IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking at Third Reading of Bill C-24, Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006
December 5th, 2006 - 11:53pm
39TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated the presentation by the member for Sherbrooke, my colleague on the Standing Committee on International Trade. However, he did not explain why the Bloc Québécois continues to support the agreement. We are well aware that the situation was different in September. At that time, perhaps because of the opinion polls, the leader of the Bloc Québécois did not want to call an election. However, let us examine what has happened since September. The United States Court of International Trade ruled that all the money was to be returned to Canada. That was on October 13. We now know that we won in the American court and that the United States must return every last cent.
We also know that jobs were lost in Quebec: 2,000 jobs were lost in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and on the North Shore. The job losses resulting from this catastrophic agreement have disastrous consequences.
Furthermore, the member explained clearly, as usual, that it is important for the Quebec forestry industry to produce value-added goods to create jobs. We know very well from all the analyses of this agreement that we cannot produce value-added goods. Encouraging Quebec to produce roundwood actually creates jobs in the United States. In addition, because of the anti-circumvention clause, Quebec's forestry policy is now subject to an American veto.
In view of all these factors, I understand why the Bloc Québécois could have been tempted to vote for the bill in September. However, I do not understand why, in December, they do not just pull back. At third reading, they could vote against the agreement. We could thus recover the 2,000 jobs lost in Quebec and give back to Quebec the right to determine its own forestry policy.
Mr. Speaker, with respect to my colleague, the member for Sherbrooke, I really appreciate his work on the Standing Committee on International Trade. But I do not understand what he has just told us.
This summer in fact the Quebec industry voted 35 to 12 in favour of the agreement. And Mr. Chevrette appeared before our committee to say that the industry had no choice but to accept this agreement.
Since the Court of International Trade judgment on October 13, the American government has had to pay the Quebec industry. The Quebec industry is currently receiving money. The Bloc has always demanded-as have we-loan guarantees. Now the money is already reaching its destination. The industry has got its money. The decisions are in our favour.
However, if we adopt Bill C-24 on third reading, what are we going to do? We will be putting the Quebec industry out of business for good. The loss of 2,000 jobs is just the beginning of what will take place, since we cannot have value-added products. We are being forced to export roundwood to create jobs in the United States. The situation is the same in Quebec and in British Columbia.
Now throughout the country people are wondering why Parliament, that is, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois are eagerly voting in favour of this agreement that will result in the loss of permanent jobs in the softwood lumber industry. That is why I am asking the member these questions.
If 2,000 jobs were lost in Quebec because of this agreement, is it not time for the Bloc Québécois to reconsider its support for the agreement? The industry already has its money, but Quebec's right to determine its own forestry policy will be lost for the next seven or eight years if this agreement is implemented.
Why does the Bloc not think about it and change its position now, on third reading of the bill?
Mr. Speaker, I am dismayed to have to stand and speak at third reading of Bill C-24. I am dismayed because here is a case where clearly due diligence and responsibility of parliamentarians was lacking when there is legislation that touches in such a direct way the lives of Canadians across the country from coast to coast. When that due diligence is not paid, we end up with legislation such as we have before the House now at third reading. This is what is so deplorable.
In a moment I will go into the process that led to this illegitimate birth based on a complete and utter deception by the Conservative government. What is astounding, certainly to people in softwood communities across this country, is the role that the Liberals and the Bloc have played in getting this deplorable legislation through now to the point where we are at third reading, despite the fact that we have seen 4,000 direct jobs lost in the softwood industry since this deal was provisionally rammed through based on whether or not Parliament would actually adopt Bill C-24. Of course, if we do not adopt it, then we can actually start to get those jobs back.
These are 4,000 direct jobs and according to the steelworkers we are looking at 10,000 direct and indirect job losses. This is in a matter of only a few weeks.
It is no wonder that the Conservatives are not standing up in the House to defend this badly botched negotiation, this badly botched deal. What will be left for Canadians to consider, if indeed this week the House votes to proceed, is the role that the Liberals have played in actually bringing Bill C-24 to the floor of the House of Commons.
Without the support of the Liberal Party we would not be at third reading now. Without the support of the Liberal Party Bill C-24 would still be in committee. Members would still be addressing the egregious errors that have been made in drafting this piece of legislation. We would still be hearing what many organizations and representatives from softwood communities asked for. We would still be hearing testimony from these organizations from across the country that wanted to speak to Bill C-24. I will come back to that in a moment.
Basically, we started at the end of April with the framework agreement that was announced in the House. The NDP saw problems with the agreement right away. We raised serious concerns about where the government was going. One of the aspects of the framework agreement in April was the fact that we would suspend litigation.
At that point we were a few softwood board feet short of winning final victory. Canada had only two pieces of the legal process to go through. One was the ECC challenge that would have taken off the tariffs once and for all in August. The second was the Court of International Trade judgment. It is unbelievable that despite efforts by the Conservative government to intervene in court to stop Canada from winning a final victory on softwood lumber, we won on October 13. The American government is already repaying the industry because of the court judgment on October 13.
The first alarm bell at the end of April was that the Conservative government was intervening to stop us from winning those final victories that would establish the fair trade that Canadians were seeking in softwood lumber.
We then came to an agreement that quickly ran off the rails. We have the Minister of International Trade, the illegitimate member of Parliament for Vancouver Kingsway, someone who could not get re-elected in that riding no matter how much he tried. This is his last mandate there after having switched parties.
He cannot even walk in his riding. He cannot even appear publicly in his riding as the member for New Westminster-Coquitlam reminds me and she is absolutely right.
We have someone with no political legitimacy whatsoever, who could not run in his riding if he tried even to be dog catcher, steering this through, seeing the industry opposition, and putting forward the softwood proposals and having the industry react. We saw on July 1-
The Conservatives are speaking now. I hope they will have the guts to actually stand up shortly in the House and defend this bad agreement. We know that they will not because they understand and they are ashamed of this deal too. They just will not admit it.
After members of the industry from across the country had said to not sign this draft agreement because it was absolutely horrible for them, using their typical bullying techniques the Conservatives rammed it through on July 1. They announced it on a Saturday. I found out at a Canada Day celebration at Heritage Village in Burnaby, B.C. It was unbelievable that they had signed what many people described this summer as the worst agreement that Canada has ever initialled. July 1 was a sad day for Canada.
Summer hearings were immediately set up to hear back from the industry. There actually was consultation. The trade minister refused to consult because he heard back from the industry that the deal was absolutely atrocious, but the committee decided to hear from the industry, softwood workers and softwood communities. What it heard was not only that this was the worst deal ever initialled by a Canadian government, but we also found out that it was commercially non-viable. That is what was attested to by witness after witness.
The Quebec industry voted against the agreement 35 to 12. Witness after witness this summer clearly indicated that this was an absolutely horrible deal. What is more, the Conservative government, in its incredibly youthful and one might say juvenile zest to try to rehabilitate the sordid reputation of the Minister of International Trade, in a desperate measure, pulled out all the stops to ram this thing through regardless of the testimony.
One notable example was Stephen Atkinson from BMO who said that this was a guaranteed way of assuring that Canadian logs would create jobs in American mills because it would stimulate raw log exports, but I will come back to that in a moment.
We heard testimony throughout the summer. Obviously, the industry and softwood workers were opposed and then the bullying started. We saw the government pulling out all the stops to push the industry to accept this deal no matter what the cost. That is what the government did. It pushed it.
What it received, grudgingly, from the industry were conditional letters of support, which the government has never released. The conditional letters of support were based on the Conservative government achieving 95% support from the industry. It never achieved that. In fact, it never even achieved close to that. The conditional letters that the Minister of International Trade was running around with, holding up, and refusing to show to the media or to anybody else, which is a public responsibility, showed very clearly that unless it had 95% support it did not have the support of those companies.
What did the government do? It bullied a certain percentage of the industry. Whether it was 50% or 60% we will never know, though access to information requests have been made. We are sure that the Conservative government will try to cover up just as much as the previous Liberal government tried to cover up with ad scam and other various scandals.
The Conservatives promised to be more transparent and that was their very first broken promise. They have not been transparent about this at all because they know it is embarrassing. They badly botched the negotiations. The industry reacted and they tried to bludgeon the industry into submission. What they got were very tepid letters of conditional support that were never operative because they did not get the 95%.
Then they said they would simply change the agreement behind closed doors and that is what they did. They rewrote portions of the agreement. It was unbelievable. They did not have the required level of industry support, so they simply rewrote it. They told industry that there was no way that they could rewrite or renegotiate any of this badly botched negotiation. That turned out not to be true, just another mistruth.
Then we come forward to this fall and Bill C-24 was before the international trade committee. The first thing the NDP said was that there were folks who expressed interest in being witnesses and should be allowed to testify. The NDP proposed two witnesses who testified and raised serious concerns about Bill C-24. It was inadvertent, I am sure, and the trade minister only does things in a very political and haphazard way, but there was a double tax written in to Bill C-24.
What was very clear was the intent of the government in the draconian nature of Bill C-24 regarding the penalties. People would get 18 months in jail if they countered the intention of the Minister of International Trade. There were special penalties.There was the ability of the government, not only to go after softwood companies, mom and pop operations in northern British Columbia, northern Saskatchewan, northern Ontario and northern Manitoba but to go after their commercial clients.
If there was any discrepancy between what the Minister of International Trade said the softwood companies owed and what the companies said they would actually owe under these punitive taxes and draconian measures, the minister had the right to go after commercial clients and go after trust funds, even if they were set up 10 years before. The government basically had, through Bill C-24, a total blank cheque with our softwood industry.
We raised this issue at the committee of international trade. We said that these witnesses, who had identified themselves from British Columbia and from right across the country, should be allowed to come forward and testify. They were not witnesses that the NDP recruited. These were witnesses who said they wanted to testify and went to the clerk of the committee.
What happened, unbelievably, was that the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc said that there would be no testimony. They would not hear from anybody else. They heard from two witnesses who raised serious concerns about the draconian measures, about the poor drafting, and about the effects of this legislation. They did not want to hear from anybody else. They just wanted to get the thing through.
The NDP, unfortunately, in this Parliament, has only one seat on the committee. Hopefully in the next Parliament we will have many more and the NDP will have a greater role to play. This kind of shoddy, slipshod, and irresponsible approach to governing is something that certainly Canadians rejected on January 23 and now they have seen the Conservatives at work. They know they are just as bad. Canadians will be looking at, I think, other alternatives, and I believe the NDP will be one of them in the next election.
Essentially, we proposed 98 amendments to try to fix some of the most egregious parts of this bill and we tried to save the Conservatives from themselves. We were also trying to save softwood jobs.
We were opposed to this agreement, but we did our due diligence. There were 98 sections of this bill that should have been redrafted. However, the Liberals and Conservatives were working together at the international trade committee with the support of the Bloc, and unfortunately said that they were not going to actually treat these amendments in any rigorous fashion. They were not going to deal with the issue of double taxation and companies being penalized twice. No, sir, they were not going to fix this at all, and they rammed it through in just a day and a half. They rammed it through without due consideration.
In fact, most sections of this bill have not been scrutinized anywhere. What they did was simply adopt it. In fact, it was difficult for members to keep up with the voting. There was no debate and no discussion on over half of this bill. There was no debate and no discussion on the Draconian measures of putting people in prison for 18 months. It was a simple show of hands.
Conservatives and Liberals said that if mom and pop operations made a mistake, and the Minister of International Trade did not like it, well, hell, they would be put in prison for 18 months. No due diligence was done. There was absolutely no due diligence. It was unbelievable.
So, we now have in front of us a badly drafted bill, pushed forward by the Liberals and Conservatives principally. And last night, in trying to eliminate some of these clauses, such as the double taxation clause, again, Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc were all voting to keep those provisions in the bill. That is what we have now. We have Bill C-24, a shoddily, hastily crafted piece of legislation with serious errors in it, even from a Conservative perspective, not receiving due diligence at committee, not receiving due diligence in this House, and now the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc want to ram through.
Well, 4,000 lost jobs in the last few weeks, I think, begs the question: What is this House doing, ramming through this legislation when 4,000 jobs have been lost directly, and 10,000 jobs directly and indirectly? It has been a hemorrhage across this country, particularly in western Canada, particularly in British Columbia, and Quebec of course, where we have seen almost 2,000 jobs lost.
What is in this softwood sellout? We talked about some of the references in the bill. First, the most important point is that on October 13 we won in the Court of International Trade. The money has to be paid back. The American government is already paying back to the companies which did not sign on through EDC and that is most companies which showed very clearly that the industry did not have confidence in this deal. The Minister of International Trade is hiding the facts from the public because he knows it is embarrassing that most companies did not sign on to the Export Development Corporation.
Second, and this has been well documented. We are giving a billion dollars to the United States that we did not have to. We won and every penny should be coming back. The Conservatives, because they are, to say the least, financially irresponsible, just shovelled that billion dollars right over to the United States, but half a billion of it goes to the American softwood industry that has been attacking our softwood industry now for years.
They were at the end of their rope. They had no longer any ability or capacity financially to go after our softwood sector. It was the end of the road for them this year. Now, again, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, we have a government that is giving half a billion dollars to them for the next stage of assaults on the Canadian softwood industry and companies.
Another aspect of this deal is that we are imposing tariffs on ourselves that are higher than the illegal American tariffs that preceded them. We actually saw tariffs in October going up when we have won those victories and the only thing that was stopping the tariffs from being taken off completely was the ECC judgment that the government should have put in place for August. Unbelievably we are now paying more.
Why have we lost 10,000 jobs directly and indirectly? It is simple math. When the tariffs go up, it becomes financially non-viable and that is what we are seeing now: jobs lost in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern Ontario. I am quite sure we are going to see a lot of Conservatives losing their seats because of their irresponsibility and Liberals too. In northern Ontario there are Liberal MPs who have been pushing this deal. That is absolutely irresponsible.
It is important to note that for Canadians who are listening right now, they actually had to pay the refund. Until we won on October 13, when the American government started paying back the money to the companies that did not sign on to the Conservative government's bad deal, the government's plan was to use the EDC and have Canadian taxpayers pay the rebates. If we had not won in the Court of International Trade on October 13, Canadian taxpayers would be paying through EDC, so it is important for Canadians to know that they would have been picking up the tab for this badly botched deal.
It is also interesting to note that there is a clause within the agreement which allows the Americans to terminate it any time. All they have to do is allege non-compliance. This is important for our Quebec friends, but also for people right across the country. This means that if a provincial government, British Columbia or Quebec, were to make any changes to forestry practices, the Americans could simply allege non-compliance and terminate the agreement. They could keep the billion dollars and run. What could be more irresponsible than that? We are talking about a government that has completely abrogated any sense of responsibility, and any sense of due diligence for softwood workers and communities across the country. That is absolutely appalling.
I talked about the anti-circumvention clause and the fact that we now have to go to Washington. Any provincial forestry practice changes need to be vetted through Washington. That is incredible. We have running rules that are, to say the least, non-viable, retroactive, and after the fact. We sell our product and then at the end of the month we find out whether or not we made money or whether we have to close down.
The most egregious fact is that there is nothing for softwood workers. There is not a penny for softwood communities. This stimulates raw log exports and shuts down value added production.
What we should do is stop this agreement on third reading. If the Bloc Québécois is prepared to vote against it, the agreement can be stopped. The money is already in the hands of the industry. However, we cannot give the Americans the right to come and change our forestry policy. We cannot give them a billion dollars and we cannot allow the American industry to come and attack our softwood lumber industry.
We need a policy that works. I implore the hon. members to vote against this agreement on third reading, but if they fail to, it will be up to the other chamber to vote against it and stop this bad agreement.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer the question. Hyperbole has been the domain of the Conservatives.
The Prime Minister said it was going to take seven years of litigation. I asked the trade minister and Michael Wilson about this appeal process that they had invented out of thin air that would allow seven years of appeals. Neither of them could answer me. They both agreed there were no appeals from the final two pieces of litigation that were forwarded this year. The issue of seven, 10 or 15 years, the wild figures thrown out by the very irresponsible Conservative government is just hyperbole. We won on October 13. That is why the companies that did not sign on, which are in a majority I may add, are getting 100¢ dollars.
The member also talked about certainty. I am not sure most Conservatives have read the agreement. Under article 20 we had 23 months and then the international trade minister negotiated an agreement and came up with 18 months of certainty. It has gone from 23 months to 18 months of certainty. Unbelievably, he seems to walk backward when he negotiates with the United States. He also allowed a clause to go in that the United States reserves the right to terminate the agreement if Canada is not applying the export measures. This comes without resort to dispute settlement or any other precondition for termination of this agreement. As I said earlier, the United States can terminate at any time on a simple allegation of non-compliance. That is article 20. There is no certainty there.
Mr. Speaker, I will start with the last point. The reason this agreement is on the floor of the House of Commons is that the Liberals worked with the Conservatives. It is not a question of we finally voted no at the end; it is why this bad deal is on the floor of the House of Commons. It is on the floor of the House of Commons because the Liberals refused to hear witnesses. The Liberals cancelled the hearings that were going to be held across the country. The Liberals supported the Conservatives ramming it through committee. That is why it is here. We cannot change the facts. That is the reality.
The Liberals can say they may vote against it at third reading, but that does not eliminate the fact that we are at third reading because the Liberals worked with the Conservatives to ram this bad deal through.
The member is absolutely right and this is why I am so perplexed by the Liberal support for this agreement. He is absolutely right that any other industrial sector could be targeted the same way. What we are doing is erasing the four and a half years of legal victories in such a way that steel or any other industrial sector could be next. It basically throws away dispute settlement. That is the appalling implications of ramming this deal through.
That is why the Bloc has to think twice. That is why the Liberals have to think twice. That is why we certainly hope that western Canadian MPs in the Conservative Party would think twice about undermining their own communities by voting for this badly botched deal. They should be representing their communities in Ottawa. They should not be representing Ottawa or the Prime Minister to their communities.
This is a bad deal for British Columbia. I will read from the report that was issued last week which states:
Make no mistake, this is a bad deal for BC. It discourages value-added output at a time when BC needs to improve on its sorry record in generating more jobs and higher prices.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great question from the member for New Westminster-Coquitlam.
I will just read the end of the quotation:
BC needs to improve on its sorry record in generating more jobs and higher prices from the forest products we manufacture. And [this deal] encourages further shipments of raw, unprocessed logs from the province.
That is what all testimony showed this summer. What this does is ensures that Canadian logs mean American mills get the jobs. It is Canadian logs for American jobs.
Mr. Speaker, both ponies have splints on their legs. I would not bet on either of them.
There was appalling negligence from the Liberal government and then it was actually worse from the Conservatives.
This sellout did not need to happen because the Conservatives and the minister did not understand what they were getting into. It was all political posturing.
This summer we heard from witness after witness after witness that this is a political deal. It is simply there in the hope that the minister can enhance his image. It has nothing to do with saving softwood jobs, nothing to do with maintaining Canada's rights, nothing to do with establishing fair trade, nothing at all. It is simple political posturing.
We are at a situation because of Liberal negligence and Conservative irresponsibility where we actually were able to get through to October 13 when we won in the Court of International Trade. That is what the government should-
Mr. Speaker, as usual I very much appreciated the speech by my colleague from Berthier-Maskinongé. I always enjoy his presentations because of his eloquence. However, I do not understand the Bloc's logic because everything he said today is very straightforward and quite legitimate. Clearly, this agreement is not good for the Quebec industry.
He spoke about quotas. This agreement is being so poorly managed by the Minister of International Trade that it is well known that the quotas probably will not be put in place before June 2007. Thus, the Quebec industry will continue to pay penalties. We have lost 2,000 jobs in Quebec and the Government of Quebec has now lost its sovereignty over its forestry policy, an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Every decision that the Quebec government must make or any change to its forestry policy is subject to the right of veto by the American government, by the Bush administration.
The quotas, which Quebec opted for, cannot be put in place. The Bush administration has a right of veto. In addition, 2,000 jobs have been lost in Quebec-in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Abitibi-Témiscamingue and on the North Shore- since the provisional implementation of the agreement in October.
My question is quite simple because the member has clearly outlined the negative aspects of this agreement. Did the Bloc Québécois consult all the workers who lost their jobs since the provisional implementation of this agreement? If these people were to tell the Bloc that the agreement must be cancelled, would he be willing to vote against the bill at third reading?
Mr. Speaker, with or without hesitation, the important thing is that you gave me the floor.
To come back to what my colleague from Berthier-Maskinongé said, the Quebec industry did indeed hold a vote on this agreement last summer. The result was 35 to 12 against the agreement. Then the entire federal government delegation started. Nonetheless, Mr. Chevrette said very clearly in committee that if there were other options, he would be prepared to submit them to the industry for a vote.
On one hand, there are job losses and, on the other hand, the industry was truly pushed to accept the agreement, even though a very large majority of the Canadian and Quebec industry did not back the agreement. Conditional letters were sent and then dropped because the agreement had been changed.
Under all these circumstances, if the Bloc consulted the 2,000 softwood lumber employees who have lost their jobs since the interim implementation of this agreement, and if these people asked the Bloc to vote against the agreement at third reading, would the Bloc members be prepared to vote against the bill to do what the people who lost their jobs asked them to do?