Mr. Speaker, I want to speak today about the softwood lumber industry, the motion, and share some concerns. I come from a northern British Columbia riding. Forestry is big in Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies. Just two weeks ago, I visited Lakeland Mills in Prince George to see how it was doing. It was affected by the mill fire and loss of life. It has recovered well and selling its lumber, thankfully, with the temporary lifting of the tariffs until, I guess, the U.S. decides to re-establish them in November.
I made a lot of trips to the U.S. to understand its view on the softwood lumber industry. I got to know Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, and a week into the Trump administration's mandate, in February of this year, I understood where they were going. They are developing a lot of their public timber and fibre to be much more competitive with Canada's. The concern is that Canada supplies a lot of their timber and lumber.
When talking about the softwood lumber agreement, the reason I bring up the U.S. is that 69% of our softwood goes to the U.S., which is a big deal. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration to the south of us is sharpening its pencils and doing its very best and whatever it takes to develop its industry. We cannot blame it for that. It is defending its country, just as we defend ours. The government seems to be making a lacklustre effort to negotiate a softwood lumber agreement. It was the former Conservative government that actually negotiated and extended the last softwood lumber agreement. Conservatives think it was a successful agreement, with two streams to it. When I go to the U.S. and talk to the Secretary of the Interior, I ask why we cannot sign a similar agreement to the one that worked for everyone before and I argue that the U.S. needs our lumber, etc.
I will go back to why we are debating this today in the House. We have a government that does not seem to be interested in the softwood file. It is busy with NAFTA, which is a big part of what it is dealing with right now, but on softwood lumber, I would say as a person from the province of British Columbia, that it is equally as large in terms of exports. It is a massive part of our industry base, providing jobs and employing British Columbians and Canadians in the province and my riding. That is why Conservatives are deeply concerned.
When the Liberal government was elected in 2015, it seemed that some positive things were going to come from the relationship between the Liberal government and the then Obama administration. On softwood lumber, the Prime Minister and the president promised to have an agreement within 100 days. When those two key figures make a promise like that, there should be no reason why they could not come together. Ideologically, there were not many differences between the two administrations. There was a lot of hoopla, fanfare, and expense for the president to come to Ottawa. We always welcome heads of states from other countries in this place, in this room where we sit today. With all of the fanfare, we hoped that a book would be opened and the softwood lumber agreement would be signed.
Days went by, the president spoke in this place, and then left, with no agreement being reached. Members with softwood in their ridings knew it was a huge missed opportunity. It sent signals to forestry workers in B.C., Quebec, and across Canada that the government did not view softwood as that important an issue. Selfies, pictures with the president, and dinners with fancy suits and dresses were important, but no signal was sent by the Prime Minister and the president in reaching a softwood lumber agreement, which could have been done easily. That makes us question if the government understands how significant this industry is to the entire country. It sent a signal that really did not exist.
I understand that it is difficult to conclude a softwood lumber agreement, but when we hear a promise by a prime minister and a president that they can reach one within 100 days, we would expect them to have it all sorted out. They had three months to get it done. They already had a pre-existing agreement that had worked for both countries. It would have been very simple to bring that back to the table and sign off on it so we could continue.
Right now, we are caught in a dispute that is just going to get worse. With our American neighbours elbowing us out for their own industry to grow, it is likely not going to get better.
We cannot cry over spilled milk, but there was a whole bunch of spilled milk that day when the agreement was not signed and fulfilled. It left a promise unfulfilled by both individuals.
Concerning a lot of our communities, we wonder about our government's resource development philosophy. We see projects in B.C., even pipelines, being over-regulated to the point that companies are pulling out of the province of B.C. The Energy east project has been halted, with the company saying there are too many regulations and too many risk factors to proceed with that particular investment.
We look back at other industries like agriculture and forestry that have chugged along year after year over the centuries in Canada, and we look to rely on those even more for stability in our economy. It is troubling that the government appears not to understand how significant that is. It has really failed our forestry industry and workers.
As politicians we are often guilty of talking about the economy, numbers, GDP, exports, and import tariffs, and all of that kind of terminology, but it really comes down to food on tables, roofs over heads, and sustaining families where they want to live.
I was born and raised in the Peace region. We lived out here in Ottawa when my kids were small. We are happy to be back in Fort St. John and the north Peace area of the province of British Columbia. People ask why we would want to go back when we lived in such a nice city, in Ottawa. It is because it is home. A lot the forestry workers simply want a nice place to live, which we have in beautiful northern British Columbia.
Robson Valley is another place where there is a lot of forestry, including in Valemount, McBride, Prince George, and all the way up the Rocky Mountains. They all really rely on the forest industry. It is not a number they rely on in the forest industry; it is a person, a family, and other industries. There are subsets of those industries, employing heavy-duty mechanics and others. I have often said that a person at Tim Hortons selling coffee to people in the morning is likely selling it to someone who works at a mill and makes lumber. Likewise, someone who works on trucks, like my son, a heavy-duty mechanic, likely works for a company in forestry. He is a first-year apprentice. He works on trucks and heavy equipment that go right out into the forest. That is how he makes his living. It has afforded him a nice car and lifestyle.
I want to get back to the government needing to care about that person on the ground. We are coming up to Christmas. We will be celebrating a great season with our families and we want to make sure that those jobs and lifestyles are sustained.
I hope that the government considers how important the softwood lumber agreement is to British Columbia, Quebec, and Canada. I hope it will do a better job than it did in the past. We saw a lost opportunity, and I hope the relevant ministers and the Prime Minister grasp how important the agreement is and how much it means to Canadians. I hope they will think about the people who are attached to these forestry jobs and how they would be affected by a signed softwood lumber agreement.