Bill C-23 (Historical)
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.
Stockwell Day Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
- Oct. 7, 2009 Failed That the amendment be amended by adding after the word “matter” the following: “, including having heard vocal opposition to the accord from human rights organizations”.
Motions in Amendment
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
June 7th, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak to Bill C-2.
I want to speak to the point that my friend from Windsor West raised in terms of trade. We need to make it very clear. Canada already does trade with Colombia. There is some $1.3 billion in two-way trade right now, with $602 million in Canadian exports and $734 million in imports.
It is important to understand that the purpose of the free trade agreement is to institute some rules-based trading. To say that there is no trading going on right now would be disingenuous and quite frankly misleading. There is trade right now. We are trying to make sure it is rules based so that we can move forward on a stronger footing.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement because it is an important agreement for Canada. It has been the subject of extensive debate and study by the House and the Standing Committee on International Trade.
At the standing committee alone there has been over 35 hours of witness testimony on the free trade agreement. In the House, opposition members have spoken 99 times to Bill C-23 which was in a previous Parliament, as well as Bill C-2.
The New Democratic Party members have made it clear that they are opposed to free trade. As a matter of fact, they have never met a free trade deal they did not oppose. They have spoken 40 times to these bills despite only having 36 members. We can do the math on that one.
The committee has heard from over 90 witnesses who have shared their knowledge and views on this agreement. Some organizations have appeared more than once. This is in addition to the visit by the standing committee to Colombia to study Canada's commercial relationship with Colombia. During this visit alone, members of Parliament were able to meet with over 50 Colombian stakeholders.
What have members of the House and members of the committee heard time and time again during their discussions on the free trade agreement? They have heard that this is a strong commercial agreement for Canada and for Colombia.
Certainly no one is saying that Colombia is a country that has fixed all its problems. While we were in Colombia listening to testimony, people talked openly. The government talked openly of the struggles the country has had in terms of civil unrest and civil war over the years. We would be hard pressed to find anyone with the government or civil society who has not said that conditions have improved.
That is one of the things we are talking about here today. As we heard from SNC-Lavalin when it appeared before committee, more and more engagement of Canadian companies and good Canadian values are more likely to help the situation than to make it worse.
We must move forward now with the passage of this free trade agreement. Canadian business is looking to Parliament to do everything we can to open doors for Canadians, to create new commercial opportunities around the world and to work with our partners to help our citizens succeed.
To allow this to happen, Canadian companies need improved access to markets in order to compete. That is why this free trade agreement is such an important accomplishment. Trade between our countries is significant.
In 2009, as I mentioned when I started my speech, our two-way trade in merchandise totalled $1.3 billion. Key Canadian products such as pulse crops, paper, wheat, barley, machinery and motor vehicles are exported to Colombia. Canadian companies and producers of these products are counting on the passage of the free trade agreement. Colombia is a vibrant and dynamic market for Canadian exporters and foreign investors. It is a growing market of 48 million people.
As soon as the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement comes into effect, exporters and investors in Canada will enjoy lower trade and investment barriers in the Colombia market.
Colombia will eliminate tariffs on nearly all current Canadian exports, including wheat, pulses and mining equipment. The competitive advantage that will be provided for Canadians with the removal of these tariffs is significant. The removal will help Canadian workers, farmers and businesses stay ahead of their global competitors.
Canadian exporters, particularly of the commodities, are already at a disadvantage compared to their U.S. counterparts due to higher transportation costs. These disadvantages could become even worse if the U.S.-Colombia agreement comes into force. As well, Colombia has been aggressively expanding its commercial relations with other countries, having recently concluded negotiations on a free trade agreement with the European Union and it is currently in negotiations with Panama and South Korea. If we wait to implement our agreement, we risk seeing Canadian exporters further disadvantaged in this important market.
Colombia maintains tariffs averaging 17% on agricultural products, with tariffs ranging from 15% to as high as 108% for some pork products, 80% for some beef products and 60% for certain beans. Indeed, agriculture was a key driver for these free trade agreement negotiations, and a successful outcome of agriculture was absolutely critical.
Tariffs on 86% of Canadian agricultural exports will be eliminated immediately when the free trade agreement comes into force. That translates into about $25 million in annual duty savings in sectors such as wheat, barley, lentils, beans and beef. Clearly, this is a significant amount and will certainly provide additional incentive for Colombian companies to buy Canadian goods.
During one of its appearances before the standing committee, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association was quite candid with its views:
I'm interested in making the lives of Canadian beef producers better. I think this agreement and other trade agreements do that.
This government echoes these remarks. We are working on trying to support Canadian farmers and to make the lives of Canadians better by creating jobs and ensuring the long-term competitiveness of this country.
The benefits of this trade agreement extend beyond agriculture. By creating new market opportunities for Canadian exporters, this agreement is also expected to have a positive impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector, growth that can be achieved in Colombia. Off-road dump trucks, auto parts and machinery are some of Canada's leading exports to Colombia. These products will benefit from increased market access through this agreement.
We need to listen to Canadian businesses and help them expand their reach into this exciting market. The time for Canada to act is now. Our trade with Colombia is complementary. Both countries have a lot to gain.
It has been mentioned by members on the opposite side that there is a number of issues facing Colombia. They talk about the paramilitary, the FARC. One of the things they forget to factor into the equation is the extensive illegal drug market in Colombia. What this deal does is it helps Colombians rely less on drugs and more on trade.
This is trying to provide opportunities for Colombians so that they do not need to rely solely on the illegal drug market that has plagued Colombia. This is about trying to create additional opportunities. When we say we will not provide opportunities or will not give them an opportunity to trade, we remove the chance for them to be able to transfer out of the illegal activities into legal activities where they could make sustainable long-term differences.
Colombia is making significant advances to ensure it becomes a stable democracy. However, one cannot have a democratic and secure nation without jobs and opportunities. Colombia is working to create opportunities for its people, and the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement will assist in those efforts.
Our businesses can compete with the best in the world. It is certainly time we listened to our Canadian companies and worked to ensure that they maintain their competitiveness in this market and have the chance to pursue new opportunities.
I would also mention the fact that during the polling that has been going on with the presidential elections coming, of all the parties that are running there is only one party that opposes free trade. Let us think about that. There is only one party out of all the parties that are running for re-election and to run the country that actually opposes free trade. Ninety-six per cent of those parties support free trade. That is what the polls show.
We talk about what is not good for Colombia. I think Colombians understand what is important for Colombia. If there was such an opposition to free trade, do members not think that would become an issue during the campaign? Do members think any political party in Colombia would be supporting free trade if they believed this was going to hurt their chances of winning? That bears out in the results of the polls which show that only one party, which actually has less than 4%, opposes free trade.
It is for this reason and the many benefits to our Colombian partners that this agreement brings that I ask all members to support the passage of this free trade agreement.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
April 1st, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
Malcolm Allen Welland, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by numerous citizens from new Brunswick and the east coast of Canada calling on the government to carry out a human rights impact study when it comes to free trade with Colombia. They are saying to the government that we need a fair trade agreement with Colombia, not a free trade agreement.
I would impress upon all members of the House to realize that there are literally tens of thousands of people who are signing petitions when it comes to Bill C-2, the free trade bill on Colombia, formerly known as Bill C-23. Even though we have seen it stop and start again, Canadians across this land from coast to coast to coast are clearly saying no to Bill C-2.
They are saying that we need a human rights impact study carried out before we enter into any agreements. I am pleased to present this on behalf of them.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to BillC-2, even though this is the third time I have debated it in the House.
This is the bill to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, the former Bill C-23, which has come back to the House again.
We really do not understand the Conservative government’s determination to make this a priority bill. This agreement with Colombia contains a number of flaws and raises a number of serious problems. Implementing it would be a serious mistake.
The Conservative government’s motivation for signing a free trade agreement really has nothing to do with trade, it has to do with investment. The agreement contains an investment protection chapter, which would make life easier for Canadian investors who want to invest in the mining sector in Colombia in particular.
Even that is negative, and I will say why in a moment. There is nothing positive about this free trade agreement and we will gain nothing from it. It is therefore incomprehensible that they would want to sign it.
Colombia has one of the worst records in the world and probably in Latin America when it comes to human rights. Thousands of trade unionists have been killed. Since 1968, 2,690 trade unionists have been killed because of their union work, 46 of them in 2008.
Trade unionists are the target of violence, among other things. There have been many population displacements, and this is not because the people are not sedentary or like to move around. These displacements show that Colombia is a country that has no regard for fundamental rights. There are numerous examples of human rights abuses.
It is mainly small farmers and small miners who are displaced, who have to leave their land to accommodate the huge agri-food or mining corporations, probably the ones the Conservative government wants to help. There are various ways of displacing farmers and people who have a small mine.
You can make death threats against an individual or his children. Most of us would have cleared out long ago. There is also murder, which is even worse. As well, people’s land is flooded so they are no longer able to earn a living, and this forces them to leave. After that, the land is dried out so it can be used.
A fundamental principle of free trade agreements is not being respected. Normally a free trade agreement is signed by two countries with similar economies. I will not go so far as to say that nothing could be more dissimilar than the economies of Colombia and Canada, but that is pretty close to the reality.
Colombia has immense poverty: 47% of the population lives below the poverty line and 12% lives in absolute poverty. One fifth of the population lives on less than $1 a day. I did not invent this statistic; it comes from the UN.
The crime statistics also point to a very sinister side of Colombia. Before I begin quoting the Department of Foreign Affairs, I would like to say that in 2008, the crimes committed by paramilitary groups increased by 41%, in comparison with 14% the previous year.
I do not think there is a legitimate reason for signing this free trade agreement. Even this government's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is discouraging people from travelling to Colombia. On the Foreign Affairs website, the warnings and recommendations for the public advise against going. In addition, no one wants to go as part of a mining project.
The advice is very clear when it comes to those who work for or in the mines.
This government makes some general recommendations about Colombia. On one hand, it is saying that we will sign a free trade agreement with the country. On the other hand, it is saying that no one should go there:
Exercise a high degree of caution
Presidential elections will take place in Colombia on May 30, 2010... Public gatherings and areas where demonstrations may occur should be avoided.
Canadians should exercise a high degree of caution due to the unpredictable security situation. Although there is no specific information about future terrorist activities or threats against Canadian citizens in Colombia, Canadians should be vigilant and avoid any unattended packages or parcels and bring them to the attention of security personnel.
It does not seem so bad up to that point, but here is the next part.
Possible terrorist targets include military and police vehicles and installations, restaurants, underground garages, nightclubs, hotels, banks, shopping centres, public transportation vehicles, government buildings, and airports.
How can we go to Colombia and sign a free trade agreement when our government is specifically telling us not to go there because government buildings and airports are considered dangerous? It is completely incomprehensible.
Avoid non-essential travel
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against non-essential travel to the city of Cali and most rural areas of Colombia, because of the constantly changing security situation and the difficulty for the Colombian authorities of securing all of the country’s territory.
Another regional warning reads:
Avoid all travel
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel...located along the border with Ecuador...The presence of armed drug traffickers, guerrilla and paramilitary organizations, including the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army), poses a major risk to travellers. These groups continue to perpetrate attacks, extortion, kidnappings, car bombings, and damage to infrastructure in these areas. Landmines are used by guerrilla groups, especially in rural areas.
How can we sign a free trade agreement with a country like that? How can we travel there to tour around and see the sights?
National parks, wildlife refuges, and city outskirts are often convenient hideouts for illegal groups and should be avoided, as armed clashes are frequent in such areas.
How can we travel in this country with which we have signed a free trade agreement?
For security reasons, it is preferable to arrive at Medellín's José Maria Córdova International Airport during the day to avoid the road from the airport to the city after dark.
It makes no sense.
Avoid going to bars alone.
Some will say this should always be avoided. In any case, it continues:
Never leave your drink or food unattended. There have been numerous incidents of drugs being used (including scopolamine) to incapacitate travellers in order to rob them. Scopolamine can be administered through aerosols, cigarettes, gum, or in powder form. Typically, travellers are approached by someone asking for directions; the drug is concealed in a piece of paper and is blown into the victim's face. Exercise extreme caution, as scopolamine can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.
And we are going to sign a free trade agreement in this context? I left one of the best excerpts for last.
Colombia has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world.
As we all know, Ingrid Betancourt was held in captivity for six years.
While kidnapping is primarily aimed at Colombians, foreigners can be targeted by guerrilla groups in all parts of the country, especially persons working for (or perceived to be working for) oil and mining companies.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-2, which has to do with free trade with Colombia.
Needless to say, I will be voting against this bill. I would like to share some figures about Colombia. Since 1986, 2,690 union activists have been killed. In 2008 alone, murders increased 18% over the previous year, and since November 2009, 34 union activists have been killed, with no government protection. If someone kills a worker, all they face in the way of punishment is a fine from the government.
I just cannot believe that our government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement with a country like that and that the Liberals support the deal.
I was a union representative in a former life. I worked in the mines, and I know what goes on down there in terms of safety. In 1996, in the Brunswick mine in New Brunswick, six people were killed. The union worked very hard to have the law changed in Canada. The right to refuse to work began in New Brunswick.
Yet our country, which now has laws that allow workers to refuse unsafe work, is going to sign an agreement with a country where workers are hunted. It is open season on workers who disagree with the company or want to join a union.
This is totally unacceptable. Colombia deserves no praise for its human rights practices and laws.
How can our country, in good conscience, sign an agreement with a country that is not willing to give workers rights? Why sign an agreement and say that human rights will follow? If Colombia is willing to respect workers' rights, then why not include that in the agreement and in the laws as well? Why does Colombia not pass a law immediately and disclose what it contains? The agreement says that if any social changes are legislated, companies can sue the government.
This is outrageous. It is shameful and unacceptable for this government to introduce this bill to implement a free trade agreement with Colombia.
How can we rise in the House and vote for a bill on free trade with a country incapable of respecting human rights? How can we conclude an agreement with a country that does not respect workers, the men and women who get up in the morning, go to work and build a country, the same way Canada was built?
Worse yet, how can we draft a document, an agreement, when the Colombian government is turning a blind eye to this? How can we sign an agreement like this and have a conscience? This is unconscionable.
It is despicable that the Liberals are supporting this. I am asking the Liberals to change their minds, especially since this is a minority government. They know what is going on in Colombia and they think that by signing an agreement, everything will fall into place. Get real. When companies think they can make even more money they laugh all the way to the bank. That is where their money goes. It does not go toward improving working conditions. Even here in Canada, without unions, labour relations would not be what they are today. The only reason there are a number of companies out there that have good labour relations without a union is that these companies do not want to be unionized and they know that unions are always ready to move in.
Imagine Canada without unions. We see that things can happen even with unions around.
Take, for example, what is going on in Sudbury, where the strike has been going on for a record amount of time in Ontario. Foreign companies set up shop here, buy the company and want to do things the same way it is done in their own country. They say that we are the ones who need to adapt. That is what they said in Sudbury. Foreign company Vale SA purchased Inco and is now telling workers to get used to the way it does things. That is going on here, in Canada. The government supports these kinds of companies and wants to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, despite everything that is going on.
Since 1986, 2,690 unionists have been killed in Colombia because of their union involvement. That is atrocious and shameful. What is even more atrocious and shameful is that our government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement with such a country. That is completely unacceptable.
In the United States, the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States was supported by George Bush when he was in power. Now that he is no longer in power, the United States—led by Barack Obama—is trying to back out of the agreement. They do not want to sign it. This shows the similarities between the Conservatives and the former American president George Bush, who was prepared to sign an agreement with Colombia. Now that he is no longer in power, they should be proud that his replacement is saying no to an agreement with Colombia.
Canada should do the same thing. If we do not, we are saying that we do not respect workers or human rights. Colombia in no way respects workers' rights.
What do Colombians have to say? Workers are asking us not to sign this agreement. They do not want it because it will not improve their lives. People make a bigger deal about the way seals are killed than about Colombian workers. People care more about protecting seals than they do about protecting Colombian workers. That is unbelievable.
The government wants to listen to companies seeking to profit from free trade, but it does not care about workers. Do human beings in Colombia not get a say in this? Do people speaking on behalf of those who have lost their lives not get a say?
The Conservatives opposite think this agreement is something to smile about. Personally, I find that sad because I would not be able to sleep at night if I signed such an agreement. We know that Colombia does not respect human rights or workers' rights. The government knows that too. It should be ashamed. This agreement will do nothing to make workers' lives any better. Quite the opposite, as Colombian workers have warned us, and I agree with them.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC
Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the NDP member's speech, I remembered that it might be useful to do a run through of the debates we have had in the House on this bill. I am not necessarily referring to the bill before us today, because there was prorogation, but I am referring to the similar bill introduced in the previous session regarding a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
In September 2009, debates were underway in the House. The NDP member for Nanaimo—Cowichan urged the government to refuse to adopt Bill C-23—as it was called at the time—and to take into account the strong opposition of human rights organizations.
Speaking of human rights, my NDP colleague reminded me that last fall, the human rights situation was an important issue for the NDP members and for my colleagues from Sherbrooke and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who also sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade.
The NDP's subamendment was defeated on October 7, 2009, by the Liberals and the Conservatives. We might have expected that from the Conservatives, but not from the Liberals. The Liberals, who rant and rave about how Canada has lost its lustre, that it is nothing but a pale imitation of itself on the international scene, decided to ignore the strong criticisms or concerns expressed by a number of witnesses. They decided to move forward, like a bulldozer, and to blindly follow the Conservatives.
The Bloc Québécois has taken to referring to the Conservatives and Liberals as two faces with one vision. And here is even more concrete proof.
During debate on the subamendment, the Conservative members were saying that we were shifting the debate to human rights issues when it was about a trade agreement. Today, we do not hear them say that because they are literally absent from the debate. All afternoon I have been listening to hon. members from the Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, but the Conservatives have made themselves scarce.
At the time, they were adamant that this made no sense and that we should not be shifting the focus of the debate. It is completely unacceptable for a parliamentarian to say that we should study only one aspect of a bill and not study it more globally and assess all its repercussions. According to Conservative logic, when we study a bill, we should close our eyes to some aspects, but keep them wide open for others.
In my opinion, that is not the right approach. We have to study a bill seriously and assess all its consequences before determining whether we are in favour of it or not.
In this case, we must not consider the bill before us in isolation, independently of some of our concerns or the impact it might have. In fact, it is important to get clarifications and assurances, especially when it comes to human rights issues.
These same Conservatives told us that we have to do this because the Americans, our neighbours the south, are as well, but, in fact, the Americans were also a bit reluctant to move forward with their free trade plans with Colombia. What is more, they were reluctant for the same reasons we are. Their bill will not become law until Congress receives some assurances.
I think everyone here in this House should call for such assurances so that this agreement is consistent with the values we uphold, values that Quebeckers stand for, as do, I imagine, a good number of Canadians as well.
Let me continue my chronology. After the New Democrat subamendment was defeated on October 7, 2009, we debated the bill on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement in this House and we studied an amendment introduced by the hon. member for Sherbrooke, who, at the time, sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade. He has also become an expert on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. He pointed out to members of the House that it was not at all appropriate to support the bill because the government had decided to force it down the throats of hon. members while the Standing Committee on International Trade was still in the process of studying it. The hon. member for Sherbrooke pointed out at that time that the government was doing so in contempt of our democratic institutions.
Can we be surprised that this government, in some respects, is in contempt of our democratic institutions?
I always like to remind the House that, when all opposition members vote with one voice in favour of motions or bills, the government always gives thought to its own preferences before implementing measures that have been supported by a majority of hon. members of this House. The democracy that the government practices operates on a sliding scale. If the Conservatives are in favour, things move forward; if the Conservatives are not in favour, even though the majority of hon. members of this House are, things are set aside, things are forgotten and they act as if nothing had happened and as if the democratically held vote in the House was worth nothing.
Despite that very legitimate appeal by the hon. member for Sherbrooke, nothing was done. Hon. members know, as I do, that the session was then prorogued and we were unable to continue the debate. We are resuming it today with BillC-2, a bill, let us not forget, that puts much more stock on protecting investors than on trade agreements.
For example, how can we allow companies to sue governments simply because those governments decide to implement measures designed to foster the development of their people?
That is the question I ask as I conclude my remarks.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to join in this debate, but it seems an unfortunate circumstance that again we have to engage the government and its very loyal official opposition in respect to trade deals. The bill we are speaking to today, Bill C-2, was Bill C-23 in the previous Parliament before the government undemocratically shut down the House, thereby killing its own legislation. That is an ironic way to run government. For a government that claims to be in such a hurry to open up trade deals like this, the question is whether this trade deal meets the standard of morality and ethics that most Canadians hold.
Let us quickly go through aspects of the bill. There are two central concerns.
One is if we believe the press releases from the member for Kings—Hants, the bill was first negotiated on a dance floor over a couple of rum and Cokes in Colombia with a foreign trade minister. If this story is true, and we have to take it with a grain of salt when it comes to the member for Kings--Hants and how he enters into the media, this is a strange way for the government to have trade relations with a foreign government. An opposition member goes dancing with the other country's trade minister and at the end of the night they decide why not have a trade deal together but they will not put in any uncomfortable conditions as to how to treat the environment or how to deal with human rights complaints because that would be cumbersome for trade.
When we boil this down, the question before the House and before Canadians is, will the Government of Canada finally take the evolutionary step of moving from blanket carte blanche free trade deals to fair trade deals? Will it move to deals between this country and its democratically elected representatives and foreign nations that lift up both countries and in particular address aspects of trade, such as the environment, human rights and labour codes? Clearly in Bill C-2, formerly Bill C-23, there is little or no mention of these important concerns. These are concerns that everyday Canadians have.
A second aspect is the net benefit, the true benefit to Canada. All of us were elected to this place and came here seeking to make lives better for those whom we represent. We would want any trade deal put forward by the government to enhance the quality of life not just in the other country, but also in Canada. We have seen time and time again that when regulations and the values of this country are not placed in those trade deals, they go awry.
My riding in northwestern British Columbia has been an unfortunate victim of trade deals signed by previous Liberal and Conservative governments. We know all too well what happens when a trade deal is signed. So-called foreign investment comes in, but it is simply a foreign takeover. The jobs go away. The investment is not investment; it is simply a robbing of Canadians' greatest crown jewels, and corporate entities that used to provide jobs in this country now provide them somewhere else and the interests of Canadians are no longer represented.
For members who have not spent time in Latin America this can be difficult to understand. Democratically elected governments in places like Colombia, Peru or Ecuador will institute what are called paramilitary death squads or groups that go out and simply take care of any opposition to the sitting government. This is an abhorrent practice which unfortunately is all too common in some of the countries in the south; not all and not all the time, but it exists. To ignore the existence of such practices is either naive or outright ignorant. Particularly with the Uribe government in Colombia it is well documented, and all members in this place should be concerned, that it is a government that presents itself to the world as diplomatic and democratic, yet at home treats trade union officials and groups that dare to raise dissent to the sitting government with the utmost of severe and punishing violence.
The proposals the New Democrats have put forward in order to encourage this Parliament along, in order to entice the government toward fair trade, have been rather precise and simple. A review of human rights abuses in the trading country, in the partner that we seek to sign this agreement with, should be done independently by a group not associated with the said government.
We are saying that if this trade deal were to go ahead, there should be an independent commission to look at the complaints raised against Colombia, identify them and report to both elected houses. That commission would tell us what happened in the last year, the allegations, the ones it thinks are true, and the concerns that we should be raising.
The suggestion that we have an independent human rights council, which already exists by the way, able to report to both houses of each country, seems to us to be a most reasonable suggestion, a push toward something that all Canadians would agree with. We want trade to enhance the quality of life of our trading partners. We do not want our trade to facilitate the opposite effect.
This addresses an ideology within some members of the House that trade automatically equals democratic improvement, that anywhere there has been a notion of a free trade agreement or a new, enhanced trading practice, a sweeping wave, the invisible hand of the market will step in and lift up the voices of the independents in that country, allowing people independent thought and expression in the political sphere.
Some of the strongest trading partnerships we have are with countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on. We have been trading with Saudi Arabia for 70 or 80 years. Has there been the democratic improvement that is always promised with these trade negotiations? Has the plight of women in Saudi Arabia improved because we continue to buy its oil and services?
It is not implicit. There is nothing implicit in trade that says democratic reforms will come to that place, that human rights conditions will improve. There is nothing in trading with another country that says that as soon as we start to trade with them, things will automatically get better with respect to the environment, labour laws, and the basic reforms of social democracy.
There is nothing in this agreement that enables that either. That is the concern New Democrats have put forward to the government. We have pleaded with the government and the Liberals at committee and in the House. We are not standing against the notion of trade with Colombia, but if we are going to trade with Colombia, we should do it in such a way that Canadians will be proud. We should do it in such a way that will enhance the lives of the Colombians who will be affected by our trade relationship.
Is that unreasonable? No. Yet time and time again we run into this brick wall of ideology that says to trade at all costs with no conditions. We see what the practices lead to. Undemocratic countries around the world that we have traded with for generations have not improved any of these things. Why? Because we do not ask for it. We have never asked to evolve our trade practices. We have never said let us seek to define and understand what fair trade would be like, so at the end of the day we would see those improvements. That seems reasonable to us.
I mentioned Skeena--Bulkley Valley earlier because the place that I represent has seen two distinct so-called instances of foreign investment, which the government somewhat rightly will laud whenever it has an increase in foreign investment numbers, money coming into the country, theoretically investing in Canada, to make our economy stronger.
Skeena Cellulose Inc., a multi-tiered forestry firm in northwestern British Columbia with some 3,500 employees, went through a bankruptcy. The foreign protection laws were erased by a previous Conservative government. A Chinese firm owned wholly by the Chinese government, not a subsidiary, not a subcontractor, with no record and no compunction whatsoever, came in and shut down the mill. It made promises to the people of Prince Rupert where the main mill had been situated and six years later nothing has been done. It has not opened a thing, and the 3,500 workers have had to find other work.
Rio Tinto Alcan, formerly Alcan, formerly a crown gem in Canada's industrial sector, was taken over by a firm from outside, again with no conditions from the government. In Kitimat, one of the communities where Alcan used to operate but now it is Rio Tinto, a promise of a future mill expansion has not come and it is killing the community. This is a story that unfortunately exists across this country.
All we are asking for is a reasonable trade policy. All we are asking for is a fair trade policy from the government, one that we can all stand behind and support, one that Colombians will congratulate us for, one that will truly lift up the lives of all those concerned, not one as has been presented by the government with false promises and no hope for renewal.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
Nicole Demers Laval, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am also rising for the second time to speak to this issue, which is particularly important to me.
I am responsible for status of women issues, and the last time I rose in the House to speak to this bill, which was then Bill C-23, I did not have enough time to make an eloquent speech, because all I did was read out the names of the women who worked in unions and who had been killed because they were union activists. Naming the women killed in 2008 took up all of my time.
Despite what the Minister of Labour had the audacity to say this morning, things have unfortunately not changed, and it is wrong to believe that other countries are working with Colombia and have signed free trade agreements with Colombia, fully aware of the human rights issues.
That is all very easy for us because we are far from Colombia. We are very far from the people who are suffering. We are very far from the people who are being killed. It is easy for us to say we can use human relations to improve the fate of people who have only known suffering so far and whose rights have been denied. It is very easy to say.
It is easy as well to think that a free trade agreement can improve the living conditions of Colombians. It is easy to think such a thing, but we are not that naïve. On this side of the House—at least in this party because I should not speak for the other one—we are not naïve. Our eyes are wide open.
The government is agreeing to sign an accord with a country whose government is widely known to be shot through with corruption, a country that engages in international drug trafficking, a country that still commits acts of violence and even murder on a regular basis. It is taken for granted. People there are afraid to walk down the street because they never know when they might die.
There is a very surprising fact that I would like my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to ponder. Why do they think the countries that have a common border with Colombia refrain from signing any free trade deals with it when they would be the most likely to do so, given their shared border? Have my colleagues ever wondered about that?
It is only natural that these countries do not sign any such agreements because the people there are very close to what goes on every day in Colombia. They see and hear what we in this House choose not to see and hear.
It is very sad that the government refuses to listen to all the requests we have received from unions, groups that take an interest in humanity, and all the groups that defend rights here in Quebec and Canada. All these groups are begging us not to pass this bill without ensuring it has iron-clad guarantees, because Colombia is continuing to do what it always does.
Instead of that, the government imposes constraints as easy as putting a price on someone’s heads. The head of an employee, a worker or a union member is currently worth $200,000. That is what they say. But what is $200,000 to a drug trafficker or a hired gun? That is the question they need to ask themselves.
There are fines for committing murder. Can someone tell me where are we headed? Where are we headed as human beings?
It is confusing sitting in this House when we see what goes on. Does the government over there not have anyone who thinks for themselves? Can it not make decisions without CFAC? Is that the problem? It always needs someone to tell it what to do and then it does so with blinkers and with no thought and no consideration for the consequences.
As I was saying, it is easy not to think of the consequences when one lives far away, when one is not there every day with the people who are suffering and the people who are dying. It is very easy, but for the love of heaven, at some point in time the ministers of this government will have to start talking to each other, read more and look at what is happening in the world. Rather than read L'Osservatore Romano, which only covers religious matters, let them look at what is going on in Colombia and get on with the job that should have been done long ago.
We do not ask a country to sign a free trade agreement and ignore the workers. That is not done. What the government has tried to have us believe this morning, though its Minister of Labour, is that everything was just fine in the best of worlds, that every country wants a free trade agreement with Colombia, perfect country that it is. Once we get there after concluding our free trade agreement with Colombia, it will become perfect. The government will no longer be corrupt. There will be no more murders. Employees and workers will have decent working conditions. Everyone will have a roof over their head. No one will be worried, and no one will be selling cocaine. That might upset some of them.
I think we have to be serious when we talk about people's lives. The government is refusing to bring back home people who are accused and risk getting killed in other countries, like the two young men from Montreal who had an unfortunate accident in a schoolyard in Kuwait. It refuses to bring them back home. Nothing is being done for them, but now prices are being put on the heads of union leaders in a country we know nothing about.
We were in Argentina last week. My colleagues and I had discussions with people who look after trade among South American countries. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay have agreements together and work together because it is a good thing to have free trade agreements, but these agreements take into account the needs of each as well as human rights, unlike the free trade agreement the government wants us to approve here in this House. How is it that Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, which have a lot to offer and need a lot, have not concluded a free trade agreement with Colombia?
Who are we to think that we are better than others and will succeed where others have failed? Colombia has to clean up its yard, it must clean up its human rights record, recognize its errors and implement the practices and procedures that will ensure respect for human rights and protect the lives of individuals, even if they are union workers. Let Colombia do that, and then we will reconsider. So long as this does not happen, we are not going to ask the fox to tend the henhouse. That is what we are doing at the moment.
So, we will continue to say no to this agreement, as we have done in the past. My only regret is that the Liberal Party changed its mind on this.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his constant work on this issue. He spoke a bit about the organizations that have come out against this trade deal, from many of the local unions, to our church groups, right across our great country. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a local farmer from my riding who heard my speech on this bill prior to prorogation, Bill C-23. As a farmer, he asked me why the Conservatives thought he truly want to sell his product with blood on his hands at the expense of trade unionists, at the expense of the environment. No one wants to see this and that is what the trade deal would do.
The New Democrats want to ensure we bring forward fair trade. We have been talking about fair trade. That is what we need to bring forward when we look at trade agreements with other countries.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 11 a.m.
Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today, and I hope there will be many more members who rise after me to debate this bill and to defeat this bill, because that is what we are aiming to do.
It was very interesting to hear the Minister of Labour just a few moments ago. I guess the Conservatives are feeling a bit vulnerable with respect to this bill now, feeling they have to send in more ministers to defend their very bad position on this Bill C-2, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
I want to begin my remarks by thanking the NDP trade critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who has done such an amazing job of bringing public awareness to this agreement and how devastating it will be for the people of Colombia.
We are the fourth party in the House, but I will say that we pack a lot of punch. With our friends in the Bloc, we have been holding up this bill for more than a year, and I know this is very troubling to the Conservative government. As with everything else, the Conservatives would just like to ram this bill through. They do not have any respect for this place. In fact, they are quite contemptuous of the House and its proceedings. Should we dare to actually debate something in depth and give analysis, they consider that to be very problematic. But I am really glad we are debating this bill and are shedding the full light of day on what this agreement is all about.
It strikes me that so often these terrible trade agreements are negotiated by nameless bureaucrats and appointees and representatives in backrooms. God knows where they meet; it is all done in secret. We know, in fact, that this particular deal took over one and a half years to negotiate.
There is so little we know about the process. There is so little vested in citizen participation. In fact, there is not any citizen engagement. More and more people, not only in Canada but around the world, are rejecting the whole notion of trade taking place through secret agreements done behind closed doors. This manifestation of globalization, this delegation of power to people who are not accountable and not elected, is something more and more people are disturbed about and are rejecting.
I am really glad we are taking this on in the House and are saying we will not put up with it. We will not allow this agreement to go through and we will do everything we can to stop this free trade agreement from being ratified by the House of Commons. As the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has pointed out, the U.S. Congress and the European parliaments have taken a similar stance. It is the present Conservative government and the Liberal Party that is supporting it who are way out of step and way out of line.
I have heard a number of the speeches in the House on this agreement. I remember when it came up a year ago. It was then Bill C-23. We debated this same bill and I heard many of the arguments.
I remember some comments that the member for Elmwood—Transcona made a few days ago in debating Bill C-2. He pointed out, and rightly so, that citizens, consumers themselves, are saying they want to see fair trade. People as consumers are rejecting products and services that are based on trading practices that they know to be exploitative and based on the whole ideology of the race to the bottom and the conferring of greater and greater rights on multinational corporations. The member's comments were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of reflecting that there is a change in society and that people are no longer willing to put up with these kinds of agreements.
We are being fed a line that somehow this agreement will be good for the people of Canada and for the people of Colombia. There is really no evidence to show that. We do know, however, that it will be very good for corporations that will benefit from this trade agreement. There lies the evidence of what is going on here.
As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility and a duty to examine these agreements from the point of view of the public interest, not from the point of view of private and corporate interests. That is what we are here to do, to defend the public interest and the rights and potential and the vision of what citizens in both countries want to see in terms of their own personal development, their community and their society at large. That is only one of the reasons this agreement should be rejected.
I read some of the background information to the bill and noted that information has been provided by the Canadian Labour Congress and Human Rights Watch in the Now magazine. They have compiled a lot of information about the bill and came up with 10 reasons why it should be rejected. They call it the Colombia count. Their number one reason is that more labour leaders are killed every year in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined: 474 since 2002 and 2,865 in the last 25 years. That is truly an appalling record and very disturbing when we couple that with the fact that Colombia has labour laws that actually shut down and stifle workers' rights, that its rate of unionization is less than 5%, the lowest of any country in the western hemisphere, and that we have had these paramilitaries, these deadly groups that have been murdering people and stifling rights. In 2008 alone, 27 high-ranking army officials were accused of kidnapping and executing civilians. The litany of the horrors goes on and on.
While we heard from the labour minister today that this side agreement is somehow lifting the bar and that we should be proud of it, members of the NDP reject the whole premise that there is some kind of side agreement which is not in the main body of the text. We are calling for an independent human rights assessment. That is the least that should be done in terms of any movement on the bill. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Colombia. We owe it to the memory of all of the labour leaders and the community activists who have been murdered, harassed or imprisoned and prevented from doing the kinds of things that we would consider to be entirely legitimate and democratic here in Canada. We owe it in their memory to ensure that there is an independent human rights assessment.
I believe that if we had the courage to turn down this agreement, we would actually have support from people in Canada. In my own community in east Vancouver, we have businesses up and down Commercial Drive, which is a very well-known place in Vancouver and a wonderful place to visit. Many of the businesses are engaged in a program and a campaign to promote fair trade. We believe it is the first street in Canada to be named a fair trade street where businesses are encouraged to both sell and use products that are as a result of free trade. It is really remarkable that small, independent businesses are actually choosing to take that route. They are actually saying that they have made the choice not to buy products from suppliers, companies or corporations that have been engaged in the exploitation of workers and engaged in practices that degrade the environment.
It is a wonderful thing when we see that expression coming forward from the grassroots, the local communities. It tells us that there is another path, another vision, an alternative that is based on the notion of trade that supports the rights of people, and that is the fundamental test.
These trade agreements are about the privileges and the huge benefits that these multinational corporations get. We should completely reverse that and say that these agreements need to be about the rights of workers, of civil society, of the environment and of social standards. If we could base our agreements on that, we would see very different agreements in place. We would be prepared to look at that and negotiate those kinds of agreements.
I would like to see more people up in the House defeating Bill C-2. We do not want it to go ahead. This is a bad bill. Let the House of Commons speak for the people of Canada and say that we reject this free trade agreement because it is a bad trade agreement that will only hurt the people of Colombia.
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
March 30th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say something intelligent but it is very hard to know where the Liberals stand these days, as the New Democratic member mentioned. The Liberals say one thing and do another.