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Ontario Hansard - 21-February2018

STATEMENTS BY THE MINISTRY AND RESPONSES

INTERNATIONAL TRADE / COMMERCE INTERNATIONAL


Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: I rise in the House today to speak to the government’s proposed Fairness in Procurement Act.

As Premier of this province, I have been a consistent and ardent champion of fair and free trade and open and competitive government procurement practices. We in Ontario, I think all of us know that open borders and co-operation with our neighbours make us more competitive, and when we are more competitive, we can create more good jobs for our workers.

Everyone on this side of the House would have preferred for it not to come to this, but in the face of unfair discrimination, we will not blink, Mr. Speaker. The Fairness in Procurement Act is about standing up for Ontario workers. I had hoped that actually today in the House, I would have been able to begin debate on this important piece of legislation. Sadly, that will not happen. Unfortunately, the debate has been blocked. This legislation to protect our workers has been delayed. It’s disappointing to me that it is on account of stall tactics devised by Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. I think it’s a marker; I think it’s proof that the Leader of the Opposition and the rest of the PC members are not thinking about or are not on the side of Ontario workers at all. They’re focused on their own internal problems and their own best interests.

But Mr. Speaker, we will not be deterred. We will never stop standing up for our workers, for businesses and for good jobs.

Last year, when New York state initially proposed enacting Buy American laws in public procurement, Ontario and Quebec teamed up. We took our message to Albany, the state capital. We told them at that time that Buy American flies in the face of our partnership, that it would undermine the competitiveness of our region, harm our workers and harm our families. We said in no uncertain terms that if New York state proceeded down this protectionist path, we would have no choice but to protect our workers by responding in kind.

We did make progress, Mr. Speaker: State legislators removed a more punitive Buy American provision from their budget bill. But since that time, another version of Buy American legislation has been adopted, and it is set to come into force on April 1 of this year. When that happens, Ontario businesses could be prevented from supplying goods and services to New York state public works projects valued at over $1 million. That kind of discrimination against our workers and businesses is simply unacceptable.

Je vais continuer de plaider pour l’ouverture des frontières et l’approvisionnement équitable. Je ne laisserai pas nos citoyens être lésés par les actions injustes et à courte vue de nos voisins.

I am encouraging all members of this House to put games aside, come together and support the people of Ontario by passing the Fairness in Procurement Act.

It is not only the actions of New York state requiring us to table this legislation. There is a tide of protectionism and protectionist sentiment rising across America. Over the past month, Texas introduced its own version of Buy American, and we’re conscious that there are other voices in other corners of the United States calling for similar measures.

We, collectively, must send a strong message that we will not stand for protectionist measures that disadvantage Ontario companies. We must make it clear that discrimination against Ontario workers cannot be cost-free.

My hope continues to be that our US partners will understand what is at stake and the ultimate harm that their Buy American policies would do. But if cooler heads do not prevail, the legislation enables us to level the playing field.

That is why we are introducing this legislation. It would give Ontario the flexibility to choose whether and how to respond to discriminatory procurement actions by US states. In instances where a US state or local government enacts a law or policy that is discriminatory to Ontario businesses or designed to prevent our businesses from participating in public procurement processes, this legislation would allow us to respond with similar regulations of our own. Those regulations would require Ontario’s public procurement body to exclude companies from a particular US state from competing on specific projects in Ontario.

Make no mistake, Mr. Speaker: The impact of these regulations on US businesses will clearly demonstrate the value that is created on both sides of the border by fair and open procurement processes. In 2015-16, the Ontario government awarded more than 77 New York-based businesses with contracts worth almost $160 million. In a fair and free market, that is how it should work.

Here in Ontario, we are making historic investments in our infrastructure. We are building roads, bridges, schools and hospitals, investing $190 billion right across this province. But if New York does not back down from its Buy American plans, set to begin April 1, that business will be at stake.

To be very clear, we do not want to escalate this matter. We only want what is fair. This legislation allows us to create a fair playing field by mirroring whatever discriminatory practices are applied by our US neighbours, should it become necessary to do so.

Notre objectif n’est pas de déclencher une guerre commerciale. Nous voulons établir des conditions commerciales équitables, ce qui sera possible grâce à ce projet de loi qui veillera à ce que nos travailleurs, nos travailleuses et nos entreprises soient protégés.

Should a state or city remove its Buy American policy or provide Ontario-based suppliers with an exemption, this legislation would be amended.

Fairness is what our workers expect. It is what they deserve. And fairness is what this legislation delivers.

Mr. Speaker, there’s a famous road in Toronto known as the Danforth. Every year, many of us look forward to attending the annual Greek fest there. It’s a vibrant part of our province and a connecting link for our city. Visitors to Toronto might wonder why it is that another main street, Bloor, suddenly becomes the Danforth when the road crosses the Don Valley. Here’s why, Mr. Speaker. The Danforth is named for Asa Danforth Jr., an American contractor from Onondaga county in New York state. He started work in Toronto’s east end in 1799 when there was no bridge connecting Bloor and Danforth. Today, the road still bears his name.

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In the early and mid-1900s, as modern bridges and modern skyscrapers began to shape city skylines, ironworkers from Kahnawake, Six Nations of the Grand River and the nearby Mohawk community of Akwesasne took their skills to New York City. First Nations ironworkers from these communities travelled to Manhattan to work on the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations building, the Rockefeller Center and the World Trade Center.

It shows that the deep history between Ontario and New York was in place and should still be in place. We’re proud of that. We’re proud of what we have done together. We’ve been building each other’s roads and bridges, subways and hospitals, homes and hydro dams for hundreds of years. We’ve grown stronger, more prosperous and more competitive as a result. We do not wish to throw that away.

Nous voulons renforcer notre partenariat régional, en particulier en cette période de changements et d’incertitude dans le monde qui nous entoure.

With the Fairness in Procurement Act now before this House, we hope to find agreement with our friends and neighbours, and to extend the economic benefits of fair and open partnership. But we can now be certain that whatever happens, Ontario workers and businesses will be treated fairly. We can be certain that we will achieve the level playing field that our people deserve, because this government will always stand up for the workers of this province.

Merci. Meegwetch.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): The government has 11 minutes left. If no one else is standing up, we’ll move to the responses.

We’ll now have responses. The leader of the official opposition.


Mr. Victor Fedeli: The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario does not support retaliation. That is the weakest possible response a government can have. It is painfully obvious that—

Interjections.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): I believe that they were reasonable when the Premier was speaking. I think you would do them the same justice. That would be fair, wouldn’t you think? Thank you.

Continue.


Mr. Victor Fedeli: Thank you, Speaker.

That is the weakest possible response a government can have. It is painfully obvious that this is nothing more than an election ploy by an out-of-touch, out-of-ideas government. This government simply does not understand how business works. This bill makes it painfully obvious.

So what would we do? I realize they don’t want—

Interjections.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Stop the clock. I’m just about at the point. We’ll be nice and behaved, won’t we?

Mr. Victor Fedeli: Speaker, we have a real solution to this, and if they’ll listen, we can explain it.

Back in 2009, when I was mayor of the city of North Bay, US cities were then restricted from buying Canadian-made goods, while Canada had no such restrictions. I wrote to the mayors of US cities where we made large purchases and reminded them that their city would have had layoffs if it weren’t for our purchases—and you’ll see in a moment how that is important.

Naturally, we prefer to buy Canadian and Ontario goods, but sometimes we simply don’t manufacture the products here in Ontario that we need—especially these days, when we’ve lost 350,000 manufacturing jobs.

But because we always want to get the best value for our taxpayers, we always go for the best price.

Here’s one of those examples. North Bay bought a water filtration system that wasn’t made in Ontario. We had to purchase it from Cortland county in upstate New York for $6 million. Cortland county has 20,000 people. I wrote to that mayor and said, “Can you imagine if they were not able to benefit from our purchase?”

That mayor understood what I was talking about and he fought to keep our borders open. In fact, every mayor we wrote to fought on our behalf—

Interjections.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): I guess we’re not taking me seriously. You did a drive-by and then you did an outburst. Minister of Transportation, one more.

Interjection.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Oh, you’ve changed. Economic Development; I’m sorry. One more.

Continue.


Mr. Victor Fedeli: In fact, mayors from all over the United States fought with us to keep our borders open. That’s how you stop the Buy American plan. You get your US partners to fight with you. You don’t threaten them, as this government has done. In fact, they need to simply understand how business works.

As a result, from the Canadian ambassador:

“Dear Mayor Fedeli,

“I wanted to send you a short note to commend the letters that you recently sent to your American counterparts about the impact that restrictions to free and open markets can have on jobs in Canada and the United States. Your effort to explain the great success story of the bilateral trade relationship between Canada and the United States and the positive impact it is having on communities is most powerful.

“The issue of Buy American has been a very high priority for the Canadian embassy in Washington. Our work is made all the more effective”—

Interjections.


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Paul Miller): Stop the clock. The member from Trinity–Spadina is warned. I’m going right into warnings now. I’ve given you enough chances.

Sorry, continue.


Mr. Victor Fedeli: It’s horrible that they don’t want to listen to a success story and a possible solution here. It’s horrible.

This is from the ambassador: “Our work is made all the more effective by efforts such as yours and I hope that other Canadian and American mayors will emulate you and tell the story of interdependence and integration as well as you have.”

Former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall offered up the best explanation of cross-border supply chains: “Saskatchewan farmers buy John Deere tractors”—with Canadian-made parts—“made in Iowa, to harvest oats” in Canada “that are then sold to General Mills in Cedar Rapids, turned into Cheerios and exported back to Canada.” That’s how business works. We are interdependent, not threatening.

Former Canadian ambassador to the US Derek Burney further explained, “For Americans more generally, we need to demonstrate specifically and statistically how important our trade is to American jobs and interests and emphasize that damage to one partner inevitably damages the other.”

Auto parts cross borders as many as eight times during the production of a vehicle. This Premier wants to threaten that transfer of products back and forth. That’s exactly why we need to stop this. We need time to work with our partners, not to threaten them with fake solutions.

Speaker, something this important cannot be rushed through. This government’s knee-jerk reaction is simply to make a political statement. They did not put forward a well-crafted, well-thought-out, meaningful response.


Mr. John Vanthof: It’s always an honour to be able to stand in this House—and today respond to the Premier’s statement on the Fairness in Procurement Act, 2018.

I’d just like to state that as a former dairy farmer, there is no one more concerned about trade than the supply management sector. Although this doesn’t directly impact the supply management sector, it could. Ontario is a trading province. Canada is a trading nation. At this point in time, we are at perhaps a breaking point in our trading relations with the United States. We are in the middle of the most crucial negotiations in NAFTA that we’ve ever been in, partly because our trading partner’s executive branch is so unpredictable. I think we all realize that.

We all want to protect jobs in Canada. We all want to protect jobs in Ontario. I listened intently when the Premier said that she wanted people to put games aside. On behalf of the New Democrats, I sincerely hope that the governing party isn’t playing political games with the future of workers in all sectors in Ontario, because this is a very crucial time. Trade normally isn’t a provincial issue. I hope that the government has taken the time—

Interjections.

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Mr. John Vanthof: Excuse me, but we were very respectful when you spoke, and I am making a respectful debate.

Trade is a national concern. I hope that our governing party has spoken to their federal cousins—and hopefully they can produce an opinion from their federal trade-negotiating cousins if this could impact, because when you’re negotiating a trade deal, everything can impact. At this specific time, you have to be more careful than ever, and you have to take more time to make sure that it’s done correctly and done respectfully.

Specifically with this legislation, I think it would be much more palatable, instead of specifically time after time naming American jurisdictions, to name any jurisdiction that takes a protectionist stance. We are all against protectionism, but this legislation is specifically designed to poke an American in the eye. I’m not sure that this is the time to specifically go around and poke our American trading partners in the eye.

Why couldn’t this legislation be crafted so it’s anti-protectionist but across the board? Because there are times when other jurisdictions are equally guilty of this. If we’re dealing with Chinese steel, are we going to then create another bill specifically for Chinese steel? No. Let’s do it right and ensure people that you’re not playing political games, because the people who are working in the forestry sector are going to get very nervous when this starts to be a playing chip. The people in supply management are also going to be very nervous, because at this point, anything to do with trade is suspect.

And when you talk about legislation a few months before an election, that’s also highly suspect. I sincerely hope that this government is actually looking at the collateral damage that poorly crafted legislation could cause. We sincerely hope that we will work together to make good legislation.

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