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Dean speaks on NAFTA 2.0 (USMCA) Agreement
Mr. Dean Allison (Niagara West, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak on a subject that I have been involved in, especially in my previous role as the shadow minister for international trade and also as a passionate supporter of free trade.
I am well acquainted with the benefits of trade with the United States. I represent a southern Ontario riding that is very close to the border. We have many successful companies in Niagara West that do a significant amount of business not only with the United States but throughout the world. I personally met those business owners and operators, and their companies are world class and full of potential. They provide communities with excellent jobs and economic develop.
These business owners are asking for certainty that the free trade agreements provide. Free trade is essential to our country. One in five Canadian jobs are created as a result of free trade agreements. I also believe that members of the Conservative Party are the strongest supporters of free trade. We are really the party of free trade.
The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement were largely negotiated by Conservative governments.
Conservatives negotiated these deals to remove tariffs and quotas, and to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade. Free trade agreements improve transparency, predictability, certainty and fairness to exporters. I believe all members in this chamber would agree that free trade agreements open markets for Canadian businesses, including small to medium-sized enterprises.
This is why it was so concerning when the United States announced that NAFTA would be renegotiated. The uncertainty had ripple effects throughout virtually all Canadian industries that do business with American clients and purchasers. Why did the uncertainty cause so much anxiety in our business community? The short answer is we are very dependent on one another. Total merchandise trade between Canada and the United States has more than doubled since 1993, and has grown over ninefold between Canada and Mexico. In fact, 75% of total Canadian exports go to the United States and roughly 3% go to Mexico. All told, the total trilateral merchandise trade, the total of each country’s imports from one another, reach nearly $1.1 trillion U.S.
This is a tremendous amount of business that more than 1.9 million Canadian jobs depend on. The lack of certainty over the status of the renegotiation of NAFTA caused a reduction of business investment, which I think has been well documented, particularly in Canada. Some companies moved to the United States to offset potential losses while also directing their investments to the United States.
I saw the impact of this uncertainty when I did the “defend local jobs” tour in July to September 2018. During that time, I met with over 150 businesses, trade organizations and chambers. In Ontario, I attended round tables and meetings in London, Brantford, Kitchener, Welland, Niagara Falls, Beamsville, Orillia, Windsor and Toronto.
I went to Vancouver where the BC Chamber of Commerce organized a roundtable with their members, as well as Kitimat where I met with LNG Canada. In Alberta, I met with business owners in Edmonton, Calgary and Leduc, where I saw firsthand the effects of the government’s misguided policies and the anger that these policies were producing.
I did this tour to see firsthand the effects of U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs and to bring those concerns back to Parliament. I also took back the personal accounts of business owners in terms of how the uncertainty created by the renegotiation of NAFTA was impacting business operations. What I heard at the time was very worrisome. Stakeholders were asking for immediate support in order to prevent job losses or bankruptcy in the medium or even short term. They wanted to see improvements to Canada’s business environment that reduces red tape and enhances our competitiveness. I will get back to Canada’s competitiveness shortly, because I believe the government has failed terribly on competitiveness.
But back to the findings of the “defend local jobs” tour, businesses at the time had begun to cut orders, reduce shifts, and in some cases had even laid off workers. The key word was “uncertainty”. Businesses that had been investing in Canada, saw the U.S. as a safer bet because they did not know what was going to happen here.
I do have to say that businesses impacted by the steel and aluminum tariffs at the time had not yet seen any of the $2 billion in support promised by the government which was extremely slow to roll out. The Liberals were quick to announce relief but very slow to roll out any support for our businesses and workers.
Since then, this Liberal government has fumbled the NAFTA file several times. They agreed to many concessions in the renegotiations, and here we are today. Most importantly, I have to mention the concessions they made with respect to our dairy sector that are particularly damaging.
By the way, there is nothing on softwood lumber, as has been mentioned by other speakers, while the forestry workers are really hurting.
I want to be clear. The Conservatives support and want free trade with the United States. It is no secret that NAFTA is the legacy of the Conservative government, but we must carefully look at the legislation first. Rushing it through would not be wise. After all, when it comes to a trade deal with Canada’s largest and most important trade partner, we need to do our due diligence. I say this because the Liberal government failed to work with us during the negotiation and ratification process and is now rushing to get this legislation through Parliament, not giving us much time to do our homework on it. It has also failed to provide documents outlining the impacts of the new trade deal despite numerous requests from opposition members. The government does not seem to recognize the realities of the new minority government and is mistaken if it believes we will simply rubber-stamp this deal.
I want to reiterate that doing our due diligence is crucial. We want to ensure there are no surprises that could hurt our businesses and workers. Hurting businesses and workers has been something the current government knows something about, especially when it comes to competitiveness. According to the World Economic Forum, Canada is down to number 14 when it comes to competitiveness. We are behind Singapore, the United States, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Sweden, the U.K., Denmark, Finland, China and South Korea. This is worrisome news.
The government has put legislation forward for the updated NAFTA but is keeping Canadian businesses handcuffed to red tape, excessive regulations and high taxes. Just look at what it has done in the west. It has been an absolute travesty. Workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan cannot find jobs for months and some for years because the Liberals have drowned the resource sector in over-regulation, overtaxation and ridiculous amounts of red tape. The two most famous anti-energy legislation passed by the Liberal government is Bill C-69 and Bill C-48. These two bills have done tremendous damage to the economies of our western neighbours. We need the government to finally do something about this. Yes, we need a free trade agreement with the U.S., we absolutely do, but if the government continues to stifle the growth of our business sector, including our world-class energy sector, how effective will this trade agreement be when Canadian businesses stall, fail or move south of the border, either to the U.S. or Mexico, because the government has flawed domestic economic policies? The ill-conceived policies it is putting forward are just recipes for more wasteful spending, more sky-high taxes and more reckless borrowing, all the while we see worrying economic signs on the horizon.
The possibility of a made-in-Canada recession is becoming more real. If the government does not believe me, then perhaps it would like to listen to the Wall Street Journal, which stated:
Canadian exports and imports fell steeply in November of 2019, offering fresh evidence the country’s economy has hit a rough patch. The broad-based decline in trade from October 2019 is the latest in a string of disappointing economic indicators, among them a sizable loss of jobs in November and a decline in gross domestic product in October.
What does the government do instead of lowering taxes to stimulate growth and job creation? It is thinking about hiking taxes again. It is looking at the carbon tax hike. It is almost like it has spent the last four years making life harder and more unaffordable for Canadians. Canadians should be punished every time they drive their kids to school or turn up their thermostat on a cold winter day. In my riding of Niagara West, public transportation is almost non-existent. My constituents need to drive to work, need to drop off their kids, need to pick their kids up from school, need to drive them to hockey practice, as well as all kinds of other activities.
We were very honest with Canadians in the last election. We warned them that the Liberals would raise the carbon tax. The Liberals denied it, but here we are today and they are thinking of raising it and probably will very shortly. This is not good for Canadian families, businesses or our global competitiveness. If they intend to raise the carbon tax, they will finally come clean with Canadians and tell them exactly by how much, because in order to hit our Paris targets they would need to raise it by an additional $50 per tonne. This would increase the price of gasoline by 23 cents a litre. Let us think of what the extra costs would do to job creators, never mind the families with children who have no other option than to have to drive around. Virtually everything is delivered to our favourite store by truck. Every cost on gas will either be absorbed by the businesses in order to keep their clients, which may bankrupt some businesses, or will be passed on to the consumer again and will increase the price of everything.
Before I finish, I would like to say that we will carefully look at this this legislation. We all owe it to our constituents to do our due diligence and ensure that Canadian workers and job creators will stand to benefit from this new NAFTA agreement.