House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I thank the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park for his apology and withdrawal. I assume the issue is therefore put to rest.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to confirm that we are proceeding with Bill C-23 as we just had a motion dealing it.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Yes.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor today so that I can continue the debate on this free trade agreement with Colombia. The Bloc Québécois is opposed to Bill C-23 for a number of reasons. And we are not the only ones who oppose this bill. The whole of Colombian civil society, the unions that are trying to help workers in Colombia and a great many groups in Canadian civil society have also criticized this agreement.

This agreement is premature. Moreover, it does not take into account the serious problems in Colombia, especially with regard to human rights and respect for individuals. Colombia is one of Canada's minor trading partners. Canada exports grain to Colombia, which in turn sends us products that are often hand-made. Where this agreement could be important to Canada is in connection with the extractive industry. Colombia is among the Latin American countries that are very rich in ore. Canadian mining companies that set up there need protection, because these countries are not safe.

It is no secret that Colombia is a country with a great many guerillas. What is more, President Uribe is not known for promoting social justice or upholding human rights. When we first started talking here in this House about this free trade agreement with Colombia, the ambassador of that country sent tonnes of documents to members of Parliament. We received those documents in our offices. We were told that there had been changes, that President Uribe had changed his ways in the past few years and that Colombian law had changed. That is not exactly true.

We recently read a blog by Linda Diebel of the Toronto Star, who accuses the hon. member for Kings—Hants of trying to whitewash the Uribe government by peddling untruths. Diebel scoffs at the member's claim that there are no longer any paramilitaries in Colombia. That is the line we got from various Conservative members who have spoken. It is shameful; these people are prepared to hide the truth to advance their agenda and adopt an agreement that is decried by many in the general public, in the world and in Canadian civil society.

Linda Diebel reminds the hon. member for Kings—Hants that the new death squads that have formed and that the new groups of drug traffickers are just the old paramilitary groups and they still have close ties to the army. According to Diebel, he is wrong to say that the situation of murdered unionists in Colombia is improving. She goes on to say that recent figures show a slight increase.

She roundly condemns this member's campaign to whitewash the Uribe government, which has been condemned by the main human rights groups. This is a president who ignored the actions of the death squads when he was governor of Antioquia.

What does this mean? It means that when our investors, who want to make money, go to such a country, they need protection. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is not about trade and, I reiterate, is all about investments. Because this agreement contains a chapter on investment protection, it will make the lives of Canadian investors easier, especially for those investing in mining in Colombia.

Judging by all the investment protection agreements Canada has signed over the years, the one that would bind Canada and Colombia seems ill conceived. All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue the local government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment. These measures are similar to the NAFTA chapter 11 provisions and are particularly dangerous in a country where labour or environmental protection laws are uncertain at best.

We should remember that, with respect to foreign investment in certain countries such as Colombia, there are few if any rules that protect people against environmental disasters. There are no provisions with respect to child labour or working women, for example, or to protect workers in general. These are countries where a human being is not necessarily valuable and it is up to us, I believe, as a civilized country that recognizes the importance of the human being, the importance of prohibiting child labour, and the importance of ensuring gender equality, to set rules for our entrepreneurs so that they do not disregard human rights and are cognizant of environmental protection, even if the environment is not that of their own country.

I have seen slides, pictures showing, for instance, that the ground in areas where some Canadian extractive companies were mining was so polluted that river water turned pink. This water had become unusable for the local people, who then had to walk miles every day to fetch water. The groundwater has been completely contaminated for decades, perhaps even centuries to come. It should be possible to tell a Canadian mining company that, because it is contributing to water pollution in an area, action will be taken against it. But if the company is penalized somehow and cannot operate, it could sue the government, increasing its chances of being able to continue to not give a damn about the environment and human rights.

That is one of the reasons why we oppose this free trade deal. It provides excessive protection to Canadian extractive companies. It is one thing to protect Quebeckers and Canadians, but this agreement ought to include standards to protect the people and the environment.

There may be a few words about them here and there in the agreement, but that is not enough.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's fine speech.

It is not just abroad that many Canadian companies are doing this kind of thing. Companies mining for uranium have done some testing at Sept-Îles on the North Shore. They did some drilling and took some core samples, and everything was left on site. Everything was left with no supervision from Environment Canada, and the Canadian government does not care.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had to be called upon, because these Canadian companies are doing this not only abroad, but also in Quebec on the North Shore, for instance, in uranium mining. They left exploratory samples—they were hoping to find uranium—on the side of the road that runs along the Moisie River, a salmon river, as well as near the water intake for the city of Sept-Îles. Not only are environmental regulations needed, but we must also be much more vigilant, because companies are doing this kind of thing right here, as well as abroad, and they have no qualms about it.

I wonder if my hon. colleague knew that this was happening not only abroad, but also in Quebec. I would like to hear her comments on that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I can tell my Bloc Québécois colleague, the member for Manicouagan, that we are aware. It is appalling, because a few years ago, the OECD called on all countries to abide by world standards and regulations that would require all countries to have strict environmental standards.

Obviously, Canada has not gone along with this. It said that it would abide by this through agents that have a name I cannot remember right now. That said, it is not true that we warn all companies that they must be careful of the environment. The things my colleague mentioned, what is happening on the North Shore, as in Colombia, can be seen by people who take VIA Rail here. If you go to British Columbia or travel across Canada on VIA Rail, in some areas, you can still see those infamous creosote railway ties, treated with oil to preserve the wood. They are there, rotting on the side of the railway tracks. You can see piles of white barrels that contain harmful products right beside the tracks.

Unfortunately, here in Canada, we have no regulations to force or require companies to make a habit of protecting the environment. That is unfortunate. Perhaps the environment is not important to this government.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Chambly—Borduas has time for a very brief question.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I grew up in a mining region in northwestern Quebec. I can therefore speak to the mining companies' thoughtlessness and lack of concern for the environment over the past years and decades. One need only go to the far north, including the areas around James Bay, Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay, to witness the aftermath of their activities, much like in Abitibi.

My question for my colleague is this: measures like the ones being taken here, which will give the go-ahead to Canadian companies to act—

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member has just 30 seconds to respond to her colleague's question.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would say that it would tarnish Canada's image. That is a shame because we must not forget that Quebec has done more than its part to improve Canada's image and that, if not for Quebec, Canada's reputation would be even worse.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, Canada is a country that has standards, both for human rights and for labour law. That is why I cannot support the proposed free trade agreement with Colombia. If Canada is to stand up for human rights and the protection of workers, we cannot sign a free trade agreement with a country where workers do not have basic freedoms.

The government believes that a free trade deal with Colombia is a good idea because of “modern economics”. Free trade, however, does not benefit everyone equally. Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz said last year, “Standard economic theory does not say that everyone will be better off as a result of trade liberalization, only that the winners could compensate the losers”. Free trade will not benefit the common people of Colombia.

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation reports that this trade agreement would have a significant impact on Colombia's agriculture which represents a significant portion of the country's GDP. The proposed free trade agreement is slanted and Colombia stands to lose the most. Clearly, those who will hurt the most are those who are workers at the bottom of the ladder.

In Colombia, labour laws do not give workers basic protection. Its labour code does not meet the International Labour Organization's minimum standards. I would expect that Canadians would be outraged if this were the case here in Canada. Why should Canada encourage trade with a country where workers' rights are not valued?

Violence against labour organizers in Colombia is rampant. There have been 2,685 union workers killed in the last 25 years. Due to impunity, 97% of these murder cases remain unsolved. It is not only that Colombians do not have basic workers' rights, they are incapable of asking for them because their very lives are threatened.

Someone who recently came to Canada from Colombia and is living in Ottawa said:

Free trade means big countries like Canada versus [a] small country like Colombia. Colombia has no final products...industry is not well developed. Colombia has a lot of basic natural resources, so big developed countries like Canada can take advantage... [getting] cheap natural resources, tax free. Then the natural resources are processed abroad. For Colombia, it means that jobs are created outside. There is no benefit for common people. Free trade with Colombia is a sophisticated way to take advantage of the common people...It's not a secret, in Colombia the guerillas, paramilitary, the police and drug dealers work together. You never know who is who; you never know who is honest.

This statement from that Colombian woman clearly demonstrates that violence affects day-to-day life. Here in Canada we take human rights for granted. We cannot forget that our actions affect what happens elsewhere, and that we have a responsibility to help our own economy without hurting the lives of others in a faraway country.

As a member of the United Nations, we have international obligations, and this legislation demonstrates that the Conservative government is not respecting those commitments.

Even the United States Congress rejected a free trade agreement with Colombia. American President Barack Obama has said, “We have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn't being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights”.

The Conservative government is only concerned about Canada's economic interests, without regard to possible effects on the Colombian people. Colombia is not such a significant trading partner for Canada, but the benefits for Canada will not be significant enough to justify this trade agreement.

The Prime Minister has stated that it is a “ridiculous” idea to expect other countries to deal with their social, political and human rights problems, but I know many Canadians who feel that it is a more ridiculous position to encourage a trade system that does not uphold the rights of its own people.

In the past, Canada has sanctioned irresponsible governments. We cannot turn back and imply that leaders can do whatever they want without consequences. Canada cannot set a precedent that suggests that economic interests outweigh basic human rights.

International pressure should be put on the Government of Colombia to allow for the development of democracy there. We should not be encouraging trade in a place where labour organizers are routinely targeted. We need to work toward a better strategy for international investments that would benefit Canadians as well as the hard-working people of Colombia.

This free trade agreement does not achieve the goal of supporting the hard-working people of Colombia. International investment must be done in a way that respects human rights and is sustainable in every sense of the word. The free trade agreement inhibits the rights of Colombians. We must not support this agreement. We must show all Canadians and our trading partners that human rights remain a fundamental value and priority of the Canadian people and their government.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely right. There have been 2,690 trade unionists murdered in Colombia since 1986. Twenty-seven trade unionists have been murdered there just this year alone. Colombia is not a significant trading partner of ours. In fact, in that region, it is only the fifth largest trading partner in Latin America.

Why is the government so directed to get this agreement signed when we see this total lack of human rights? Why does the government keep pursuing the same sorts of agreements, such as this one and the Canada-Peru agreement, which are all patterned on the FTA? Why does the government not look to the European Union for better examples of trade agreements that bring all the countries up and provide fair trade provisions, as opposed to this model, which results in a race to the bottom for the lowest common denominator?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not surprised that the Conservative Party supports free trade with Colombia that violates human rights and democracy, but I am surprised that the Liberal Party is now in favour of it in the name of free trade.

I do not understand why the Mr. Michael Ignatieff (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.) rejected a letter sent to him last spring during the leadership convention in Vancouver by over 50 prominent Canadians, calling on him to oppose the deal. When the Liberal trade critic and foreign affairs critic travelled to Colombia in August, they were briefed by a majority of supporters of the Colombian regime and they failed to see the kinds of human rights violations and the negative impact this trade deal would inflict on the hard-working people of Colombia. I do not understand that either. They have closed their eyes to the Colombian people. It is very surprising.

I certainly hope that the Liberals will change their minds. I hope that they will not support this trade deal nor jump in bed with the Conservatives.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the United Kingdom ended military aid to Colombia because of the human rights record. Forty-three foreign companies in Colombia have been accused of having ties with paramilitary groups.

In 2008, the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that no agreement be signed with Colombia until the human rights situation there improved. It also recommended that a human rights impact assessment study be undertaken to determine the real impact of the trade deal. The government has ignored that report.

In John Turner's day, the Liberals were opposed to a free trade agreement. Not only have they resolved to sign on to that agreement, but they are actively supporting this particular agreement. Why will the government and the Liberals not look back to 2008 and that House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade recommendation to have an impact study done? Why not have that study done first before we proceed?