Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this motion today that highlights the importance of the relationship between Canada and the United States. It is something that I think all Canadians know very well, particularly Canadians in business and those many workers who either cross the border every day or work in industries that have goods crossing the border every day.
I want to start by recognizing the importance of this relationship to the well-being of the country, both economically and beyond, because those economic ties also create social and political ties that are important to keeping a productive peace and partnership within the North American context.
Over the last four years, we saw just how difficult life could get for Canadians when the administration in the United States was not of a view to respect, support and cultivate that long-standing relationship. A number of problems came up. I am thinking particularly of workers in the softwood lumber industry. It was not a new problem, but that administration put its stamp on the relationship, in the way the former president was wont to do. It caused a lot of hardship for Canadian companies and workers who really ought to have been able to sell their products according to the terms and conditions that so many other goods are sold under to the United States.
We continue to look for a resolution to that issue. A number of governments of different stripes have turned some attention to that issue and come up short. I think of the Harper government that abandoned successful suits through various trade agreements, just on the cusp of victory. That was the feeling of many people in Canada at the time. Then we saw a new comprehensive trade agreement negotiated with the United States in the last Parliament, and an equal lack of success when it came to resolving some of the long-standing issues in the softwood lumber trade.
Focusing some of Parliament's attention on this issue again is always welcome in an attempt to come up with real and constructive ways forward that are not just about the politics of the issue, but are about how we can support Canadian workers in good jobs to be able to continue what they are doing.
I think about workers in the steel and aluminum industry who, notwithstanding progress towards a trade deal that was supposed to cover these things, seriously upset their industry. A lot of anxiety and damage was caused by tariffs that never should have been imposed in the first place, and were imposed for the most specious of reasons. The claim by the previous U.S. administration that Canada was somehow a national security threat was just ridiculous to anybody who knew anything about the issue and did not have a political agenda in the United States.
There are a lot of issues. It is an important relationship. It is something that we absolutely ought to be looking at.
I make note of the fact that we have a special committee right now on Canada-China. It bears mentioning, as many members in the House will know, that this has been an extraordinary time for Parliament, and has taxed its resources. Folks who have been around for a while and are used to sitting on committees that sometimes meet after hours or in the evenings know that has not been possible, in part because the House resources are extended by providing service to our normal committees, to the House itself and to a special committee of the House.
We know that it is not just about bandwidth, but also about the people who support that work, especially our interpreters. We have heard a lot of reports about the rate of injury among interpreters. There is a high vacancy rate now within our normal contingent of interpreters. There was a story at the beginning of the year, and we are not far into the year, about how the substitute roster for our interpreters was beginning to see attrition as interpreters were injured.
Part of that had to do with the amount of time they were spending on Zoom, so there are issues about members using headsets, but there are also issues about the amount of time they are spending doing their jobs in this way with equipment that is not meant for it.
As members get excited about studying important issues, we ought to think about how we can use the existing time and resources of our standing committees. As the NDP's member on the Standing Committee on International Trade, I would be very happy to take this up as a study through the normal committee process. It is important that we study the issue. New Democrats are very open to a discussion about how best to do that, and we recognize that House resources come into play and that parliamentarians have a responsibility to think meaningfully about how we deploy our parliamentary resources to best effect.
I want to reiterate our openness to looking at different ways to ensure that we pursue the subject matter of the motion, but do it in a way that makes the most sense given the resources that are available.
This motion singles out a couple of topics for an interim report. I note that, when we had the debate on the Special Committee for Canada-China Relations, the House was not as prescriptive. It did not single out particular issues. I said earlier that previous debate in the House will reflect that the Canada-U.S. relationship has many dimensions. Even if we just look at the economic relationship, there are a lot of dimensions to it and many of them are important to Canadians who work in all sorts of industries.
While I appreciate the extent to which certain issues have come to the fore with the change in U.S. administration, I wonder at the wisdom of being so prescriptive. One of the virtues of establishing a study, whether at the standing committee or in some special forum, is to have parliamentarians get a handle on what some of the major issues are after hearing testimony from players in that economic relationship, and then giving them the latitude to decide when an interim report would be timely, and on what issues.
In the last Parliament, we saw how things could take a turn with a more hostile U.S. administration. We are all looking forward to a more constructive relationship with a new U.S. administration. It presents certain risks and opportunities. It is definitely a great moment to be looking at Canada's relationship with the United States because there are a lot of opportunities right now.
While some members want to focus on the negative side of those opportunities, particularly when it comes to the energy sector, and make hay from the fact that a U.S. president followed through on an election commitment that also reflects a long-standing policy of his party, the fact is other opportunities are opening up, particularly when it comes to clean energy. The U.S. administration has announced a desire to focus on the problem of climate change, and for many Canadians that is a welcome emphasis. A lot of Canadians would like to see their elected representatives giving serious thought to the kinds of economic opportunities that will open up. They are happy about the positive environmental consequences of having a U.S. administration focused on the problem of climate change, but also to ask what kinds of economic opportunities this will open up over the next four years and how Canada can position itself to take advantage of those economic opportunities and create meaningful employment for Canadians while we tackle the climate crisis here.
Of course, talking about buy America is very important at this time. The U.S. President's emphasis on buy America is not new, and has often been touted across political lines. However, the emphasis on it is rightly a worry to many Canadians who depend on access to the U.S. market in order to earn their livelihoods.
Regarding automobiles, New Flyer Industries here in Winnipeg is a bus manufacturer that sells the lion's share of its product into the United States. It has structured its business model knowing there is always an emphasis on buy America within the United States. We are hopeful the company's business plan will insulate it from that. However, it is by far not the only company that will be affected.
That is why it is important to talk about the opportunities the new administration presents in terms of clean energy and transitioning away from fossil fuels, and how we ensure Canadians become employed in it. We also want to talk about the effects of the buy America policy and the various industries it will impact, particularly the auto industry. As one example, if there is public procurement for buses in the United States as part of that clean energy program, we want to make sure that Canadian manufacturers are getting access to those opportunities.
When we talk about Canadian procurement through CUSMA, we have provided American companies access to that too, but one of the glaring omissions of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement was that Canadian companies do not get reciprocal access to American projects. That needs to be fixed.
When we get into buy America, what we really get into is a discussion. When we talk about CUSMA, we were willing to sign on to an agreement as a country that left a gap, as it were, between our access to American public procurement and its access to Canada.
Part of it is driven by a blind faith, by both Liberals and Conservatives over the last 30 years, in the globalized trade agenda. Globalized trade can have advantages, for sure, but it is not the be-all and end-all. When we look at the United States and buy America, one of the things we see is a country that talks about the benefits of globalized trade when it suits its interests, but does not put all its eggs in that basket. It has clearly been willing to defend its own economy and vital interests.
When we look at vaccine procurement we see this again, with the European Union moving to protect its vaccine supply. Europe produces vaccines, and we do not produce them here in Canada. We did not get on the exempt list for the countries that will not have these new European Union measures apply to them. Some other countries that did not are the U.S., Australia and the U.K. What sets them apart from Canada? They all have domestic vaccine production.
Only in Canada do we have two political parties so committed to the global free-trade agreement that they did not do the job, when they were in government, of having real industrial plans for Canada and asking the question, even in the context of free global trade, of how we ensure that the nuts and bolts are here in Canada. Canada privatized and sold off a lot of its domestic vaccine production capability.
There is some capability here but, tellingly, Canada has waited to access that domestic vaccine production capacity. It did not make the investments early in the pandemic, and it sounds like we are going to be waiting at least a year to begin producing vaccines here at all. That is the result of a blind faith in a globalized trading system that even our trading partners do not have.
I think of our government and how, instead of thinking about how to have a domestic plan for vaccine manufacturing, its first thought was to go to the drug companies themselves and ask how to pay more. That was reported earlier this year in The Globe and Mail. The government asked companies manufacturing vaccines in Europe how we could pay more for more vaccine doses and faster access. That was its first thought.
It is that kind of behaviour that may have given rise to the measures the European Union ultimately took to protect its own vaccine manufacturing. That is because the government first thinks of going to big corporations instead of thinking of its duty to regulate in the public interest and make investments at home.
Our airline industry is in serious distress. We have had no plan at all for the airline industry from the government. Rather, we have seen a total laissez-faire approach to let the market decide. It seems that the position of the government is that if our airline industry does not make it, so be it. It offered the Canadian wage subsidy and then was upset when some airline companies took that subsidy and then laid off a bunch of workers anyway. It does not have a plan for the industry. We are meeting with people who represent workers in the airline industry. They say that there really is no plan. This is a strategic sector.
While we trade with other countries, and the U.S. among them, that are interested in liberalizing trade, they do not do that at the expense of having a plan for key industries that are the backbone of their economies. They do not do that at the expense of being able to manufacture important things like vaccines.
Canada has been the sucker for 30 years now when it comes to international trade. The Liberals and Conservatives alike have bought this hook, line and sinker instead of realizing our trading partners are talking free trade when it suits their interests, but have a domestic plan on how to deliver good jobs to their people and how deliver on the public health needs of their populations.
Let us talk about all those things, but let us give the committee the real breadth it needs to decide those priorities as it hears from witnesses.
With all that in mind, including a willingness to not only talk about where the study takes place, but some of the ways we think it might be improved, let us put some emphasis on new opportunities and not just the risks presented by the new administration in the United States.
Therefore, I propose the following amendment to the motion: That the motion be amended: (a) in subparagraph (2) by replacing the words “softwood lumber exports and related jobs” with the words “clean energy, softwood lumber exports and related jobs within a context of the global climate crisis; (b) in subparagraph (3) by adding after the word “policies”, the words “and their impact on the Canadian economy, including the automobile industry”; and (c) by deleting paragraphs (k) and (l).