government has to demonstrate losses”.
I met with ministers of the Newfoundland provincial government. This is what they said to me—and I put this out for Canadians to judge—“If the $400 million was intended as a fund only to be paid in the event of demonstrated losses to compensate Newfoundland for the losses they could demonstrate, why are we contributing $120 million? Does the federal government expect us to compensate ourselves?” They do not need to have a deal to compensate their own displaced fisheries workers. Not only that, but there was never a word mentioned in any memo, in any news article, anywhere, by the current Conservative government that ever tied the payment of transition funds to the demonstration of losses.
The Conservative government has also said, “Oh, well, this isn't fair to the other provinces, Atlantic provinces, which also may suffer losses as a result of CETA.
Here is the fact that all Canadians can weigh, that punctures to the heart of that matter. The other Atlantic provinces do not have minimum processing requirements. Only Newfoundland and Labrador does. Only Newfoundland and Labrador was asked to give up minimum processing requirements. Only it was negotiating with the government what it would get as a result of giving up that important policy tool.
Does it really seem reasonable to anyone that this is unfair to Newfoundland because the other Atlantic provinces did not get it? Of course it is not unfair, because they did not give up minimum processing requirements.
Now, to add insult to injury, the Minister of Justice states that the fisheries fund was never intended to be a “slush fund”. What an insult to the Premier and the Government of Newfoundland. What an insult to the cabinet ministers of Newfoundland. What an insult to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to call this money a slush fund when it is compensation for those people, compensation that the current government admits is owing, compensation that it knows is necessary, because Newfoundland and Labrador gave up something important to it and will suffer losses as a result
What has happened since then? On January 20, 2015, Newfoundland announced that it is withdrawing from Canadian trade negotiations and withdrawing its support for CETA.
The Conservative government's credibility is on the hook here.
I want to talk about integrity and respecting agreements.
When one signs a trade agreement, like any contract, like any agreement, the value of that agreement is not just in the words on the paper. The value of that agreement is in the good faith and the intent of the signatories to that agreement to implement the terms of that agreement in good faith.
Trade agreements are only as strong as the good faith of the parties implementing them. I will give an example. Non-tariff barriers are notorious in our world. Stories are legion of parties signing trade agreements, only to have the benefits of those agreements undermined by parties that go away and implement every single conceivable kind of non-tariff barrier to defeat the purpose of that trade agreement.
In this case, for the federal Conservative government to break its word with the province early on, in the agreement's genesis, demonstrates a lack of good faith. It demonstrates bad faith. That is inconsistent with the federal government's proper role in implementing trade policy, which requires the utmost of good faith.
When we speak of integrity, commitment, and honour, I want to relate a story of a person I know in Vancouver: Mr. Jeff Gourley. Jeff Gourley is the head coach of the senior boys' basketball team at Vancouver's Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School. For over a decade, Jeff has volunteered his time to create and coach this small eastside school basketball program. Prior to his arrival, Tupper had not even made the playoffs for the better part of 20 years. Through his leadership, he has inspired the Tupper Tigers to bring home city championships and rank in the top five in the province while excelling in school and, more important, growing as people of responsibility.
Several of his charges have gone on to win university scholarships and played at the highest levels in Canada and to achieve success in every area of endeavour. Jeff has done this by teaching the boys under his charge to see the game as a metaphor for their lives. In his words, “All I am doing is giving them the opportunity to dream, to think and most importantly for them to understand that each and everyone of them has the ability to try and succeed at what ever they want to do”. .
Inspiring young athletes from a lower eastside neighbourhood who have not had a track record of success can be one of the most difficult tasks for any coach to accomplish, but Jeff has done this by teaching them teamwork, respect, honour, and to trust in themselves and each other and to keep their commitments.
That is a lesson for us all, but it is a lesson for the federal government more than anything. Because Mr. Gourley and the players at Tupper School in Vancouver know one thing: they know that when they give their word, they keep it. They know that when they make a commitment, they honour it. They know that when they tell someone they are going to do something, they do it. That is what makes those young fine men. The government should listen to what those young men are learning in that school.
I want to talk about the consequence of this. I hear the government stand every day in the House and mislead Canadians by saying that this Conservative government has secured trade deals with the two largest markets on earth, a reference to the United States and the European Union. It has indeed secured an agreement with the United States, but it is wrong to say it has secured agreement with the European Union. There is no agreement in force with the European Union. CETA is not in force and, frankly, it is jeopardized by the behaviour of the government.
The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has already stated publicly that it is not going to honour the commitments in CETA. The number one ask of the European Union at the bargaining table in CETA negotiations with Canadians was to have access to provincial procurement, to sub federal procurement. What kind of message does it send to the European Union when Canada gets into a public conflict with one of its own provinces, which has now withdrawn from its commitments under the agreement?
Second, Germany and France just two weeks ago went to the European Commission and stated that they wanted changes made to the text of CETA dealing with the investor-state relations. It is well-known across Europe that CETA is a mixed agreement, meaning that it will require ratification by every single member of the European Union, including Greece, which is now put into jeopardy. The point is that we do not have an agreement yet with the European Union.