Madam Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I am pleased to represent thousands of Canadians, both in my riding in eastern Ontario and as the official opposition critic for the economic development initiative for northern Ontario, who make a living in the living forest.
Of the many issues I have championed for Canadians as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, defending Canada's forestry industry was one of my first responsibilities when I was elected seven elections ago. I am not pleased that, after 19 years, I am still talking about some of the same issues regarding softwood lumber. This time, it is within the context of the renegotiated NAFTA. It should never have come to this.
The Prime Minister promised 400,000 Canadian forestry workers a framework agreement on softwood lumber exports with the Obama administration by mid-June 2016. The government's failure to meet that deadline, and its subsequent failure to negotiate a final agreement before the expiry of the last trade agreement on October 12, 2016, allowed forestry workers' jobs to become a political football to be kicked around by the new U.S. administration.
Many high-quality, well-paying jobs in the forestry sector are still at risk due to the federal government's lack of action on this important sector of the Canadian economy.
The worst part about there being no softwood lumber deal was the statement by U.S. trade representative Michael Froman of the Obama administration. He was on the verge of signing a new softwood lumber deal with Canada. The pact fell through when the anti-forestry lobbyists got the ear of a close prime-ministerial buddy, the disgraced Gerald Butts.
Someone close to the Prime Minister claimed, obviously as a stalling tactic, that a better deal could be reached with the incoming Trump administration. Only someone who was opposed to a healthy Canadian forestry sector could make that kind of claim.
The incoming Trump administration did not even have Canada in its sights. It was looking for concessions from Mexico. That changed pretty quickly with a number of diplomatic stumbles that made it appear the Liberal government was going out of its way to disrespect the American president. This jeopardized the tens of thousands of jobs that rely upon North American trade.
It was our government that negotiated a softwood lumber agreement by the end of April 2006, within three months of coming into office, to solve the last softwood lumber dispute.
As a member of the government that signed the agreement that expired October 12, 2015, I recognize there were critics of that agreement, just as there were critics, like me, of the previous agreement that had been negotiated under the old Chrétien administration.
Our government recognized that signing a deal that would satisfy everyone would have resulted in no deal. It was unacceptable then, just as having no deal today is unacceptable. That is why Canadians have little choice but to accept the deal that has been put before them today. Too many Canadian jobs are at risk.
The softwood lumber industry in my riding is characterized by small operations, many family-owned, and by the people who depend on jobs in the working forest. When I was first elected, the old Chrétien government softwood lumber policy was causing significant unemployment in my riding. Worried softwood lumber producers called my office regularly in the hope of a resolution regarding the softwood lumber dispute.
Forestry contributes billions of dollars to Canada's GDP. The forestry sector generates approximately 370,000 direct and indirect jobs in Canada. Since the last agreement was signed by our Conservative government, things have changed.
The Liberal Party is making it a lot tougher to live in rural Canada and places like eastern Ontario where forestry jobs exist. Skyrocketing energy prices, a plan to ban burning firewood for heat as it is written in the Paris accord, and the carbon tax that now adds tax on the fuel that powers the only means of transportation for rural Canadians, spell hard times.
If times are tough when workers have jobs, we can imagine how tough it is going to be when increasing carbon taxes take away their jobs. Carbon taxes, like any Liberal tax increases, are job killers. In rural areas, jobs are hard to come by. Ben Hokum & Son Limited in Killaloe, Murray Brothers in Madawaska, McRae Lumber in Whitney, Lavern Heideman & Sons in Eganville, Gulick Forest Products Limited, Randy Commanda Forestry in Pikwakanagan, Thomas J. Neuman Limited, Pastway Planing in Palmer Rapids and Bell Lumber in Renfrew are just a few of the businesses in my riding that are affected every time there is a softwood lumber dispute.
For Canada's forestry industry, for the people employed in that industry, and for the businesses that provide employment and need certainty in their business if they are going to continue to invest in their businesses and create jobs, an agreement is critical.
American producers have alleged for years that the Canadian forestry industry is subsidized by federal and provincial governments. In the U.S., prices are set by the market, a situation the U.S. contends is unfair compared with the way Canada manages its forests. It believes Canadian lumber should be subject to a tariff to offset so-called subsidies.
In the past, the U.S. has introduced anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations against Canadian softwood lumber. Time and again, Canada has successfully defended itself against those actions. However, companies always fall off along the way.
In Canada, 94% of the forest is on public land, and by law all forest harvested on public land must be regenerated. All harvested trees are regrown. At 161 million hectares, or 43% of our managed forests, Canada has the highest volume of independently assessed, certified sustainably managed forests in the world.
Canada's forestry companies work with environmental groups, like Ducks Unlimited Canada, Pollution Probe, Nature Canada and the favourite of the Prime Minister's former principal secretary, the World Wildlife Fund.
The working forest benefits the aboriginal community in my riding. About 70% of aboriginal communities are located in forested areas. Forest companies are one of the largest employers of aboriginal people.
Far more forest is damaged by fire and insects, compared to the sustainable harvest that takes place in Canada.
Canadian mills are cleaner and greener than ever. What Canadians need is a lasting solution to ensure fair treatment of the Canadian forestry industry. My constituents truly hope the agreement before us today will bring certainty to the market.
For Ontario, trade with the United States is significant for the forestry industry. While up to 95% of Ontario's forestry product exports go to the United States, Ontario's share of the U.S. market equates to 3.34%. A producer in Ontario is selling domestically or to the United States.
Jobs have been disappearing at an alarming rate in rural Ontario. The need to keep jobs in the lumber industry to maintain our way of life is paramount.
Forestry is big business in Ontario, exporting 3.6 billion dollars' worth of goods annually, and employing over 43,000 people, many of whom work in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. Wages and salaries add up to almost $2 billion in the Ontario economy. In the Ottawa Valley, the forest industry supports thousands of jobs. Primary wood manufacturing in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke is over 10 times the provincial average. I can identify over 100 forest product companies that make their homes in Renfrew county.
The Canadian forest products industry is a major manufacturing sector, responsible for 12% of Canada's manufacturing GDP.
What is also important in this debate over the trade agreement with our largest market is how it is affecting our overall trade relationship with the United States. For value-added products, the United States is Ontario's number one market. More than half of all the forest products in Ontario are exported.
Members need to understand why we, on this side of the House, use the term “crisis” when we refer to the state of the Canadian softwood lumber industry when there is a dispute of any kind. Those products' largest export market is the United States. Exports from Ontario have increased by more than 100% since 1991.
The United States construction industry is worth nearly $700 billion U.S. every year. It will continue to be the focus of Canadian wood product shipments. It is imperative that the government respect the special trading relationship we have had in the past, and prioritize the need to manage trade.
It is time to see if all the toadying up to the extremists in the anti-forestry lobby will stop, now that a new NAFTA agreement has been signed.
To the credit of our own forestry industry, Ontario lumber mills will continue to invest in their operations in the absence of support from the government.