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View Garnett Genuis Profile
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today and speak to this very important issue for the Canadian economy and Canadian foreign policy. I know it is also important to my constituents.
We are discussing the new NAFTA. It is important to be clear at the outset that I and the Conservative Party are very supportive of free trade. We are the party of free trade, and it is important to review how we got here. Before I do that, I will underline our commitment to the importance of free trade, particularly in North America. My party wants to see that happen and wants to ensure it happens in a way that is in the best interest of Canada.
If we go back a few decades to around the time I was born, some people in the House will remember the free trade election in 1988. It was very much a live issue of whether free trade with the United States was good for Canada. The Liberal Party and the NDP's position was that this would lead to a hollowing out of Canada completely, and that the effect of this was, as John Turner said at the time, to make Canada a colony of the United States.
I am pleased to say that our party, as on many other issues, was on the right side of history and has been able to prevail in that cause. We are now at a point where there may not be a universal consensus, but a much greater consensus, on the importance of free trade.
Even as we hear more verbal acquiescence from Liberal politicians and others to the idea that free trade is good for Canada, it is very clear if we look at the record that, even today, Conservatives have pursued trade relations with other countries with a great deal more enthusiasm and vigour.
During the time of the Stephen Harper government, we moved forward and signed trade deals with countries representing over 60% of the world's GDP, including the trans-Pacific partnership deal and the Canada-E.U. free trade agreement. We were also pursing trade negotiations with a variety of other countries that were a bit smaller, but still very important.
The government's celebrated achievements in the last Parliament around trade were really crossing t's and dotting i's on agreements that were negotiated under Conservatives. We applauded the fact that they did not stop the progress that was happening.
As we can see even today, the vigour with which Conservatives support and pursue free trade deals is much greater. We understand that voluntary exchange between free peoples is the basis for prosperity, here and around the world. In a context where that voluntary exchange is between free peoples, where it benefits Canadian workers as it does, there is no reason for the government to get in the way of people's ability to engage in commerce across international borders.
In front of us, we have a situation dealing with NAFTA. To add context, we had the election of an American president who said he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. He took some positions that were very far out of step with what Canadians wanted, which would not have been in Canada's interest.
The Liberal government now claims as victories the fact that it did not make all of the concessions that were asked for. It says, “We could have lost this”, and so forth, but we did not lose things we could have lost. Hopefully the negotiation was never saying, “You can have exactly what you want.” It is a certainty, and it is clear in the deal and the outcome we have, that the government took the existing position we had, negotiated with the positions proposed and ended up with something in between, something that still lost ground for Canada in terms of our interest.
The Liberal government has argued, although not explicitly, that it was inevitable. Maybe it is not said directly, but the government says it was a difficult context and, given the context, this was the best that it could do. There were various strategic decisions made at the political level that did not help.
I think the government could have, at the outset, put the emphasis on Canadian jobs and Canadian workers. It could have been clearer earlier in articulating the specific focus of Canada's interest, rather than putting the focus on more symbolic issues.
I think the government could also have avoided being directly unnecessarily antagonistic. I, of course, disagree with policies of other governments from time to time. I am not someone who is shy about expressing that, including in the chamber. However, I think the government could have done a better job in trying to miss those opportunities to goad the other side and to make themselves the issue, instead of making Canadian workers and their opportunities the issue.
We now have this deal in front of us. I think it could have been much better, but on the other hand we have to take it as it is. I will say for the government, that we are negotiating deals in a minority Parliament. We see an example of this happening in other countries around NAFTA, where the system requires the President to engage actively with congressional leaders around the details of the deal.
Right now we have a minority Parliament, where the government did not actually get the most votes in the last election. They got about a third of the votes. They got fewer votes than the Conservative party did. The responsible way to negotiate deals, to pursue these kinds of things in the context of a minority Parliament, is to have opposition shadow ministers and members directly involved all the way along and given the opportunity to be actively there, proposing ideas, rather than the government just saying that they are going to be briefed after the fact.
As it happens, Conservative members were very involved in advancing the national interest. They were spending time in the United States advancing the relationship, defending Canadian-American trade and talking about the importance of these things. However, we are still not being briefed and engaged in those conversations in a way, and to the degree, that would be considered automatic in the vast majority of democratic legislatures around the world.
I would ask the government to work to do better on that. If it wants to ensure the success of these kinds of agreements in a minority Parliament, it needs to understand that the opposition has a responsibility to scrutinize them in the national interest and in particular in the interest of Canadian workers.
In the context of trade, we need to reflect on our national competitiveness. In an environment where we are trading internationally, we inevitably have to consider the competitiveness of our economy in relation to other countries. That is one of the reason I think the Teck mine project in Alberta is very important.
We need to ensure economic development. We need to ensure that Alberta is able to develop its natural resource sector. The Teck Resources Limited project, a $20.7-billion project, could be producing 260,000 barrels of crude oil per day. This would be very good for the Canadian economy. This would be very good for our competitiveness. This would be very good for jobs and opportunity in Alberta.
I want to clearly express my strong support for this project, but we have mixed messages and dithering on this from the government. We had the environment minister saying the cabinet could make a decision to improve it, reject it or delay it. Indeed, the Liberals have implied that they might make that decision contingent on certain policy actions at other levels of government.
The reality is that this project has already been through a rigorous assessment. It is a project that is good for the Canadian economy, and I think is consistent with our environmental commitments, insofar as the world will continue to use oil and we should create incentives for the development of new technologies to improve our environmental performance. In that context, and recognizing strong support for this project from indigenous communities, I hope the government supports it.
This is one of many examples of issues that are important for our national economy and for ensuring our competitiveness, and I hope the government will take my support for the project, and that of other members and certainly of the whole Conservative caucus, into consideration as it moves forward.
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