Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-4, which I will be supporting, as it turns out.
I am very satisfied with the work my political party did in the spirit of openness and collaboration. However, I would say this victory was bittersweet, because an economic sector was once again left out of this agreement. I am referring to softwood lumber. The forestry sector gets no respect from the Canadian federation and is constantly overlooked. That is holding me back from fully celebrating our victory on aluminum.
At a meeting of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, the Canadian negotiator told me that he did not include softwood lumber in CUSMA because he had to focus on other priorities. I think the phrase “focus on other priorities” says it all. It is the Canadian mantra. What are the priorities of Canada's economy? Ontario's auto industry and western Canada's oil industry, the same as for the past 25 years.
Is it perhaps because of a power imbalance? The Bloc Québécois now has 32 seats, and I feel like things are changing. However, Quebec's economic sectors are consistently ignored. The expression “focusing on other priorities” makes me think. Negotiations with the United States on softwood lumber are always pushed back.
This makes me think of an expression I often hear among federalists: “The fruit is not ripe enough”. When we talk about constitutional negotiations, many federalists use this somewhat perverse rhetoric: “The fruit is not ripe enough”. It appears to me that the fruit of federalism is currently rotting on the tree when it comes to softwood lumber and our role within this federation.
I do not want to only play the blame game, but I would like to come back to the importance of Quebec's forestry industry. It is important to note that Quebec has 2% of the world's forests, an area of 760,000 square kilometres, or the equivalent of Sweden and Norway combined. The industry provides 58,000 direct and indirect jobs in Quebec. The forestry industry is currently the economic driver of 160 of our municipalities.
If you look at Canada as a whole, the forestry sector provides 600,000 direct and indirect jobs, which is not insignificant. I cannot stress enough that we are facing global warming, and many experts have identified the forestry sector as our best shot at fighting climate change.
Our greatest misfortune, however, is that the United States is our main trading partner in the forestry industry, taking in 68% of our forest product exports. I find that unfortunate because I have the impression that the Canadian government has never really made much of an effort to develop new markets.
I am always amazed when I go to France and I see all kinds of infrastructure, bridges and big buildings built of wood or glulam even though France lacks the primary resource that is wood. We have it, but I feel like we are not doing anything with it.
Since the 2000s, the forestry industry has gone through tough times because the pulp and paper industry has gone through tough times now that less and less newsprint is being sold. We need to find new market opportunities. All this was exacerbated by a string of crises during negotiations with the United States.
During a Standing Committee on Natural Resources meeting, Beth MacNeil, Assistant Deputy Minister for Natural Resources Canada's Canadian Forest Service, told us that the forestry industry is at a crossroads. I thought that was very interesting. If my girlfriend told me we were at a crossroads, I would definitely be afraid because that would mean I had not taken care of her and had a lot to make up for.
The Canadian government is now at a crossroads with the forestry industry because past governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have chosen to focus on the oil industry in the west and Ontario's auto industry, not on the softwood lumber industry at all.
I see two big issues here. We have these trade agreements, which sometimes create barriers for the forestry sector, but we also have research and development. I find one statistic particularly interesting: From the early 1970s to the late 2000s, Canadians collectively invested $70 billion in the oil sands because that technology was not profitable. My father would call that a pretty penny, not to mention it was a raw deal for us. Of that $70 billion, $14 billion came from Quebec.
One thing of note that is troublesome and that I want to focus on is Dutch disease. A few years ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that when the Canadian dollar appreciates by one cent, there is an immediate domino effect and the forestry industry loses $500 million. It is an export industry, which requires that it be competitive. Investing $70 billion in the oil industry is a blow to the forestry industry. The circumstances are different today and I hope that the government will take action.
I would quickly like to review the impact on the forestry sector of the two main downturns. The first downturn, which began in 2003 and ended in 2008, resulted in the loss of 11,329 forestry jobs in Quebec alone. From January 2009 to January 2012, 8,600 jobs were lost. The government of the day took no action. I remember that the Conservatives promised to provide loan guarantees for the forestry industry in 2005.
What is troublesome is that the U.S. strategy is to ensure that major forestry producers are worn down. When that happens, they end up signing a cheap agreement. I believe that this happened often. There has been no agreement since 2017. Thus, I believe that this is happening again. They want to wear down the forestry industry so it accepts a cheap agreement. In the meantime, the government is not taking action. It is not offering loan guarantees. Neither Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions nor Export Development Canada has brought forward a strategy for developing new markets. There is no investment in research and development. No, the government prefers to focus on the usual sectors, the oil and automotive industries.
To sum up, from 2005 to 2011, Quebec's forestry industry lost 30% of its workforce, going from 130,000 workers in 2005 to barely 99,000 in 2011. From 2004 to 2005 and from 2012 to 2013, there was a 38% drop in jobs in silviculture and in timber harvesting, which reduced job numbers to a little more than 10,000 in those areas. It is disastrous for Quebec and again the government did not learn from its mistakes. In the CUSMA negotiation, it preferred to deliver that famous speech about the fruit not being quite ripe enough. At some point, we are going to take matters into our own hands and harvest our own fruit. We will become our own country.