The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to have the opportunity to speak to Bill , the softwood lumber products export charge act, that implements the softwood lumber agreement between Canada and the United States. This agreement is very important to people in my constituency in Burnaby, B.C. and to people all over British Columbia and all over Canada, so I am very glad to stand today to discuss it.
The bottom line is that this is a bad deal. It is a bad deal for Burnaby. It is a bad deal for British Columbia and it is a bad deal for Canada.
We have heard from various corners of this House over the last few days the various rationalizations of this bad deal. From the corner over here where the Bloc sits, we have heard that it is an imperfect deal. When I heard some of the members from the Bloc speaking to this, I saw people who were bowed, who caved, and who did not feel comfortable about their own position. To say that it is imperfect is a huge understatement.
I heard from the government's corner, members from British Columbia who said that this was the best possible deal. That sure falls short of saying it was a good deal, but it also again belies this real discomfort with the kind of legislation that we are dealing with and it masks the fact that it is a bad deal. It is a bad deal, plain and simple, and it is a sellout of Canada.
This deal came at a time when Canada was on the verge of winning after a long legal process. We had won every single step of the way, holding the Americans to agreements they signed with Canada. What could be more important than to stand up for those agreements that had our signatures and their signatures on them?
The Tembec case, for instance, was subject to only one final appeal and the extraordinary challenges committee judgment would have come out in August. We were in a position to win both of them. There was no question about that. In fact, members do not have to believe me, they just need to listen to the testimony of the Canadian ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, who this summer pointed out before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that there were no appeals on the extraordinary challenges committee judgment and there is no appeal on the Tembec case after the ruling was made.
Rather than a victory, we have this deal. I have heard it said in this corner of the House that this is the government snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. How does this represent Canada at all? We were winning every step of the way and now we have this bad deal, and such a deal it is.
A key feature of this deal is that Canada has to give up $1 billion in illegally collected levies to the United States. All the way through the legal process, it was shown that these duties and levies were illegally collected and now with this deal, we give that $1 billion to the United States. This $1 billion was collected from Canadian companies, causing them incredible hardship. It is money that was also taken from Canadian workers, Canadian families and Canadian communities, and B.C. communities have been extremely hard hit through all of this.
Why, when Canada was on the verge of victory, would the Conservatives sign off on the important principles at stake and give the Americans $1 billion to boot? We have lost the principle about the importance of our trade agreements with the United States. We have lost the principle about using the mechanisms that hold us to account on those agreements. We have lost the argument about protecting our softwood lumber industry, and we give the Americans $1 billion to boot.
We have to consider too, how is that money going to be used? We know for a fact that $500 million of it, half of it, is going directly to the US Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports. Who are they? They are the very people who initiated and pursued the attack on the Canadian softwood lumber industry. They initiated all of this in the first place and now we are giving them $500 million. We know they ran out of money and now, thanks to the Conservatives, we are refilling their war chest, funding their litigation and lobbying for years to come.
Do we really think they will not use it? The question is when, not if, they are going to use it. Will it take two years? Will it take nine years? There is no question that they are going to use that money again against our industry.
Given that tendency, which industry is next? Now that we have caved on softwood lumber, we know that other industries are in the sights of the Americans. What aspect of our trade policy will they attack next? What protectionist is planning an assault on another Canadian industry? Which of our natural resources will they seek to scoop up next?
I think some of us in this corner believe that the Wheat Board is the next thing that is in the sight of the Americans. We know and we have heard from farmers all across Canada about the importance of the Wheat Board and the fact that they feel that it is the next thing in the sights of protectionist Americans. We have to stand up and fight for the Wheat Board. It has brought stability and a stable income to Canadian farmers.
It is ironic that we sit here today discussing an agreement that would give U.S. lobbyists a half a billion dollar fund for legal challenges to our industries two days after the Conservative government announced that it was cutting the Canadian court challenges program. This is a modest $5.6 million program that allowed the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our society along with disadvantaged Canadians and minority groups the ability to challenge decisions and policies of the Canadian government.
We have seen in the past the importance of this for language rights in Canada, for equality rights for the gay and lesbian community, for citizenship rights, and for other minority rights in Canada. Now the program is gone.
It seems that the Conservatives cannot help our own people ensure their place in Canadian society, but we can give 80 times the money that was in the court challenges program to the Americans who want to circumvent the trade agreements that they have signed with Canada and want to ruin Canadian industry.
The Conservatives cut Canada's human rights related court challenges program and they fund a new half a billion dollar court challenges program for Americans to use against Canada. It is a shame. It does not make sense. If for no other reason this bill should not be supported on that basis.
Let us look at the other half a billion dollars that the Conservatives are allowing the Americans to keep. Where does it go? It goes directly to the White House for the use of President Bush. The official agreement says that this money will be used for:
(a) educational and charitable causes in timber-reliant communities;
(b) low-income housing and disaster relief;
(c) educational and public-interest projects addressing:
(i) forest management issues--
That sounds great.
Let us hear what Frances Russell said about this $450 million in the Winnipeg Free Press. She said:
Fully $450 million of the $1.3 billion in illegal duties the Americans will get to keep will grease re-election wheels for protectionist Republicans facing tough fights in upcoming midterm congressional elections. Canada's timber industry will thus be forced to subsidize an ongoing, illicit, attack on itself. All with the explicit consent of the Canadian government.
Well, the Conservatives may consent to this, the Bloc may consent to this, but New Democrats will not.
American negotiators have taken care of American workers. Let us say that even if the $450 million was used in a completely altruistic fashion and went as the agreement indicates, where is the support for Canadian companies, Canadian workers, and Canadian communities devastated by this agreement? It is not to be found in this deal.
There is $4 billion coming back to Canada, but there is no requirement for reinvestment in Canadian communities, reinvestment in the Canadian industry, and there is a fear that much of that money will go to fund investment by those same companies in investment in the United States. That is not acceptable either.
Even the Bloc members, who are concerned about the displacement of workers because of this crisis, are left to raise over and over again, pleading with the Conservatives to announce something that will assist them because it just is not in the deal. I do not think anyone needs a second reason to vote against Bill , but there it is.
Two days ago I was in the House to hear my colleague, the member for and our representative on the international trade committee, speak to this issue. He outlined many of the key problems with this deal. They include that the U.S. only has to allege non-compliance with Canada to get out of the deal.
In clause 10, the imposition of a 15% export tax as of October 1 amounts to double taxation above and beyond current anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
In clause 18 there is a new special punitive tax originally designed to hit those companies that are standing up for Canadian rights and responsibilities under NAFTA and who will choose to continue litigation, but now everyone faces that tax. When added to the export development charge, all companies will end up paying 37% and they will have to pay up front.
Clause 48 imposes a six year burden of record keeping on companies, increasing their administrative burden.
Clause 77 states that warrants are no longer needed to enter softwood businesses when issues of enforcement of the act are pursued. These are harsh measures against companies. I think they violate fundamental rights.
In clause 89, it is as blank cheque to the minister to demand payment from companies with no appeal mechanism. What happens in the event of a calculation problem? Too bad. There is no appeal.
In clause 95, directors of companies will now be individually responsible and there is no appeal process. It goes on and on.
Let me just finish by giving the final word for the In the House on October 25, 2005, he said:
Most recently, the NAFTA extraordinary challenges panel ruled that there was no basis for these duties, but the United States has so far refused to accept the outcome and has asked Canada to negotiate a further settlement. Let me repeat what I have said before, and let me be as clear as I can. This is not a time for negotiation. It is a time for compliance.
At the time, we thought he meant the Americans had to comply with the court decisions. Unfortunately, it appears that he really meant that Canadians had to comply with the whims of the American industry and the whims of American protectionists.
It is just not acceptable. It is a bad deal. We must vote against the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the current dispute on the softwood lumber has existed for nearly 20 years and is clearly the most important trade issue between Canada and the United States. It is commonly known as “lumber dispute four”.
The issue centred on what is called stumpage fees, the amount charged by the Canadian government to lumber companies to harvest timber from public land. The U.S. lumber industry claimed that the stumpage fees were too low, thereby amounting to unfair trade subsidies.
In 2001 the U.S. government responded by imposing duties on Canadian softwood lumber entering that country. To date these duties, illegally collected from our forestry sector, have amounted to over $5.4 billion. The Washington-based Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports further claimed that Canadian firms were dumping product into markets at less than fair value.
Until the Conservatives came to power, the Government of Canada consistently and continually defended our forestry management regime, denying that it was subsidizing the lumber industry or that softwood lumber was being dumped into the U.S. The issues have been litigated seven different times through the U.S. courts and NAFTA and WTO trade panels, and Canada has won all seven decisions.
These decisions favourable to Canada mean that we are not guilty of subsidizing, we are not harming the U.S. industry and we are not dumping.
Let us think back to the January 2006 election campaign and the Conservative promise to demand that the U.S. government play by the rules on softwood lumber, repeal the Byrd amendment and return more than $5 billion in illegal softwood lumber tariffs to Canadian producers.
Let us move forward a mere three months to April 2006, when the announced, with great fanfare, that he reached an agreement on the softwood lumber issue. Although the details were missing, it was readily apparent that the Conservatives had broken their campaign promise to the lumber producers and to Canadians.
With the proposed agreement, the Conservative government has abandoned the Canadian position and has thrown away all the precedent-setting decisions favourable to Canada. This will negatively impact future disputes on the softwood industry when we become engaged in “lumber dispute five”, which I have no doubt will come in the not too distant future.
The implications reach beyond the softwood lumber trade, to all trade sectors with the U.S.
The credibility and integrity of this dispute resolution process of NAFTA and the series of rulings based on trade provisions have effectively been washed away. The dispute settlement chapter of NAFTA, chapter 19, just went out the window. So much for the rule of law, so much for justice and so much for fair play, let alone free trade.
The Conservatives should hang their heads in shame for this sellout. Not only has the Conservative government acquiesced into a settlement adverse to our forest industry, it has undercut Canada's rule-based trading relationship with the U.S. which will now encourage other U.S. sectors to ignore trade rules and, instead, seek political decisions in their favour, which will lead to more trade uncertainty. And for what? For 24 months of trade peace on the softwood industry; two short years.
The members opposite have chortled that it is a seven year agreement, with an option for two more years. However, the devil is in the details. They want Canadians to overlook the escape clause that allows either party to get out after 24 months. There is a stipulation that no retaliatory action can take place for one further year after this, but does this Conservative government really think that a government or a forestry industry, which refuses to respect the decisions in seven separate trade disputes, will respect these provisions? It is not likely.
Twenty-four months; two years. Members can be the judge. No, the Canadian people will be the judge in the next election.
What about the $5.4 billion of illegal tariffs that have been collected from our lumber companies? One billion dollars, or nearly 18% of these illegal tariffs, will be left on the U.S. table instead of being returned to the rightful owners in the Canadian forestry industry.
The ultimate insult is that $500 million of this will go to the coalition for U.S. lumber imports, the very organization that has led the charge against our softwood industries, the very lobby group that started this trade war. It is a sweet deal for it. Effectively, we reimburse it for its legal fees and expenses, even though it has consistently lost the decisions, and we also provide the coalition with a slush fund for future legal and political attacks to fight “softwood lumber five”. It is a sweet deal, indeed.
Canadians are a generous and accommodating people, but this is simply ludicrous. This is simply incomprehensible.
A further sum of $450 million will go, not to the U.S. treasury, but to the U.S. administration for yet unnamed meritorious initiatives.
What does this mean? I heard one trade lawyer at committee speculate that it will go to buildings and bridges and other goodies offered in a U.S. election year. Is that preposterous? Perhaps not. I will tell members what it is. It is simply ludicrous and incomprehensible. Canada should not be interfering in U.S. elections.
The whole issue confirms that the U.S. is a trade bully. It is prepared to play by the rules only when it feels like it and when it is to its advantage.
However, there is another bully in this game: the Conservative government and its . Members opposite will say that the majority of the forestry industry has agreed to this agreement, so why all the fuss? The reality is that no one in the forestry industry claims that this is good deal but the industry is on the ropes. Keeping in mind flagging lumber prices, a rising dollar and soaring energy costs, in addition to five years of illegal duties, which realistically represents their profits, they cannot afford to fight any longer. An 80% dollar is better than bankruptcy in anyone's eyes.
We also must keep in mind the 's ultimatum to accept the deal or the reluctant lumber companies will be on their own in any subsequent legal battles. By the way, the government is withdrawing the loan guarantees provided by the previous Liberal government, loan guarantees that would have kept our lumber companies afloat financially while they reclaim 100% of their money through the legal process.
The lumber industry has been subjected to tremendous pressures, with ministers phoning large companies and MPs phoning small mills with a consistent and blunt message: “take it or leave it, take it or else”.
If this were not enough, the Conservative bullies have imposed a 19% levy on all refunded duties deposited on any holdout company. When faced with such punishment from their own government, it is no wonder the majority of the forestry industries are prepared to sign on to this agreement. They have no choice but to give in to such objectionable tactics.
Where do we go from here? As I understand it, the illegal 10.8% combined anti-dumping and countervailing duties levelled by the U.S. will be replaced at current price levels by a 15% Canadian export tax. Can anyone believe that? The export tax is higher than the current U.S. duties under today's market prices. The system is designed to protect U.S. producers from Canadian lumber exports at times of low market prices, when American mills are least able to compete.
Are members baffled by the Conservatives' squeals of delight that this is a great deal for Canada? I am and so are Canadians.
The deal would also cap Canadian exports at 34% of the U.S. lumber market. Our producers now have a quota when there was none before. This will effectively prevent any Canadian growth in the U.S. market. Our very efficient Canadian sawmills that have kept up with technological improvements cannot reap the reward of being on top of their game. So much for free trade.
The Conservative softwood lumber deal will have a negative impact on industry, which will also impact some of the over 55,000 workers in that industry, as well as the resource based communities in which they live. Who will stand up for the nation's forestry workers and these communities?
There is much to criticize in the proposed softwood lumber agreement. The Liberal Party's role is also to offer alternatives.
Our commitment to the softwood lumber industry in a supplementary aid package would have included: $200 million over two years to enhance the forestry industry's competitive position, improving its environmental performance and taking advantage of the growing bioeconomy; $40 million over two years to improve the overall performance of the national forest innovation system; $30 million over two years to improve the competitiveness of the workforce to promote upgrading of workplace skills and to provide assistance to older workers impacted by forest industry layoffs; $100 million over two years to support economic diversification and capacity-building in communities affected by job losses in the forestry industry; $30 million over two years to develop new markets for Canadian wood products; and $200 million over two years to fight the spread of the pine beetle in B.C. forests.
Notwithstanding strong concerns from the softwood lumber industry, provincial governments, forestry sector workers and resource based communities, the government has rushed into this agreement solely for its own political interests and not for the interests of those adversely impacted by this agreement.
This is why I will be supporting the amendment put forward by the member for to eliminate the punitive tax measure imposed by the bill, as well as the subamendment proposed by the member for .
Mr. Speaker, the riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain, which I represent in this House, has been particularly affected by the softwood lumber dispute that has been going on for many years. Indeed, forestry operations are the cornerstone of economic development for many municipalities in my riding.
I am talking about the whole area surrounding the town of La Tuque, including obviously Parent, Trois-Rives, Saint-Roch-de-Mékinac and Saint-Joseph-de-Mékinac, Saint-Tite, Sainte-Thècle, Notre-Dame-de-Montauban, Saint-Séverin and Saint-Adelphe—all towns and villages where companies working in the softwood lumber industry are located. I say this to emphasize the extent to which Bill will have an impact on the future of those communities, on tens of thousands of workers, and the thousands of families that depend on the decisions that we make in this House.
Considering the great importance of this issue for all the people whom I am pledged to properly represent, I decided to carry out my own consultations this past July and August among the various companies affected by the provisions of the softwood lumber agreement that was reached on July 1, 2006, by the international trade ministers of Canada and the United States. I consulted companies such as Abitibi-Consolidated, in particular La Tuque Forestry Products, Shermag, Commonwealth Plywood, Gérard Crête et fils, as well as the Groupe Rémabec. These consultations brought out several points.
First, the softwood lumber industry in general and its companies have been greatly harmed by the countervailing duties imposed by the United States since 2002. Second, the federal government has not provided sufficient support, neither the previous Liberal government nor the Conservative government. There have been no loan guarantees despite all the promises made in recent years, which has further weakened the companies in their dealings with the Americans. Third, many bankruptcies could have been avoided if those loan guarantees had been provided. Fourth, we have won most of the court challenges but the Americans took no account of the decisions in our favour and continued litigation at another level. We won there as well but in the final analysis it was an unending cycle.
For all of these reasons, the lawyers representing many of these companies would have advised their firms not to accept the agreement. However, at the same time—I was told very clearly—the bankers for those same companies told them that they would have to accept this settlement because they were in a precarious financial situation. They desperately needed to quickly recover the funds paid out in countervailing duties, even though they amounted to only 81% of the total paid.
For all these reasons, and even though all the companies I talked to say that this is not necessarily a good agreement—they know it, and I will come back to that—they are asking me to vote for the agreement, because they are barely getting by and any delay could lead to more bankruptcies and more job losses in the short term.
In light of all these factors, I will therefore vote for this bill. But I still want to point out once again that these companies might have made quite a different choice if the Conservative and Liberal governments had supported them properly when they needed support. That would have levelled the playing field and shown the Americans that Quebec and Canadian companies were not in the fight alone.
Now, looking at all of Quebec—not just La Mauricie, as I have just done—I can say beyond all doubt that the situation is the same everywhere. The industry in Quebec is accepting this agreement reluctantly, because it can no longer defend itself. The softwood lumber dispute has weakened the economies of many areas of Quebec. The lack of support from the Liberals and Conservatives has caused many companies to close their doors. Others have declared bankruptcy. Thousands of jobs have been lost. The human drama resulting from these unfortunate situations could have been prevented if only those who had promised loan guarantees had kept their promises.
I said earlier that companies are accepting this bad deal reluctantly. In fact, they feel forced to accept it because, in many cases, they cannot wait any longer.
They are not agreeing gladly to leave so much money—$1 billion—in the Bush administration's coffers. They are not happy to be accepting an agreement that does nothing to resolve many problems that have plagued the industry for years: lack of investment in research and development, lack of adequate market diversification programs and lack of support for new equipment purchases.
Since this agreement does not solve all the problems, the government will have to make a commitment to put in place a series of measures to mitigate the negative effects caused by this long-lasting dispute in Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois therefore proposes several such measures, including an income support program for older people; an economic diversification program for the communities that depend on forest resources; an increase in the funding for the Canadian model forest program run by Forestry Canada; a special tax status for the 128,000 private woodlot owners in Quebec; special tax treatment for the $4.3 billion in countervailing and antidumping duties to be refunded by the American authorities so as to take account of the financial damage suffered by these companies; an acceleration in equipment amortization; a program to stimulate innovation in the forest industry and improve its productivity; a market diversification and lumber marketing program; and financial compensation for maintenance of the forest network. It is important for these measures to be put in place as of this fall.
There is another important element to consider in connection with Bill, and that is the monitoring of the much too rigid export quotas currently proposed. In fact the companies will be very limited in their use of unused quotas since the agreement provides that transfers will be limited to just two consecutive months.
In view of the cyclical nature of supply and demand in softwood lumber, such a provision does not at all meet the need for flexibility on the part of both the industry and consumers. This very rigid aspect of the agreement will have to be relaxed at meetings of the binational council.
In this regard, on June 13, in this House, the Minister of International Trade said to my colleague, the member for Joliette, that the agreement would not contain a rigid cap on export quotas.
I also wish to point out that the duration of the agreement is something else that weakens it, since one clause provides that, after just 18 months, the agreement may be terminated on six months’ advance notice.
In short, the agreement will ensure trade peace for three years and will help the industry in the short and medium term, but only in the current context, in which it is on life-support. We note also that the government has given up in this regard since, last summer, it was talking about a firm seven-year agreement.
Furthermore, we have before us a theoretical agreement because it cannot come into effect until all the cases currently before the courts are withdrawn. But if the cases brought before the courts by companies under section 11 of NAFTA are not withdrawn, it means that the agreement is not valid, even if the bill is approved. If this were to happen, the government would very quickly have to put in place a guaranteed loan program, as it has already promised by the way.
In conclusion, I specify that I will vote in favour of bill , not because it is about a sound trade agreement—because in numerous respects, it is quite the opposite—but because the workers of Saint-Maurice—Champlain and the companies who employ them cannot afford to wait any longer.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , better known as the softwood lumber deal.
From day one, this deal did not feel right to me, from the day the walked into the House in a huff to announce the agreement and then soon after when we saw the incredibly negative industry reaction when all the details were finally exposed. It was, in my opinion, politically motivated. The new Prime Minister of Canada's new government was so anxious to reach a deal at any cost that he was prepared to sacrifice the industry in the process. In his obsession to appear decisive, the seemed prepared to sacrifice one of our most important industries, not to mention the long term viability of the free trade agreement.
NAFTA and WTO judgments had clearly indicated that our industry was not subsidized. Therefore, there was no reason to capitulate on this very important principle. In fact, most experts felt that the U.S. would have exhausted all appeals within a one year period.
What message does this give to other Canadian industries involved in disputes under the free trade agreement? Even worse, what message does it give to the U.S.? Although we were winning decision upon decision on this issue at all levels, the still caved in and essentially sold out the softwood industry.
As members can imagine, the softwood sector is a very competitive sector. The $1 billion that the new government has taken from it and surrendered to its U.S. competitors will create long term hardships beyond belief.
I listened to a Conservative colleague yesterday speak to the fact that once the U.S. returned the $4 billion illegally taken from the industry, many in the forestry industry would be able to reinvest these sums in their businesses. They would be able to buy new equipment and expand for the future. My understanding is that most of the smaller softwood producers are going through extremely difficult times, and expansion is the furthest thing from their minds.
What bothers me, given the reality of the situation, is the $1 billion that these companies will never see and the lost opportunities for these companies to use this money, their money, to reinvest and modernize their facilities and improve their competitiveness in the world market. One billion dollars has been left on the table, wasted, in this most competitive of markets. I am not even talking about the interest on these funds, and I have not heard any answers from our Conservative colleagues on what happened to that interest. From my experience here, it is still a mystery.
Second, and even sadder, is that $500 million of these funds will go to their direct competitors to continue the harassment of our Canadian softwood businesses. It is a terrible precedent to have set, and it opens up the door to other bad decisions in other sectors. The Americans, who have always tested our mettle on these issues to see what we are made of, now know that the government will abandon its industries when the going gets tough.
Members need not take my word for it. Members may know that northern Manitoba has a substantial softwood lumber industry. Chris Parlow, president of the United Steelworkers, Local 1-324, denounced the agreement with the U.S., stating:
[The Prime Minister] has done nothing in this effort to meet with Canadian workers and hear us. What do we have for all our wins at NAFTA, WTO, US Court of International Trade? We have won every stage of this dispute, only to have the US say they won’t recognize the rulings.
Speaking of not supporting our softwood industry, yesterday during debate I heard another Conservative member of Parliament say that we received the best deal possible. There is one element that he forgot to mention, and that is the new government did not offer a temporary aid package, as was provided by the past Liberal government. This aid package, which included $900 million in loan guarantees, was essential in allowing our local softwood businesses to survive in the interim.
We were also committed to $600 million of adjustment measures. I think it is important to explain what these funds were for, since it had been done in close collaboration with industry representatives and focused on their most basic needs. Frankly, we still feel these measures would be necessary under any circumstances even if this flawed deal is passed.
I know my colleague a few minutes ago enumerated these measures, but I they are important enough to repeat. It is an important part of what we had proposed, and it would have allowed the industry to survive on a temporary basis until we received the final decisions from the courts.
We had committed $200 million over two years to enhance the forest industry's competitive position, improve its environmental performance, and take advantage of the growing bio-economy.
We were proposing $40 million over two years to improve the overall performance of the national forest innovation system; $30 million over two years to improve competitiveness of the workforce, promote upgrading of workforce skills and provide assistance to older workers impacted by forestry industry lay-offs; $100 million over two years to support economic diversification and capacity building in communities affected by job losses in the forest industry; $30 million over two years to develop new markets for Canadian wood products; and $200 million over two years to fight the spread of the pine beetle in B.C. forests.
As we see, to add insult to injury, Canada's new government just cut funding to the pine beetle program. If one has been through this area of B.C. in the last little while, one cannot understand this type of logic.
This financial package was intended to carry the industry through while the appeals moved forward.
The previous government and industry stakeholders seemed very confident that the final decisions would favour the Canadian softwood industry. The fact that the Conservatives would not even provide the industry with the option of a temporary aid package is very sad indeed. Without this option, the industry was forced to capitulate and take the deal even if it considered it totally unacceptable.
If the Conservatives were so confident, as they seem to be today, that this is such a great deal, why did they not offer a similar package and allow the stakeholders to decide on whether they wished to take the financial package and wait for a final decision by the panels or take the deal that leaves over $1 billion on the American table? It seems to me this oxygen should have been provided to the industry by the new government, but no, it was take it or leave it. It is quite obvious that the bulk of Canadian businesses accepted the deal while holding their collective noses.
It is wrong. It is a bad deal. It sets a terrible precedent. It leaves over $1 billion in American hands to better compete with our softwood industry and, even worse, to provide the U.S. softwood lobby a huge amount of money to undermine one of the most vital sectors in our country.
For all those reasons, I cannot in good conscience support this deal.
Mr. Speaker, I stand today, as the member for Surrey North, to talk about what this agreement means to my riding.
Most people tend to think of the softwood lumber agreement as being more of interest to an interior area or a coastal area, but I live in an urban area and I know that within my constituency of Surrey North and within all of Surrey there are many IWA or steel IWA workers who are currently out of work and there are more who will be out of work. These are people who spent their lives working in the forest industry and are now losing their homes. They must move their children to different schools. Their self-respect as workers has been destroyed and their lives have been irrevocably changed. This agreement will not, in any way, help the people who are living in Surrey North or in Surrey in general.
We do not have one mill left on the Fraser River, all the way from New Westminster to Surrey and up the coast. The last mill closed a little over six months ago. This was the end of an era.
When these negotiations began, those workers, who were about to be displaced, had hope that perhaps this would make a difference for them, but this agreement has not. The $1 billion that has been left on the table like Monopoly money is of no benefit to these workers at all.
I know the forest industries have been pushed or strongly encouraged to support a deal that they do not really want to support but they have no choice. However, if we were to actually go out and do some consultations with the other people who are affected by the softwood industry, we would hear something very different.
What should be happening to the $1 billion that has been left on the table? Fifty-five per cent of all the wood in Canada is actually in British Columbia. In British Columbia, this is not just a small piece of an overall job base, revenue base or natural resource base. Now that the agreement has been signed, the money that will come back to British Columbia, as an example, will go into government revenue. How does that help displaced workers? It does not.
Many of these workers are no longer young and it would not be easy for them to change careers. Many of them are between 45 and 55 years of age. This money should be targeted to mitigation. It should be targeted toward job retraining. It should be targeted toward those communities that have been absolutely devastated economically by what we have already seen in the forest industry.
The fact that we cut down logs in British Columbia and then we export raw logs to other places to have a product made, surely the money coming back should be targeted toward value added industry and toward mitigating for workers and for communities.
We should remember that in every community where there are displaced forest workers, generally male but not always as a few women work in the forest industry, the other ancillary businesses in the community start to close. It is not just the worker who is affected. It is the worker's spouse or partner. It is the worker's children who may have to move away from the town and go to another school. It is the spouse who has lost the job when the ancillary business closed. The money that will be coming back to British Columbia should be going into the communities but it is not. It is going into government revenue. It could be used for anything and that is not right. It is not in any way a fair deal for British Columbia or for other forest dependent areas in this country.
I do not support this deal and I know many other people do not. I think many of the people who will be standing up to support it will be doing so either reluctantly or for other reasons on which I will not speculate, but may not be doing it because they are in full support of it.
As a whole, this House of Parliament and certainly some of the industries in British Columbia may have said yes, but the population is overwhelming in its rejection of this deal that has been negotiated. I think many people will be giving this deal simply tacit support and I am not sure that is the way we want to do this.
The other concern I have is that the agreement should give some long term hope to the softwood industry. However, if this agreement can be reopened in 18 months time, how much long term reassurance is there in that? Is someone going to buy a house and take out a mortgage knowing that this can be reopened in 18 months? I do not think so. Is someone going to make permanent future plans for themselves or their families based on the fact that this can be reopened that quickly? I think not.
In many ways we have the worst of all worlds in this. We have money coming back that will not be targeted to the workers, to the communities and to building healthy forests again. People have been very clear that healthy forests are part of what needs to happen in that mitigation.
I do not support the bill because workers across the country in the softwood lumber industry will be devastated by this. It is not fair, it is not right and it will not help British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker, I am both pleased and saddened to take part in this debate because ultimately the bill that is now before us is a total abdication of Canadian sovereignty, a complete rejection of the rules of international law.
This government totally surrendered to the Americans. Then, in an attempt to justify their surrender, the Conservatives put a gun to the head of different Canadian firms by telling them they would receive no support.
Worse still, they have also been the accomplices of the banks because they wanted to finish the job. The only winners under this agreement are the banks who will all collect the $4 billion when the deal is done. The other winners, of course, are the American producers.
I notice in particular the support of the Bloc Québécois. Earlier, I heard the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain state that they had proposed such and such a measure, but they have given their unconditional support to the Conservative government while forgetting the workers and communities concerned. That is how they are propping up the government. They have decided to lie down in submission to save their positions rather than saving the communities and workers.
On the subject of older workers, they had a golden opportunity to say to this government, “We will support you provided that you introduce a program for older workers”. They could have held the government hostage. They decided to ask for nothing. Instead of finding solutions for older workers, they prefer to ask questions. The next day, after announcing their support for the government, they were pathetic. Having already sold their weapons cheaply, they were asking, “What are you going to do for older workers? What are you going to do for communities?”
What is there for workers in all this? Take a 58-year-old logger from Saint-Fulgence, who has lost his job; what is there for him? What is there for the person who has worked all his life in the forest industry and who had hoped this agreement would do something for his company? It will do nothing. He wondered if anyone thought about him, because all the great speeches were about the workers. There is nothing for him. He is being told, “Take the rest of your UI benefits, after that, you are on your own”.
There was an opportunity. In the Liberal program, which was defeated by the Bloc Québécois, there was $200 million over two years for making our forest industry more competitive and environmentally friendly. There was $40 million over two years for improving the general performance of our innovative national forest management system. There were millions of dollars for enhancing the competitiveness of our work force, for workplace skill development, and for assisting older workers in the forest industry who had been laid off. There was also $100 million for economic diversification.
Will this deal make any mills re-open? Has anyone heard any re-opening announcements since it was signed? All that I have heard are closing announcements. If there were so much confidence in this announcement and if the deal generated as much hope as the government representatives would have us believe, why is it that, day after day, there are closing announcements in towns all across the country?
It is sad for single-industry communities that have no hope of diversifying and that got zero, especially in the parts of rural Quebec represented by Bloc members, who did nothing to take care of them.
All that older workers got are speeches. I want to pay tribute in this regard to the NDP: when they were in the same kind of situation, with the same amount of leverage, they used it to protect the people in whom they believed. The Bloc did nothing. It claims to have leverage. It had the slogan “le vrai pouvoir”. But the only real power it used was sucking up to the government.
The feeling we have today in the House is one of immense sadness. Single-industry communities in which everything closed down will not take heart from this. All there is for older workers is the end of their employment insurance benefits and then the shame of not being able to have a decent retirement.
The House should put itself in the shoes of this 58-year-old man. What is he being offered in Saint-Fulgence? Here everyone lives comfortably and has hope for the future. But the House should put itself in the shoes of these people who worked in the forest. There is nothing for them in this deal. There is nothing, I say, except despair.
Therefore we have decided to vote against this agreement not just because of its content, but also because of what it does not contain. There is no related measure. Even the Speech from the Throne included somewhat of a paragraph to appease the Bloc a little, but in the end there is nothing concrete.
I maintain that a year from now, when we are on the other side of this House, we will take stock of this agreement and see how many jobs were created and which communities had to close and we will see that this agreement was bad for Canada, bad for companies, bad for workers and bad for the communities.
That is why we, the members of the Liberal party, have decided to vote against this agreement. We are convinced that after winning all its court challenges in front of international tribunals Canada was right. If the industry had received help from this government, it would not have needed to give in to the government's threats or its bankers' threats. That is what is so sad in all this. Not a single entrepreneur in Canada is happy with this agreement. It was shoved down their throat out of necessity. But let us ask the question. I come back to that because our mandate here is not just to protect big business. We are here to protect the average person. I am still waiting for someone to give me some good news on this agreement.
At the end of the day, this agreement is regrettable not only because of its content, which is a complete abdication, but also because of the lack of related measures. We know full well that this will not resolve anything for those already affected or for countless others who will be once the sector is restructured. The reality is that this sector will have to be restructured and several people will be sacrificed and will pay the price. It is not the major players or the banks who will pay, but the workers for whom there is nothing here.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot muster any enthusiasm to talk about Bill .
We have heard all sorts of amazing things from hon. members of all stripes in this House. The member for Outremont gave a fine performance. This is probably the first time he has risen with such outrage to defend workers in this House. This is the first time. He used to be a minister and did not rise to defend workers. No, that was not what the member for Outremont did. He was a minister, he made decisions.
That is the reality. The softwood lumber crisis has existed since May 22, 2002, when the Liberals were in power. The member for Outremont was elected in June 2004. What did the minister do? What did the member for Outremont do when he was minister? Absolutely nothing. He said earlier that they were in court and were winning battles. All the while, plants were closing.
Let us not ask ourselves questions.The Conservative Party did not close all the plants; the Liberal Party's decisions closed them. That is what happened. That is the reality.
Clearly, all that time, the Bloc Québécois defended the interests of workers in Quebec in this House. We suggested good ideas and solutions. We were the ones who proposed providing loan guarantees in this House. The Liberal government did not listen to us, and the Conservative government is not listening to us either.
We did not get guarantees. No, there is the program. The member for Outremont refers to the program. All that time, the Liberals were in power and did not implement their program. Did they think that people thought the Liberals were going to implement it to get elected? People did not trust the Liberals. That is the reality. And they were right.
Today, in this House, we are here to defend the interests of workers, who have asked the Bloc Québécois to vote for the agreement because the court case was dragging on too long. The reality is that the companies need money.
We have voted, we are voting and we will vote to defend the agreement, for the simple reason that the forest industry is in crisis and it needs the money, because the Liberal Party did not come to its assistance when it was time to do so. It did not create loan guarantees. The Conservative Party is repeating the same mistake of not helping the companies. It decided to sign a cut-rate agreement. Everyone says so, including the industry. This is not really the ideal agreement. The problem is that the companies have had it and, before they all close down, obviously we are going to keep the existing plants alive and we will hope to work together to try and reopen the ones that have closed.
That is the reality. This is why Quebeckers can rely on the Bloc Québécois to defend their interests. They cannot rely on the Liberals, who spend their time in court trying to defend and win and do what they have always done, that is, not give anything to the industry, telling it to keep on hoping it will win the final battle, the last case.
Cases have been won every year. We win one but it does not put anything more in the workers’ pockets. That is the harsh reality for the workers.
The 147 companies out of 151 who called the Bloc Québécois to ask it to vote in favour of this agreement, which is not a good one, did not do so lightheartedly. We say so quite openly. We have offered some solutions to improve it. The only problem is that the words “The End” are written on the wall and the Conservative Party has decided not to help the industry. So everyone says that the best thing that can happen is for the money paid by the companies to be refunded, even partially. This is the industry’s request, once again.
The only party in Quebec that listens to the workers, to Quebeckers, is the Bloc Québécois. We and the people are in symbiosis. The same cannot be said of the Liberal Party. Thus, we decided to support this agreement, for the sake of the people.
This is why we are here. We will go on battling in the interest of the people. Why? Because we will never be in power.
The hon. member for Outremont’s problem might be that he covets power at all cost. That is his problem and the problem of his friend, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. Power at all cost, and look what happened: in coveting power at all cost, they lost it, because power is loaned to us, it is not ours to keep. We will always be here, of course to defend the interests of Quebeckers.
We would like to say to the Conservative government that if it has any heart at all—which is a good question with the Conservatives—some excellent topics could be added at the industry’s request. We absolutely must resolve the issue of the older worker adjustment program. People between 50 and 55 years of age or more are losing their jobs in the forest industry and deserve our help until they can retire. That is what the Bloc Québécois wants. It is true that there was a tiny opening in the last budget, but we are obviously still waiting. Older workers are still waiting, especially in the forest and textile industries.
This week, the $2 billion cuts to all the programs—programs for women, aboriginals and the most disadvantaged in our society—showed once again that the Conservative members have no heart.
We want them to listen to what the industry is asking. We want an assistance program for older workers so that people who worked in the forest industry can live decently till they retire. That is what we want. We have already costed this program, and it would not be phenomenal amounts that would shatter the government’s expenditures. This has already been raised by the Bloc Québécois. This request is justified for the simple reason that the industry has officially requested it. The Bloc Québécois has always been a strong advocate of this request in the House.
We also want an economic diversification program for communities that are dependent on the forest. We are still waiting for the famous Marshall plan promised by the minister of the , the hon. member for , if my memory serves. He promised a genuine Marshall plan that would help launch resource-based regions, but all he produced this week was a mouse.
The Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec made a disappointing announcement of $85 million in recycled money. They took some money from certain programs and they recycled it to try to help the most economically disadvantaged communities. They gave $85 million while the industry leaves more than a billion dollars in countervailing duties in the United States. The Conservative government offers an $85 million program spread over four years. We hope it won’t be too little, too late. My colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine is quite right to mention this fact. Some $85 million over four years. That is sad. It is really sad that our communities are not better supported by a Conservative government that is completely insensitive to the problems facing the most disadvantaged communities in our regions.
The problem of regional development is a problem that affects everybody. It is not true that the large urban centres could survive with only head offices, which are often the head offices of companies that are developing resources in our regions. That is the reality. Governments are often out of touch. They think that the population is in the cities and that it is not worth the trouble to invest in our regions. On the contrary, if a great many people live in our cities, it is because we have prosperous regions that support the development of our natural resources, agricultural development and development of our forests. What would we do if we did not have lumber to build our houses? We take pride in building homes, but the lumber comes for our regions. We are glad to eat well; to have good bread and other good things on our tables, but that all comes from our regions. The Conservative Party should not forget that.
We want a real economic diversification program for communities that are forestry dependent. We are still waiting for the great program that the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the member for , failed to deliver this week.
We also want a special status for the 128,000 owners of private woodlots in Quebec. To maintain the industry, we must have trees. We want a support program to revitalize the industry. If we support private woodlots, we will be supporting the resources that are the basis for the industry. This is an idea put forth by the Bloc Québécois. We expect the Conservative Party to take it seriously.
We want a special tax measure for the $4.3 billion in countervailing and anti-dumping duties. We must not forget that the companies will receive less money than they paid. They will receive $4 billion of the $5 billion; that is 81% of the total. Moreover, because of the increased value of the Canada dollar since 2002, they are incurring a loss. In fact, they will only receive 65% of the 81% that they paid. We are asking for a refundable tax credit so that they can recover those amounts. That is the way Canada can deal with this matter.
Once again, Quebeckers can be proud that the Bloc Québécois is defending their interests. It is only with reluctance that we support Bill and the softwood lumber agreement. We do so in the interest of our fellow citizens, of workers in the forest industry who have asked us to support the bill.
Because, obviously, we are the only party that is really listening to them.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join this debate. I would like to share with members of this House the concerns of the United Steelworkers so that they will realize that these are not just casual concerns and how serious this issue is.
The United Steelworkers represent over 280,000 Canadian members, 50,000 of whom work in the forest sector. They know the issue well and they are very serious about their concerns. They truly believe that the deal we are considering is a poor one and that Canadians already had a successful strategy to deal with the U.S. forest industry and administration's unfair and illegal imposition of lumber tariffs and duties in May 2002.
Since then we have shown the Americans that many Canadian sawmills could outcompete them, even with exorbitant duties on our lumber exports. Any recent economic problems firms face have more to do with the rising Canadian dollar than with U.S. protectionist measures. By winning in court, meanwhile, we showed them that the Americans' legal case was groundless and their protectionist measures were illegal.
Canada was winning after all, whether in North American Free Trade Agreement tribunals, the World Trade Organization, or U.S. courts of law. On July 13 the Court of International Trade ruled that the tariffs and duties were illegal, a judgment that simply serves to confirm our views. The U.S. is rapidly exhausting its legal avenues before NAFTA, as witnessed by NAFTA's rejection of American extraordinary challenges appeals. The U.S. is even losing at the WTO, the only body which had previously upheld some of its contentions.
We find it unfortunate, therefore, that the current government is prepared to throw away the advantages we have earned at law and instead decided to saddle the industry with what is clearly a terrible negotiated agreement.
In agreeing to the terms of the current agreement, it appears that the current government has fallen into the trap that Carl Grenier of the Free Trade Lumber Council describes when he observes that Canada has admitted that we are “guilty as charged” of producing subsidized lumber, dumping it on U.S. markets and unfairly harming the U.S. industry. We are therefore prepared to throw ourselves on the Americans' mercy, as Grenier notes.
But Canada is not guilty as charged on any of these counts. We all know that. Successive court rulings continue to prove it.
Nonetheless, for policy reasons known perhaps best to the government but not to Canadians, the government has rushed into this devastating agreement. It did so without proper consultation with affected governments and stakeholders. In spite of commitments to the contrary, the deal was even initialed in Geneva before industry representatives had a chance to comment.
It is, in short, a hastily concluded deal. The steelworkers truly believe that we all, as Canadians, will come to regret it. After all, it is clear that the agreement is severely flawed. Those are the issues that are being pointed out to the government today.
The terms do not provide free access to the U.S. market, in spite of the 's claim in the House of Commons on April 28. Canadian exports are capped at 34% of the U.S. lumber market and further trampled by the so-called surge mechanism, a policy which effectively penalizes Canadian producers for efficiency. Meanwhile the U.S. companies continue to have free access to the Canadian raw logs, while third country producers enjoy truly free access to the U.S. market.
The timeline, which has changed dramatically over the course of negotiations since April 27, potentially gives Canada as little as two years of peace, not the seven to nine we were originally offered. We learned that the U.S. would now enjoy preferential rights to abrogate the agreement, yet the $1 billion price tag remains the same.
The timing is poor, since most industry analysts agree that the U.S. housing market, hot until recently, is now cooling off. That means that from the onset of the agreement, Canadian producers will likely be paying 10% to 15% in export tax, a rate higher than even the current level of U.S. tariffs and duties.
What is in the deal for Canada? As was noted in a submission at the standing committee back on June 19, the steelworkers believe that the only reason to sign off on this agreement is the prospect of getting back a portion of the illegally held money currently held by the U.S. commerce department. They respectfully submit that this is just not a good enough reason to lock Canada into what is really a short term fix that not long from now will permit a renewal of U.S. protectionist measures. Developments since June have merely confirmed this judgment.
After all, although the deal calls for the return of 80% of the illegally taken remissions of Canadian companies, there are still no provisions in the agreement for much needed investment in the Canadian forest sector, even though we have seen a number of recent closures attributed to the lack of sufficient capital formation in Canada.
While many of the plants and their equipment in Canada remain starved for capital, our forest companies have continued to invest profits made in Canada in United States and overseas acquisitions, mergers or outside the sector. Notably, Canadian companies like Canfor, Abitibi, Ainsworth and Interfor have purchased mills in the United States. Steelworkers continue to have major concerns until we move forward.
To this end, there must be commitments that a generous portion of any remissions firms receive from a settlement of the lumber dispute will be reinvested in job creation, worker training and retraining and infrastructure and community adjustment in Canada, not outside Canada.
It is a bitter pill for workers and communities to swallow, for instance, when they learn that while the deal calls for $500 million in spending on such works in the United States, it calls for not one penny to be invested in Canada. How, they ask, can Canadian firms continue to invest in sawmills in South Carolina, Washington and Oregon, the OSB mills in Minnesota or plants in Maine while plants in this country continue to be closed due to lack of investment and capital? The Globe and Mail recently commented:
Underinvestment in the Eastern Canadian forest products industry has been chronic for so long that it would take billions to make the country's pulp and paper mills as modern as those in Scandinavia or South America.
The deal, however, with its abruptly short actual term of peace from U.S. trade actions, even provides the U.S. industry and the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports with a reward for sponsoring what have now been definitely shown to be illegal trade actions: a $500 million nest egg with which to finance future harassment, as early as two years from the time this deal goes into effect.
In short, by now it is clear that this agreement does not well serve Canadian interests, whether the interests are of our forest industry, forest sector workers, forest based communities, or Canadian citizens. It provides insufficient value to Canada while offering dangerous incentives to future U.S. trade actions. It does not represent a satisfactory resolution to the lumber trade dispute.
Steelworkers recommend the following course of action. Canada must renounce this agreement. The government and Canadian companies should continue with their legal actions. They urge Canadian companies to not agree to withdraw their legal challenges nor to agree to the payment of funds to the U.S. industry. The government should continue to support the legal actions required to erase fully all possible U.S. legal actions.
In short, the United Steelworkers of Canada urge Canadian companies and governments to set aside selfish interests and clearly stand up for Canada and Canadian interests. We must keep in mind the reality that Canada's forest sector is our leading industry and that it is a major source of jobs.
I have appreciated the opportunity to share the feelings of the United Steelworkers of Canada and to ask the government to rethink this whole deal.