Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate on Bill C-354. It is a bill that seeks to encourage the use of more wood in construction. Up to this point in the debate, members have talked about their belief in the importance of the forestry sector.
A debate like this provides members with an opportunity to attest to their love for wood and their love for the forestry sector. However, what distinguishes our party is that when we were in government, we actually took action to support the forestry sector. When Conservatives were in government, it was not just a matter of words and professions but a matter of concrete steps that we took to ensure the health and vitality of Canada's forestry sector.
I had the pleasure of working as a political staffer for the then industry minister, a current member who is doing a great job still. In the context of the financial crisis in 2008-09, the work that he did and that we were able to do as his political staff to support Canada's forestry sector through those difficult economic times were a great credit to the last government. Frankly, the current government is far behind where we were in terms of understanding and appreciating the value of Canada's forestry sector.
When it comes to this particular bill, I generally do not like the words “virtue signal”, because I think they bring virtue ethics as a philosophical concept into disrepute, but they are often used when individuals want to signal their support for an idea, cause, or group but are not actually taking the right or necessary substantive actions to support them. There is an effort to send a signal but there are problems with the detail and a lack of action on substance.
The bill, in particular, would add language to the the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, which would say the following:
In awarding contracts for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, the Minister shall give preference to projects that promote the use of wood, taking into account the associated costs and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, there is not a huge amount of clarity on the mechanism, the way in which the minister would give preference, taking into account other things, but it certainly does seek to direct and in a certain sense limit the flexibility of action for a minister, who I think most Canadians would agree should be looking at the best value for taxpayers, the best long-term value, as well as taking into consideration the broader public interest issues like environmental well-being and impacts on communities. All of these things are and should be taken into consideration.
However, the bill in a way seeks to give preference for one kind of building material over another. Of course, there are a range of other building materials that are produced in Canada that benefit Canadian workers, families, and communities. Therefore, it is not obvious to me why we should write into legislation a requirement to preference one kind of building material over another.
Members have given eloquent speeches about the benefits of wood, and I applaud those members and I applaud those sentiments. However, certainly, given all of those benefits, a specific preference written into legislation is not needed. In recognizing those benefits, the environmental benefits and the benefits to the Canadian economy, when decisions are made on the basis of an objective criteria between different building materials, the best option should always rise to the top if there is an effective, dispassionate analysis of the merits of different types of proposals.
Our inclination would be to not introduce into legislation a particular preference for a particular kind of industry over another industry, especially recognizing our obligations in terms of international trade and recognizing that Canadians work in different kinds of industries. It is not for the government to be trying to pick who the winner and loser will be in that kind of competition. Rather, it is in the public interest for these evaluations to happen in an objective way.
Any time we introduce additional considerations, additional factors to consider, besides that clear objective public interest analysis, it adds potential costs and leads to a situation where, because of a presumed preference, an outcome might be different from what it would have otherwise been if the criteria had been a simple evaluation of which material makes the most sense in the context of this particular project. We in the Conservative Party strongly support the forestry sector, but we do not think that support has to involve hurting other sectors. We do not believe in what seems to be a bit of a tendency on the economic left to believe that wealth is finite and that if we give support to one person we have to take it away from someone else. We think that governments should develop economic policies that benefit all sectors rather than choosing one sector over another.
The kinds of initiatives that we undertook when we were in government to support the forestry sector were on that basis. We sought international trade opportunities that would benefit all Canadian sectors. We lowered taxes in order to benefit all Canadian sectors. We lowered business taxes. We lowered the small business tax. We cut employment insurance premiums. We sought to remove regulations that prevented all sectors from succeeding in this country.
We now have a government that wants to go in the opposite direction. The Liberals are nickelling and diming all sectors. They are raising taxes through their new national carbon tax proposal. The initial proposal was to raise the small business tax rate. Then they unbroke the breaking of that promise. Across the board we see efforts by the government to impose new regulatory as well as tax burdens on all sectors. I am sorry to say that it simply is not good enough for the Liberals to try to come back from that disastrous record and say to the forestry sector, “As much as we are overburdening you with new taxes, we are going to have an ambiguous section of this bill that is going to involve giving some preference to the forestry sector over other sectors.” I say let us work on policies that will mean a rising tide lifts all boats whether they are made of wood or not.
In terms of the specific issues that the government needs to address and has failed to address thus far, one of the clearest areas affecting Canada's forestry sector is the total failure of the government to effectively engage on the international trade front. Let us contrast that with the work done under the previous government. When Stephen Harper became prime minister, he immediately said to the Americans that addressing the softwood lumber issue was a core priority. He said that directly to the president of the United States, and within a few months they got it done. The then prime minister secured a good deal for Canada, and one that lasted a very long time, until we had a new government.
The current Prime Minister has thus far dealt with two different presidents in the United States, two presidents who, dare I say, are relatively different in their approach and outlook. The first president that the current government dealt with was President Obama. We heard a lot about bromance and “dudeplomacy”. Unfortunately, this “dudeplomacy” did not get us anywhere. The diplomacy part of “dudeplomacy” was totally missing from the Prime Minister's engagement with President Obama, so he did not get it done. In the infamous words of Michael Ignatieff, he “did not get it done”. Now we have President Trump, a different president, again with no progress or results with respect to the softwood lumber issue.
The government wants to try and send a signal. It is loading up this industry with more and more taxes. It is failing to stand up for its interests with respect to international trade. It dropped the ball with President Obama. It is dropping the ball again. Now the government is saying, “We have an idea. We will support this change to the procurement rules that suggests we might, in certain circumstances, give a preference for wood.” That is not good enough. The government should stop simply trying to send signals and should start doing its job by standing up for Canada's forestry sector.