MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Shipbuilding, Navistar, and International Trade
February 2nd, 2009 - 4:00am
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, my colleague is well renowned for his work on the shipbuilding sector.
One of the interesting comments in his speech referred to defence procurement policy, especially as it relates to the current agreement that we have with the United States. It is different than the discussion that we are having about buy American right now.
To be clear, the United States is pursuing a potential buy American clause in its proposed fiscal update and stimulus package. An existing bill in U.S. legislation protects defence procurement contracts which requires them to go to U.S. industries. This is a normal part of the NAFTA relationship that we have. This buy American clause is seen by the U.S. as a way to revitalize its economy and provide national strategic supports for its military. This is important because when the manufacturing base is hollowed out, there is no way to defend the country.
In contrast, in Canada, the Conservative government, supported by the Liberals, recently awarded a $225 million project for trucks to be built in Texas. The sad thing is that there is a plant in Chatham, Ontario that we saved a few years ago that can actually build those same trucks with minor modifications. That plant is being closed and moved to Mexico and hundreds of workers are being fired, and yet a $225 million contract is being awarded to Texans. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
This is within the current structure of our negotiations with the United States. It is simply understood that we would do that. We do not contest similar procedures being done in the United States. I would like to ask my friend to comment on that.
The budget promises some coastal vessels, which my friend has referred to as canoes. We want to make sure that they will be built here in Canada.
How can we believe that what is going to take place will actually stimulate our economy when we know under those truck provisions that Navistar Truck is closing down despite the fact that it can produce the same vehicle that is going to be produced in Texas? I wonder if my colleague could respond to that.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, with regards to shipbuilding, it is not only just in terms of commercial importance and the skills, value-added work, especially because it also involves a lot of Canadian aggregate that is involved with the construction as well, it is also issues related to skilled trades, professions that are very important not only just in terms of the value of income they bring in but also a skills set that is necessary, and one of the things that is important about the carve-out policy we are advocating for is the issues around national defence. Many countries are very clear about making sure they have a significant portion of their manufacturing base protected so that in times of conflict or war or other types of challenges they have the capacity to produce the necessary means to protect their citizens. We saw that historically through the great wars for this country as factories were converted into operation mechanisms to help basically win over tyranny.
As well, I think it is important to recognize that even today we still have important measures that we have to contribute in the global world. Part of this is keeping the capacities available to ensure that we can actually contribute and be there.
This government has been very much one that is turned inward. It is one that has basically decided not to actually even lobby for a seat on the National Security Council of the United Nations. It has also been very much sort of inward looking and given that impression quite significantly in many degrees; the most recent being that the U.S. “buy American” policy basically come up without any type of measure in terms of even understanding it was approaching.
I would like to ask my colleague about the defence issue related to that as we basically sell out all of our industries and do not have that capacity to respond.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question. I understand that the position of his party is that it will allow the bill to go to first reading. It is unfortunate. We would like to send a stronger message to carve out the shipbuilding elements right now. It is disturbing, but at the same time I give the members of that party credit for speaking and being heard in the House of Commons today.
It is interesting that the official opposition has disappeared. I do not know if the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore has told his members to stand down on this. It reminds me of the butler, Lurch in the Adams Family, who basically hung around and did nothing all the time. Perhaps this is the strategy of the Liberal Party in terms of opposition, keeping the government accountable.
I would like to ask my colleague, is it more important to start to lay out some of the terms and conditions in the carve out, at least very much the principles of a position to oppose, or at least get a concession with regard to this deal? It had some elements that were very positive, but others that would undermine our national defence and also procurement policies for workers in Canada.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise to debate this issue. It is very important, especially given the fact that as we look another trade agreement we have our current agreements that are not being complied with. We have seen this government capitulate with regards to softwood lumber. There, we were able to pull a defeat from the jaws of victory. We had won the court cases and had the victory through the process of the dispute resolution, but we decided instead to settle for defeat.
The consequence of that, as we have heard from the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, is that they have basically become a net exporter of raw resources and have diminished capacity for the secondary post-production, which is the real value of some of the skill set training and knowledge of Canadian workers. That is important to recognize, because we further undermine our ability to protect this country and also prosper via becoming a net exporter of resources.
This Parliament is moving forward rather quickly with regards to a trade agreement with European trade partners. We have been neglecting the United States file, as they have put a buy American caveat in their legislation for their stimulus package. That has led to quite a bit of confusion right now and the government in question so far has stated only that it would monitor the situation and talk to people. Yet, they have not set up a plan B. Unfortunately, a plan B is very important. Even if they did not want to move on that particular issue right away, there should be work and at least the admittance to do that because we are not taking advantage of the opportunities we could. There are classic examples.
This trade agreement is tied with the stimulus package in the sense that it is an opportunity to be able to do new and exciting things. Even if one took the minister's words to heart regarding our over-capacity, we heard counter-evidence to that. The member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River has invited the minister to come up to his riding to see where they used to build ships. Even if we were at the point where they had 10 years work as the government chief whip said, there is nothing stopping us from increasing capacity here and developing it further.
That is important to note, because it is all well within our rights, especially when one looks at the current trade agreements and the fact that we are partners with the United States. A lot of their defence procurement is done in a way that protects their workers and also their national interests by making sure their defence capabilities and manufacturing base is there. Some of the technological advancements through a lot of this procurement is very beneficial to other parts of the economy, not just the workers who are doing the work on the line or in the research and development phases, but also as it spins off into other technology and other uses of new goods and services and hard materials that make up everything from computers and electronics to new types of construction elements that can be applied quite often in a civil society.
When one looks at the Canadian side, we do not believe it is okay for Canada to sit back and depend upon others to manufacture some of our most important aspects to make sure we have a safe, sovereign country. The most recent glaring example has been the Navistar truck plant in Chatham, Ontario, which could have been retooled to produce a truck for our military. Instead, we are sending a quarter of a billion dollars of money down to Texas so that the Navistar facility there will have the jobs. They will have the advancement of the technology as the trucks are improved. They will also secure a number of different contracts in the future. Here, we are vulnerable to seeing our plant, which is already at a diminished capacity, firing hundreds of people and leaving to Mexico.
That is sad. We have heard the argument that we cannot do anything about it. That is absolutely nonsense and it is not true. We can have that procurement under the current trade relationship we have. No one would place blame, just like we do not blame the United States if they have particular aircraft or different types of military elements that they want to ensure they have in their actual custody. Then, I could understand the argument of our national security.They would at least have the basis for that, or we could engage them in a wider attempt to open up both of our nations' foreign affair policies.
However, we do not challenge that. We just surrender and put up the white flag, so literally Canadians where just a few years ago we saved their jobs. The Liberals at that time said they cannot do anything for Navistar at that time in terms of retooling and training to produce a new vehicle, that it would violate NAFTA, against all the rules. There were a whole bunch of lies and misconceptions. What ended up happening was the government finally capitulated and a small investment went into that facility and the men and women of the Chatham and greater southern Ontario area benefited and paid that back into the coffers of this country quite significantly because of income tax, donations to the United Way, making sure their families stay in the municipalities and the property values do not slide. There is an opportunity to feel secure with families to send their kids to school to get an education.
Instead what have we seen? We have seen the government with one-quarter of a billion dollars, say, “okay you guys in Texas, you can have that and by the way there's no rules, don't worry about, and we're just going to sit back on the sidelines”.
The sad thing about that is it is not only the years of lost production and manufacturing that we have and the potential of new contracts could be won by that type of investment and retooling which is very modest, on top of that there is the ability of the workers to have self-confidence and also the community continues to function in the way it has. The departure from at least engaging in that policy, or at least discussing it, is also leaving out the echo effect that would be quite viable with that type of investment in the Chatham facility. From that we would see the servicing and all the other elements of the trucks which could come even from the facility if it wanted to, or we could look at some type of an arrangement that way.
That is why we are really upset with regard to the potential loss in the shipbuilding industry. It has been noted that Norway has set up a series of investments over a number of years for hard infrastructure and that has allowed it to build up its actual capacity. That is fine. It is something it decided to do, but it is something that we should not ignore. As New Democrats, we are not alone being concerned about that element and also the reduction of our tariffs over a series of years that could really undermine our ability. That is what is concerning about it, especially when we look at investors.
If we have so much work, as the minister says, and we have heard counter-evidence to that, but if we have so much work, why would someone want to invest further into this country when there is the competitive advantage in Norway and we would be kind of catching up at this time? That has been expressed by others even in the private sector. One of them has been Mary Keith, a spokeswoman for Irving Shipbuilding said the agreement announced Thursday: “is a devastating blow for Canadian shipbuilders and marine service sectors,...The Government of Canada is continuing its 12-year history of sacrificing Canadian shipbuilding and ship operators in the establishment of free trade--