Madam Speaker, as this is my maiden speech, I would respectfully ask for the traditional maiden speech consideration to acknowledge those who have helped create this opportunity to address the House today.
As a colleague stated several weeks ago, cats have nine lives, but members of Parliament who do not acknowledge their families and forget them have only one, so I want to begin by thanking my wife, Charlene, for her support as we began going down this road several years ago. Charlene is a relatively quiet, private individual, so when she joined me knocking on doors in an unfamiliar part of our riding on our 34th wedding anniversary, I knew I had her full backing. I am thankful for Charlene's love and support.
We are blessed with four daughters, aged 23 to 30, who are presently scattered across Canada, and I also enjoy their support. Kiana is pursuing her master's degree in economics at Waterloo; Brenna is articling for the Bar in Vancouver; Carina is a registered nurse working in long-term care, pursuing her master's degree in gerontology and living in Kamloops, B.C., with her husband Adam, and this June will give us our first grandchild; lastly, our oldest daughter, Alyssa, lives closest to us near Leamington and continues to pursue her dream career as an operatic lyric soprano while teaching music.
I am very proud of my four daughters and I will continue to work to ensure that their lives have no glass ceilings above them.
I am fortunate that my parents, Abe and Susan Epp, who are in the mid to late 80s, were able to join us here in Ottawa in November as I accepted the responsibilities of this office. I thank them for a lifetime of love and support.
I also want to thank my brother Peter and his family. They are the business partners of Lycoland Farms, a family farm business founded by my grandfather, who purchased the home farm in 1949. I have the privilege of being the third generation living on that property today, with my brother and his son providing the day-to-day leadership in that business. We pride ourselves on maintaining this farm along with other lands now under our stewardship in a better environmental state than when my grandfather first purchased this property.
It is my privilege to represent the riding of Chatham-Kent—Leamington, CKL for short, which is Canada's most southerly riding. I want to thank our EDA, along with all the volunteers who joined our campaign last fall.
With two major centres, Chatham and Leamington, and more than 20 smaller towns and villages, providing a better future for our community of communities is a shared goal. Historical communities such as Comber, Blenheim, Morpeth, Highgate, Ridgetown, North Buxton, south Buxton, Charing Cross, Erieau, Wheatley, Stoney Point, Lighthouse Cove, Rondeau, Merlin, Erie Beach, Clachan, Duart, Shrewsbury, Guilds, Rushton Corners, Prairie Siding, Sleepy Hollow, Coatsworth, Jeannette's Creek, Port Crewe, Port Alma, Dealtown, Cedar Spring, Fletcher, and Muirkirk provide a rich, unique legacy in Canada, and I sure hope that I did not forget one.
Chatham—Kent—Leamington is one of the earliest settled areas in Canada. It is largely surrounded by water, which is why it was settled early, as water was one of the most efficient means of travel and trade two to three centuries ago. That same water still has a profound effect on our riding today.
As Canadians, we describe our country as stretching from shore to shore to shore. The north shore of Lake Erie forms the southern boundary of the riding, with Pelee Island and Middle Island's shores entirely within that lake. With additional shoreline on Lake St. Clair also adding to the over 150 kilometres of shoreline, Chatham-Kent—Leamington, along with other ridings across approximately one-third of Canada's southerly border, truly belongs in our national maritime boundary description. These shorelines provide sources of employment and enjoyment, but they also provide challenges as we grapple with record-high Great Lakes water levels.
However, for the moment, I want to focus on the hard-working folks who work some of Canada's most productive soils that are surrounded by these shores, and the people who add value to the products from our farms in the food sector.
Agriculture and food processing are the traditional bedrock of our local economy. With the 42nd parallel running through the riding about two kilometres south of my home farm, we enjoy one of the longest growing seasons in Canada.
Along with very fertile soils, our microclimate, buffered by the Great Lakes, allows the production of grain and oilseeds and a whole range of fruits and vegetables that make an important contribution to Canada's food security.
This vegetable production on some of our sandiest soils also spawned a greenhouse industry that today is a world leader. It is an honour to represent some of the most advanced greenhouses in the world. They utilize the most modern technologies, thereby reducing negative effects on the environment and considerably improving the energy efficiency of crops, and thus remaining competitive both in national and international markets.
Similarly, our manufacturing sector, with geographic proximity to the historical birthplace of the North American auto sector, has developed into a world leader, not only in the tool and die sector for auto but also for aerospace, automation, food processing and handling, greenhouse technologies, and a host of other industrial sectors.
We have a talented, industrious workforce led by entrepreneurs whose imagination drives their initiatives, both in their businesses and in our communities. Agriculture and agrifood, as well as the manufacturing sectors, are solid, competitive local industries ready to serve both domestic and export markets.
Therefore, Bill C-4, the Canada–United States–Mexico agreement, CUSMA, which is being debated today, is highly significant to my riding. We have a long history with trade, with many businesses having grown to service the logistics of trade and participating both domestically and in export markets. Our riding is well positioned geographically to serve Canada's interests by being ready, willing and capable of adding to Canada's exports, one of the stated goals of the government.
Let me add my voice to those who say the Conservative Party of Canada is the party of freer and more liberalized trade. We were party to the original North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA 1.0. Let me state that this agreement before us today is certainly not NAFTA 2.0; NAFTA .7 might be more accurate.
Nevertheless, we have been clear from the outset that the Canadian business community needs certainty, and we will support this bill. In fact, we have been pushing the government, as the previous speaker stated, to expedite the passage of this bill, but coupled with a proper examination of its implications. A closer look revealed several flaws that will cost our country. For example, and as previously mentioned, softwood lumber issues related to the buy American policy were not addressed.
Let me focus some comments on two areas of the economy that are important to my riding. While the horticulture and grain and oilseeds sector of agriculture were largely unaffected by the negotiations, our supply-managed sector was not. An additional 3.6% of our dairy market was opened up to imports, which was more than what was intended under the TPP, the trans-Pacific partnership.
Originally, with Mexico and the U.S. as planned signatories to the TPP, the new TPP thresholds were intended to be updated to NAFTA levels.
In addition, this agreement eliminates class 6 and class 7, and establishes export thresholds for milk protein concentrates, skim milk powder and infant formula. Other supply-managed industries also had similar outcomes, with imports given additional access to domestic markets.
Canadians are wondering what Canada got in return for these concessions. Would the opportunities for other agriculture sectors, such as our grain and oilseeds and horticulture sectors, be enhanced? Not that I have heard.
At the last minute, another concession was given. Aluminum was not afforded the same protection as steel, which was that 70% of steel used in auto production must be North American, defined as melted and poured in North America. Aluminum was not afforded the same consideration.
With increased interest in the electrification of vehicles and the replacement of steel with aluminum parts to lessen vehicle weight and increase fuel efficiency, it is expected that aluminum content will only increase in future automobile manufacturing. This development directly impacts a business in my riding. Dajcor Aluminum began 10 years ago in Chatham, and in the last decade has grown from nothing to over 250 employees. They extrude aluminum into various parts, mainly targeted to North American auto manufacturers.
Mike Kilby, president of Dajcor, testified at the trade committee hearings into Bill C-4. He concluded his submission with the following:
To summarize, this is a terribly bad deal for NA aluminum producers, extruders and for manufacturers of aluminum automotive components in Canada and the U.S. Mexico already has a labour advantage and now they get to add a subsidized commodity to that advantage.
The Conservatives support freer and fair trade. We will support this bill, despite its many shortcomings, because of the certainty that investment demands. There must, however—