IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on Bill C-364, The Trade Compensation Act
October 20th, 2005 - 2:12am
38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I rise as well, as trade critic for the New Democratic Party, to speak in favour of this important private member's bill, Bill C-364.
Like the previous speakers, the member for Joliette and the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, I regret that this measure is necessary, but it is necessary because Parliament has to act where the government has not acted. That is the reality.
We need to support our softwood lumber industry. We know that the softwood lumber industry is bleeding $4 million a day in punitive tariffs. This affects my home province of British Columbia more than any other province in this country.
We are talking about lost jobs. We are talking about punitive tariffs of $4 million a day. Five billion dollars now is gone in punitive tariffs to Washington. Much of that money has disappeared entirely through the Byrd amendment. It has already been paid out. Millions of dollars have been paid out to American competitors through this unjust amendment, yet the government has done absolutely nothing.
We are talking about $5 billion in punitive tariffs. We also know that the legal costs are mounting rapidly. The softwood lumber industry has assumed over $350 million in associated legal costs around this same issue.
The House has to take action because the government has done nothing. The House has to take action because people are hurting in communities across the country. The softwood lumber industry is hurting. We have lost billions of dollars in punitive tariffs and hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees and yet the government has refused to act.
I would like to put my remarks in context by talking a bit about the history of both the free trade agreement and NAFTA. I think it is important to talk about the origins of this agreement, going back to 1989 with the FTA and 1993 with NAFTA.
At that time, we sat down with the Americans to negotiate a dispute settlement mechanism that would make sense. The objective of the Canadian government in those negotiations was to have a dispute settlement mechanism that would be binding on the United States. In return, we saw the Americans looking, in those same negotiations, to have privileged access to our energy resources.
As members know, we have the largest energy reserves in the world. For the Americans to put that negotiating point forward is understandable. What is not understandable is that we gave that privileged access to our energy resources in return for a dispute settlement mechanism which for all intents and purposes has been ripped up by the Bush administration. Yet our government has done nothing.
At this time, it means that most of our resources, our natural gas and oil, are actually being shipped to the United States. The proportionality aspects of NAFTA mean that we are obliged to continue to send those energy resources to the United States even in the event of a national emergency and a national shortage.
It also means, as I know members are well aware and as the Globe and Mail profiled yesterday, that if we choose to send our energy resources to another market, we actually have to reduce Canadian supply in order to do that. The proportionality aspects of NAFTA demand that we continue to send the same proportion of energy resources to the United States that we have over a preceding 36 month period.
We are in a situation now where we have what the Canadian government negotiated. In this corner of the House, the New Democratic Party had raised concerns about the agreement and our giveaways, even at that time. Suffice it to say, we are now in the context where the dispute settlement mechanism is dead. It has been ripped up. The binding obligations that should have taken effect in August of 2005 have not. The softwood lumber industry is now left essentially an orphan because of the federal Liberal government not acting in this context.
I would like to touch on what the impacts have been on Canadian families. We often talk about softwood lumber. Certainly most recently we have talked about the impact on the industry, but it is important to note what we have seen since 1989 in 80% of Canadian families, or in other words, in four of the five quintiles. Normally when Statistics Canada profiles Canadian families, it divides them into quintiles, into 20% of the population: the lowest income 20%, the next to lowest 20%, the middle income 20%, the upper income 20% and then the highest income 20%.
Statistics Canada has produced a study recently, but since 1989, over the first 15 years of the FTA and NAFTA, in four of the five quintiles we have actually seen a decline in real income of Canadian families. We are not talking about prosperity. We are talking about the fact that the incomes of the lowest income Canadians have eroded in real terms since 1989 by up to 15%.
Those of us who go out into our communities and knock on doors—and I certainly do that in my communities of Burnaby and New Westminster as often as I can—have heard anecdotally about how families are hurting, how it is becoming more and more difficult to make ends meet and how the extra costs we are seeing are making it very difficult for families to get by. The surprising reality is that Canadians with the lowest incomes have seen a dramatic fall in income since 1989.
That is not all. Let us look at the next lowest and the middle income Canadians. Those families have also seen a dramatic drop in their real income. They are trying to get by on fewer financial resources than existed 15 years ago.
For the upper middle class, the fourth quintile, there has been absolutely no improvement in real income over a 15 year period. From 1989 there has been no improvement. Their incomes have stagnated. Costs have risen, as we know, while their real incomes have had absolutely no improvement.
Who has profited from the trade policy of the Liberal government? Upper income Canadians. The wealthy in Canada have seen their incomes rise by 12% to 15%.
It is important to note this.
The failed trade policy that we see is the result of a number of factors. Yes, there has been inaction by the Liberal government on these important trade files. We could mention the textile industry, but tonight we are talking about softwood.
Most Canadian families are struggling to get by with fewer financial resources than they had 15 years ago, yet we have the largest energy reserves in the world and we have an export surplus which we know is due to the fact that we have resources the rest of the world would love to have and would dearly love to trade with us.
Coming back to recent days, what happened? Two months ago the dispute settlement mechanism was ripped up. It took two months for the Prime Minister to make a phone call, which has been the only action undertaken in the 60 days since the ripping up of the dispute settlement mechanism, that binding obligation under NAFTA. That is indisputable. There is no question that there is an obligation. It is binding. It is clear.
Yet in two months we have seen a phone call and a lot of spin and speeches. My goodness, the industry minister was beside himself, saying the Liberals would take the Americans into the boards. We have seen the result. Not only have they not taken the Americans into the boards, they are not even on the ice. They are hiding in the dressing room.
When Canadian jobs are at risk, where communities across the country are suffering and where real family income has dropped, the Liberals have done nothing except make a phone call.
Very clearly, given the Liberals' complete and utter failure to deal with the issue of softwood lumber in any meaningful way, the New Democratic Party has been putting forth suggestions. We called for a recall of Parliament. We were told it would be considered, but it was not. After a lot of dithering, Parliament was not recalled even though this issue is crucial to the Canadian economy.
We have called for export levies on energy resources, given that we have the largest reserves in the world. There has been no response from the government.
We have also called for a halt to the NAFTA-plus negotiations. What a mixed message: we are saying on the one hand that NAFTA is not working, that there is a real problem here and that dispute settlement has been ripped up, and on the other hand, the Liberal government is sitting down every day and negotiating lower standards in areas like food safety and air safety.
The Liberals call it “harmonization”, but it is lower standards. It is saying to Canadians that our higher standards will now be lowered to what Washington tells us it wants to have through NAFTA-plus.
We need to take action and, fortunately, this private member's bill is a first step in the action this Parliament needs to take in the absence of any action from the government.