Mr. Claude Guimond (Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ)
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government should act urgently to provide the forestry industry, which has been hit hard by the economic crisis, with assistance which is similar to that given to the automotive industry concentrated in Ontario, and primarily through tax credits, loans and loan guarantees so that companies have immediate access to cash, and tax measures for private woodlot owners.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.
I am very honoured to speak to this issue which, thanks to the Bloc Québécois, will be debated in this House today. We often hear the other political parties talk about the forestry crisis. They do acknowledge that there is a crisis but none of them has really done anything to help this sector of such vital importance to Quebec's economy.
Today, the Bloc Québécois will use the opposition day to put forward, once again, concrete ideas to quickly counter a catastrophe that has destroyed the forestry sector and consequently the lives of thousands of families in Quebec. I would also like to point out that the Bloc Québécois was the first federal political party to have appointed a private woodlot critic. I am extremely proud and honoured to have been selected for this task. This just shows how in touch our party is with the concerns and the realities of Quebeckers. This initiative was taken when private woodlot owners were being completely ignored by the mediocre measures proposed by the federal government in response to the forestry crisis.
Thus, the Bloc Québécois has taken up the mandate of being the voice of Quebec's private woodlot owners in the debate on the future of forestry. In the motion being debated today, we clearly state that the government must act urgently to provide the forestry industry with assistance similar to that given to the automotive industry concentrated in Ontario. We believe that it is completely absurd for the federal government to offer the forestry industry a paltry $70 million when it is giving the automotive industry almost $9.7 billion.
In Quebec, forestry is responsible for 88,000 direct jobs, but the forestry crisis as a whole affects close to 825,000 Quebec workers. In other words, this industry is vital to the economy of Quebec and above all to the economy of the regions, such as the Lower St. Lawrence region, where my riding is. So it is not right for a government to stand idly by in the face of a crisis that is threatening so many jobs and so many rural communities. This is, once again, glaring evidence of incompetence or perhaps simply contempt on the part of this government.
It is for this reason, among others, that the Conservative government does not deserve the confidence of Quebeckers. It is our clear belief that the Conservative government is making an ideological choice that benefits the West to the detriment of Quebec. The fact is that the government has still done nothing worthy of mention for the forestry sector. In creating a joint Canada-Quebec committee on forestry issues, the Conservative government has created the appearance of taking an interest in this crisis. In fact, there has been nothing concrete to alleviate the worries of forestry workers. Their frustration is all the more justified when we know that Quebec alone accounts for 32.8% of the forestry jobs in Canada and close to 40% of the communities affected by this crisis and that, in the end, according to the government’s calculations, Quebec receives only 21.7% of the funding allocated.
In addition to doing nothing to solve the problem, the government is barely concerned at all with the more specific case of the private woodlot owners. Yet private woodlots are responsible for 29,000 direct jobs in Quebec. I myself own a private woodlot, and I know how necessary and urgent it is for concrete action to be taken as soon as possible to avoid catastrophe.
I will take this opportunity to let all parliamentarians know about a few of the Bloc Québécois' proposals to assist owners of private woodlots.
First of all, in fiscal terms, it is absolutely necessary that the federal government recognize management plans as reasonable evidence of profit, so that management expenses incurred can be deductible under section 31 of the Income Tax Act. Under the current tax system, forest management expenses are not deductible from the income of the farm as a whole, and this encourages mismanagement of the forest. The taxation system applicable to private forests thus puts producers at a disadvantage and does not encourage sustainable use of the resource.
At the present time, the Income Tax Act grants no specific status to woodlot owners, and according to Revenue Canada, most owners are considered part-time farmers or hobby farmers. That being the case, their operating losses are not easily eligible. First they have to prove a reasonable expectation of profit. This is very difficult given the current requirements of the tax authorities. It is absolutely necessary to change this situation so as to take account of the specific nature of forestry work and of private woodlot owners.
Second, the federal government must set up a registered sylvicultural savings plan. At present, all the income made by lumber producers is taxable in the year when they sell their wood, even if that income represents up to 10 years of work—and that year may be followed by 10 more years without income.
Producers are asking to be able to put a portion of their income into a registered silvicultural savings plan. Though not having the same purpose, the mechanism of such a plan would be comparable to the registered retirement savings plan. The registered silvicultural savings plan would allow producers to shelter a portion of their income, setting it aside for future woodlot development.
Third, the federal government must look into the possibility of setting up an interest tax holiday and capital tax holiday program, so that forestry producers can preserve their assets in a time of crisis while improving the management, productivity and diversification of their property.
In my region, the Lower St. Lawrence, activities associated with private forest management and wood marketing create some 2,000 forest and factory jobs. In addition, the economic spinoffs from private woodlots are vital to our rural communities—my riding consists mostly of rural communities. It is crucial that the situation of private woodlot owners improve, because the survival of these communities depends on it.
Faced with the government's inaction, private woodlot owners are not just standing idle; they are doing everything they can to develop the full potential of their forest heritage. This means that, in addition to being undeniably important to rural communities, private forests can play an important environmental role when managed sustainably. They can help preserve wildlife habitat and ecological diversity, protect air and water quality, store carbon and reduce soil and shoreline erosion. In fact, thanks to the management of private forests, they are more productive today than public forests.
Private forest management in Quebec and Canada is the best solution for sustainable development and I urge the government and the other parties in this House to adopt my motion today in order to support the 130,000 private woodlot owners in Quebec and the 450,000 in Canada.
Mr. Robert Bouchard (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois chose to introduce this motion about the forestry crisis because the situation is still just as urgent for thousands of forestry workers in Quebec and for my region.
It is not reasonable for us to be here today again, calling on the Conservative government to help the forestry industry, in spite of everything that has been said by the forestry industry for several years and particularly in the last few months.
For several months, I have observed the failure of two ministers in the Conservative government to take any action in my region, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. But even worse is the fact that they have never come right out and clearly told the public that they had no intention of helping them.
Recently, the Minister of State for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec tried to buy time by creating the second committee in less than six months to examine the issue.
The situation we are experiencing in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is the same as in the ridings of many members of this House. In our respective regions, when the sawmill shuts down, the entire local economy is affected.
In my riding alone, 4,000 direct jobs have been lost. And the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean says that is to be expected, because there is a market crisis.
For several months, the Minister of State for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec has been announcing far and wide that the forestry crisis is a market crisis, and that Export Development Canada has provided $16 billion in all sorts of financial services to the forestry industry. But what has to be pointed out is that this is not government spending. These services have been paid for by the companies themselves. Yet the oil companies and mining companies have received over $27 billion under the same program.
What the industry is calling for is simple. It is calling for loans and loan guarantees and for tax measures for private woodlot owners. That is what the industry has been seeking for months. And yet when we look at the Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan, it is spelled out in black and white that the lumber industry has received only $70 million in 2009, and will receive only a meagre $100 million in 2010.
That is nowhere near the $10 billion granted to the auto industry in Ontario, which is experiencing a market crisis just as the forestry industry is.
In actual fact, what the Conservative government’s behaviour demonstrates is that it made an ideological choice a long time ago to support the auto and oil industries at the expense of the forestry industry.
The forestry crisis is just as bad, and even worse, than the automotive crisis. It affects 825,000 workers, while in the auto industry 500,000 workers are affected. The government, therefore, has to make some effort to be consistent and show some common sense in order to find solutions.
That is why the Bloc Québécois has chosen to devote an opposition day to the forestry crisis and the solutions that have to be considered. Unfortunately, the government has completely given up and is no longer supporting a sector that is in great need of support.
Last spring, Robert Dionne, President of the Association des propriétaires de machineries forestières du Québec which represents 250 forestry entrepreneurs, said that the situation was so serious that “our members are worried. They are moving heaven and earth to stay alive.” Over 50 entrepreneurs in Quebec shut down in 2008, and the situation is not much better in 2009.
At that same time, the owner of Entreprises Alain Michaud Inc. in Saint-Ludger-de-Milot in the riding of Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean said that “we have to return to the time when there were tax credits for equipment purchases.”
No new measure has been announced since the spring to address the chronic crisis afflicting the forestry industry.
As members of Parliament, it is our duty to come up with solutions to help thousands of families.
Our fellow citizens have asked us to represent them in Ottawa to defend their interests.
In our motion we are proposing some practical ideas to resolve the forestry crisis.
The motion calls on the government to put a real plan in place as quickly as possible to help the forestry industry, through loans, loan guarantees, refundable tax credits for research and development, the establishment of a policy promoting the use of wood in the renovation and construction of federal public buildings and the implementation of measures to support the use of forest waste to produce energy and ethanol.
I am going to speak more specifically about establishing a policy to promote the use of wood in the construction and renovation of federal government buildings. It would be an example for work on private, non-residential buildings.
In June, the Bloc introduced a bill in this regard. A policy of this sort is intended to increase the demand for wood in the domestic markets of Quebec and Canada and could make us less dependent on exports of this resource to the United States.
In my riding, for example, the Department of National Defence will be building a hangar: hangar number 2. I have suggested to the Minister of National Defence that this construction project be an example for the federal government and be built using wood.
We know what happens when the Americans decide to cut back on housing construction. I would count on the MP for Jonquière—Alma to defend such a project. Instead of saying nothing, he would be helping to increase domestic demand, and other projects could follow. These are solutions that could be proposed, which would provide breathing room to the forestry industry.
It is easy to talk about problems, but solutions have to be put forward. One both useful and symbolic solution would be to have the government promote the use of wood in construction projects, such as hangar number 2 in Bagotville, as I just mentioned.
However, the Minister of State for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean is saying nothing. Even my colleague from Jonquière—Alma is saying nothing. This policy would provide breathing room. Does he agree with his colleagues who said that there was some concern about promoting such projects where wood is used in building construction?
I would like to know what they find of such concern in this measure. The lack of comment by two Conservative members from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area leave me perplexed about their positions in this matter.
Why reject a policy to use wood, a policy that costs the federal government nothing? Why?
It must be noted that the federal government owns 13,782 buildings. In 2008 alone, it built and renovated 198 buildings.
Accordingly, the federal government spends a significant amount on the construction and maintenance of its buildings. In 2007-08, the figure was $827 million. That is not peanuts. This is money that could be invested in specific projects that cost the government nothing.
At the moment, a number of governments have realized that using wood in their buildings is not only a practical way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also a way for them to provide direct assistance to the forestry industry.
I will close on this point. I would like the government to understand that implementing Bill C-429 is a solution. It is a practical solution. It costs nothing to use wood in the construction of buildings.
Hon. Lisa Raitt (Minister of Natural Resources, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the motion before the House today. As Minister of Natural Resources, I will speak against this motion for two important reasons. First, the motion itself is disingenuous and misleading. It wrongly implies that this Conservative government has done little to support Canada's and Quebec's forestry industry. Second, and related to the first reason, is that no government in the history of Canada has done more than we have to support the forestry industry.
Before I begin the main body of my remarks, I would like to recap the government-wide efforts made over the last two years to support the Quebec forestry industry alone. First, $16.7 billion in loans and grants has been committed over the last two years in support of the Quebec forestry sector; second, Quebec is also receiving a portion of the $1 billion pulp and paper green transformation program; and finally, over $928 million has already been transferred to Quebec to support and retrain the unemployed. This is in the 2009 fiscal year alone, and a portion of this will be used to support unemployed forestry workers.
These are only some of the programs that have been made available to Quebec forestry companies and to workers, and I have not even touched on the programs made available through Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. When one takes a look at these facts, one realizes that the press release issued by the Bloc last Friday is completely erroneous. It tried to claim that only $70 million has been provided in support, and as we can see, this is completely inaccurate.
As I continue, I want to focus my remarks on some of the particular initiatives undertaken by the Government of Canada in support of our forestry industry. The government has shown bold action and initiative. It has done so in many ways, and I and many others would say that this has built the confidence of the forestry industry and the many communities across Canada that depend upon this important industry.
After the sharpest global recession since the second world war, many forestry communities are still facing difficult times. However, in spite of these current difficulties, our government believes that this sector has a promising future. That is why we are working in close partnership with forestry communities and the forestry sector to realize this potential.
As Prime Minister Harper put the matter earlier this month--
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Lisa Raitt: My apologies.
As the Prime Minister put the matter earlier this month, in just over 100 days, Canada's economic action plan is already protecting Canadians, stimulating our economy and creating jobs from coast to coast to coast. Ninety per cent of the funding for this fiscal year is now committed. Our economic action plan is helping create or maintain an estimated 220,000 jobs by the end of 2010.
Housing construction and renovation is up both here in Canada and in the United States. In August, housing starts increased in the United States to their highest level in nine months, and Canada's housing starts also exceeded expectations, advancing 12% in the same month.
It is also worth noting that the drop in the construction industry in Canada has been proportionately much less severe than in the United States, and indeed, much less than in the rest of the world. We are seeing early signs of stabilization and recovery.
It is clear that in Canada government-backed stimulus programs are making a difference. In our government's budget 2009, these programs included: home renovation tax credits, a substantial increase to our ecoenergy home retrofit program and market expansion programs. Together, the housing-related measures included in the EAP will increase domestic lumber demand by an estimated one billion board feet over the next two years, and by harnessing the potential of new markets in emerging technologies, Canada's industry is reinventing itself and preparing for a competitive comeback that will reinforce and sustain its international reputation as a leader in the world's forestry industry.
While the situation remains difficult, we believe that Canada's forest sector is worth investing in. The industry told us that the country needed leadership and strategic thinking. The forest industry wanted measures that would help it weather the short term but would also pay dividends down the road.
Putting it in another way, our forest well is not only our trees. It is our creative capacity to make difficult, complex decisions and the willingness of the forest industry to innovate and its flexibility to adapt. This is precisely the thinking that is behind our economic action plan.
We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel for another reason. Right from our first term, the Government of Canada has been proactive in its commitment to the future of our forest industry. Right at the start, we understood that we needed to respond quickly and effectively when challenges arose. In short, there was not time to sit around and wait for more studies. We acknowledged the challenges and we set a course of action.
Then later in 2007 in excess of $200 million was provided by the Government of Canada to help in dealing with the mountain pine beetle. When we recognized that greater assistance was needed for Canada's forest industry to become more competitive, $127.5 million was provided for a long term forest industry competitiveness strategy in 2007.
To further increase the energy efficiency and the environmental performance of our pulp and paper facilities, we also introduced a new $1 billion pulp and paper green transformation program. This program will enable new investments in pulp and paper facilities across Canada, but it will help them to become greener and more sustainable.
I am pleased to report today that 24 companies, representing 38 pulp and paper mills across Canada, have qualified for credits under this program and that many others across Canada will also benefit from investments financed through the program. Complete details regarding specific mill and company allocations under this program are available on the Natural Resources Canada website.
The Government of Canada will continue to implement this program as expeditiously as possible and we are now working with recipient firms to ensure that the funding flows to eligible projects in forest communities across Canada as quickly as possible.
We are certain this investment in Canada's pulp and paper sector is value for money and will yield dividends for Canada's forest communities for years to come. That is why we are ensuring that every credit paid out under this program is being invested at mills in Canada in projects that are going to improve environmental performance.
Another important element of our strategy for the forest sector is to develop new and different forest products and new and different markets for those products. Therefore, budget 2009, our economic action plan, committed a further $170 million to assist industry in developing new products and processes and in exploiting new and diverse market opportunities.
We need to sell more to the world not just one country. The $170 million are not spread out over several years. It is an investment over two years because the industry's needs are now and we need to ramp up our efforts on diversification immediately.
We are pleased to report that over 80% of this year's $70 million in spending for this fiscal year has already been committed. Therefore, let me bring the House up to date on the progress being made in the forest sector because of the economic action plan.
First, enhanced funding has gone into the Canada wood program. There are now 129 projects under way which are designed to expand export opportunities for Canadian wood product producers in expanding overseas markets. These projects are valued at $8.4 million, are up and running in countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Middle East and among member countries of the European Union.
Although growing overseas markets for wood is long term work, we are seeing some encouraging results. Since 2005, we have seen exports of lumber to South Korea and China increase by 20% and 108% respectively, creating and maintaining hundreds of jobs in Canada's forest sector.
Funding from the economic action plan has also gone to the North American wood first initiative. The goal is to expand the use of wood outside the traditional residential housing market.
Wood first is helping 44 projects, worth a total $5.94 million, which promote the use of wood in non-residential construction such as school and health care facilities both in Canada and targeted regions of the United States. It is through these projects we are making inroads into realizing the multi-billion dollar opportunity to use more wood in Canada and in the United States outside of the residential sector.
As well, we have recently developed partnerships in China and Korea to construct large-scale wood demonstration buildings that will showcase Canadian products and technology, further helping to develop emerging wood markets for our wood products.
These initiatives are helping the forest sector make inroads into new multi-billion dollar markets where greater demand for high-quality Canadian forest products can translate into more jobs in Canada's forest sector.
A transformative technologies program has also received increased support from the economic action plan. This investment is supporting research and development of emerging technologies that will broaden the range of products produced by Canada's forest sector.
Research areas include new materials using nanotechnology, new energy and chemical solutions from forest biomass and next generation building solutions. For example, because of transformative technologies program support, FPInnovations, which is Canada's national forest research institute, has been working with a national network of university experts on the development of paper-based biosensors. These can detect, report and destroy toxins and pathogens such as SARS and listeria.
Progress is made with bio-products research, such as nano-crystalline cellulose as well. The aerospace and automotive sectors have shown interest in using this cellulose in advancing lightweight, high strength composite materials.
Our transformative technologies program has also been investing in new uses and markets for wood. Until just a few months ago, building codes did not permit construction of wood buildings more than four storeys anywhere in Canada. Thanks to research funded through this program, we have a six-storey wood building being constructed now in Quebec City and a second planned in B.C.
Because of research being done on cross-laminated timber, known in the industry as X-Lam, we may one day soon see buildings constructed from wood of 10 storeys or more. There is a growing interest in the manufacture of X-Lam. This product can be used in floor, roof and wall systems.
The economic action plan has also provided $40 million in a complementary initiative to develop pilot-scale demonstrations of technologies and products developed under the transformative technologies program that we launched in budget 2006.
Natural Resources Canada, in collaboration with the provinces and industry, are working together to identify potential sites to build operational pilot plants. Construction is expected to begin next year and it will contribute to the commercialization of emerging technologies developed through the transformative technologies program.
There are other programs supported by the economic action plan that are having a beneficial effect on Canada's forest industry as well. The $1 billion community adjustment fund is creating jobs and maintaining employment in communities affected by the global economic downturn, which very much includes forest-dependent communities.
For example, Canada Economic Development Quebec and the Quebec government have joined forces to help forest-dependent communities with a $230 million package. Of this package, the federal portion of $100 million for silviculture and $15 million for restoration of multi-resource access roads came from the community adjustment fund.
Our extraordinary financing framework is expanding the availability of credit to businesses, including forest companies.
The Canada skills and transition strategy is helping workers with enhancements to employment insurance and funds for skills and training.
Also, Bill C-50, which is currently before the House, seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act to increase the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid to certain claimants.
The Government of Canada is providing $9 million to establish an invasive species centre in the province of Ontario. This centre will work in partnership with the province on research related to alien invasive species. This will strengthen Canada's ability to manage invading pests, such as the emerald ash borer.
Furthermore, the leadership for environmental advantage in forestry program, or LEAF, a two-year, $10 million initiative in budget 2008, supports collaboration between Natural Resources Canada and the Forest Products Association of Canada in promoting Canada's sustainable forest management practices.
Canada has shown strong leadership in sustainable forest management and in environmental performance. This investment in LEAF will allow us to turn our world-class record into a market advantage.
We are aware that the Unites States government has announced another energy-targeted subsidy program, known as the biomass crop assistance program, that will pay subsidies to producers of wood biomass, such as softwood lumber and wood pellet producers.
The Government of Canada recognizes the challenges that the forest sector is facing and appreciates the potential of the biomass crop assistance program to disadvantage Canadian producers and distort the markets. We have formally raised our concerns about the impacts this initiative would have on the Canadian forest industry with the United States Department of Agriculture. I took the opportunity last week to bring it to the attention of the secretary of energy in the United States as well.
The Government of Canada has discussed this issue with its provincial counterparts and is consulting with industry. We are assessing all our options, while continuing our advocacy activities in the United States.
I could go on, but I suspect I have made the point. The Government of Canada is committed to Canada's forest industry and helping it to succeed, both in the short and long term.
From the beginning, our government has taken swift action to assist the forest industry as challenges have arisen. We have listened to the industry and we have listened to others. We have responded with programs devised to help strengthen and diversify Canada's forest industry, both for today but also for tomorrow. Because of programs like these, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Judging from these bold initiatives our government has devised in support of Canada's forest industry, the motion put forward before the House is evidently unfounded.
Mrs. Alexandra Mendes (Brossard—La Prairie, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to this motion. This motion addresses a long overdue concern and it is certainly required in light of the government's lack of action.
To begin, I wish to get right to the point and confirm that the Liberal Party will be supporting this motion. This issue is too important to be indecisive about and to try to play politics when the viability of a whole national industry is at stake.
We must act immediately to provide the necessary resources to safeguard the thousands of jobs and expertise that the forestry industry provides our country. The government must understand that blaming world markets and sitting pretty, as it has done throughout the forestry crisis, is not the way a governing party should run our country.
Enough of blaming others. Enough of playing politics. The time to act is now. This motion provides a clear directive.
I received a copy of the motion and reviewed it carefully. Two things jumped out at me. The first is that this motion is good for Quebec. Of course, that is not surprising, as it is a Bloc Québécois motion.
As a member from Quebec, I am always looking out for my province's best interests, and this motion and its directives would most certainly help our forestry industry. The second thing that struck me was that this motion is manifestly good for Canada.
I do not think the Bloc members had this intention in mind when they drafted it, but this motion is helpful for all of Canada.
Mainly because the forestry sector is entrenched throughout the country, every corner of Canada is affected by this industry. It is one of the four founding industries of our country. It is hard to think of a Canada without a forestry industry.
As a country, we pride ourselves on natural resources. With the second largest land mass in the world, it is easy to see why. So, it is no surprise that our forestry industry is a cornerstone of our past, present and hopefully future economic greatness.
The Liberal Party understands this. The Liberal Party has tried to look at the long-term success of this industry, but the party opposite has consistently thrown roadblocks at these attempts.
On November 24, 2005, the Liberal government, together with forestry industry stakeholders, announced a concrete plan for the forestry sector known as the forest industry competitiveness strategy, with a budget of $1.5 billion over five years. The strategy included $215 million to develop new technologies to improve competitiveness, $50 million to develop bioenergy and cogeneration capability, $90 million to support forestry innovation and value-added products, $66 million to grow wood markets, $10 million to enhance professional skill levels in the forestry sector, $150 million to support economic diversification in communities that rely on the forestry industry, $800 million in loans to help forestry companies be more competitive, and $100 million in loans to help small businesses in the forestry sector.
When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, they tossed the plan out. Now Canadian forestry workers are paying the price for that decision. Instead of investing in improving technology, skills and competitiveness to strengthen the industry and save jobs, Canada is now losing tens of thousands of jobs. Canada has lost 20,000 forestry sector jobs since the Conservatives came to power.
These job losses and lack of vision on the part of the Conservative government hurt more than just the forestry industry. They hurt the people in the communities who rely on the forestry sector to survive. This is why we are here today. We are here to help the people, families and communities that rely on this industry throughout Canada for their very survival and future growth.
If we look back at the TV coverage of those critical days during the automotive collapse, the cameras often focused on the hard-working men and women walking out of the factories with long faces of despair and worry. It made a great 30 second clip on the 6 o'clock news. Now, do not get me wrong. I am not saying that the automotive industry was not in crisis and that it did not require government intervention. What I am saying is that the same thing is happening in the forestry sector. However, no one has brought to light the worried and concerned faces of the thousands of men and women facing this terrifying and unnecessary loss of a way of life.
These small rural communities do not attract the attention of the big television networks, and all we hear about are big companies that are trying to restructure financially in order to stay afloat. Small family-owned businesses and community forestry operations need our help, and they need it now.
Many people living outside these communities do not even realize that if the forestry industry ceases to exist, entire established communities will perish in turn. One feeds the other. These communities depend on the forestry industry, and if the main source of income dries up, the local restaurant will close as well, followed soon after by the corner store, which will likely be forced to close after the owner has laid off the only employee. The local grocery store, the garage and the gas station, all these small businesses will also watch as their clients leave to look for jobs elsewhere. Families will struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month, communities will struggle to keep their people, and young people will lose hope and leave to find work in major urban centres. Communities that used to be prosperous and independent will turn into ghost towns, deserted by the people who used to live there, where only a few die-hards hold out hope for renewal.
I do realize this is a worst case scenario. It is definitely doom and gloom. However, it could happen and it has happened, and all from a lack of government direction and a will to act. These stories need to be heard. These stories are the consequences of the government's lack of initiative to assist the people it represents when they are in need. The Conservatives do not want to believe that their own demagogic and narrow-minded refusal to intervene has led to this situation. They would rather blame it on all sorts of outside factors which, while real, are hardly the whole story.
The Conservatives are wrong in that they could have prevented it; they could have made a difference. Should they accept this motion as the right thing to do, they could still help these people and communities emerge from these tough economic times better positioned and better off to fight another day.
There are ways to help, there are ways to assist and there are ways to make a difference. I know that we want to make a difference for all Quebecers and all Canadians.
How can we make that difference? For starters, we have to listen to them. I am happy to say that my party has done just that. I have personally visited Quebec and British Columbia and listened to forestry sector representatives talk about what they need. I have spoken with company owners, plant supervisors, employee groups and numerous associations. I have been struck by how they have to struggle in these difficult economic times.
I have listened to their solutions for the present and their dreams for the future. My colleagues have also travelled and listened to similar stories and concerns in the Atlantic provinces and northern Ontario.
What is surprising about all these meetings, visits and consultations is that no one in the forestry sector expects the government to hand them a blank cheque. The industry has never asked for gifts or handouts. What the industry needs is tools. It has asked for these tools so that it can fight, survive, modernize operations and keep companies open and effective. That is how it is going to keep its skilled workers and keep communities viable.
The industry has asked the federal government for tools in the form of tax credits, loans and loan guarantees so that its companies would have access to the much needed capital to keep the lights on, the saws running and their employees paid. It did not ask for a free ride. It asked to have the chance to fight and that is what this motion is all about. More important, this is exactly what my party has offered the industry since 2005.
I will now go back in history somewhat and discuss the softwood lumber agreement. We all know that the government likes to rewrite history. If one stands idle a tad too long these days, history just seems to disappear from government websites.
The Liberal Party has always supported and encouraged a two-pronged approach to resolving the softwood lumber dispute: both adjudication in the courts and negotiations.
On September 19, 2006, the Liberal Party voted against the softwood lumber agreement, and on December 6, 2006, it voted against Bill C-24, the Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act.
The Liberal Party wanted to make sure the Conservative government would adhere to the North American Free Trade Agreement and keep its campaign promise to recover all customs duties illegally collected by the United States.
The Liberals believe that the softwood lumber agreement is deeply flawed, for the following reasons.
It represents a reversal of the position taken by successive federal governments and supported by NAFTA and World Trade Organization trade panels, that our softwood lumber industry is not subsidized.
It jeopardizes Canada’s ability to help industries that are already in trouble by handing over part of our sovereignty over the management of our natural resources to our American competitors. The consequences of that capitulation will be felt in future disputes that will certainly arise, not only in the softwood lumber industry but also in other industries against which the same charges are levelled by their American competitors.
It creates an export tax that is in fact higher, at the current rate, than the illegal American customs duties of the past.
It strips NAFTA of any credibility as the arbitrator of trade disputes and cancels out the principles that govern this trading relationship.
It forfeits $500 million to the American forestry industry, which is using it to fund attacks on the Canadian industry in the courts and the political arena, and forfeits another $500 million to the American government.
It contains anti-fluctuation provisions that will deny the Canadian industry the flexibility it needs to deal with unforeseen circumstances such as the pine beetle infestation.
Despite our strong legal position, backed up by many decisions of international and national trade tribunals in Canada and the United States, the Conservative government rushed the negotiations by setting arbitrary deadlines to get the most political mileage out of the agreement for the Conservative Party of Canada.
The Conservatives’ campaign platform took precedence over the interests of an industry that has a major influence in all regions of Canada. The Conservative government issued an ultimatum to force the hand of Canadian producers: accept this agreement or the government will cut you loose. The loan guarantees put in place before the 2006 election were cancelled and the Conservatives made it plain to the industry that it would not get any federal aid if it decided to assert its rights in the courts instead of accepting the agreement.
What it agreed to do—and this is what the Liberal government had proposed—was to accept a negotiated settlement or continue the fully justified legal actions, which we would have supported by providing loan guarantees, reinvestment support, community and worker adjustment and assistance with legal costs.
The Conservatives claim that their softwood lumber agreement put an end to the dispute, but the United States began consultations questioning the forestry policies of Ontario and Quebec within seven months of signing the agreement.
Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta face the same attacks. The $500 million the Conservatives handed over to the Americans by signing the softwood lumber agreement is what is being used to finance these attacks.
On March 4, 2008, the London Court of International Arbitration handed down its decision concerning the first lawsuits the Americans filed against Canada with respect to the softwood lumber agreement signed in 2006. The court ruled that Canada had violated the terms of the agreement by calculating the quotas incorrectly for the first six months of 2007. The court's ruling forced Canada to remedy those violations within 30 days and imposed a 10% export tax on the provinces in question, to a maximum of $68 million.
That ruling was a direct result of the fact that, in 2006, the Conservative government agreed to the imposition of quotas and taxes on the volume of wood exported to the United States, when the price of softwood lumber was generally under $355 U.S. per thousand board feet.
We have lost all credibility on the international stage. The government sold out our forestry industry for political gains and is now claiming that global markets are the cause and effect of the problem. The irony in all this is that the Conservatives now claim that the government cannot support the requested loan guarantees to forest companies because it is a violation of the softwood lumber agreement.
I am sorry to dispel their illusions but the Conservatives are being dishonest. Government lawyers are arguing as we speak in the London Court of International Arbitration that loan guarantees are not a violation of the softwood lumber agreement. They have in fact posted their legal defence on loan guarantees on the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's website.
One could be mistaken in believing that the story ends here. However, in the spring of this year, a report from the subcommittee on industry dealing with the difficulties that numerous industrial sectors are facing concluded with the dissenting opinion of the subcommittee on the forestry industry. It says:
|| In relation to a recommendation on the forestry industry, the Liberal Party of Canada supports a recommendation as follows: “That the government of Canada establish a credit facility specifically for the forestry industry”.
The Liberal Party continues to work actively with the forestry sector to assist it. We also realize that this is not a new problem, unlike the government which has stuck its head in the sand in the hopes that this problem will go away.
We must do more to support this industry on behalf of the thousands of men and women affected by this crisis. We must act now. We need solutions now.
We must help an industry in crisis, and we must do so immediately, with no more excuses. It is time to get the job done, and to make this Parliament work for the well-being of our struggling industries.
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River, who is very familiar with this issue.
I will start by talking about the Liberal Party’s agenda and the impact of that party’s support for the Conservative Party on softwood lumber. There were 110 votes on the softwood lumber agreement, and the Liberals voted in favour of that agreement 108 times. I would like to clarify something about the softwood lumber agreement: the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois all voted in favour of it. Now the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois are trying to distance themselves from this bad decision they made in the past.
Today we are discussing this motion on the forestry sector and the crisis it is suffering because of this vote three years ago on the softwood lumber agreement. At the time, the NDP very clearly stated that if this bill on the softwood lumber agreement was passed, it would be at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs in Canada and thousands of jobs in Quebec. Essentially, we said that we would be obliged to shut down our softwood lumber industry. The NDP said this very clearly, and we also heard it from witnesses from Quebec, British Columbia and other parts of Canada. In spite of everything, the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of that agreement. That was irresponsible. It was irresponsible at the time and it still is today.
In my own riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, we have lost Canfor, Western Forest Products and International Forest Products — three softwood mills that had to close down because of this agreement on softwood lumber. Today, even though we will support this motion, it is very clear that responsibility for the collapse of our softwood lumber industry continues to lie with the members of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois. They supported an agreement that killed our industry and provoked this crisis.
People will say there are other factors as well, but the collapse of our industry and the forestry crisis began when we started to implement the sellout agreement on softwood. That was when Quebec workers started to lose their jobs. That was when the workers of British Columbia started to lose their jobs. That was when the mills in northern Ontario started to close their doors. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, mills began shutting down. Since the fateful day of October 12, 2006, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost. The crisis was unfortunately provoked by the adoption of that agreement.
As the members of the NDP said many times three years ago and continue to say today, we did not have to adopt that agreement. That agreement was implemented on October 12, 2006. The job losses were immediate because of that vote by the Bloc, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party—the three brothers who voted together to kill our companies.
One day later, on October 13, 2006, the U.S. Court of International Trade—for, naturally, we were obliged to apply to an American court—found completely in our favour. It said that the $5 billion stolen by the Americans would have to be returned to Canada, returned to the Quebec industry, returned to the British Columbia industry, returned to the Ontario and Manitoba industries and to the Saskatchewan and Alberta industries. Those illegal duties imposed at the border would have to be removed. We won hands down. Every member in this House should have known that this decision was coming soon.
Instead of listening to the NDP members, who said very clearly that we should wait for this decision—a decision that proved we were totally right—the hon. members from the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois voted in favour of this sell-out, this softwood lumber agreement, which started costing jobs the moment it was passed.
That is the big problem in all the regions of Quebec, for example in the lower St. Lawrence, in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, in the Mauricie and the Outaouais. We started losing jobs the minute the vote was held. While the Bloc was voting for the motion, jobs were being lost in Quebec. As soon as the Liberal Party members who helped pass this bill—this sell-out—voted in favour of it in committee and the Liberal senators voted the same way in the Senate, jobs were lost in northern Ontario. As soon as the Conservative Party members from British Columbia voted for the bill, jobs were lost in their province. The effect was immediate, instantaneous. There could be no better proof that the NDP’s position was right—that is, to wait for the decision of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal rather than giving everything and putting everything on the table, as we did.
What has happened since? An unprecedented crisis in the forest industry: dozens of mills and plants closed all over the country, tens of thousands of jobs lost. Now we are starting to see the consequences of the decisions that were made in this sell-out, one after the other: there is the $68 million in additional penalties that the working people of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan will have to pay, and that is only the start.
The second consequence is going to cost the working people of Ontario and Quebec $200 to $300 million, and that is before the next step that we know the Americans will take regarding the fee issue in British Columbia. Some people estimate this at about $1 billion.
The members of the Bloc Québécois, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party who voted in favour of this agreement completely forgot to read the anti-circumvention provision. We told them at the time and industry representatives told them too: this provision means that every time the Americans do not like something, they can challenge it and they will win. This agreement was bad and poorly written.
I fail to understand how anyone representing Canada could have voted for such a bill. It was Mr. Emerson, the former Liberal minister who crossed the floor and became a Conservative, who introduced the bill and said all was well and we would not have these effects. Now we know that the effects are very serious and are getting worse by the day. It is not as if the agreement will get better in a few years. It is getting worse and worse.
It does not make sense for the Bloc to table this motion today without mentioning the softwood lumber agreement. We cannot simply ignore the fact that the Quebec members of the Bloc and the Liberal Party support a motion that undermines the Quebec industry, just like the Conservative members from British Columbia, who voted for a bill that undermines the industry in their province.
I know that my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River is going to talk about the amendments we are proposing so that this motion makes sense. We know for sure there is a crisis. What Canadians are realizing more and more, though, is that it was caused by the members of the Bloc Québécois, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, who joined forces to bring our softwood lumber industry to its knees.
What we need to do now, and what the NDP is doing here today, is make improvements and adopt a strategy that will really help the working people who still have a job in this industry.
That is what we are doing today.
Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my Bloc colleague for bringing the motion forward. It is an interesting motion. I will be supporting the motion. I will be suggesting to my colleagues in the NDP that they support the motion and I would suggest to the government that it also supports the motion.
It is an interesting motion, not necessarily for what it says but also for what it does not say. I would like to begin by speaking about what it does say. Part of the motion reads, “--with assistance which is similar to that given to the automotive industry--”. That is an interesting thing to say in the motion, and I would like to spend a few moments with some statistics regarding the forestry industry and the automotive industry in Canada.
Let me say at the outset that it is wonderful that the automotive industry is restructuring. I hope it is on its way up. It will be competitive and remain competitive for many years, and it is wonderful that it has received the support it has.
By contrast, the forestry industry has not received support. Indeed, the Government of Ontario has said quite frankly that forestry is a sunset industry in the province of Ontario. I dare say the government believes the same thing. That is most unfortunate because when we look at the statistics, it is quite surprising to see the contribution that forestry has made to the Canadian economy. For example, the total revenue from forestry is about $84 billion a year. The total revenue from the car industry just before its troubles was about $94 billion a year. The total exports are also in the tens of billions of dollars for both the automotive industry and the forestry industry.
The interesting statistic is the percentage of the GDP contribution. Forestry is about 3% of the total GDP. The auto industry is also about 3% of the total GDP. In terms of direct jobs, there are more than twice as many jobs in the forestry industry, about 300,000, as opposed to the automotive industry, which is about 135,000 before its most recent troubles. Most telling, when we put the direct jobs and the indirect jobs together, we are looking at almost 900,000 direct and indirect jobs in the forestry industry, as opposed to about 440,000 direct and indirect jobs in the automotive industry. We could probably say that both of these industries in terms of dollars are somewhat comparable.
I am pleased to see in the motion put together by the Bloc that it talks about the automotive industry and about assistance that is similar to the automotive industry because they are much the same.
Another point I would like to make is this. When we look at not just the total GDP but the total GDP of manufacturing, the forestry industry is about 12% of the Canadian manufacturing GDP. The auto industry is also about 12% of the total manufacturing GDP. I am glad to see that in the motion.
Unfortunately, there are a number of things missing in the motion and I would like to address them. It is interesting that the government talks about the billion dollar package for the forestry industry. Back in June I made my views quite clear on it, that while any support from the government for the forestry industry was welcomed, it was not exactly what was needed in terms of black liquor subsidies, and that I would continue to work to ensure that we had a forestry package to reposition, over the next couple of years, the forestry industry, and I clearly illustrated that it was very valuable to Canada's economy.
It is interesting that there was a round a recent announcements. For example, $33 million for AbitibiBowater was announced in my riding, in which it has two operating mills. They are not operating at capacity, naturally, but I do not think any mill anywhere in Canada is operating at capacity. The $33 millions is part of the $1 billion forestry package announced by the government in June.
Unfortunately, there is a clarity issue. First, no strings are attached to it. In other words, AbitibiBowater does not have to spend that $33 million on AbitibiBowater in Thunder Bay or, indeed, on AbitibiBowater in Fort Frances. As we know, AbitibiBowater is in creditor protection.
Second, there is also no indication as to when and how this money can be used to keep people working in northern Ontario and in particular in my riding. What I am endeavouring to do is to ensure that the forest industry, in my riding, in northwestern Ontario across Canada, as this repositioning and reconstruction happens, is absolutely in a position a year, or two or three years from now to compete on the world stage. Unfortunately, the government is falling short. It would have been nice to have a little more clarity on that issue in the motion.
We have another round, if I am not mistaken, of corporate tax cuts coming early in the new year. Unfortunately, those tax cuts, although some on the government side might claim that they will help the forestry industry, only help if companies are making money. If companies are not making money, or if they are in creditor protection or bankruptcy, they do not help.
We need to ensure that the forest industry has the ability to move forward. Tax cuts are not the way to help the industry at this point in time. I guess the tax cuts will be good for big oil and gas, banks and those sorts of industries, but they will not do anything for the forestry industry. That is most unfortunate.
The softwood lumber agreement has already been mentioned a couple of times. A minister of revenue claimed that the federal government could not provide loan guarantees. He said that they would contravene the softwood lumber agreement. He also had strong objections because he was worried that various American organizations, lobby groups and others would sue the government or would go to the World Trade Organization, which might impose fines as has recently happened.
Those tens of millions of dollars will be paid by the taxpayers. The latest fines in the softwood lumber agreement, and there are bound to be more, the taxpayers will pick up the tab. Why? Because forest companies do not have any money, and they could not pay the fines anyway.
Given what I have said about the motion and, unfortunately, what is not in the motion, the motion could be improved. Therefore, I wish to move the following amendment: That immediately following the words “urgently to” add “proposed to end the softwood lumber agreement in order to be able to”, and after “private woodlot owners” add “and negotiate an immediate end to the U.S. black liquor subsidy, including introducing compensatory benefits to Canadian producers retroactive to January 1, 2009.