BUDGET 2009: Masse on Auto Issues in Parliament
February 10th, 2009 - 4:00am
Masse speaks on Bill C-10 Budget Implementation Act (Auto Issues and Navistar)
These things are not foreign to North America. Germany is the second largest auto producer and Japan is the third largest. Japan is a major exporter and Germany has major export but they also do a lot more domestic. Germany and Japan have procurement policies that actually work towards their industries.
There is this element out there. Unless the government wants to assume that a free market economy where there are no actual incentives is some type of a carrot to approach the industry, they are alone in the world in that. Even the United States does not do that. Nobody does that. If it wants to change that policy, then great. Let us engage the world about that practice.
Until that time, if we have our current automotive policy that we have today, we will see what is continuing to happen. We have gone from fourth in the world in assembly to eighth. What does that mean? It means that not only just auto workers and their families are losing out on that economic development, it is the mould making industry and it is the tool and die industry.
The tool and die industry has made an appeal to the Minister of Industry because they are owed about $1 billion. The industry needs to get that money to stop bankruptcy from happening.
There is a whole series of other victims in this mess if we do not actually have a viable auto industry. We will simply have one of the most value-added industries disappear. That is going to cost money to the United Way, skills training.
What is also really important, and in thinking outside the automotive box in a sense, is if all that industrial development goes to new technologies, they can actually revolutionize other industries. Especially as we are looking at some of the new technologies in the use of battery and other elements, it is an exciting time despite the challenges because we have some new and interesting products coming on-line that will meet new customer desires. It is also going to provide an opportunity to have a greener, cleaner industry, which is really critical because we put so much in that faith.
It was interesting to see the minister, when it came to this budget bill, make a big to-do about the shoes he was going to buy. If you remember, Mr. Speaker, we saw him on TV and he had bought some work boots. He came to work that day and decided they hurt his feet and they did not fit right. It is ironic, because that is really this budget. It hurts a lot of Canadians, and it does not fit right for what we need to do.
It is not even a question about how much money we are spending and how much we are not. It is also about the way we are actually doing the spending. That is why it is important to recognize that this was an opportunity that has been wasted.
I will point to one of the more interesting cases we have had recently as this has been going on and what could have been in the budget bill but is not. We, as New Democrats, have actually tabled a bill to respond to that today in the House of Commons. A procurement policy could have been part of it. I know that some people will say, “Oh, no, your party wants to put up trade barriers and do something that is going to set off a trade war, and it is going to create all kinds of problems”. That is a bunch of nonsense.
Since the Great Depression, the United States has had a procurement policy in place. I would have liked to have seen one in this bill. What we could do openly and accountably is have a percentage of that going into Canadian manufacturing when you have government procurement policy. That is done all over the world. Our partners do it. I do not regret in chagrin that the United States does some of that. It is a challenge in some respects.
As an example, one of the most important ones that has recently shown how poor we are over here in terms of strategy is the Navistar truck plant. I have spoken extensively about that, and I am going to keep talking about this because it is a great example of a missed opportunity and the lack of leadership that is actually happening.
Navistar, for those who are not aware, is in Chatham, Ontario. It produces trucks. A number of years myself and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh fought with the CAW to get investment from the federal government into that plant. It was saved, and it has paid back its worth. It is a windfall, not only just with regard to the tax revenues to the nation but also to the workers and their families that have been contributing taxes.
What has happened is the government is not dealing with procurement policy, which is totally legal and has many municipalities endorsing it across the country right now, backing this because they understand it. We understand the rules and we can do this. The United States will not get upset with us for doing this. They have a policy in place that has similar elements, and we accept that.
The Navistar truck plant could produce the next load of defence vehicles, trucks that are necessary for our military. Ironically the government tenders it out, and what ends up happening is Navistar International wins the bid. They are putting the truck building component in Texas. Texas is getting $300 million worth of work from the Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, and at the same time the workers in that community are losing their jobs.
I come from the automotive sector and I have spoken many times in this House of Commons about a plan for that sector. One would have thought that the government would come back with proper legislation that would actually address things. It decided to go to Washington. The Minister of Industry went down to Washington and nobody would meet with him. They are going to do something for the automotive sector to assist in filling the gap caused by the economic crisis and liquidity issue.
There is a difference between what is happening here and what is happening in the United States. The United States had two sets of public hearings on the auto sector. Last year they had a series of hearings on the energy act and created a $25 billion low-interest loan program for the auto industry to get new technologies and cleaner vehicles. Then, they had the actual bridging legislation for the loans. Whether one agrees with the loan program or not, at least they went through the process. This is the legislation that the United States passed. They had hearings and a whole series of input. It made a lot of news. At least their Congress and the Senate vetted the legislation. They had the opportunity to vet it, they went through it and actually delivered the legislation to the public. What do we have over here? The promises from the minister and no input at industry committee. We have not had any of that type of vetting process.
When one looks at the plan that America has passed, it is a plan with different rules and things that are changing. I am holding here a call for action, a Canadian auto strategy. This is the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council, CAPC. It is a document that was produced back in 2004, when the auto industry, unions, suppliers and a whole series of other auto industry components warned the then-Liberal government of the potential failure of the auto industry in the future if we did not lay out a plan. It put in a plan where there are results that can be measured. It is simple and straightforward. It has a series of strategies calling for action. What have we done since then? Nothing. We have not done anything on it. That is unacceptable, because this plan could have been tabled with the budget bill and been a more extensive thing. The government had the time to do it when it went away.
What has happened in between is quite astonishing. We have seen the collapse of our auto industry, not only here but in other parts of the world. There have been success stories. I reference the United States and the $25 billion low-interest loan program they passed last year because they are already seeing its results. General Motors is going to build the Volt in Detroit, Michigan. The state of Michigan just recently signed on to assist in the battery procurement policy. The battery for the Volt will be produced in Detroit as well. Despite the challenges of the industry and where it is going right now, they have already laid out the game plan for that.
What do we do over on the Canadian side? In the last budget, money was cut from the auto sector. On top of that, the government imposed a new tax on vehicles. It kept the tax component of the ecoAUTO feebate program. For those who are not aware of that program, it was an unbelievable disaster. We had about $116 million in this program. Most of that money went to vehicles produced overseas. That is the irony of what the Conservatives did in their first budget when they created this program for incentives to buy certain vehicles. It did not work. On top of that, they ended up sending money to Japan, China, Korea and other areas where vehicles are produced. It is not acceptable in terms of a policy.
They also brought a tax on vehicles. They kept the tax on over here, around $50 million a year in revenue that has been going to the government. That is the estimate from the industry. The United States laid out a plan that is very progressive, focused on cleaner new vehicles, production, manufacturing and low-interest loans that are recoverable for the taxpayers. Over here, the government added a new tax. It did revert some of that money back into a new program at $50 million per year for five years at a total of $250 million. Basically, the industry had to go through h-e-double hockey sticks just to be able to get access to it to afford a plant. That happened leading up to election time.
The government really sent the message that Canada is closed for business and partnerships to revolutionize the industry and that if anyone wants to take advantage of one of our programs we are going to make them squirm, beg and crawl. We are going to punish them pubically for wanting to have some type of a procurement element.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her work as well as the question.
I have actually written the minister and attended interventions and I can tell that the Conservatives are clearly uncomfortable about this because they know what they have done is wrong. They know it, but it is time for them to fix it. They can no longer hide and run away from it, they need to fix it.
Canadians can build for their men and women of service. They can do that. They are competent, capable and able to do so. Why the government fails to see the value of its own workforce actually procuring and developing this is not acceptable. It needs to be reversed.
People really need to understand that this is not only an issue for Windsor and Chatham-Kent—Essex, this is about our entire country. We look at the potential for some new ships being built, often described as rowboats or tiny boats because they are small craft, where are they going to be built? Everything counts at this point in time.
The rules are very clear. The United States does a lot of defence procurement and we respect that. We have not as a nation challenged them. We have taken them to court. We have not tried to renegotiate these elements. We have accepted that as a country and they would accept the same for us because that is part of a partnership. What is good for one is good for the other, unless they want to engage in a wider discussion. Maybe that would happen with the United States. If we actually had policy, we could engage in discussion and go down that road. However, simply doing nothing is not acceptable.
How we can tender a $300 million contract to a source company outside this country at the same time as trained people are being handed pink slips to go home? They are trained and doing it right now. They are producing trucks. In fact, when Navistar tried to move some production down to Mexico, which has been doing some of this, for a period of time it had to send vehicles back to Chatham to be fixed because Mexico was not doing the right job.
People have the qualifications and experience and want to produce the trucks for our men and women in military service. They want to be part of the procurement, not just because it is a job but a mission for our country. It is about people being able to do procurement for their own military and having pride in a nation. Why the government does not understand that is beyond me. Why can it not just say, “We made a mistake and we are going to fix it. You are the ones who are going to be doing the procurement”.
In terms of actually retooling the facility, $800,000 is nothing. Interestingly enough, we would then have the security capacity to increase the volume if necessary, to fix vehicles with additional parts and service the vehicles. All of those things would be done here and the United States would simply understand that because they have their own system and we respect that here.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to Bill C-10, the budget implementation bill, a very important document. It is certainly something Canadians have been looking for in terms of leadership from the government to deal with today's economic climate and the problems we face.
It is important to point out as I start this discussion that the New Democrats are not supporting the bill. There is a number of different reasons, but we are doing our job by making sure that we are showing leadership in terms of what we should have in this country. This country should have a more balanced approach with regard to a budget that is to deal with the economic crisis that we face as well as some of the systemic issues that the country faces with previous legislation and lack of action.
It is interesting with regard to democracy. Similar to last year, when the Liberals consented to the Conservative budget changes, the Immigration Act was changed. We have to remember that during the budget bill last year, the immigration minister received basically a blank cheque in her ability to change the immigration system without going through the normal, democratic process through the House of Commons.
The minister presents a bill which goes through a reading in the House of Commons. It is vetted at committee and comes back to the House of Commons, and if passed, goes to the Senate, and if there are changes, it comes back here. Now we have avoided that consultation process under our immigration policy, which is truly unfortunate, because there is economic opportunity. It is a social justice issue to make sure Canada is doing the right thing with its immigration policy. There is also an opportunity to engage the public and the private and not-for-profit sector about how our immigration policies work for this country or how they do not work.
By agreeing to that, the Liberals gave the government a blank cheque to change it. We have seen the effects, and it has not been an improvement in our immigration system. We have seen greater lineups, greater delays and it has reduced our capacity to respond in this global climate.
There is a couple of issues. Interestingly enough in the budget bill again, Bill C-10, the government is changing the Investment Canada Act. It is also changing other legislation with regard to pay equity, for example, which is unfairly hurting women. Women will no longer be able to go through the court system to challenge pay equity. They will have to go through another process that will not be as fair. It certainly takes away from the judicial system, which is really the appropriate process.
It is important to note that it sends a message across the country that women's issues are secondary. It can be done on a one-off, with no problem at all, by the government. It really sets the mandate for how it feels and how it goes forward in dealing with serious matters.
Avoiding the legislative review process that we have is truly unfortunate, because members of the House of Commons collectively are supposed to review bills. We are supposed to have input. We are supposed to garner the witnesses. We are supposed to go through a process to improve a bill.
Often we find common ground. Sometimes we get amendments put forth and avoid some unintended consequences. Since 2002, I do not know how many times I have been on a committee going through a bill where our party or the government itself has found errors in its own legislation, whether it was the Liberals in the past or the Conservative currently. We go through the legislation to fix those errors. Instead we have legislation being rammed down our throats and it is certainly not acceptable.
It is ironic in terms of the budget implementation bill. After the G20 summit, the Prime Minister talked with other world leaders and said he would come back with a package for Canada. Instead he set off a political crisis by basically cutting the provinces and a number of different services and put in some element that still cannot be explained today. For example, billions of dollars for sales of public buildings when the Conservatives cannot even name the buildings or what they will do with them. That really set up a firestorm in terms of the politics. Hence the government took its own time out.
The Prime Minister went to the Governor General and told her the Conservatives needed a time out. Everybody was upset with them. They basically misled the world by saying we would do something and did not. Apparently they thought nobody in Canada was paying attention to the international news, did not have the Internet or something. Canadians quickly realized the Prime Minister said one thing and came home and did another.
However, the Conservatives asked for the Governor General for time out. In that timeframe one would think they would have come back with a plan.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I think one of the first things the government needs to identify is an national auto strategy, something that we have been advocating for a long time.
Interestingly enough, it was this party a number of years ago that worked with Greenpeace and the CAW to come up with a green auto strategy, one of the first of its kind in the world. It is important to note that even back a number of years ago we could see the writing on the wall of where the industry needed to go and the challenges that were there.
We believe in that strategy still to this day. It is one that would be very important. Also in terms of the call to action, the CAPC report, , it is still viable in many respects, so we would like to see this implemented as a national auto strategy.
It is interesting because I remember David Emerson when he was a member of Parliament and a minister, and was actually sitting with the Liberals at that time, who said, “If the Conservatives ever come to power they would destroy the auto industry”. How ironic is that? He then flip-flopped across the floor and became a Conservative and has certainly fulfilled that prophecy.
Right now we see in the United States a whole series of initiatives to support. The Americans are not attacking their system right now. They are actually trying to work with it.
We have to change our attitude here on a national auto policy and look at the CAPC implementation levers that are there. Once again, that was done with a lot collaboration.
A second front which is really important is we have to support the parts, the tool and die mould making sectors. The are out a lot of funds right now. They need to be supported with some low interest loans that will be paid back.
For those who are critical I understand the complications of supporting this type of initiative but I want to remind the general public that when Chrysler was in hardship back in 1985 there was a small loan package at that time. Not only did Chrysler pay it back, it paid it back with interest and profits for the country. Since that time we have had the most successful manufacturing facility, the mini-van plant in Windsor which is arguably the best one in the world since World War II.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to recognize that in Canada, as the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has often spoken about in the House, and that is the shrinking middle class. We witness Canadians having to work longer for less and we are seeing an erosion of our quality of life.
That is what I am concerned about especially when we look at the stimulus package and the elements of the budget. Where I really think it fails is it provides no legacy push for where we need to go to regain our middle class.
That is why I use the Navistar example all the time because all those United Way donations will be terminated as people are fired and no longer work and we miss out on the civil society measures. Interestingly enough I commissioned a research paper to see what other countries were doing with regard to their laid-off workers. Germany is actually spending a lot of its money on social infrastructure. It is doing renovations to schools, hospitals and even day care and also adding capacity.
We have had a number of economists who claim that investment in social infrastructure will create more jobs. For example a child care job will create three jobs versus other types of tax cuts which would only create one job.
When we look at what is happening in Canada we have drifted away from our middle class principles in understanding that we want to balance civil society which includes social justice and social infrastructure and that is the best way for us to be productive.
I think when we look at the challenges ahead the budget fails on that measure.
They are good paying jobs, jobs that this country invested in. The trucks we make are the best and we are going to lose out on that opportunity because of ideology from the Conservative government. It is going to award $300 million when it could go to our own community. The excuse was that there was $800,000 worth of retooling necessary for that facility. That $800,000 would have been Canadian people doing that retooling with value added components, a lot of which would be manufactured in Canada, steel and a whole series of other economic benefits that would have been done by our own people who would have been paying taxes.
That investment would have been understood by the United States. Americans would understand that Canadians want to build Canadian trucks for our Canadian workers and men and women who are serving. They would understand that. We understand when they do defence procurement for the same reason.
The Conservatives allow this to continue and do not cancel the contract. It is unacceptable. Sending work down to Texas is not a solution for this country. It sends a message to all the other defence procurement out there. The government is saying no, that Canadians cannot be the ones who build for our men and women who serve. That is the message it sends to people in Chatham, that they are fired and are not going to be the ones who produce the vehicles for our men and women serving, that Texans can do it, but it is not going to be the people here. That should have been in the bill and we could have done it.
It is also important when connecting the dots on this that this country needs to have a manufacturing capacity for its sovereignty so that it includes components for shipbuilding, trucks, airplanes and other elements that are important for national infrastructure at a time when a country needs to make sovereign decisions about what it does. The United States does that. I do not begrudge them for that. If they want to build their military trucks in Texas and not in Chatham, I would understand that because it is part of a plan that they have for their country.
What do we have here? No plan. We have other types of contracting that is being looked at right now. There is the plane contract that is being examined. I know the Department of National Defence is eyeballing a single source contract that would exclude basically all Canadian aerospace manufacturers because it would be assembled and created in Italy. How is that possible? How can we have single source contracting for companies outside this country?
What does that tell those companies that actually cluster and try to build around our manufacturing bases here in Canada? It tells them that if they invest and do that type of commitment to the Canadian people, do the training that is so vitally necessary for the post-production type of procurement and development, that they may not get any benefit from it, that we will simply build in Italy. Why not? That is the wrong message and it is important that the government reverses the Navistar decision because it sends a message that we are serious. That is what I expected to be in the budget bill.
I know I spent a lot of time talking about Navistar and auto, but I do want to touch on one thing in the bill that is symbolic and important to me with my background as a former developer for persons with disabilities for employment and home services and so on. Ironically in the bill there is a new program for home retrofit. For example, if people want to do some work on their house they get a 15% tax back advantage for the first $10,000 spent on their home. It includes some really interesting things like sod, a deck, but what is excluded is if people rent which is 25% of people. I think about seniors in my riding who have rented houses or apartments for a long time, that they are not eligible to upgrade their bathrooms or other areas to be accessible. But meanwhile, if we want to put sod on their lawn or expand decks in Muskoka, we are going to get a tax break. Ironically those people are the ones who have to subsidize that program with their taxes in the first place. It is wrong and that is why the budget needs to be defeated.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague this. The Conservative-Liberal budget has a provision that allows homeowners to basically get a subsidy to replace their sod or put a deck on their cottage. At the same time renters, and there approximately four million renters in Canada and many of them are seniors as in Windsor West where they have been in the same house or apartment for a long period of time and plan to stay there, might want to renovate their bathroom to make it more handicap accessible and they will be denied under this Liberal-Conservative plan.
I wonder if the hon. member thinks it is fair that one can put down sod or a deck on one's cottage and get a subsidy, but one cannot upgrade and make one's apartment more accessible for persons with disabilities.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I do not know why my colleague is supporting the budget. He spent 10 minutes basically running it down.
One thing he did talk about, which is important because it does not get a lot of attention, is the Navigable Waters Protection Act change. In the last session of Parliament Liberals in the transport committee, which I am a member of, actually reduced the opportunity to study this bill. A motion was brought forward that was supported by the Liberals and Conservatives.
What ended up happening was that witnesses from environmental groups were limited, even in committee, down to one hour that were raising concerns about changing the act. I am glad that he has caught on to this but I would ask him why his party in committee was opposed to having more witnesses and would support such a dramatic change because this is going to have significant consequences and there has been no input at all.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, it is interesting that my colleague runs down the budget in such context and then supports it later. I would like to focus on that in terms of the Liberal strategy of putting the government on probation with the amendment which does not have teeth to it. I am wondering what the tipping point is.
The Conservatives have already said “no” to many of the things that the member complained about. They were very explicit with regard to employment insurance. They already said “no” to doing what the member is correct in asserting, especially in regions of Ontario and the GTA , are hurting with regard to employment insurance. Eliminating the two-week waiting period as well as making it more uniform with regard to qualifications. The Conservatives have already said “no” to those things. They have explicitly said we are not getting those changes. What is going to be the motivation over the next months to have the Conservatives change that position when they have already said “no”?
Could the member tell us how they could make some of these things happen when the Conservatives have been quite clear in saying “no” and the Liberals are giving them the ability to do so
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, with regard to the companies just mentioned, some of them in the automotive sector, I would like to know why the member would support a budget that does not have an auto strategy, including implementation of the Canadian Auto Parts Partnership Council which has called for a strategy since 2004. The budget does not have that. As well, it does not address the fact that the United States has put $25 billion aside in low interest loans and additional money for the parts industry.
This budget has not matched any of that.