IN THE HOUSE – ‘New NAFTA’ fails forestry, aluminum industries

(Image: Govt of B.C.)

Excerpts from a speech by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod in the House of Commons on Feb. 6, 2020 during debate on Bill C-4, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement Implementation Act.

MADAM SPEAKER, I am pleased to join the debate today on Bill C-4, on which
we will be voting. Typically, when I stand in Parliament to vote, I am always very comfortable with my vote. Whether it is yes or no, I am proud to stand in my place and vote.

Today we will be voting on this agreement, and it will be with a heavy heart and reluctance that I will stand to support it, knowing not only that there are a lot of problems with it, but if I do not support it, things will take a dramatic and drastic turn. We need to have a free trade agreement with our most important trading partner. It will not be an easy vote when I know it could have and should have been so much better.

I will talk about process, priorities and gaps.

On the process, Canada was left on the sidelines for some of the most important parts of the negotiations. Mexico and the U.S. put a lot of the final details to the agreement and told Canada that it could like it or lump it. What kind of negotiators do we have when they leave us on the sidelines for some of the most critical components of a deal?

The other piece I have trouble with is the lack of engagement. If we look at what happened in the U.S., the Republicans and Democrats worked very closely, made changes and came up with an agreement with which everyone was comfortable. That collaborative process, working together on important priorities, helped make a better agreement in the long run.

In our case, was there engagement with the other parties in the House? Yes, there was a committee, but that committee did not talk to the elected representatives, the elected representatives being the official opposition, the Bloc and the NDP. The negotiators did not benefit from the wisdom of the other parties in the House, which has left us with a lump-it-or-like-it agreement.

Last week, the minister suggested that the opposition parties not hold up the agreement. The Conservatives had suggested the House resume early. The election was in October and the Liberals did not recall the House until early December. We said that we needed to come back to talk about and engage on this agreement. Then we suggested the House resume in early January to debate the agreement, that it was one of the most important trade agreements we would sign and that we needed to give it due diligence and talk about it.

Did the government bring us back early? No. Then the Liberals said that they did not want the opposition parties to delay it, yet we had not even seen the legislation. It is a failed and flawed process. They should be very ashamed with how they went about it.

The Liberals took a number of priorities into the negotiations, but what did they omit? They omitted probably the biggest trade irritant between Canada and the U.S. in the last number of decades, softwood lumber. Was softwood lumber made one of their priorities for negotiation? No. The government headed into negotiations on an updated agreement, and the most important trade irritant we had for decades was not a priority.

In 2017, the government said it would get a new softwood agreement. The Prime Minister and President Obama said that they would get it done. Here we are in 2020, and the agreement is not done.

What has been happening with the softwood lumber industry? In my province alone, over 24 mills have closed and 10,000-plus employees have been impacted. The government’s lack of doing its job in getting a softwood lumber agreement is hurting Canadians across the country.

I would like to suggest that British Columbia might be the canary in the coal mine on this particular issue, because mills in New Brunswick are suggesting that they are having problems. Quebec has been concerned about it. When 20% is put on as an arbitrary number at the border and we do not have an agreement, our industry is hurting.

Was it a priority for negotiations? No, forestry was neglected. Was it in the Speech from the Throne? It was neglected. Was it in the minister’s mandate letter? It was neglected.

I would suggest that the government has failed to do its job. The Prime Minister said one of the most important things he needed to do was protect jobs in this country, but he has been absolutely indifferent to the crisis in forestry across this country. It took the last Conservative government to get the deal done, and it obviously looks as though we need to get back in, because it will take a Conservative government to get it done in the future.

Let me speak to failures. The one failure that stands out in my mind is aluminum. Aluminum has not been afforded the same provisions as steel. Why not?

Let us look at what is happening in the industry. In Canada, aluminum production in 2019 was 2.9 metric tons, and that has diminished from the year prior. It has been going down a bit. What is happening in China with aluminum? In China, aluminum production was 33.8 metric tons and is going up. What has been happening as well is that around the world, the need for aluminum has been going up, but the Liberal government did not feel it was important. Aluminum did not really matter.

One other priority was the environment. What the government failed to recognize is that Canada has the lowest carbon footprint for aluminum production in the world, since we use hydroelectricity, but there is more than that. The Prime Minister was at an announcement in Quebec with Rio Tinto and Elysis. They are looking at a no-carbon-emission process for the production of aluminum. Let us imagine that: We are going to have no-carbon-emission aluminum. I understand that oxygen might even be produced as part of the process.

The government is providing some protection for steel for the car industry, but it is not saying that our aluminum industry matters. Producing environmentally sound aluminum, predominantly in Quebec but also in British Columbia, does matter. The government neglected that, left it out of the agreement, and did not offer the same protections. That is certainly a failure.

There is another area of concern. I have never seen a government give up sovereignty in agreements that it signs with other countries, but now we are going to need permission from the U.S. to enter into an agreement with China. There are also restrictions with respect to our exports to other countries. We are giving away our sovereignty.

These are significant concerns. For the reasons I have identified, we are very reluctant to support this particular agreement as it moves forward.

That said, the United States and Mexico are our largest trading partners. We need to have an agreement. It will take another Conservative government to fix the softwood lumber agreement, to work with the aluminum industry and to make sure that both industries get the same recognition as our steel industry. We are going to have a job to do in trying to fix the agreement, but we cannot go without it in the meantime.


About Mel Rothenburger (8901 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on IN THE HOUSE – ‘New NAFTA’ fails forestry, aluminum industries

  1. Jennie Stadnichuk // February 8, 2020 at 11:11 PM // Reply

    Although I am not a Conservative voter, I must agree with Cathy McLeod on NAFTA (Softwood Lumber and Aluminium). What were Canada’s negotiators thinking. If these two vital Canadian industries are to be negotiated separately shouldn’t the Federal Liberals be setting up the process now? i.e. at the very least revealing to the public that a negotiating team is being created for immediate and urgent negotiation with the USA and their Dictator President!

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