Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, Minister. In the middle of Parliament's summer recess, thank you for coming back to Ottawa. Thank you, colleagues. As Helena mentioned, thank you for taking time to study this important issue.
Minister, in my questions I wanted to touch on three issues. My colleagues in subsequent rounds are going to talk about some of the concerns we have--for example, money ending up in the hands of the U.S. industry and the treatment of the Canadian industry--but my colleagues will come to that.
Minister, I wanted to touch on three issues. The first one is that as an Atlantic Canadian--and I see my colleagues Mr. Casey and Mr. Eyking are here as well--I think we need to recognize that the Atlantic industry, the Maritime Lumber Bureau, and the provincial governments in my region of Canada have endorsed the agreement because the historic exemption of Atlantic Canada has in fact been preserved. I say that candidly and without reservation; for Atlantic Canada, this was an important moment. There have never been allegations of subsidy made against the Atlantic industry, for reasons that you understand very well, in terms of stumpage rates and private land holdings, so as an Atlantic Canadian, I'm certainly pleased that this agreement protects the rights we have fought hard to ensure are protected.
As an official opposition, we're concerned that other regions of the country--like yours, Minister--don't seem to have the same level of confidence in this agreement. I'm sure that as a member of Parliament from British Columbia, you're concerned with the reaction of your region.
Specifically with respect to the Atlantic exemption, I think that in previous comments you have resisted a separate agreement for the Maritimes similar to the 1996 exchange of letters that became known as the maritime accord. Now that the Maritimes are included in the main agreement, if, as you said in your closing comments, decisions are made by industry or by Parliament and this agreement does not go ahead, would you be prepared to look at a mechanism separate and apart from this issue that would preserve and protect the Maritimes exemption? That is certainly a question people in the industry in my part of Canada are asking.
Another issue, Minister, is with respect to the termination clause. You touched on it in your comments. Many industry spokespersons, and you've seen them as well as we have....
As regards Quebec, I heard the comments made by Mr. Chevrette and the industry in that province with respect to the need for more than a 23-month agreement. In Quebec and other regions of the country, the termination clause is causing a great deal of concern.
You have said that other free trade agreements have six-month cancellation provisions, for example, but there has never been such a litigious set of circumstances as those that apply to softwood lumber. Surely in all the different trade and sector agreements, for reasons you've identified, softwood lumber has been a very contentious and litigious moment.
Don't you worry, as do other representatives of the industry, that this termination clause in fact guts the argument of the Prime Minister and your own argument that it brings seven to nine years of stability? From our perspective, the termination clause renders moot the idea that there is a sustained and long period of stability and predictability, so that remains something we hope to improve.
A final point, Minister, is that you have said negotiations effectively ended with the initialling of your agreement in Geneva. We're very much hoping that's not the case. We, the official opposition, think you can still make improvements. We're not opposed to any agreement; we're opposed to an agreement that we believe is bad for the industry and bad for Canadian workers. We're hoping you can confirm for us today that some discussions are taking place, either among industry groups with the U.S. coalition or perhaps among provincial governments and the American government; that we may see mechanisms that could improve this agreement; and that perhaps that might be why the Prime Minister and the President didn't sign the agreement earlier in July--because you too are hopeful that we can bring some improvements to this agreement.