IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on supply management and World Trade Organization negotiations
November 22nd, 2005 - 8:32pm
38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, having listened to the minister, I cannot help but think we are starting to see the same kind of sell out that we have been seeing with softwood lumber. I come from British Columbia and very clearly the government has done nothing to stand up for Canadian interests.
The minister congratulated himself for the sensitive product regime. I have heard this from the horse's mouth, his chief negotiator for the WTO. At that time, he estimated that 11% of our products were part of the sensitive product regime and the Americans were pressing for 1%. His chief negotiator said that the compromise would be somewhere in between. This indicates the minister is willing to sell out half of supply management or perhaps three-quarters of it. He will stand up for the sensitive product regime, but we will end up with a decimated supply management system.
Therefore, would the minister confirm to the House today that his government will not sign any agreement that has a negative impact on the supply management sector and on communities across the country which depend on it?
Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments from the Conservative Party's agriculture critic. She put forward a very impassioned defence of supply management. This is important, because in this House we need to stand four-square. All four corners of this House need to support supply management institutions and the communities across the country that depend on them.
She signed a letter in July 2005 which said something quite different. I will read it into the record:
It is absolutely not the position of the Conservative Party that the Government of Canada leave the WTO negotiations if over quota tariffs on sensitive products are reduced.
She concludes her letter by saying:
Again, I believe it would be irresponsible for Canada's negotiators to walk away from the WTO negotiations.
Here we have a situation where we know the Liberal government is prepared to at least sell out half of supply management, if not three-quarters or four-fifths, and the Conservative Party was saying, at least in the summer, that it would not stop that process of selling out half, three-quarters or 80% of our supply management sectors.
I am asking the hon. member which is the Conservative Party's position, what she said today in an impassioned defence of supply management, or what she said in July?
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise on behalf of the NDP caucus on this motion by the hon. for Richmond—Arthabaska. It really strikes to the very heart of both the agricultural crisis that we are currently living through and the government's repeated sellout of Canadian interests.
I would like to begin by reading for the record the motion itself:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should give its negotiators a mandate during the negotiations at the World Trade Organization so that, at the end of the current round of negotiations, Canada obtains results that ensure that the supply management sectors are subject to no reduction in over-quota tariffs and no increase in tariff quotas, so that these sectors can continue to provide producers with a fair and equitable income.
This is an important point because the motion calls for, and we will be supporting the motion in the House, full protection for the supply management sector. There are no ifs, ands or buts. It calls for full protection for the communities from coast to coast that depend on supply management to provide that equitable and fair income to which the motion refers.
We have heard in just the last few minutes both the Liberal Party position and the Conservative Party position. When I asked the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food directly whether he would refuse to sign any agreement that would diminish our supply management sector and hurt communities from coast to coast, he did not answer. He did not for one very good reason because he is prepared, as is the rest of his government, to sell out supply management.
As the negotiator for the WTO clearly indicated in a briefing a few weeks ago, 11% of our products are in the sensitive product regime. The Americans are demanding that it be reduced to a ceiling of 1% and the negotiator felt that the compromise would be somewhere in between.
We see very clearly from the negotiator, and the motion refers to a solid mandate that would be given to the negotiator, that the figure is going somewhere between 1% and 11%. What that percentage will be, we do not know. Is he prepared on behalf of the government to sell out 50% of our supply management sector? We do not know. Is he prepared to sell out 75% of our supply management sector? We do not know that either. Is it 90% of our supply management sector that will be gone after these negotiations?
The truth is that we do not know how much of our supply management will be sold out. We do know that the negotiator and the government are prepared to sell out a huge chunk of it. We know that there will be enormous ramifications in communities from coast to coast that depend on our supply management institutions and expect our government to stand up for those institutions.
I will be coming back later on to the whole issue of the repeated sellouts of the Liberal government. However, it is important to note a couple of comments that the trade minister made in a recent interview a few weeks ago on other aspects of essential parts of Canada's economic institutions that support communities from coast to coast.
In an interview with the National Post, the international trade minister, in referring to the fact that the Americans are coming after the Canadian Wheat Board, said, almost bragging, that we have made concessions to the Americans with respect to the financing of the Canadian Wheat Board and in respect to underwriting losses.
He was asked if he could articulate our position on softwood and energy, if there was a linkage or not? He said very clearly that there was no linkage. We have an international trade minister who has signalled not only with supply management but obviously with the Wheat Board, and obviously with NAFTA, and the privileged and proportional access to our energy resources that we continue to give even though we no longer have a functioning dispute settlement mechanism, that the government's intent is to sell out again. We have a very clear indication from this Liberal government that it is ready to sell out a huge chunk of supply management.
How many communities would be impacted? How many farmers would be shut down? We do not know at this point. It is all in the fog. However, very clearly, the intent is there. The negotiator is going with the intent to sell out supply management and this government, coming back from Hong Kong, will try to spin it by saying it saved 4%, or it saved 5%, or it saved 6%, or 2% of supply management and in some way claim that as a victory. That is completely unacceptable.
With this parliamentary motion, that we hope would be adopted with support from all four corners of the House, we would hope to move forward, so that the negotiator understands that he is not to sell out any portion of supply management institutions that maintain our communities from coast to coast.
The next question should be: If the Liberal government is prepared to sell out supply management, what are the Conservatives prepared to do?
We had an answer from its agriculture critic just a few minutes ago in this House. Indeed, even though the Conservatives are ready to make the speeches in the House saying that they support supply management in principle, very clearly, the Conservative Party, as it stated clearly and concisely this summer, is prepared to allow our supply management institutions to be gutted and it will stay at the table and sign whatever agreement is put forward.
With the Liberals and the Conservatives both ready to sell out a significant proportion of our supply management institutions, it appears, certainly outside Quebec, that there is only one party standing up for the communities from coast to coast that depend on supply management, and that is sad.
I am hoping the Conservatives will adjust their fire, will support the motion, and will speak very clearly that they will not sign a WTO agreement that guts our supply management institutions. The Liberals have clearly signalled that is where they are going.
The Conservatives are going to have to change their statements and change their attitudes if they hope to keep seats in rural Canada because, as we know, this is a significant issue. Rural Canada will not accept half measures, will not accept half of the gutting of supply management, and will not accept a three-quarters gutting of supply management.
Rural Canada will accept complete protection of our supply management institutions and will not support a government or a party that will simply allow those institutions to be gutted. That is the essential issue that we are talking about today. We are talking about the fundamental support for supply management.
Why would we support supply management? We know fully that communities from coast to coast depend on it. We are talking about supply managed industries that add a net $12.3 billion to our GDP. Why this government would mess with that formula is beyond me, but very clearly, it has signalled the intent to do that.
We are talking about supply managed industries that support $39 billion of economic activity and the government, like some drunken sailor on shore leave, is ready to gamble all that at the WTO in Hong Kong, ready to sell out and gut what is an essential part of rural Canada and an essential part of the Canadian economy.
Our supply management industries, as well, sustain more than 214,000 jobs: 75,000 on the farms, almost 48,000 in farm supplies, and over 91,000 in the processing sector. A total of over 214,000 jobs dependent on our supply managed industry. We are talking about one out of every five jobs in Canada's food industry.
When we are talking about something that plays an essential role in the Canadian economy why would the government be prepared to sell off a huge chunk and gut our supply managed sector?
It is important to note that it is not just Canadians who have jobs and rural communities from coast to coast that benefit from the supply managed sector. It is also consumers who benefit. One of the recent surveys done by the Dairy Farmers of Canada reveals that Canadian consumers pay 6.5% less for a nutritional basket of dairy products in Canada than for the same basket in the United States. It is a very important point. Consumers in Canada benefit from our supply managed sector as well.
We are not just talking about the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on it, the thousands of farms and communities from coast to coast that depend on the supply managed sector, we are also talking about the benefit to Canadian consumers, this distinct structure that Canadians have which other countries would like to emulate, which I will come back to later in my presentation. This distinct sector benefits consumers as well as farmers and it helps supply hundreds of thousands of jobs to the Canadian economy.
We are talking about something that is fundamental to rural Canada. It is extremely important for the Canadian economy. I am absolutely flabbergasted by the fact that the government is prepared to auction off this critical and vital sector of the Canadian economy.
Last month, Jean-Robert Sansfaçon wrote an article in Le Devoir, in which he mentioned the benefits of the supply management system. He said:
Because of the higher costs generated by maintaining reasonable size farms in a rigorous climate such as ours—
Such as the climate with which we are very familiar in Canada.
—the supply management system adequately meets our needs, while ensuring decent revenues to producers. To accept to abolish this system and replace it with a free trade initiative would result in thousands of farms being abandoned, and in thousands of others being consolidated under large size operations, and we would all lose. Nothing justifies such a dismantlement of the agricultural sector, which is already very affected by anarchic modernism, and the hog industry is a sad example of that.
We are talking about something that benefits rural Canada, all of Quebec, western Canada, northern Ontario, Atlantic Canada and the whole country. Our communities all depend on this vital and critical sector.
Why would the government be ready to sell out? The chief negotiator has clearly signalled that the government is ready to sell out most, if not all. It has certainly drawn the line at 1% or 1.5%, so it would be conserving some sort of symbolic presence in supply management.
This has been the tendency of the government over the last 10 years. We have seen this with softwood lumber. In August the dispute settlement mechanism was arbitrarily ripped up by George Bush. Since then, the government has done nothing, albeit, make one phone call.
We have heard lots of speeches about getting tough and doing something, but that has been for domestic consumption only. We have not seen one concrete action by the government to bring resolution to this and to bring back the now $5.5 billion that is sitting partially in Washington because of the Byrd amendment, but as we know, millions of dollars have been paid out under the Byrd amendment that we have lost forever.
The government did not recall Parliament early, even though we called very clearly for that action to occur. The government continues to negotiate concessions under NAFTA-plus in such key areas as food safety and air safety. The government is negotiating right now with the Bush administration to lower our standards to American ones. We wonder why the Bush administration does not take the government seriously when it is negotiating other concessions.
The government continues to give proportional and privileged access to our energy resources. We are the only country in the world that provides a foreign country a supply of energy before Canadians have the right to access that and, as we know, in the event of a national shortage, a national emergency, we still have to ship most of our energy supplies across the border to the United States in the framework of NAFTA.
We have proportional and privileged access on energy continued to be granted to the Bush administration at the same time as the reason we granted that proportional and privileged access, which was to have a dispute settlement mechanism that would actually be binding, no longer exists. The dispute settlement mechanism has been arbitrarily ripped up by the Bush administration. The government has done nothing about that and continues to provide proportional and privileged access to energy resources that are the birthright of Canadians but they are sent abroad to the United States.
As we saw last week, the government allowed a Bush bagman, Richard Kinder, to purchase Terasen Inc., the most important utility in Canada and in British Columbia. We allowed him to rubber stamp approval on Terasen, despite the fact that thousands upon thousands of British Columbians had said no to that sellout. This is one of 11,000 takeovers that have happened under the Liberal watch. Ninety-seven per cent of foreign direct investment coming into Canada now takes over and guts Canadian companies with the corresponding loss of jobs and loss of benefits to the Canadian economy.
It is no surprise that 15 years later we are seeing that over 60% of Canadian families are earning significantly less in real terms than they were 15 years ago. Could there be a clearer indication of the massive Liberal failure on the trade policy and with the economy than the fact that most Canadian families are now earning less than they were 15 years ago?
Most jobs created in this economy, as we know, are now temporary or part time in nature. Statistics Canada told us in January that most jobs come without pensions now.
What we have seen over the last 15 years of Liberal failure and Liberal sellouts is that for most Canadians the quality of life is continuing to fall. For the lowest income, 20% of Canadians, their incomes have collapsed by 10%. Working class and middle class Canadians have lost the equivalent of three weeks salary a year on the Liberal watch.
Liberals can stand up in the House and say that everything is fine but, except for corporate lawyers and CEOs, the reality is that Canadians are having a tougher time of it than they were 15 years ago. It is because of the complete failure of the Liberal government on not producing a job strategy and on its complete failure on trade policy.
We have seen the Liberals' complete failure on softwood lumber and, with Terasan Inc. and 11,000 other sell outs, a fire sale of Canadian resources and Canadian companies. Now we are seeing in Hong Kong that the government is getting ready to sell out a significant proportion, if not a majority, of our supply management sector.
We also, and this will be the subject of another debate, see the government preparing to sign a general agreement on trades and services to sell out our public services as well. There does not seem to be any limit to the Liberal government's capacity to sell out the country and to not think of the consequences that it will have on Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I am proud to support the motion, not only for Canadian farmers and Canadian rural communities from coast to coast and not only for Canadian consumers, but for those elsewhere in the world, particularly in developing nations, who are looking for supply management to change and improve their quality of life. It is not just for Canadians. It is for people around the world that we have to stand up for our supply management sector.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé for his words and his question. I had only 20 minutes, but I could have continued and spoken about the lack of a government policy on the textile industry too, as the member very well knows.
This is not simply about the softwood lumber industry, or the textile industry, or Canada's rural and agricultural sectors. This government is prepared to sell off our heritage and the very foundations of our Canadian economy. That worries me very much.
The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food just said that he is not prepared to sign an agreement at the WTO that will result in supply management being reduced by half, by three quarters, by 80%. But we do not know what limit he will set because he did not tell us today. We questioned him, but he did not tell us what his limit is.
We know that he is prepared to sell off supply management, sell off the communities that depend on it, and sell off the farmers who rely on it. He is ready to sell off jobs. He is ready to do all that. But we do not know whether it will be one third—if we are lucky—or 50%, three quarters or more. That is what is so disturbing. This government and its ministers are prepared to sell out rural Canada, its communities and its jobs. Ultimately, as the member well knows, Canadian consumers will also suffer. To the extent that prices are better in Canada, it is consumers who will pay.
Our concern is obviously all the greater today since we just heard the minister refuse to say categorically that he would not sign an agreement that negatively affects supply management. I know that the hon. member will continue to work very hard at this in order to protect the communities that would be affected. We will do the same, and we hope to make this government, which is prepared to sell everything at a low price, listen to reason.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell for his comments.
I know that he will be retiring from this House, perhaps in a few days, if an election is called next week. His experience, and he has a wealth of it, will be missed in this place.
We may have disagreed on certain subjects from time to time, but no one can question his long experience and his past contributions to the House of Commons, especially since he has given every member of the House a copy of his new book. I will look through it with interest, if I have time during the election campaign; otherwise, I will read it immediately after the campaign, on the plane, while going back and forth between Vancouver and Ottawa.
The hon. member raised an extremely important point for consumers. As I said, according to the Dairy Farmers of Canada, compared to the U.S. market, Canadian consumers of dairy products enjoy lower prices, thanks to this supply management system. We can see, therefore, that it is not just farmers and rural communities that benefit. Consumers across the country also benefit, by having access to a better quality product at a lower price here than in the United States, where such a system does not exist. That is the Americans' loss. One day perhaps, they will be fortunate enough to elect a government that will set up this kind of system.
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member for Glengarry--Prescott--Russell. It is the death of a thousand cuts.
We are discussing a more serious issue right now, which is the potential for the government to sell out supply management in Hong Kong. The death of a thousand cuts is taking place with these loopholes, which very clearly contravene the supply management sector and undermine it.
I would agree completely with the member that we have to reinforce in Hong Kong. We have to ensure that no agreement is signed that would negatively affect supply management. We also have to deal with the loopholes and the undermining of the supply management foundation that is taking place through these imports.