Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion that affects many workers in Canada, and not surprisingly, in Quebec and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, in particular. We are talking about 370,000 direct and indirect jobs in Canada, including 60,000 in Quebec.
I represent a riding that shares a border with the state of Maine, which makes the flow of trade extremely important to us. We have enjoyed a free trade partnership with the United States for the past three decades, but its future is once again uncertain.
It is disappointing, then, to see the government opposite handling this file like amateurs. It neglected to negotiate a softwood lumber agreement as soon as it came to power, and now, Canada was caught off guard on the NAFTA file.
I would like to remind the House and Canadians who are watching us that the dispute around softwood lumber is not new. The previous government at least made it a priority. In April 2006, only three months after being elected, the Harper government ratified an agreement on softwood lumber which made for ten years of peace in that sector. In 2015, my colleague for Abbotsford was the minister in charge and he began discussions with his American counterparts which led to negotiations to renew the agreement. We all know what happened next.
The Liberals across the way came to power, but we still had hope that the initial discussions would bear fruit. When the current Prime Minister met with President Obama in June 2016, he had given himself 100 days to sign a new agreement. There was a smell of victory in the air, as some would say. However, the Liberals chose to double down. Michael Froman, who used to be the U.S. Trade Representative, said last May that the Government of Canada had received an offer from the Obama administration in order to find an agreement before the new administration took over, but the Prime Minister and his colleagues decided to wait and see if they could get a better deal with President Trump. Is the government proud of its decision today? I am not so sure.
We realize how out of touch this government is with the reality of the regions of Quebec and Canada. When he appointed the Minister of International Trade, the Prime Minister sent him a mandate letter. Of 2,731 words in that letter in French, not a single one is about the forestry industry. The English version contained 1,873 words, but the percentage remained the same: 0% of words about the forestry industry in both official languages. However, the letter contained a lot of jargon. I quote the Prime Minister: “advancing Canada’s progressive trade agenda to create jobs for the middle class and those working hard to join it”.
They have been talking for two years about the middle class and those who want to join it. Clearly the current Government of Canada does not recognize that forestry workers are part of that middle class, as they are not mentioned anywhere in the Minister of International Trade’s mandate letter.
In my riding, there are forestry producers and processors, such as Bois Daaquam in Saint-Just-de-Bretenières, Maibec in Saint-Pamphile, and Matériaux Blanchet. They offer very high-quality jobs in a setting where, it must be said, the population is aging and new workers are hard to find. So it is essential that this agreement be signed as soon as possible.
Those people in Saint-Pamphile and in the northern part of my riding are Canadians who live specifically off the forest. They are Canadians just like people in Montreal or Toronto. They pay their taxes like everyone else and it is the government’s duty to not forget them. However, it is in fact the interests of Canadians like them that are forgotten instead of defended when the government enters into NAFTA negotiations.
We currently have a Prime Minister who is trained as a drama teacher and who repeats platitudes ad nauseam in the belief that every opportunity is a time to share his so-called progressive virtues. He must deal with an American President who has made billions of dollars throughout his life negotiating agreements, and who is now threatening to abolish free trade.
Instead of ensuring that our $2 billion in commercial trade can continue and that our forestry sector is defended, what is the government doing? The Liberals instead go to Washington demanding that the United States amend their laws to meet the so-called progressive criteria and values of the Liberal Party of Canada, and that the new agreement contain clauses to that effect.
Knowing the role of the large unions that directed all their resources to get them elected in the last election, the Liberal government even asked the American federal government to invalidate legislation, right to work legislation that exists in 28 of 50 states. In those states, workers are free to decide whether or not to belong to a union.
If U.S. President Donald Trump were to ask Canada to strike down labour laws in Quebec, New Brunswick, British Columbia, or Ontario, imagine the media outcry. It would be an abuse of power, an affront to our sovereignty as a nation, and an insult to our federation, which guarantees a certain level of provincial independence. This Liberal government is trying to do exactly that, but with a country whose population is 10 times greater than ours. Do the Liberals really expect to save NAFTA by making such demands?
I want to make it clear that what Canada has put on the table will most certainly not help negotiations with the United States. What the Liberals should do is drive home the fact that trade agreements between Canada and the United States have resulted in truly reciprocal trade. The numbers show that Uncle Sam's trade deficit with Canada is virtually non-existent. It is $11 billion out of $545 billion, which is barely 2%.
Our Canadian wood is needed to meet one third of the current demand in the U.S. construction industry. We in Canada have what they need. These are points that need to be hammered home in order to be convincing during the negotiations. That is how we know that the government does not care about the forestry workers. In fact, the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord just said that we were wasting our time talking about this motion to defend the workers in the industry. He said it was unnecessary and unimportant.
Forestry workers can count on us to defend them. The sector is so unimportant to the Prime Minister that he did not even include the two little words “forestry industry” in a lengthy mandate letter to all of his ministers, including the Minister of Natural Resources, the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, or the Minister of Foreign Affairs, not to mention the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. He could not be bothered to include the forestry industry.
Inevitably, we must absolutely vote in favour of this motion. I hope, at the end of the day, that all of my colleagues, and all members, both in government and in the second opposition party, will find this motion to be justified and justifiable.
In any case, it must be said, people—not only in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, but particularly in that region—have seen innovation. We have seen innovation in my riding. Investments have been made over the last 10 years and more to make businesses more productive and more innovative. Billions of dollars were invested when we were in government. Obviously that must continue. Clearly, we will continue to defend people in this industry.