Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to the Canada-United States-Mexico agreement. The Standing Committee on International Trade has put a lot of time into analyzing the agreement. My colleagues who sit on that committee with me can confirm that we have worked late on many occasions.
As I reminded members in my first presentation to the House on this topic, Quebec's separatist movement does not need any lessons on fostering trade with the rest of the world. Free trade with the United States is the result of a successful gamble taken by Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry following—and this is interesting—a fear campaign led for the most part by the House targeting Quebec's presumed inability to survive without the Canadian economy. That was not the case.
We took a chance on free trade, and what a success it has been, since access to the market south of us has been such a windfall for our SMEs, especially because Quebec has always managed to merge openness to trade with economic nationalism, using the most effective tools. However, as Jacques Parizeau later criticized, free trade has too often become synonymous with secret negotiations in favour of multinationals, ranging from the relinquishment of political sovereignty to sacrificing the most vulnerable members of society.
What does all this mean for CUSMA?
First of all, transparency was severely lacking from the entire process. At the Standing Committee on International Trade, the economic impact study authored by the chief economist at Global Affairs Canada was not tabled ahead of his appearance. How were we supposed to read and go over that study with enough time to prepare speaking notes?
What is more, the study presents a dubious and dishonest methodology because it compares CUSMA to the absence of an agreement. It compares CUSMA to nothing, as though NAFTA has not been in effect for years. Of course, some might say that without CUSMA there would be nothing left.
Personally, I cannot imagine a situation in the near future where Canada and the United States would no longer trade with one another. We can only conclude that, without CUSMA, we will revert back to NAFTA. If we tear up NAFTA then we will go back to the FTA. If we tear up the FTA, then there is always the World Trade Organization.
I know that each of these scenarios does not amount to the same thing. I know that it would be better to have a direct channel between the signatory countries. Nevertheless, it is just fearmongering to claim that we would somehow magically end up in a situation where trade between the United States and Canada would no longer exist.
I would also like to address another matter. The first version of CUSMA, as presented in recent years, was completely unacceptable. Just think of the provisions that would have allowed the digital giants to bring their goods into Canada without tariffs and to sell them tax-free. The provisions concerning pharmaceutical patents would also have benefited major corporations and increased the cost of prescriptions. Fortunately, these provisions are not in the current version of CUSMA.
I must say from the outset that the current version of the CUSMA is far from what an agreement should be in 2020. I will take the example of the environment. Although we are in a climate crisis, the agreement contains next to nothing on the environment, except for some good intentions. There is no mention of environmental agreements other than those that were in NAFTA. There is no climate standard, no acknowledgement of climate change and no system to deal with problematic cases, except for the state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, which is not exactly known for its amazing efficiency.
However, when compared to NAFTA, CUSMA is an improvement in some respects. For that reason, we must opt for this version rather than the status quo.
CUSMA abolishes the ban on limiting exports of Canadian oil to the United States, a measure that could hinder efforts to fight climate change, and that is just fine.
The agreement reaffirms the cultural exemption, which we are very happy about. Quebec has been actively advocating at UNESCO, with the support of France, to make sure that culture is not treated like a commodity.
The elimination of NAFTA's chapter 11 is another significant step forward. This chapter dealt with investor-state dispute settlements and sacrificed political power in favour of a virtual government of multinationals. These multinationals were able to sue states if they had the misfortune of limiting the ability of a corporation to make profits while trying to protect their citizens.
Ottawa was sued several times over the years, for example for its decision to restrict imports of a fuel additive suspected of being toxic, for restricting the export of toxic waste, for revoking patents for medications of questionable quality, and also for Quebec's decision to ban the sale and use of certain pesticides on lawns and Quebec's moratorium on drilling in the Saint Lawrence. That list is far from exhaustive.
Canada is the NAFTA country most often sued by private investors. The worst thing is that this mechanism has subsequently been emulated in all of the free trade agreements. Around the world, 60% of these lawsuits have ended in multinational corporations triumphing over the states being sued or negotiating a friendly agreement, according to the UN report. That means that in 60% of cases, the power of money partially or totally prevailed over the states' political will and the power of democracy. Naturally, this quantitative assessment does not factor in the constant pressure on public decision-makers, who need to censor their own comments to avoid getting dragged into court.
Jacques Parizeau used to say that globalization was like the tide. We cannot stop the tide, but we can build dikes.
This chapter of NAFTA did not even allow us to build dikes. Now that this chapter, which had such serious consequences, is gone, all we can say is good riddance. However, we will keep a vigilant eye on the new chapter on good regulatory practices. The chapter is quite restrictive, and its tone reveals a deep-seated distrust of state intervention. That is something we will certainly have to keep a close eye on, to ensure that it does not turn out to be a new impediment.
The elimination of the provision allowing private investors to sue states is a laudable precedent. It will be hard to bring back that type of mechanism in future international negotiations.
Other gains were sadly much too symbolic. CUSMA includes one chapter dedicated exclusively to small and medium-sized businesses and it emphasizes how important they are. That is very good, but this chapter unfortunately does not go beyond affirming some basic principles. CUSMA fortunately protects market access for these businesses in most sectors.
The chapter on labour does contain some notable improvements, in particular for the auto sector. Although Quebec has no direct ties to this sector, the provision does indirectly establish a minimum wage that, I must say, will be difficult to enforce. Nevertheless, that is definitely an improvement.
Other categories of workers will unfortunately not benefit from that same improvement, although this chapter does give workers some recourse. Will these methods be effective? Only time will tell.
However, CUSMA is not free of grey areas. It is important to mention that one of them is softwood lumber. The softwood lumber situation is a constant irritant. It never stops. It is like a problem that is never solved. As we know, the United States has always applied punitive tariffs on our lumber. The U.S. math has always been clear: Industries are driven into bankruptcy while the wheels of justice slowly turn.
Washington has always been able to play outside the rules. The CUSMA negotiations could have been an opportunity to clarify those rules to ensure that such unfair practices no longer occur. That was not the case.
That is why I introduced an amendment to have the minister create an advisory committee on softwood lumber products that are not on the export control list.
As my colleague mentioned earlier, some copyright issues are being addressed similarly to how the United States is addressing intellectual property. This approach may well favour big business.
The dairy sector has clearly suffered a setback. The scenario is always the same: Every governing party makes a heartfelt commitment during the election campaign to never tamper with supply management again. Every party tells us not to worry because it will not touch it, unlike its predecessor. However, when that party takes office, it goes about negotiating in secret, like its predecessor, and then we learn that supply management has been affected. When the agreement under discussion becomes public, the excuse is always that it is only a small breach and that we must not worry because it is only a small percentage. Okay, fine, but when those small breaches are taken together, let's face it, they amount to a sizeable crater.
In CUSMA, giving up 3% of the market means losses of about $150 million per year. The agreement also eliminates class 7, which dealt with the dairy protein problem. Worse still, it gives Washington the ability to limit the amount of dairy protein our producers can sell to other countries. Allowing one country to oust another as a global competitor by controlling its exports is, we believe, unprecedented.
We will not back down on this. The government must provide direct compensation to affected farmers without delay. I would also encourage the House to support the Bloc's bill banning any future hits to supply management. Our food supply is too important to be subject to the rules of global economic war. Lip service and simple election promises do not cut it anymore. We need a legal obligation here. Our farmers, the very people who enable us to fill our fridges every day, have been made to suffer enough. The first thing we do when we get up every morning is open the fridge. We owe our farmers a debt of gratitude. After all, they are the only professionals we need every day, many times a day.
On the sensitive issue of aluminum, the government pulled a classic Canadian move. Despite the government's denials, aluminum, a Quebec industry, was not given the same protections as Ontario steel. While the government was celebrating this agreement, the Bloc Québécois noted that the protections were not the same and spoke out about it. The agreement protects only North American aluminum parts, but requires that steel be melted and poured in North America. However, Mexico does not produce aluminum and could continue to use dirty Chinese aluminum, which is lower quality and made in coal-fired plants. This dumping would have jeopardized the expansion projects of Quebec aluminum plants, threatened jobs in those plants and undermined the tremendous environmental opportunity presented by our carbon-neutral aluminum, which is the greenest in the world. What is more, in an era of climate change, the trend in the auto manufacturing industry is to move toward lighter parts. The Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously on a motion to support our aluminum workers and industry.
At first, the government denied the elephant in the room, but we held firm. That paid off and the government committed to collect real-time data on aluminum imports. If that data shows that Mexico is indeed sourcing foreign aluminum, the government promised to revisit this issue and ensure that our aluminum gets the same protection as steel. Mexico's angry response shows that there is indeed a problem that the government insisted on ignoring.
Although certain representatives tried to claim that there was no real change, Canada's chief negotiator, who was responding to a question I asked in committee, acknowledged that this definitely constituted a gain. We will be keeping an eye on the government to make sure it keeps its word. The burden lies on its shoulders. We will therefore be voting in favour of CUSMA, not happily and not particularly enthusiastically, and, more importantly, knowing we will remain extremely vigilant. In fact, I promise to be the watchdog at the Standing Committee on International Trade. We will also keep a close eye on all this here in the House.
In closing, I want to talk about a long-term vision for the future. In this file, as in many others, we tried to minimize the losses. The Bloc is always hard at work when it comes to damage control. However, we must not forget one basic rule: Those who are absent always get the blame. Not being at the table when decisions are made definitely has its consequences.
In fact, in the negotiations for the agreement with Europe, the former Quebec representative within the Canadian delegation said that the role of the Quebec delegation was unfortunately limited to offering a love letter. In other words, people were hard at work everywhere, especially behind the scenes, where they were trying to influence the delegation, except at the decision-making table. This cannot always be without consequence. Those who are absent always get the blame. That is why the ultimate, long-term goal of our actions is of course the independence of our nation, Quebec.