Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill C-101, an act to amend the Customs Tariff and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act.
The bill looks to repeal subsections 55(5) and 55(6), thereby eliminating the two-year waiting period on the imposition of provisional safeguards. I am somewhat pleased to see the government finally taking this good first step to protecting Canadian steel producers and the hard-working people employed in the industry.
The NDP will support the bill as it will temporarily help the steel industry, but the government should never have let the deadline go by without imposing permanent safeguard measures, which the NDP has been calling on for years. When the finance minister allowed the safeguard deadline to pass in April, he placed workers and business at great risk. Now he is temporarily changing the timeline through legislation.
However, let me be very clear. The NDP is adamant that we see this measure as only a small step and it absolutely must be followed by the imposition of, at the very least, provisional safeguards over the five remaining unprotected product categories of the seven listed by the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, also known as the CITT.
These measures must also protect and stabilize the Canadian steel industry over the long term. Having worked in the steel industry for 35 years and representing a community in which the steel industry plays a large part in the economy, I have a very personal interest in this issue along with other workers.
For the past three and a half years, we have tried to deal with this and many other issues facing the steel industry through the ineffective and Liberal-dominated all-parliamentary steel caucus. The commitment of the government to the work of that committee has been disappointing and half-hearted at best.
The measures in the bill also seem half hearted. While these provisional safeguards are satisfactory, we in the NDP have been calling on the government and the Minister of Finance to put permanent safeguard measures in place for well over a year. This would, of course, provide more stability to this already shaken and targeted industry.
Like so many things the government does, this bill, it reaction to the tariffs imposed by the Americans on the Canadian steel and aluminum industry and the issue of the dumping of foreign steel into the Canadian market, has half measures at best.
Speaking of half measures, by taking away the two-year waiting period, the bill would only allow the government to put into place temporary and somewhat superficial protections for unprotected steel product categories listed by the CITT. We will be watching and fighting to ensure the government follows the legislation up with real action. Our steel industry and workers deserve real solutions to the predatory pricing efforts of steel importers worldwide.
For years, the NDP has urged the government to address the very real problem of cheap steel imports directly and/or indirectly entering the North American market, including the provision of increased resources to the CBSA to allow them to investigate and respond to the increased dumping of steel products. In our view, Canada cannot be a dumping ground for foreign steel or be a back door to the American market.
It must also be recognized that, while the U.S. has dropped section 232 tariffs on Canadian steel, tariffs remain on other steel producing countries. That leaves Canada vulnerable to surges of foreign steel heading through Canada to the U.S. market. This is a dangerous position that must not be tolerated.
However, please allow me to take a step back and provide some context for why this is such an important issue.
Canadian steel producers generate over $14 billion in annual sales, while supporting over 22,000 direct jobs and over 100,000 indirect jobs. All of this is done through 19 facilities across five different provinces. The production of steel acts as an anchor for a much larger supply chain of secondary manufacturing companies in fabrication, construction, automotive and many other sectors throughout the Canadian economy.
I know that in the greater Hamilton area, the steel industry provides over 10,000 direct jobs and supports an estimated 30,000 secondary jobs.
In Sault Ste. Marie, the steel industry is anchored by Algoma Steel and Tenaris Algoma Tubes. These two companies alone directly account for over 41% of the community's gross domestic product. About 30% of their workforce are directly and secondarily employed in the steel sector. That is over 9,000 jobs.
In the Windsor-Essex region, Atlas Tube, which is located in Harrow, Ontario, employs 220 workers and exports over $250 million of product each year. It is interesting to point out that Atlas Tube is the most efficient producer of structural steel in the world.
EVRAZ is another steel company and it employs over 1,800 people in western Canada, including in the pipe mill in Regina.
It is also interesting to note that the Canadian steel industry is a world leader in labour and environment standards, something of which we should all be proud.
Dumping is a form of predatory pricing when a country exports its product below the market price, driving out competition and creating a global monopoly. Many of these foreign companies are able to offer lower prices precisely because of their lack of environmental or labour regulations.
We have been after the government for years to provide protection against the dumping of foreign steel. The Canadian Steel Producers Association has repeatedly asked the government to be proactive in finding solutions to the dumping steel issue, which has hurt the steel industry across the board. The government only took action, and temporary action at that, in reaction to the tariffs imposed by Donald Trump on the Canadian steel and aluminum industries.
We were given a heads-up almost the first year of this session. The government kept saying it knew what it was doing. However, it all comes down this. What the government did unilaterally became a real mess. It kept having to fix its mistakes, as more and more were made. Now we are debating the bill today.
That is clearly not good enough. The Liberals should have put permanent safeguards in place as soon as they came into power. They knew then that the illegal dumping of dirty steel into Canada was a major concern for our steel industry.
In April, the government decided to allow the safeguards in place to expire on imports of five types of steel products. Because of current legislation, those safeguards cannot be restored for two years, regardless of potential threats to Canada's steel sector. The legislation we are considering today would allow the government to waive the two-year waiting period and impose the safeguards again. That is a good thing, but it is not nearly enough.
It is always interesting to gauge the response to government legislation through those who will be affected.
Ken Neumann, national director of the United Steelworkers, had this to say:
We hope the legislation announced today will be passed swiftly in Parliament, before the summer recess. In the meantime, Canadian workers and producers need an unequivocal commitment from the federal government that it will implement safeguards or other strong measures to defend our industry....The government must signal that it is prepared to retroactively apply safeguards or other measures to protect Canada's steel sector from potential surges in imports....These safeguards or other measures must be reintroduced to stabilize Canada's steel sector and defend Canadian workers and producers from surges in foreign imports.
With respect to surges, one thing was very concerning for many producers across Canada. Although they wanted the tariffs lifted, they did not want them traded off for a quota system that would stop the growth of the steel industry in Canada. The government said that it listened to this and said it did not have quotas. However, it has what are called “surges”, to offset concerns. The government believed that since it did not use the word quota, it could fool producers by saying it had surges. However, I think surges is just another name for quotas. We are not sure what surges actually means.
Recently, the United Steelworkers asked the government to use sections 53 and 55 of the Customs Tariff, which gives the federal cabinet the authority to respond to tariffs as well as act against countries participating in dumping. For example, the government can apply a surtax to any goods that are being imported under such conditions as to cause or threaten serious injury to domestic producers. The Liberal government declined.
Interestingly, the United Steelworkers also recently sent a letter to the government, detailing its concerns about the new North American free trade deal. In that letter, it addresses concerns about the steel industry. It says,“The USMCA should never have been signed absent the removal of steel and aluminum tariffs. While we are happy that the tariffs have finally been removed, we are concerned with some of the details in the agreement to remove the tariffs: The ability of the U.S. to legally apply new tariffs if there is a surge of imports about the historical average.” Is that quotas or is that all of a sudden a bigger supply? “The lack of measures to protect and stabilize the Canadian steel market leaves us vulnerable to import surges. This threatens not only the domestic Canadian industry, but also leaves us vulnerable to the reimposition of tariffs; Our ability to respond to tariffs if they are imposed. Canada will be limited in its response and only able to impose counter tariffs on the same products; this limits our ability to impose counter tariffs that are proportional but based on products that are actually produced in the U.S.” It says, “We believe that the USMCA should not be ratified until the details of the tariff agreement are finalized. We must ensure that we do not agree to provisions that allow for the re-impositions of tariffs or that are, in effect, a quota.”
Catherine Cobden, president of the Canadian Steel Producers Association, also commented on the legislation, saying:
Today’s announcement by [the finance minister] represents an important step to ensuring Canada can respond swiftly to changes in global steel markets caused by overcapacity and trade actions taken by other jurisdictions. Safeguard measures are an important trade tool for preventing diversion of foreign imports into Canada’s domestic steel market. The Canadian steel producers believe these trade measures continue to be necessary in today’s global context.
Roger Paiva, general manager of Gerdau steel in Whitby, had this to say,"We seek your support to extend the Government of Canada's provisional steel safeguards. The safeguards have stabilized the Canadian rebar market. They are securing middle-class jobs in your riding and beyond. They are growing the economy while protecting the environment. Please show your support for good steel jobs, and please encourage [the finance minister] to extend the safeguards."
Finally, Francis Miner from lvaco near Hawksbury, says
The European Union and a number of other jurisdictions have recently implemented safeguards on steel products following restrictions to the US market caused by the section 232 tariffs. Without safeguards Canada will stand alone, and the domestic steel industry will be heavily exposed to large volumes of low-priced imports being diverted into the country. This places Canadian producers at a significant competitive disadvantage and thousands of jobs at risk....Without the extension of a safeguard measure on wire rod, market conditions for producers in Canada will deteriorate further.
I totally agree with him on the wire rod. That was my business for 35 years. We took wire rods and made wire anywhere from as thin as a hair to an inch and a half. It would used for ball joints or car parts, such as steering wheel rods. They made it into fencing. They made it into all kinds of different thing. We were a big market, but with the tariffs and the safeguards, there was nothing. It really hurt our competitive edge in Hamilton.
It is clear that Canada's steel sector still faces daunting challenges. Canada cannot continue as one of the few countries in the world that allows foreign steel to flood into its markets. The federal government must protect our producers and our workers.
I have spoken with many workers from the steel industry, from across the country and many in my own community. They are all feeling some sense of insecurity. While they are all happy the tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum were finally dropped, many of them do not trust the government on this issue.
When the Prime Minister visited Stelco to make the announcement the tariffs were being dropped, one of the workers asked him what he had to give up to get the tariffs lifted. He did not answer the question. As we have heard in recent reports, this could have been more than what the government first let on.
I am told that the mood among the workers at Stelco is that while they are happy the tariffs have been lifted, they still have a healthy dose of skepticism. Like many workers across the country, they are concerned the government is not tough enough to stand up for them and the steel industry against the U.S. and other countries.
As the president of USW Local 8782 in Nanticoke pointed out recently, one would think the government in Ottawa would have the interest and common sense to protect Canadian interests and the industry, but that is apparently not the case.
In closing, I would like to say that I listened to the comments from the member for Durham and I agree with the suggestion that we should all work together on this. All parties should work together. We have found that the government cannot do this unilaterally. It has made too many mistakes. We have to make sure we get this right, to protect not only the Canadian industry but our Canadian workers. We can only do that by working together. Therefore, I encourage all members to join the same team and work as hard as we can.