Mr. Speaker, this trade agreement reminds me of the old adage that if one does not pay attention to history, one is bound to repeat it. It seems that in this case we may be repeating a mistake that was made not that long ago and many miles away. It reminds me of what happened in the dry docks in the U.K., which faced similar unfair competition. Hundreds of those dry dock workers came to work in the dry docks in this country which at that time were flourishing. Indeed, this country recruited those workers in the hundreds because of their skills and the value they could bring to our country's dry docks.
I remember that all too well. I was a youngster at the time and my father was one of those workers who came to this country as a dry dock worker. He was a shipwright by trade. Those who know the marine industry know the types of skills that entails. He brought his family here and obviously we stayed.
We left the U.K. because the dry dock in Clydeside where he had a job, while it had been there for over a century was going and is now gone. In fact the remaining piece on the Clydeside is a crane. On that crane is a large plaque commemorating the lives and the work of those shipyard workers who built those ships. It would be a shame if this country were to build that last crane and place a plaque on it in memory of all those shipyard workers in this country who have gone before and there would be no more again.
That is why it is so important as we consider this bill that we look at the parts that affect the shipbuilding industry and those highly skilled and valued marine workers who work in the shipyards day in and day out. They provide services to us. They build coast guard vessels, and hopefully soon will build Department of National Defence ships, provided that the government decides to do it here.
Quite often the United States is held in esteem by many nations throughout the world as being a country to look up to, a country to emulate, and a country that has great ideas. I agree with that. In fact the U.S. had a great idea called the Jones act. That act talks about U.S. ships that will be built with U.S. money, that will be built by U.S. workers in U.S. shipyards. It seems like a great idea, especially when using taxpayers' dollars.
All too often Canadians think that we do not spend their hard-earned taxpayers' dollars as wisely as we could. I guarantee that if we spent those hard-earned dollars that Canadians entrust to us on building ships, they would thank us. They would say that it was a wise investment, a good choice, an excellent idea.
We are entering into a trade agreement with countries like Norway. Norway has developed a strategy, and good for it. Norway should do what it has done over the last 20 years. Norway's shipyards are flourishing, efficient and well stocked with skilled workers.
During that same period of time we ignored our shipyards. We let them decline to the point that today one-third of the shipyards in this country operate at one-third capacity. That is a shame.
My riding of Welland encompasses more than the city of Welland. It encompasses Port Colborne. Almost half the Welland canal runs through my riding. The history of shipbuilding along that canal goes back to the 1800s. We want to see a flourishing shipyard industry in this country where marine workers are proud to build ships that fly Canadian flags.
What we are looking for is a policy that asks, what is wrong with Canadian workers? Why do we not want to invest in those Canadian workers? Why do we not want Canadian workers to build Canadian ships?
It amazes me, as someone who is new to this House, that every now and again it seems that we forget why we are here. Canadians sent us here to advance what they wanted to have advanced for them. If we went to a dry dock today, and I have not been to one in a while, during the election campaign, but I would be more than happy to go back, I believe those marine workers would say that they want us to spend that money on Canadian yards, on Canadian workers, building Canadian ships here, not in Norway. I think we would find, regardless of which political party we belong to, that those workers indeed would say that.
The simple matter is that that investment multiplies itself through an economy. If we had decided to tender that defence ship rather than saying it was going to cost us a few pennies more, we could have had that investment go in as part of a stimulus package that would actually help those dry dock workers and those communities flourish. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
My father first got hired in a place called Collingwood. Many members many not remember that Collingwood actually had a shipyard. We used to be able to look down its main street and we could see this great big ship at the end of the street. It looked like it was parked on the street, but indeed there was a dry dock there.
Across this land there were many places where there were dry docks. Unfortunately, too many of them have closed. It seems to me that what we ought to do is make sure that not one more yard closes in this country, and one of the ways to do that is to ensure that we invest and make sure that we actually put those workers back to work, building a fleet of ships that not only would they be proud of but this country would be proud of, and that would emulate the best in the world.
I have absolutely no doubt that we would build anything but the best. Our workers are the most highly skilled, and given a level playing field, can be the most competitive and efficient in the world. What they need is an opportunity. With this particular bill, those workers are not going to be given that opportunity.
It is amazing the folks that actually talk about getting an opportunity. Some inside the Shipbuilders Association would say, “Perhaps we ought to just let it go”, but that is a defeatist attitude. That is not the attitude of Canadian workers. Canadian workers do not have a defeatist attitude. In fact, Canadian workers are very optimistic. All we need to do is have some faith in those workers and put some investment in those workers, and indeed we would be building some of the finest ships, if not the finest ships, the world has ever seen. One of our friends in the association said:
--we're very good friends with them, and we don't mind doing that, but now we feel that they're putting the boots to us. Not only do they want us to buy their equipment, they want to build the ships in Norway, put their own equipment on them, and then send them to Canada. I think the government has to think a long time before it does that.
Why would he say that? There is more to a ship than just simply building a hull. There is all manner of instrumentation and high technology. Depending upon where it goes, if it goes into the oil fields, in the offshore, it becomes a very intricate piece of equipment that requires a great deal of technology. That type of technology is extremely important to this economy. We do not want to have that type of technology leave this country, since it is our offshore that these ships will be working in. I am sure our offshore workers on those drilling platforms would really want to see a Canadian ship, built by Canadians and flying a Canadian flag, heading out toward them as they work that platform.
What it also would do is make sure that we protect those jobs. When we talk about the Jones act, it has been in place since 1920. That is a long time. It will soon have its centennial anniversary of 100 years. Yet, it has never been repealed. It has never really ever been challenged, not under NAFTA, not under WTO. It just exists. Everyone acknowledges it. Everyone accepts it. Yet, when it comes time to protect Canadian workers, we cannot find the courage to have an exception for our workers, but we are quite happy to turn a blind eye, nudge, nudge, wink, wink and say it is “Only America, it is okay, let it be”.
It seems to me that we ought to have the same legislation here. We could call it whatever we want, Jones 2 if we like, but at least we ought to have an equal playing field. We would like to see a structured financial facility, an accelerated capital cost allowance for the industry, and an effective buy Canada policy for all government procurements.
When one looks at this sense of procurement, what does it really mean? It means spending hard earned taxpayers' dollars that we collect in Canada. The net beneficiary of course of collecting that money and spending it here would ultimately be the Canadian taxpayer who actually paid it in the first place. Some might say, “That might cost us a bit more”. Indeed, it might. Perhaps it will cost us $1.05 when we might have been able to buy it for $1.
However, it seems to me if we spent that $1.05 on a Canadian worker, that Canadian worker has to repatriate some of his money back in the form of taxes and that $1.05 that it cost indeed might only cost 85¢ by the time the 20¢ is paid back in taxes. Ultimately, we are 15¢ ahead on the $1. It seems like a bargain. Then again, I am not an economist.
I am just the member for the riding of Welland who remembers as a child all those boats being built and all those workers being employed. Now he sees the service facilities in his riding working at less than half capacity and in some cases shut down for periods of time, and has not seen a new ship built in those yards in a great number of years and would ultimately like to see that.
As my colleague from Nova Scotia said earlier, there is about $22 billion that needs to be put into infrastructure in the marine industry. It seems to me there is not a yard across the country that would not be busy if indeed we did that.
Unfortunately, we are not doing that. We are letting these yards dry up as if it does not matter, as if someone else will do it for us, and indeed they will. But when we no longer have the capacity to do it and someone else does, we are at the mercy of them and what they wish to charge us when we need those ships to go to those drilling platforms, to assist those workers, to resupply them, and to do all the necessary things that those rigs will need.
It would be a shame if indeed what we thought would be an effective trade deal turned out to be an expensive one for Canadians because we ended up not keeping a shipyard business.
Shipyards go back a long way and a lot further back than just the story I recounted as a youngster coming to this country with my parents. Shipyard building for a marine nation such as ours goes back hundreds of years. In fact, it was marine nations that actually were able to send ships here in the first place that ended up meeting the first nations of this country all those hundreds of years ago. It seems to me that what happened at that point was those marine nations understood the type of infrastructure that was here when it came to lumber and indeed created the marine industry that has lasted all those generations.
We need to continue to build on that. Andrew McArthur from the Shipbuilding Association of Canada and Irving Shipbuilding said:
So our position from day one has been that shipbuilding should be carved out from the trade agreement. We butted our heads against a brick wall for quite a number of years on that and we were told there is no carve-out. If the Americans, under the Jones Act, can carve out shipbuilding from NAFTA and other free trade agreements, as I believe the Americans are doing today with Korea, or have done, why can Canada not do the same?
It seems to me that is an extremely relevant question. Why can Canada not do that? We have the power in the House to do that. Even for someone who has been here for such a short period of time, I think it is day 16, but it seems to me that is what we are empowered to do. We actually have, as Mr. McArthur said, the power to do that. What a novel thought, that we would actually enact, take that sense of urgency that marine and other workers across this country are giving to us and say we have to act on behalf of them. The Americans did. Why would we choose not to? If it is good enough for American workers all those years ago in 1920, surely to goodness in 2009 it is good enough for Canadians. So I would ask the government to look at carving it out.
As my colleague said earlier, this is not a bad total trade agreement. There is just a piece on shipbuilding that does not fit what Canadian workers need to have. We want to carve the shipbuilding piece out. Let us do what other nations have done. They have ultimately, over the years, done similar things and there is no reason why we cannot do the same.
Since the power is in our hands, proverbially as they say, that is the thing I have learned in the House, then why not utilize it? Why not indeed act upon it? That would be a novel thought for the House to protect Canadian workers at a time when they are most vulnerable, at a time where we can actually do something for them. They would say to us that we made the right choice, a great decision, and indeed had an effect on their lives, not only theirs from a personal perspective, but their families, their communities and ultimately this country. That would be a magical moment for a new person in the House like me, to actually say, when I leave this place, that we made a difference in the lives of Canadians. This is our opportunity.
It would be a shame for us to let that opportunity pass because ultimately we will be held to account for those opportunities that we let pass. I do not necessarily mean in elections. Ultimately, we have to look at what we have done as a lifetime of work for our fellow citizens, our communities and our country. That is the test we hold ourselves to when we make a difference, not whether to get re-elected, but whether we made a difference for Canadians. This is an ample opportunity to make that difference.
I would ask the government and my colleagues on the opposition benches to take a hard look at this piece of legislation and take the opportunity to act on behalf of Canadian workers, just like the Americans did with the Jones act, and exempt this piece on shipbuilding, so that it defends shipbuilding workers in Canada and allows them to get back on equal footing.