Madam Speaker, as part of my time debating Bill C-4, the Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement, or CUSMA, also known as the new NAFTA, I have some questions that my constituents and Canadians deserve answers for.
The Conservative Party has a long trade record and understands the importance of global trade. The previous Conservative government negotiated trade deals with over 40 countries.
In my community of Kelowna—Lake Country, we have many sectors that rely on international trading. We are the largest trading area between Vancouver and Calgary, with now the 10th-busiest airport in Canada.
A report from the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission laid out a sector overview. Manufacturing in my community includes agri-food and high-tech aerospace, with metal, plastic, wood, concrete and fibreglass products. It anticipates that fabricated metal, non-metallic, mineral and transportation equipment manufacturing, as well as plastics, rubber products and beverages, will lead the way in growth. The cross-section of manufacturers makes it easy for existing and new businesses to find high-quality partners locally.
When China started embargoes on Canadian farming products, local cherry producers in my community were concerned that they would be next and started looking to potentially expand their exports to the United States and other markets. It is therefore very important to farmers and all businesses that we have stable and clearly outlined trading relationships.
NAFTA was not perfect, but it has been good for Canada, with $2 billion in trade crossing the border every day. The United States is our largest trading partner, representing 75% of Canadian exports.
I understand that the majority of major industry associations in Canada and the group, Canada's Premiers, are encouraging us to ratify the CUSMA deal. Canada's Premiers has stated, “Beyond seeking the ratification of CUSMA, Premiers are still prioritizing engagement with the U.S. to deal with other trade issues including Buy American policies and the softwood lumber dispute.”
Why was the buy American policy not addressed in CUSMA? Mexico got a buy America chapter in CUSMA, but Canada did not. There was no procurement chapter.
There has been a lot of uncertainty for four years. We have lost business opportunities and investments are on hold. Many people just want to be able to move forward with clarity. Goldy Hyder from the Business Council of Canada has said that the signed new NAFTA is “good enough” for Canada and “gets us through this administration.”
I will tell members about an industry that thinks the CUSMA agreement is good enough but is no further ahead, like so many other industries we hear about across the country with this deal. This is the wine industry specifically in British Columbia. Ontario also has uncertainty.
Just this past Monday I was speaking with Miles Prodan, executive director of the British Columbia Wine Institute. I have his approval to bring his comments forward in the House today. He stated, “We accept and support moving forward with CUSMA. However, there is nothing better and nothing more advantageous for our wine industry. A status quo was a win for us.” He is referring to the 281 VQA wineries his organization represents in B.C., 32 of which are located in my riding of Kelowna—Lake Country. “A status quo was a win for us.”
This is at a time when Canada is having a potentially devastating wine excise tax trade dispute with Australia. As I mentioned in the House yesterday, in 2018, following the Liberal government's introduction of an escalator tax for beer, wine and spirits, Australia requested a review from the World Trade Organization of Canada's exemption for 100% Canadian wines. This tax basically means automatic tax increases each and every year.
The draft report of this WTO review is anticipated in April, with a final report coming sometime this summer. A WTO ruling against Canada would be legally binding and could have a catastrophic effect on some 400 Canadian wineries, forcing them to bear the burden of millions of dollars of new taxes and putting this important industry and Canadian jobs on the line. This shows again a lack of clear understanding and thoughtful consideration by the Liberals of the ramifications of their tax policies and decisions.
On January 16, those of us from across the country who have wineries in our communities signed a letter to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade. It was led by our colleague, the member for Prince Albert, the Conservative shadow minister for international trade. It asked the government to engage with Australia to resolve the dispute prior to the WTO ruling. We received a response from the minister on January 31, and in the letter the minister said:
Australia's position on the excise duty exemption has been unwavering and clear. Any negotiated settlement must include the removal of the excise exemption for Canadian wines in its entirety, and this was confirmed to Canadian officials as recently as December 2019.
I bring this up today as this is a trend we are seeing with trade negotiations with the current government, an attitude of, “They drew a line in the sand, so what are you going to do?”
The Australian government could be responding in this way because Australia, like many other countries, was not happy with Canada due to the Prime Minister's no-show for the trans-Pacific partnership. This was a trade deal that the Prime Minister just had to sign. Reports are that TPP's signatories, including Australia, were outraged.
Regarding CUSMA negotiations, the chairman of the U.S. House ways and means committee said that the Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister conceded on just about every point they raised for one reason: “enforceability, enforceability, enforceability.” What other concessions did we agree to that prompted such a statement?
If nothing else, the government is consistent. The attitude that we have heard on how Canada negotiated with the U.S. with concession after concession in CUSMA, we see here again on the Australia trade issue. This laissez-faire, “what are you going to do” attitude is not serving Canadians or families well.
Another major sector left out of CUSMA discussions was our softwood lumber industry in British Columbia. We lost thousands of jobs this past year, bringing the total to some 50,000 job losses over the last few years. I have spoken in the House about how this has directly affected my community of Kelowna—Lake Country, where 217 permanent jobs were lost.
The sustainable resource sector has been hit hard and is currently being forced to pay tariffs to the United States. Why was the softwood lumber industry left out of CUSMA? So much for supporting the middle class.
It is our duty as parliamentarians to think deeply and look at legislation closely. These calls by the government to hurry up and move it along are not responsible. These are not just numbers we are talking about. We are talking about lives, families and jobs. With the reckless Liberal “push it through” attitude, I seriously wonder whose jobs the Liberals are more concerned about.
The ratification process is slightly different in each country. In June of last year, this deal was ratified by the Mexican senate. Due to modifications made to the agreement, it was re-ratified in December. In the United States, debate proceeded in the House of Representatives in September 2019. It was passed in the House in December 2019, and the U.S. Senate passed the bill on January 16, 2020.
I can appreciate that we had an election, but we were all elected back in October. After the election, Conservatives were calling on the government to call the House back on November 25 as we needed to roll up our sleeves and get back to work on behalf of Canadians. This fell on deaf ears, and the Prime Minister did not call the House back until December 5.
The CUSMA deal had to be reintroduced after the election, but the government did not table Bill C-4 until January 29. We are now debating it much later than our trading partners, and are being asked to hurry up. It was simply reckless and irresponsible that the government waited so long to reintroduce the legislation. It is important for us to do our proper due diligence, in particular since the government has still not presented us with an economic impact analysis. This is something we, the official opposition, have repeatedly requested for almost two months now and have yet to receive.
We heard that the government had an economic impact analysis, but two days ago here in the House the Deputy Prime Minister said that the government would present it once it is complete.
Was one actually done? Was it done only on certain sectors? Is it incomplete? Is there information that there are industries where the analysis is not positive, and the Liberals do not want the information disclosed yet? These are all questions that we need answered.
Conservatives support and want free trade with the United States. We are the party of trade deals with our closest allies. NAFTA is a legacy from the Conservatives. Our Canadian businesses deserve certainty, and we should not be rushed into this important vote without having answers to the questions we are asking. It is our job as parliamentarians, and we owe that to the communities we serve. I urge everyone to take this information to committee so that we can delve into some of these questions properly.