House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ethical.

Topics

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

Madam Speaker, the short answer of course is no. I can agree with the theory. The theory is whether the Canada pension plan board should be investing in industries that subject labour to practices which we would not accept, et cetera.

I understand what she is trying to say, but the problem is due diligence. How much information is the investment board supposed to have?

The reality is that there are many people in this country who would invest in stocks of various companies that have huge reaches around the world, and it may well be that one small part of a company's operation somewhere in Indonesia or elsewhere has some kind of blemish on it. I am not saying that is an excuse, but it is the question of who knows. It is the question of knowledge.

Let us say that I invest in XYZ Ltd., which is a multi-billion dollar corporation, and it owns some small operation indirectly or has a joint venture somewhere where people are being made to work 20 hours a day or something like that. If we do not know that, are we responsible for the investment? Or is she suggesting that we have to somehow investigate every company that is available for investment all over the world for their world activities to quantify what it is that they are doing to make judgment calls?

The point of the matter is that this is not the criteria of an investment board. The investment board, while it takes some of those things into consideration, cannot be responsible for all of the activities of any company that it invests in. It tries to be responsible, but the reality is that it cannot ultimately be responsible for everything that is going on in the world. It just does not have the resources to do that kind of due diligence.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, no one is suggesting that if people do not know that a company is doing something, they should be responsible for investing in them.

What about the companies that we do know are creating those situations, that we do know are not adhering to labour standards, and that we do know are doing wrong to the environment? That is what we are saying.

We are not saying just anybody; it just cannot be done. There is documented evidence. There are groups all over the world that conduct investigations and get the information that way. The proof is there. That is why we have had situations such as Talisman oil and its investments, which ended up having to readjust the way it was doing business. It was recognized that it was investing in what ended up being a sort of rebel activity and in stuff that was not good in that country.

If people do not know, no one is suggesting they should not invest, but if they do know that tobacco companies are targeting young people, children, by selling tobacco in third world countries--and that information is coming out now--if people do know that a company is using five year olds and six year olds to make toys and rugs, we should not allow those companies to be invested in. That is what we are saying. We are not suggesting that no one can invest anywhere. But if the information is there, we should not be investing in those companies.

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alex Shepherd Durham, ON

First, Madam Speaker, that is predicated on the assumption that this is all known, understood, documented and agreed on, whatever this activity is, which I suspect is questionable.

There is one other aspect to this assumption, which is that we should even be restricting the countries that we invest in because we are saying those countries do not have laws that protect their people adequately and so forth.

The problem with the flip side of this is that we get no investment. Some of those countries need foreign direct investment to help their people, to bring them along and to raise their income.

The hon. member will probably talk about the maquiladoras region of Mexico. The reality is that the Mexican economy and the average Mexican life and standard of living have been better ever since the World Trade Organization, but that same member would say what was said 20 years ago: that we should not be investing, that we should not be allowing our country to invest in Mexico because the labour practices are a lot different from ours and therefore we are subsidizing an inadequate or inferior labour force. The reality is that this has been a success. Those people's lives have been made better.

I really question this subjective argument that we know everything going on in every country, and I also question whether we can override the laws of an individual country by refusing to actually invest because of some subjective argument that we believe in. When the member talks about these things, sure, we can all sympathize with her. We all sympathize with the idea. None of us here would agree with child labour and some of these things. Clearly these are things that I think any corporate executives, if they knew about it or had knowledge of it, would not be involved in and would not invest in.

Having said that, let me say that if we try to change the actual investment criteria of the Canada pension board to make it somehow responsible, such that somehow it is supposed to know all of these things, suddenly we will have a huge overhead structure in which the people can be intransigent and will be unable to make good investment decisions.

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3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to the motion brought forward by the NDP dealing with ethical behaviours for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

On the surface the motion looks like a feel good motion. The way the NDP has worded it, no one will say we should not be doing this because companies that are unethical will not have the support of the people of Canada and neither will they have the support of the shareholders. This is the kind of motion that is a great idea on the surface and idealistically everything looks fine.

As I was listening to my colleague from the NDP talking about child labour, the raping of the environment and these kinds of situations, of course Canadians are concerned, and on listening to this they will say that they do not want to support any companies that go into third world countries and rape the environment or break labour standards or labour codes. That is exactly what the motion is all about. It is all about the NDP trying to make a everyone feel good.

The problem is that when we go deeper into the motion and listen to what the member was saying, it is like the sky is falling. It is totally devoid of facts, totally devoid of common sense and totally devoid of how things work in reality.

This morning I thought I heard the member talk about how these companies were somehow associated with al-Qaeda. I did not hear exactly what she said but I was quite surprised to hear her talking about al-Qaeda. What does the Canada pension plan have to do with al-Qaeda, except for the fact that from their point of view they have to dramatize things to imply that the sky is falling and that we have to do something about it? It is a typical Liberal strategy.

Let us take a look at the record of the NDP in dealing with the economy. I come from Alberta, which is right next to British Columbia, and when the NDP was ruling in British Columbia with its high taxes, non-common sense approach to the economy, we suddenly had an influx of people coming into Alberta from British Columbia because they could not find jobs. We know the impact in the province of Alberta when the economy in British Columbia goes down because people move from British Columbia over into Alberta.

As a matter of fact, Madam Speaker, in your own riding in the Okanagan Valley people could not find jobs when the NDP was ruling there so they moved to Alberta where there were jobs because of sound fiscal management.

The motion talks about these feel good situations but there are no sound fiscal ideas behind it. It is devoid of reality. It is a situation where one might agree that we have to do it, but let us talk for a second about the Canada pension plan.

On the contrary maybe nothing is happening, as they are suggesting we should not do this and that. I do not even understand when there is such a big scandal in this country. The Liberals are being held accountable. When every Canadian wants to know the truth of where that $100 million went, where does the NDP focus its attention? It focuses it on bringing forward a motion like this. Maybe when we have nothing else to do in the House we can discuss these things at that given time, but right now, when there is a scandal plagued government on that side and Canadians want answers, what do we have? We have a motion like this from the NDP.

Let us discuss the motion. I beg to differ with my hon. colleague on the other side when he says that the Canada pension plan is a great plan to take care of Canadians when they retire. That is nonsense. I have met with many seniors in my riding who are receiving Canada pensions and they tell me that the plan has failed as a safety net. They live on fixed incomes which are subject to slight increases.

We recognized that the Canada pension plan was not the vehicle to do that and therefore brought in the old age security. Even then, the old age security has put seniors who are on fixed incomes, living without subsidized housing, without other benefits, into a very tight situation.

The question we should be asking is whether the Canada pension plan is a real retirement plan. No, it is not. When CPP was first brought into the House we had discussions and found that there were serious flaws in the way it was designed and handled, and in the way it was set to look after the needs of seniors. The younger generation has no more confidence in the Canada pension plan.

The government recognized all those things, which was why it introduced the RRSPs and other things asking Canadians to be responsible for their own retirement fund. They did not want Canadians relying on the government.

About two or three years ago we had a debate when the premiums were raised. At that time we pointed out again that there were serious flaws in the Canada pension plan with the premiums and that it did not meet the requirements of the future generation, as the baby boomers get older and Canada pension plan unfunded liability increases. This is a well known fact.

We need the Canada pension plan to be in a sound fiscal position and one in which everyone contributes. Whatever it gives, it gives, so that it is there not as a complete safety net but at some point as a safety net. To do that we have to give the Canada pension plan board leeway as to where it can invest because investment is the key to where it will get its return so it is able to meet some of its obligations. I have to say some of its obligations because those premiums are not going to meet the full obligations. The way it is designed it will not meet the full obligations.

Having said that, can we now come along and say to the Canada pension plan board that it cannot do this or that? What do we base that on? Is it based on some notions out there? That is true, it is based on the NDP's notion that it is unethical and based on the fact that we are directing the board in what to do. This creates a danger.

My friends in the NDP should know that there are laws that prevent companies from polluting the environment, that prevent companies from going into third world countries and raping the environment. We have laws to charge them. We now have the ILO. We have signed the convention on child labour.

We are looking at many of the issues to which the NDP members have spoken, such as unfair labour practices, the environment and everything. We have laws in this country that will ensure that those companies are penalized. If they are penalized and charged their value on the stock market is practically zero.

Why are we sitting here asking that the Canada pension board be guided by ethical investment policies and telling it that it cannot do this or that? Members of that board are prudent managers and they will put the money into sound companies where they can get the best return.

I think I have already made my major point in saying why I will not support the motion put forward by the NDP. I would support the motion if it had concerned strengthening the child labour laws in third world countries. We would support a motion if it concerned enforcing environment laws for companies that rape the environment. However we will definitely not support a motion concerning some fuzzy buzzy situation about some company doing this or that.

We have other ways and means of doing those things but the motion before us today is not one of them. We should leave the Canada pension plan board to do its work. It is being run by competent people who can make the right decisions. As far as we are concerned, the board is already under severe stress and it will face more and more stress as more and more Canadians lose confidence in the Canada pension plan.

I do not have much confidence in the Canada pension plan being able to look after my retirement, and I am sure many Canadians feel the same way. As a matter of fact, some other countries are looking at ways of financing their own pension plans and many have different forms of pension plans.

A suggestion was made by the Canadian Alliance, and now by the Conservative Party, that there should be self-directed RRSPs for this thing. If our friends on the NDP side do not like one company for one reason or another, they do not have to buy stocks in that company. However to come along and try to direct the board on notions and vague ideas, that it is a mistake.

The member alluded to the Talisman being in Sudan. She should know that it was the public opinion in the country that made the Talisman move out. The Talisman moved out because its shares were not reflecting its true value. That is the public thing she should do, not come along and put forward this kind of motion.

What happened? The public put pressure on the company because its shares were not reflecting their true value. It sold a profitable business out to a company. Now what? Sudan now has a company and nobody can do anything about it. If they have anything, let the public know and if they do not want to let it ride, the shares will fall down and nobody will buy their shares.

However the NDP should not come in here with all these fuzzy words that we should not invest in the Canada pension. In all likelihood the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board will not put money into companies like the tobacco companies or companies that are building landmines. Who would want to invest in those sorts of things?

I do not know where the NDP members get their facts. Maybe they do have the facts to say that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board put money in those things. We do not even know about all those things.

It is difficult to support the motion because it is devoid of facts and has nothing to do with the reality of what is happening. It is just a motion with an idea.

As I said before, the Liberal government is facing one of the biggest scandals in the history of Canada and what do we have? We have a motion like this.

Let us talk about the scandal for a second where $100 million, boom, went down. The Minister of Environment spent money on a festival and then they start trotting out little documents saying that they sent money to other members' ridings.

Does the House know what the Liberals do? They do not for ask my approval. They send the money because they want to buy votes. They did not send the money because of some great festival. That is nonsense. It was pure vote buying. Then they say that I have seen it, that it has come across my table. The Prime Minister does not have to stand up and read it. I can tell him because I get something that says “Mr. MP, send your approval”. Even though I do not, the money gets sent anyway. They do not ask me. Then they stand up as if somehow I am associated with the scandal over there. Where does the money go? The money goes to buy votes in my riding. The Liberals were kicked out in my riding. Canadians are not foolish nor are they stupid. They know when the Liberals are trying to buy their votes.

The finance minister mentioned today that the budget that will come down on the March 23. Hopefully it will not tell Canadians that the Liberals will buy their votes by giving them goods. As a matter of fact, the member sitting across will go to Toronto and talk about the great money he will spend to do things. That is buying votes. He is being challenged in his riding.

This whole business of using Canadian taxpayer money to buy votes has to stop. Canadians are saying that, and hopefully they will say it at the polls. For the first time Canadians are showing real anger with the way the Liberals have managed the money. It is terrible the way Liberals have managed the money. The anger is coming out, and they recognize it because the polls are showing it.

We should debate in the House how best to use Canadian taxpayers money. When the Liberals mismanage it, we then stand in the House ask the questions so Canadians have the answers.

To get back to the motion, it is difficult for my party to support it. Before my friends in the NDP get up and say that the sky is falling, the sky is not falling. We have different reasons why we do not support the motion.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the member for Calgary East a very specific question. He talked about the fact that whenever governments invested in infrastructure or special projects to help make our cities, our communities better, this was government buying votes.

The member is from Calgary. Does he feel that the billions of dollars over the 10 to 12 years that have gone into the oil and gas business in his community, through direct grants and tax cuts, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone into the agricultural sector in his province, is also considered as the Government of Canada trying to buy votes? Does he not believe that those industries are entitled to this chamber, the House of Commons, working hard to ensure that they can compete and are supported so that they are globally sustainable?

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I am glad he asked that. He said that billions of dollars were given out to the oil industry. I want to remind him that the national energy policy, which his government brought out--

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Toronto—Danforth, ON

It was a work of genius.

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

--was one of the biggest disasters the country ever had. I lived in Alberta at that time and I know what the national energy policy did to that province.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Toronto—Danforth, ON

It is the best thing that ever happened to the country.

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Let me ask another question. Every municipality in the country is demanding to know where the infrastructure money is from the government? The government has provided nothing. Every municipality wants federal government involvement in infrastructure. What does it do? It takes money like fuel taxes. It takes more money from cities than it gives back to cities. That is why cities need the money. All the mayors are demanding unanimously that the federal government now return that money to the cities, and not by that horrible infrastructure.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like people to come back to the issue at hand because it is worthy of our interest and our comments. However, the comments of the member for Calgary East on the actual motion were so off the wall it is hard to know where to start.

This is RSP season and many Canadians are making the choice as to where to put their RSP investments. Many Canadians take the time to ensure that the money they have put away is done so in such a way that it is ethically invested. Those investments do not harm either people or the environment or whatever their particular interest is. Is the member aware that the Canadian government has no such scruples whatsoever?

This year $2.5 billion of our Canada pension funds were invested in corporations that manufacture the world's deadliest weapons, including missile launchers, incendiary bombs, battle tanks, high tech fighter aircraft, anti-personnel cluster munitions, warships, and even landmines, many of which are in use in the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Is he aware of that?

Would he also care to comment on the fact that the Canadian government has inadvertently conscripted us into war profiteering, whether we like it or not, as investors in the Canada pension plan?

Here are some of the weapons that we are investing in which are at work today in Iraq: the BGM-109 Tomahawk missile; the F-14A Tomcat fighter jet; the M3 “Bradley” assault vehicle; the Nighthawk stealth jet; the B-52 Stratofortress aircraft; and the M109A6 Paladin tank. The hon. member for Calgary East has shares in all of those weapons of mass destruction that are blowing the legs off children in Iraq as we speak.

The current Canada pension plan is specifically barred from taking into consideration anything other than maximizing for profit. The board is not allowed in its investment strategy to take into consideration whether those investments may be contrary to the wishes of Canadians, contrary to Canadian values, or even contrary to international conventions to which Canada has stipulated itself, such as the treaty on landmines put together by the former foreign affairs minister for the government at the time, the hon. Lloyd Axworthy. That treaty is something we are all proud of as a nation, yet this glaring contradiction exists that we are inadvertently investing in these things.

I raised only armaments as one issue. Our Canada pension plan also invests in pornography, tobacco and a number of other things that Canadians are against.

Seeing as the empirical evidence is such that you do not have to compromise a good rate of return to invest ethically, would he not reconsider his, I was going to say stupid, but his fatuous remarks about this motion?

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4 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

I would remind members to address the Chair and not each other. I would also ask that the language be fitting of Parliament.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, that is typical Liberal garbage calling my comments stupid. The sky is falling. Those members are always reporting these things. The only point I can agree on was when the member said that the government was scrupulous.

The member talked about armaments and about the war in Iraq, and about this issue. There are types of treaties. Parliament decides whether to join in war or not. To say that armaments are the responsibility of a company is absolutely class nonsense. It is weak. It is the government that chooses to go to war. It is the government that chooses to fight over there. Under the rules, we have to tell the government whether it goes to war or not. We should not be telling companies what to do.

All we said about the Canada pension plan was for the government to maximize its interest in companies. If there were no war in Iraq and children were not dying, nobody would be selling any of those things. Those companies would not be selling their stocks and we would not be buying their stocks.

That party's usual garbage about the world falling apart is just a typical NDP way of doing business.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree that the NDP has brought up some points in the debate today that have raised some questions about the government's choice of investing CPP funds in some questionable companies.

I also want to refer to my colleague's comments. He briefly talked about the scandal going on with the government scandal. I was surprised that the member for Toronto—Danforth shouted across the way, with regard to government largesse, “That is just a down payment and it is not going to stop”.

Later on, when my colleague referenced the national energy program, the member for Toronto--Danforth said, “It was a work of genius. It is the best thing that ever happen to this country”.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

The evil genius.