Mr. Jacques Gourde (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and to the Minister of National Revenue, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the government to speak to Bill C-429, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act.
Let me begin by saying that this government fully supports the forestry industry, as clearly demonstrated by the significant investments we have made in that industry in recent years.
However, I have some concerns about this bill, and I would like to take the time here today to share them with my hon. colleagues.
First of all, the bill is inconsistent with the Government of Canada's obligations under its domestic and international trade agreements.
Furthermore, the bill runs counter to the mandate of the Department of Public Works and Government Services, which is to act in a fair, open and transparent manner, while providing the best value for taxpayers' money.
Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that this government is providing more support to the forestry industry than any other government in the history of Canada.
I would now like to talk more about each of these points. First—and this is very important—if this bill is passed as is, the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, as amended, would require that the government take an approach to procurement that violates Canada's obligations under various domestic and international trade agreements.
The biasing of technical specifications in favour of, or against, particular goods or services, including those goods or services included in construction contracts, violates Canada's obligations under these trade agreements.
Federal government tendering documents may contain specific requirements pertaining to particular materials when they are required for technical or operational purposes. But if we express a preference for certain products before we even assess the technical requirements and draft these documents, we violate the agreements.
Requirements in invitations to tender that would benefit certain suppliers or industries would also violate Canada's obligations under these trade agreements.
It is interesting to note that the Agreement on Internal Trade or AIT, which the provinces and territories and the federal government signed in 1994, contains some of the most comprehensive trade rules on government procurement.
Article 501 of the Agreement in Internal Trade reads in part as follows:
...the purpose of this Chapter is to establish a framework that will ensure equal access to procurement for all Canadian suppliers in order to contribute to a reduction in purchasing costs and the development of a strong economy in a context of transparency and efficiency.
Other articles of the agreement state specifically that “the biasing of technical specifications in favour of, or against, particular goods or services, including those goods or services included in construction contracts, or in favour of, or against, the suppliers of such goods or services” is discriminatory.
Canada's international trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement, also prohibit discrimination, particularly unnecessary barriers to trade.
Canada takes its obligations under these trade agreements very seriously.
Second, even though we recognize that the forestry industry faces difficult challenges, the role of Public Works and Government Services Canada is not to give preference to a specific industry, specific construction materials or specific methods or services at the expense of others. We must support the industry in other ways.
The department must act in a fair, transparent and open manner and provide the best value for taxpayers' money.
But it is not and must not be required to promise preferential treatment to any industry. That would go completely against not only its guiding principles, but also the many rules and directives governing its procurement activities.
We have to recognize that giving preference to wood in government procurement would disadvantage the other industries that manufacture construction materials, including the concrete and steel industries.
It is important for the Government of Canada to protect jobs in every industry using innovative approaches.
We cannot choose to favour an industry at random, because this would lead to job losses in other industries.
Lastly, members should be made aware of the many initiatives this government has taken to help the forestry industry.
We have demonstrated continued support for the forestry industry.
Our initiatives include the $1 billion pulp and paper green transformation program; the $1 billion community adjustment fund; and the $400 million mountain pine beetle program.
During the first year of Canada's economic action plan, we provided $170 million over two years to Natural Resources Canada to support market diversification and innovation initiatives in the forestry sector.
This includes $80 million for the transformative technologies program administered by FPInnovations, a non-profit forestry research institute.
Natural Resources Canada will receive $40 million in 2010-11 to develop pilot-scale demonstration projects of new products that can be used in commercial applications.
Another $40 million was allocated to the Canada wood, value to wood, and North America wood first programs to help forestry companies market innovative products internationally.
An additional $10 million was allocated to support large-scale demonstrations of Canadian-style use of wood for construction in targeted off-shore markets, and non-traditional uses of wood in domestic markets.
In addition to the $170 million allocated to the forestry sector in the 2009 budget, as part of Canada's economic action plan, the government provided $7.8 billion to build housing, encourage home ownership and enhance energy efficiency.
The government also created the home renovation tax credit to stimulate the economy.
As members know, this temporary tax credit was an incredible incentive for owners to redecorate, repair and modernize their homes, and was a very effective way to increase demand for labour and construction materials, including wood.
This certainly had a significant positive impact on sales of softwood lumber and other forestry products.
Subtopic: Department of Public Works and Government Services Act