Speech on Foreign Takeovers and the Net Benefit to Canada Test

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for his good points. I would also like to thank the member for London—Fanshawe for her tireless work on this issue and for bringing this motion forward today.

I rise today to speak in support of this opposition day motion. The motion calls on the House to condemn the plant closures of Electro-Motive Diesel in London, Ontario and Papiers White Birch in Quebec City. Together, these two plant closures have resulted in the loss of over 1,000 good quality, family-supporting jobs.

The motion also calls on the government to table within 90 days draft amendments to the Investment Canada Act to ensure that foreign buyers are held to public and enforceable commitments on the net benefit to Canada and on the protection of Canadian jobs. Canada's New Democrats believe it is time that Canada take a strong stand on the issue of foreign investment, in particular to bring clarity to the vague concept of net benefit to Canada.

In the past several months, far too many Canadians have experienced firsthand the consequences of allowing foreign companies to take over Canadian based companies with no strings attached.

When Electro-Motive chose to close its doors, 450 jobs were lost after employees stood up and said no to a 50% wage cut and reduction in benefits. Another 600 jobs were lost when Papiers White Birch shut down its mill in Quebec City after workers refused to accept a 21% wage reduction and cutbacks to their pension plan, which would have seen the value of workers' pensions decrease by 45% to 65%.

Unfortunately, Electro-Motive and White Birch are not the only factory closures in recent months. On February 2, AstraZeneca announced that it would close its pharmaceutical research and development facility in Montreal, with 132 jobs lost. Just days before a dryer manufacturer, Mabe, also based in Montreal, announced it would close its doors with 700 jobs lost by 2014.

Another 750 workers at Rio Tinto Alcan in Alma, Quebec have been locked out since January 1. Moreover, last year, 900 workers at U.S. Steel were locked out for 11 months. Also, 3,000 workers were on strike for over a year at Vale's plant in Sudbury and Port Colbourne in Ontario. Another 200 workers were on strike for over 18 months at Vale's plant in Voisey's Bay, Newfoundland.

Thousands of Canadian workers in the past year have stood up to fight cuts to their salaries and pensions. For many, it meant standing on the picket line day after day for months on end. For some, the consequences meant being thrown out of work just after Christmas.

The federal government seems to be an all-too-willing partner in this race to the bottom for Canadian workers' wages and pensions.

Last year we saw how workers at Canada Post and Air Canada rejected their companies' offers to slash wages and pensions. When the federal government intervened, did it come to the assistance of the thousands of workers who were fighting for improved salaries and pensions? Did it come to the rescue? Who accepted having the next generation of workers as a second tier not deserving the same level of compensation and benefits?

The government took the side of the employers and supported measures to claw back salaries and pensions. It intervened in the collective bargaining process, taking away workers' bargaining rights by mandating the workers back to work.

Members of this place remember all too well the long hours of debate on the government's draconian, heavy-handed back-to-work legislation.

It is clear that the Conservative majority government has been nothing but bad news for Canadian workers. Only Canada's New Democrats have been standing up and fighting against this regression in workers' rights and compensation. If the government's intervention in labour disputes were not bad enough, it has gone so far as to give no-strings-attached tax breaks to companies, which can decide at the drop of a hat to close down operations and move good quality Canadian jobs to other countries.

The Conservative government's job creation strategy is simply not working. While the government prioritizes slashing the corporate tax rate, unemployment levels remain high and investment is lagging. For every percentage point the Conservatives cut the corporate tax rate, the government loses $2 billion in annual revenue. Over the past 12 years, six years under the Conservatives and six under the Liberals, the corporate tax rate has dropped from 28% to 15%, which has meant that some $26 billion in revenue has been lost.

Now the Conservatives are trying to convince Canadians that we can no longer afford to let seniors retire at age 65, that our universal public health care system is unsustainable, that we cannot afford to eradicate poverty among seniors or provide funding for first nations education. This is ridiculous and incredible.

Governance is about priorities and it is clear that the Conservatives' priorities leave far too many Canadians out in the cold. The problem we have seen time and time again is that the rule book is too thin when it comes to the takeover of large companies operating on Canadian soil. The Investment Canada Act in its current form is simply not up to the task of ensuring that Canadian jobs are protected in the case of foreign takeovers. However, I believe there is a willingness among members of the House to make changes to the Investment Canada Act.

In 2010, Canada's New Democrats moved an opposition motion calling on the Government of Canada to take immediate steps to amend the Investment Canada Act to ensure that the views of those most directly affected by any takeover would be considered and that any decision on whether a takeover delivered a net benefit to Canada would be transparent. The motion passed unanimously, with the support of the Conservatives, the Bloc and the Liberals.

Today, I hope members of the House will again come together and agree it is time that the process for foreign takeovers be made more public, more transparent and more accountable. This would help Canadians believe that their government is acting in their best interests.

Our proposed changes to the Investment Canada Act are measured and reasonable. We propose reducing the threshold for investments subject to review to $100 million. We propose providing explicit, transparent criteria for the net benefit test to Canada, with an emphasis on the impact of foreign investment on communities, jobs, pensions and new capital investments. We propose requiring public hearings that would allow for community input into decisions on both the assessment of net benefit and the conditions to apply to the investment. We propose ensuring public disclosure and the enforcement of all commitments that are undertaken by potential investors. Furthermore, we believe it is time to examine the current loophole in the act that prevents the act from applying in cases where a foreign company takes over another foreign company operating on Canadian soil.

Since this act came into force in 1985, only two of the 1,500 takeovers have been rejected. Why is this? We do not really know. We do not know how or why the government deemed 99% of takeovers to be of net benefit to Canada. There are no criteria defining what constitutes a net benefit to Canada, nor does the act permit Canadians to know how the government arrives at its decisions on this.

It is time to make this act work for Canadians. Members of the House agreed in 2010 that the act required changes.

Today, Canada's New Democrats are calling on the government to table draft amendments within 90 days. I call on all members of the House to support the need for changes to the Investment Canada Act and to support our call for the government to bring these changes forward in 90 days.