MASSE IN THE HOUSE: International Trade, Navistar, Shipbuilding, and Economy
March 6th, 2009 - 8:12pm
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on this issue again and it is a pleasure to follow my colleague who has worked so many years in these halls on the issue of shipbuilding, officially through the transcripts of Hansard and also in the background yelling “What about shipbuilding?”
That is a common phrase, and one of the things that I have seen over the years, and I have been here since 2002, coming from an industrial area of automotive, is really a lack of policy for sectoral strategies. One of the things that separates ourselves from other parties in this House is the belief that the government does not have to always be involved in the actual industry but should set out some conditions and some structures that make it prosper and compete, similar to other countries. That is not done in this country.
The philosophy of the Liberals and Conservatives over the last number of years has been just to lower corporate tax cuts and then industries will thrive. Whereas in other countries where there have been successful models, including Norway which is one of the concerns we have with regard to the issue with regard to the trade agreement that we are talking about today, is that they have been able to develop a very competitive shipbuilding industry through a sectoral strategy. That is one of the reasons they will have a successful penetration into the Canadian market after years of government assistance and structures.
It is important to note, as we look at the current economic issues that our country is facing, that we are continuing, and I think Canadians will be shocked to hear this, that the Liberals and Conservatives would be passing this budget, to beat out a path of corporate tax cuts.
Right now, with the deficit and the debt and all the borrowing that we are going to do, we are actually going to be borrowing more money to give it to the corporations and actually have to pay more interest on that. We do not even have the money for those tax cuts right now, but we are going to continue to do that. That does not make any sense when we look at the what the government has been doing. Basically they have been on the side of the banking sector, quite explicitly, with their support with it. They are bringing in profits right now, and they are not even doing the things they have been asked to do by the government and other Canadians, extending credit.
I would just point to the automobile sector, for example, where right now we have people who want to get into borrowing to buy a new vehicle or lease a vehicle, and they cannot do that. The rates of the banks are just absolutely unacceptable. They are anywhere between 7% to 11%, when we have interest rates so low right now. What that does is it prevents somebody from getting into a new vehicle and keeping a Canadian at work, or it gouges them as a consumer which is totally unacceptable. They are the only ones actually making money on automobiles right now. That is not acceptable.
What we are hoping to see here is a sectoral strategy evolve that involves our industrial bases. That includes the issue of shipbuilding. As my colleague has noted, it is not only just important for a manufacturing base, it is also important for this country from a national security perspective. That is why the United States has policies set in place. We have not challenged those policies because in some respects we have actually accepted the fact that they are going to have some procurement for their own interest in terms of a defence policy. That is something we have agreed to in terms of understanding.
I will point to the good example, a classic, with regard to the Navistar truck plant, where right now the government has provided a $300 million contract to Navistar which has a plant in Texas and it has a plant in Chatham, Ontario. What is happening is that we are actually allowing Navistar to produce these military trucks in Texas when retooling was only $800,000 in Chatham. So we are going to fire all those workers and send them home, and it is actually going to cost us around $17 million to $19 million in employment insurance instead of retooling that truck plant.
I am sure they would understand in the United States that we Canadians, ourselves, want to build our military trucks for our men and women serving us here in our country and also abroad. They would understand that, just like we understand that they would likely do the same for those in Texas, where they would not actually send the procurement here. It does not make any sense when we look at the economic conditions that are facing us right now.
There has been a lot of debate in this chamber and also in the United States about some of these policies. There was a lot of discussion about the United States having a buy America clause as part of their overall stimulus package, but the reality is whether or not that is in that act unless it is actually disclaimed, it actually counts no matter what because it is part of their policies going back to the amendments made on separate legislation.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, being able to respond to both domestic and external threats and having the structures in place to be able to handle that capacity are really important parts of a country's strategy. It is interesting that even at the best of times, as we have to buy other procurement outside of this country, we also become more vulnerable to timelines.
We are not only just vulnerable to the timelines and the manufacturer that we are buying from. Another country could jump the line on us, getting the procurement that we had sought after because their capacity has not been expanded and they are based on a business model over a series of years. They could jump the queue on Canada and get some of the vehicles, ships or whatever else we might be purchasing as a preference.
We have a strategic disadvantage there. It is important to recognize that this is also very much the psychological aspect of a nation being able to control its own destiny and for people to be part of that. I will talk about the Navistar experience again. The people in the Chatham, Essex County and Kent County area want to be part of the people who assemble the vehicles that protect our nation and serve the people here and abroad. They want to be the men and women who do that. They obviously want jobs, as we all do, but they also want to be part of the process to defend our nation.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I do not know if our negotiators have a poor self esteem when they go into these negotiations, but it seems to be a common thing. I think it really goes to the philosophical element that we have had in the last 10 to 20 years in this country: If we just lower corporate taxes, everything is okay and everything is fine.
How well has it worked right now, when we have lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in five years? Right now, we are actually borrowing money to pay corporations a tax cut. That is what we are doing right now. We are going to borrow that money, incur the debt and give the banks and oil companies that are making profits right now more of the money that our children will have to pay back.
It does not make any sense. All the taxpayers out there should be really upset about this fraudulent practice. Money should be reinvested back into purchasing assets that are going to recoup some value for the taxpayers. Those could be ships that are going to serve our men and women and protect our navy and coastlines.
We can protest and say what we want, but the reality is it stays in the actual package because it goes down to the state funding level where they have no jurisdictional accountability for the trade agreements or it goes to the municipal level and the same thing, so they can make those choices. We never in the past have contested that and a broader discussion needs to be had.
The Liberal Party has been attacking us saying that we are going to create some type of a trade war, but for heaven's sake, what would happen if we actually had a buy Canadian policy put in place? We could then go to the United States and start talking about a buy North American policy. It would lead to great engagement about those issues. But we do not have anything here. We just send it and let it go. What has happened is we have a trade deficit this year. That is one of the reasons. It is because we have lost our manufacturing base and we do not do anything to support it in terms of public policy.
That is what is really nice about shipbuilding. I had the opportunity to go to Halifax and tour the Irving yards where I talked to the men and women working there. I know the Conservatives talk about if they cannot find work there, they encourage labour mobility. Labour mobility means that men and women, instead of working on policies that actually protect those communities and grow those opportunities, they can go somewhere else for a couple of months and leave their family behind and that is okay. Well sometimes we have to do that in life and we all understand those things, but that should not be the public policy.
To have strong communities, we need people who are taking their kids to soccer games and to hockey games. They are the parents who can go every single night and see their kids and can help grow their community, to volunteer, to have an attachment to their neighbourhood. It lowers crime. It improves the social values of the community. We should not be saying public policy-wise that “well, you know what, if you don't like it, then we're going to help you get on a plane to stay in a camp somewhere else, bunk up with a bunch of people and that's the best thing we can do for you and then come back later on, and by the way, you have to find another job two months later somewhere else in this country or some other country”.
That is not right and that is what is happening in regard to some of the workers in Halifax where the skilled trades are short of work. There has been an insinuation that we do not have the capacity to do some of these things, but we can build that capacity. It is quite easy to do so.
I always thought the closing of the Collingwood shipbuilding facility was a step back. In the Great Lakes where I come from, it used to be a thriving shipbuilding industry and that is gone these days. The ones that are left are small and not as significant as they used to be. I would like to see us go forward. We need a big turnover in Great Lakes shipping cargo fleets soon. So why not be part of that building process? Why not have some of those work skills happening here?
I know that my colleague noted the military procurements that have disappeared and vanished. Those are great opportunities to build the private and public sector elements necessary for the infrastructure investment to make it worthwhile. There is a pent-up need for that right now.
I hope that the proposed amendment passes. It would carve out the shipbuilding element. It would be sent back to committee to be worked on and hopefully we could go forward with something that is good for Canadians. It is not just the New Democrats saying this. I want to read into the record a couple of quotes. The first is from George MacPherson, President of the Shipyard General Workers' Federation who says:
The position of the association from day one is that shipbuilding should be carved out of EFTA. We have been told categorically time and again by the government we do not carve industries out. We raised the question of the Jones Act in the U.S. was carved out from NAFTA. We are not allowed to build or repair for the Americans. The Americans have free access to our market, so industries do get carved out. I'm sure there are numerous other examples.
It is important to recognize that what we are asking for is very much a common practice, but it is also something that could give us a negotiable stance when dealing with other trading countries. New Democrats do believe in trade. We just want fair trade. Part of fair trade is making sure we are open and going to discuss these issues even if they are very difficult, but we will also strategically do that as we look at the industries. Most countries do that. I think we should too.