Tracey pushed the government to secure a fair deal on softwood lumber

 Ms. Tracey Ramsey (Essex, NDP) 

Mr. Speaker, I have been up in the House numerous times, pushing for the government to secure a fair deal on softwood lumber, urging it to protect the good-paying forestry jobs that tens of thousands of Canadians rely upon. We have debated this issue in this place several times, and I have repeatedly urged the government to take all necessary steps to prevent a trade war with the United States over softwood lumber exports.    

It is imperative that Canada secure a fair deal with the United States, a deal that respects our regional differences and protects high-quality Canadian forestry jobs.    

However, two years later, the Canadian government continues to fail in its ability to get a deal. Today the U.S. department of commerce has announced its final decision, with massive unfair anti-dumping and counterveiling duties reaching as high as 27%. These tariffs and our government's inability to secure a trade deal have led, and will continue to lead, to devastating job losses and damage to this vital Canadian industry.

    A report released by the Conference Board of Canada at the end of May, 2017 stated that U.S. softwood lumber duties would result in the loss of 2,200 jobs and a $700 million reduction in Canadian exports over the next two years. Softwood lumber is a vibrant part of Canada's forestry sector. For many rural communities, it is the backbone of their economies. According to Canada's labour force survey, in 2015, the forest industry accounted for 300,000 direct and indirect jobs.   

The Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute first began back in 1982. For 35 years, the American industry has argued that Canadian producers benefit from subsidization, a claim that has been defeated time and again in trade tribunals. Over the years, there have been several managed trade agreements, but upon their expiration, Canadian exports have seen more duties applied, and Canada has spent approximately $100 million on legal fees to defend our position.   

The 2006 agreement was renewed in 2012 and expired last October, again, after the Liberal government failed to negotiate a new agreement. It seemed to be spending more time denying its own responsibilities and blaming the previous Conservative government than it did ensuring that workers in the forestry sector had the job security they so desperately needed. Like the huge hit lumber companies took in 2006, due to these tariffs, our industry is again reeling, and it is the forestry workers who will suffer the most.    

After years of being unable to negotiate a fair deal, Canadians are left feeling unsure and, quite frankly, abandoned by their government. There seems to still be no path forward. After the last agreement expired, the government waited two months before introducing a compensation package, which the NDP welcomed. However, I must point out, it contained nothing to improve El benefits for workers who lost their jobs because of this dispute. The $867 million support package was a good short-term measure for industry and forestry companies, however, Canadian forestry workers need long-term solutions.    

Canadians deserve answers from the government, not more empty promises, hallow words, and talk about “a good deal, not just any deal”. We quite frankly cannot be sitting here two years from now with still no deal in place. We need a deal to protect these workers and the communities they represent and for which they provide an economic benefit.    

How long will these middle-class Canadians have to wait for the government to fight for them? 

Mr. Adam Vaughan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing and Urban Affairs), Lib.)    

Mr. Speaker, let me assure the member that our government is seized of this issue. We understand the impact that this is having on the individuals, the communities, and the provinces that will be impacted by the end of this deal, which unfortunately has resulted in some of the actions of our trading partner. We are committed to getting a deal, but that does not mean a quick deal. It means the right deal and we will continue to fight and defend Canada's interests.    

On the issue of responding, the member opposite raised the issue of our responses that relate to EI in her question during question period, and raised it tangentially in her address tonight. I am thankful to address this issue.    

This government is sensitive to the ongoing situation. The EI program is designed to respond to economic changes, such as the ones we are experiencing. Flexibility is built into the program to allow us to respond to deteriorating situations in sectors in particular economies, as they emerge on a region-by-region basis. When a region's unemployment rate rises, the entrance requirement is reduced, and the duration of benefits increases, as it has in many of these communities.    

EI is there for unemployed Canadians when they need help the most. Our government is backing that process, and making sure that Service Canada and a whole-of-government approach is at work, working directly with individuals, communities, mayors, and provincial governments to make sure that we provide the appropriate support, training, and transition supports for the interim as we move toward a full-time job. 

Last year, we also made a number of other changes to improve the EI program so that it is more accessible generally across the country, particularly in areas that are facing distress. For example, we reduced the two-week waiting period to one week. This measure eases the financial pressure on families waiting for benefits to arrive, and workers who are expecting their benefits to be delivered quickly, even though they have been unemployed through no fault of their own.  

We also implemented a new, more flexible, “working while on claim” pilot project. Some of these industries get short-term contracts and people return to work in the interim for short periods of time. We do not interrupt their benefits and their eligibility for benefits. Thus, we have created more flexibility to accommodate their situations, to make sure that affected areas are given the most sympathetic and understanding approach to how benefits are modelled, and model them after the experiences that they are directly involved in and engaged with now.  

On June 1, the government also announced $867 million extra to invest and support forestry industry workers and their communities that had been affected by the U.S. measures that had targeted our softwood lumber industry. This includes close to $90 million to mitigate layoffs, to support workforce adjustment to help affected workers transition to new opportunities in the short term, to sustain their presence in those communities, and to re-engage with the industry in the long term.  

We will be temporarily extending the maximum duration of work-sharing agreements from 38 to 76 weeks. This is again in order to help those communities sustain a critical mass of workers in the industry with flexibility, so that they can continue to receive benefits and share work, if possible, to retain other benefits with skilled workers in that sector.    

The work-sharing program is designed to help employers and employees when there is a temporary reduction in the level of business activity. It supplements the income of EI-eligible workers who agree to work reduced hours temporarily.

We have also taken additional steps, including providing $50 million over two years to affected provinces through amendments to labour market development agreements. This will help displaced workers in the forestry sector with the training and employment supports that they need to transition to new jobs temporarily, sustain the workforce in the communities, sustain communities, and ensure those impacted have the presence of the Canadian government and programs there to sustain the practice and the industry. This will also sustain the quality of life and the social fabric of the communities that have been impacted. 

Service Canada is now implementing this national action plan for softwood lumber to respond to the needs of workers affected by this labour dispute. The government is committed to getting a good deal and a strong deal. What we hope is that the deal delivers the certainty and stability that the previous deals had to softwood lumber. It is a critical part of communities across this country, a critical part of our country, and workers should not feel abandoned because this government—

Ms. Tracey Ramsey 

Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that we are here on the exact same day that these duties have been made permanent by the U.S. At the time that the government introduced this package of programs and money, it was viewed to be a temporary fix.   

There will not be enough money, or these programs will not extend long enough, to sustain the job losses that will be seen in these communities. There needs to be a new package going forward to address the very serious issues that are now going to be faced on a permanent basis.  

I understand that the government will, of course, pursue this legally. It has cost us a great deal of money to do so in the past, will cost us a great deal once again, and will take a great deal of time. In the meantime, Canadian families, forestry workers, and communities are left wondering what the government will now bring forward.

I wonder if the member opposite can now speak to where we go from today and what packages will—

Mr. Adam Vaughan

Mr. Speaker, the issues that the member opposite has raised are perhaps best dealt with by the trade minister or the ministers engaged in negotiations with the United States.

The issue that I was brought to the House on related to a question the member asked earlier in question period regarding EI benefits and our approach to making sure workers are supported. The member has asked if this government is committed to getting a good deal. The answer is yes. Is the government going to continue to negotiate? Absolutely.

With respect to the characterization of the changes as being permanent and lasting forever, I cannot even count the number of times we have encountered this situation, where a deal expires, punishing duties are imposed, trade organizations knock down those measures as being unnecessarily punitive and ill-founded. We move back towards a civil and appropriate conversation with our American trading partners to make sure that workers on both sides of the border are supported, the industry is supported on both sides of the market, and trade is managed in a responsible way. Those remain the goals of this government. Those remain the goals of the individuals of our government seized with that.

 If the member would like to discuss more EI situations as they develop, we would be happy to—