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View Mario Simard Profile
BQ (QC)
View Mario Simard Profile
2020-01-30 17:03 [p.733]
Mr. Speaker, I have addressed the House on a few occasions, but always during oral question period. Therefore, I have not yet had an opportunity to thank the people of Jonquière for electing me. I am pleased to stand up for them here, although today's circumstances are quite unfortunate, since my riding relies mainly on aluminum. However, let me stress that I will always be there for my riding and that I intend to see this little battle over aluminum through to the end.
Before I begin, I would like to give some background on Quebec's economy, to put the free trade agreement into perspective. As we know, Canada is an oil-producing country. The Canadian economy is driven by two major sectors, namely Ontario's automotive industry and Alberta's oil industry. Members will recall that Ontario received $10 billion in financial support in 2008 to help it overcome the financial crisis.
Alberta, meanwhile, has been struggling to make tar sands oil profitable. From the 1970s to the early 2000s, that sector received about $70 billion, which is a huge amount of money. At the time, Jean Chrétien mused that, if he had invested as much money in Quebec as in Alberta, Quebec would have elected Liberal members in every riding and would have been red all over.
Quebec has seen no economic spinoffs from the oil sands. In fact, for Quebeckers, it was like an own goal, because our manufacturing industry was completely destabilized by Dutch disease, when the dollar rose because of the oil sands industry, resulting in heavy job losses.
Everyone knows that, for the past 25 years, Quebec has not been considered in Canada's economic policy. Quebec's economy depends on three sectors, and I am sure everyone knows what they are.
The first is forestry, of course, a sector that has gone through crisis after crisis and is in crisis again. The new NAFTA does nothing to support forestry.
The second is supply management, which has been compromised repeatedly. When the Conservatives negotiated the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, they severely weakened supply management.
The third, which we are talking about today, is aluminum. If I were not such a nice guy, I would say enough already. We have had it up to here.
For 20 years now, Quebec has been the one to suffer in any negotiations involving the federal government. Canada is an oil-producing country that is moving in the opposite direction of every other country on the planet. By all accounts, even the economic indicators used in Canada, the best thing to do is to shift to renewable and transitional energy sources.
Today in Canada, we have the issue of the Teck Frontier project, which I see as completely unacceptable and frankly insane. That project would increase greenhouse gas emissions by four million tonnes a year and make it impossible for Canada to meet its Paris targets. It is going to take a major wake-up call to free Canada's economy from its dependence on these two key sectors, which, in my opinion, is paralyzing Quebec's economy.
Now that I have given a brief history of Canada's economy, I would like to come back to what has happened in the past few weeks. Before the holiday break, we learned that aluminum would be sacrificed in the new NAFTA. Oddly enough, we were told that aluminum had been protected until the end of the negotiations, but that two days before the agreement was ratified, Mexico put the pressure on. We do not know why the Canadian government decided to abandon aluminum workers. We asked many questions about this. We asked the government why it decided to give the steel industry a guarantee while abandoning the aluminum industry.
The government has not responded, so I will try to answer. The fact that 90% of Canadian aluminum is produced in Quebec may be a clue. The steel industry is concentrated in Ontario. Ninety percent of Canada's aluminum is produced in Quebec, and 10% is produced in British Columbia. Quebec's market is the U.S., but B.C.'s market is Asia.
British Columbia is not affected by the agreement that the government just signed. Its aluminum industry is not affected because it will be able to continue to export its aluminum to Asia on an ongoing basis. The only ones affected are us. Again. When all these things are taken together, a man starts to get fed up, as my father used to say. Today, I get the impression that we need to re-establish the balance of power in the House so that Quebec's voice is heard. We need to make MPs aware of the situation so that cabinet listens to Quebec's concerns. I get the impression that such has not been the case for some time now.
Our situation is unique. Economically speaking, we are, to some extent, the disadvantaged of this federation. In recent weeks, we have wanted to show the government the real impacts that the new NAFTA will have on the aluminum industry. In order to do that, people from my region formed a huge coalition of municipal officials, union representatives, aluminum experts and business people. All of those people decided to come here to make MPs aware of our situation. People from the region really rallied together. They travelled here this week. They came with the numbers that I will talk about momentarily, which are accurate and credible. The methodology of their study is ironclad. I will talk about that in a moment.
The thing no one has been talking about all week is the fact that when the first NAFTA was signed in 1994, one of biggest aluminum producers in the world was Canada, and Canada's aluminum came from Quebec. The biggest aluminum producer was Canada and China played a marginal role. Today, China produces 15 times as much aluminum as Canada. China has no problem inundating the North American market via Mexico, completely burying every effort we have made in the past 20 years to maintain this aluminum cluster in my region. It is easy for China because they are getting help from the Canadian government, it seems to me. All we ever wanted is for the government to admit that aluminum was not getting the same treatment as steel. We asked about that again in question period today. We get the same answer every time, that 70% of auto parts manufactured in North America will have to be produced in North America. If that is satisfactory to the government, then I fail to understand why it gave steel special status. Why does this special status not apply to aluminum?
My colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean had the wonderful idea of explaining the difference between parts made of steel and parts made of aluminum to his eight-year-old daughter, Simone. With the wisdom and insight of her eight years, Simone came to understand the difference. Maybe the government should have a discussion with Simone in the next few weeks. Maybe it will come to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I want to come back to this unprecedented mobilization. We must understand that, in Quebec, six major projects to expand aluminum smelters are currently on ice. As soon as Rio Tinto Alcan found out what was in the agreement, they announced that, in their opinion, market conditions were not good enough to go ahead. We wanted to know what the impact of scrapping these six major projects would be. To me, the numbers are quite astounding. For the construction phase alone, we are talking about $6.242 billion. To this amount, we must add the 10-year period during which the aluminum smelters will be operating. That comes to a staggering $16.242 billion. This means that, for the period from 2020 to 2029, Quebec will have to miss out on $16.242 billion.
Why is Quebec going to miss out on that money? Because the federal government did not want to fight for aluminum. It is déjà vu all over again. The government wanted to save Ontario's steel industry and the auto industry. Now it is moving surprisingly quickly to save Alberta's oil industry by buying a pipeline that is not viable. When it is our turn, all we get is crickets because everyone has left the building.
Sixteen billion, two hundred and forty-two million dollars over the next 10 years is going to make a significant dent. It is going to put 60,000 jobs in jeopardy.
Today, one of the members opposite was bragging about how his government created wealth for the middle class, reduced unemployment and raised the standard of living. The government may have done that for the rest of Canada, but it is definitely not doing that for Quebec. Even with 60,000 jobs at stake, the government does not seem to care.
The government said in the throne speech that it was open to dialogue with the opposition. We are open to discussion. Unlike what some members claim, we are not against free trade. Far from it. We want to ensure respect for the economic sectors that make Quebec strong. In recent years, this respect has unfortunately been lacking. Any negotiation should start with consideration for Quebec's economic sectors.
I mentioned the staggering figures of $16 billion and 60,000 jobs. As members can see, without access to a guaranteed market, Quebec's economy will experience a slump over the long term, and the aluminum industry will slowly collapse, or even disappear, in the face of China's massive output.
The government also said in its throne speech that the environment was a priority. If the environment is one of the government's priorities, it has no choice but to support the aluminum industry. The Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec produces the greenest aluminum in the world. Elysis has developed technology to produce carbon-neutral aluminum.
On one hand, we are talking about carbon neutral aluminum with Elysis in Quebec and, on the other, we are talking about 4 million tonnes of GHG emissions with the Teck Resources Frontier project. Even if an alien arrived in Canada and was presented with these statistics, the choice would be easy.
We need access to the aluminum market. That seems essential, but the new NAFTA does not allow for that because it allows China to dump its aluminum.
The United States recognized that China is dumping its aluminum through Mexico. Canada recognized that China is dumping its aluminum through Mexico. We are not making this up. It is a proven fact.
How can we address this situation? Quebec aluminum needs to be granted the same coverage as Ontario steel.
Expanding an aluminum plant is not something that happens without big investments. In order for those big investments to happen, the main producers are always saying that they need a certain amount of predictability in the market. Unfortunately, we are not seeing that predictability. What we have been saying to date is that we unfortunately had to vote against the government's ways and means motion. It was unacceptable to us because it did not recognize aluminum.
We in the Bloc Québécois are not just looking for confrontation, but also co-operation. We want to find solutions with the government. However, for us to work together, we must speak the same language. That means recognizing the wrongs. To date the government has refused, at least in question period, to acknowledge that it has sacrificed aluminum and that aluminum does not have the same status as steel. Perhaps a good starting point for discussion would be this acknowledgement on the part of the government. It is sometimes said that it takes two to tango. We are open to discussion. I hope the government will be as well.
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