That, recognizing that the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade promised 400,000 Canadian forestry workers a framework agreement on softwood lumber exports with the Obama Administration by mid-June, 2016, recognizing the government’s failure to meet that deadline and their subsequent failure to negotiate a final agreement before the expiry of the last trade agreement on October 12, 2016, and given that many high-quality, well-paying jobs in the forestry sector are now at risk due to the government’s lack of action, the House call upon the government to stop delaying and take all necessary steps to prevent a trade war that will threaten the livelihood of Canadian workers and communities.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to stand today and move this motion forward. I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. Of course, this is very near and dear to her heart and her riding.
There are over 650 communities that rely on mills to maintain their viability, and around 400,000 people work in those mills and the ancillary jobs that are supported by them. It is very important that we get this right.
There have been four separate trade wars since 1982, and that was mentioned in the reading of the motion. The longest period of calm we have had throughout this was the last decade of the former Conservative government, which I was happy to be a minister of. My good friends, the ministers of trade during that time, were able to negotiate 10 years of truce, 10 years of relative stability and predictability in the softwood lumber sector. Because of that, we saw our softwood lumber sector grow. We also saw the American sector maintain a stronger portion of their own domestic supply because of the stability of that sector, even though there was more Canadian product going in.
It is a complex agreement, to say the least, and I do not want to undersell it. It is made worse now by the obfuscation of the Liberal government of the day, in that it did not recognize this as an issue as far back as the mandate letter to the minister, the throne speech, its budgets, and so on, or how important this industry is. It is a multi-billion dollar industry across Canada that feeds into the GDP of this great country. It is part of the diversity that we have.
As I said, 650 communities are on edge now because of this impending fifth trade war. The problem is that once these start, they run on five-year cycles. The Americans will use these five years for litigation and all sorts of actions that will stop the flow of our product going south. There are four or five major industry groups that are both American and Canadian in content. They are very much integrated. Those are not the ones we are concerned about. They are very important, but it is the small and medium-sized enterprises that are going to get squeezed out if we do not get this deal right.
As I understand it, from the hearings we had at the trade committee, which I am happy to sit on, and from leaks that have happened through the American side, we are not getting anything out of the Canadian side. The provinces are kept in the dark as to where the federal government is at. Industry in Canada writ large is in the dark as to where the Government of Canada is at. The problem is that no one really knows what is being said or what is being done.
We are all led to believe that there is a brand new way of doing things with the Americans. Everybody was all aglow about the family reunion that the Prime Minister held in Washington. We were all on edge when the American president came and spoke to us here in the House. However, at no junction was softwood lumber ever made an issue of, even though it was coming to a conclusion last week.
We are now in that position where we are not negotiating from a level of strength. We are negotiating while trying to play catch-up with the Americans who hold all the cards at this point. Having said that, there are things that the minister and the Prime Minister could and should be doing. One of them, of course, is getting hold of the Liberals' buddy in Washington, the president, who is still the president in what is called a lame duck session. If he wants to make this a legacy, he certainly could but it is going to take a heavy push from this side of the border to make that happen. It is certainly a lot more important for us than it is for the Americans at this point.
The other thing is that the Liberals dropped the ball over this past year and did not really pick it up until probably July when people started putting pressure on them and asking what was happening. We asked questions back in late winter and early spring about where we were with this. The Liberals had the time to be on the ground. For the first 100 days, there were all these wonderful promises made as to what was going to happen. None of that has come to fruition, on any level, on any issue.
At the end of the day, the least the minister could be doing right now is securing the agreement that there will be no litigation from the American lumber side while we are negotiating. That is the very least she could be doing. I am hoping she is on the phone later today. Now that we have given her that idea, she should at least be securing that so that we do not, again, deal with this from a state of less strength than the Americans.
As I have said, this has been a problem for decades and will continue to be simply because of differences in the way we do things. What the Americans are calling us out on, and it is always this one issue, in layman's terms, is stumpage. This is what the province of record charges for the timber that is withdrawn, and it varies from province to province.
The Province of Quebec has made some significant changes in the way it does that in coming to grips with what the Americans are going to want to demand. There are also 30 mills right along the border in Quebec that use material from Maine, which comes up into those mills, is manufactured into softwood lumber framing materials, and goes back into the U.S. Therefore, Quebec has always had an exemption. There are two of those in Ontario, as well.
We have also had an exemption for Atlantic Canada because most of that is privately held lands and it does not really fit within the description of the trade war fight, but again, the government has not shown an ability to get that exemption for Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador.
There are a lot of irons in the fire, none of them warm at this point, other than the end we are trying to hang onto, which the Americans are handing us. At the end of the day, there is a lot of work to be done. I just do not see that happening. I know the work that we went through on country of origin labelling to get our beef and pork equal access into the U.S. It took a WTO challenge. We have been there before on softwood lumber as well and I will give the government of the day credit for that work, but when negotiating at the WTO, or NAFTA, or in the American courts, or however we decide to move forward, our industry is taking a hit. In those 650 mill towns, 400,000 workers are not going to have a happy Christmas and an early 2017.
It is up to the government to get to Washington. I know a lot of work was done with Ambassador Froman over the TPP. He is a tough negotiator, but the Americans need our product. They cannot supply their own domestic market, so they need Canadian product to do that. We have heard through some of our American connections and consumer groups working with us on country of origin labelling that the first foray of the Liberal government was to move from the 34% access we have now, which we have never used; we hit a peak of 28% to 30%. The first foray was to start at 26%, so they are taking 33% right off the table to begin with. That is a terrible negotiating ploy and if this is what it takes to say we are cozying up to the American president, then that is too high a cost. We have to realize that we need to negotiate a lot tougher than that, not just bend over and let the Americans run rampant on us on softwood lumber.
It is going to take some pretty severe work to get this turned around. The biggest thing that the minister is going to have to do right away is to make sure to take the litigation right off the table. That gives the Americans a hammer, not just a lever but a hammer. If there is no litigation in the works, then we can sit down and negotiate properly and get this done, much the same as other issues have been resolved.
Despite $30 billion of supposed stimulus spending the government has done in the first year, none of it has really driven any jobs. We have not seen any jobs increase across Canada at all, let alone that we are starting to see jobs lost in the oil patch, in the industry sector, and because we are not consummating the pending trade deals such as the TPP. We need to get serious about how we handle all of that work.
The opposition has put together a softwood lumber task force. We made the announcement this morning to look at how we move forward working with those contacts that we developed as we came to grips with country of origin labelling and had it finalized, and working with consumer groups, the construction association, the homebuilders association, the retailers, all of those people in the U.S. who want Canadian lumber. They want Canadian content because in the long term, it keeps their own industry honest. We also need to diversify our portfolio when it comes to softwood. That means taking up the advantages that we have in Japan, Korea, and China where they are starting to buy a lot of our product and make sure that we have that to use as a bit of a push-back on the Americans.
For a number of different industries we have too many eggs in that basket. We rely on the Americans for far more than we should and that is the whole nature of having diversity within our trade portfolio so that we make sure we have access to those other markets to keep the Americans honest.
We are asking the Liberal government to get serious about this file, become transparent, become accountable to the provincial ministers, to the small and medium-sized businesses. When we held the hearings that my colleagues and I have had with our provincial counterparts, they are not getting a lot of information, if any at all, to know what is being done and what they should be prepared for.
There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. I know the minister has travelled extensively. The parliamentary secretary has discussed this with a number of industries across the country as well, but the message is not getting through. The industries say they are being led down a dark alley they really do not want to go down, and that somehow we are dealing from a position of less than strength. We are asking for the government to take heed of the motion we are putting forward, help us pass this, and get serious about the softwood lumber file.