House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

November 17th, 2009 / 12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question on poverty for my colleague. I enjoyed her speech, but she did not really have enough time to speak to poverty or respond to the member opposite who spoke of reducing poverty in Colombia.

When we only meet with representatives of the Colombian government and those who can cook the books—it is as simple as that—can we truly talk about reducing poverty in Colombia? The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has the real figures: 68% of the population in rural Colombia live below the poverty line. Of that number, at least 11% were poorer still and were even struggling to feed themselves.

Can we sign a free trade agreement with a country that has absolutely no respect for its population or its workers and certainly has no real concern for reducing poverty?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Josée Beaudin Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. I want to thank my colleague.

Although the poverty rate in Colombia has gone down over the past few years, it is still one of the highest in Latin America. This is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. We cannot sign free trade agreements with this country to make life easier for investors. On the contrary, Canada has to retain its ability to exert pressure on this country to respect the human rights of its citizens.

I would like to draw a parallel with the child poverty situation in Canada, since I am a member of the committee that deals with that issue. In the past 10 years, we have not in any way achieved the goal that was set for reducing child poverty. Other goals will be set for 2020 or 2025. If Canada cannot manage to come up with the necessary measures to reduce child poverty here, then I imagine that poverty in other countries is way over its head.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to speak to Bill C-23, which the Conservatives would use to force Canada, if they have their way, to enter into a free trade agreement with Colombia.

A number of speakers before me have clearly shown that, unlike most international trade agreements, this agreement does not acknowledge the importance of enforcing respect for human rights.

The Conservatives have managed to convince themselves that by signing a free trade agreement with Colombia, we would miraculously be creating a new set of conditions that would have Colombia respect human rights from this point forward.

That is just not the case. Even the Americans, who the Conservatives emulate in international matters, are saying that they will never, ever sign a free trade agreement with the current Colombian government for the simple reason that they recognize, as we in the NDP do, that, unfortunately for its inhabitants, that country does not respect basic rights and the right to free association and union rights, in particular. Hundreds of union members and leaders have been murdered without any apparent consequence in that society, and this is but one of many examples.

Out of the ruins of the second world war, pioneers like Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman achieved one of the greatest successes in the history of the world when they took countries that had been at war for centuries, if not millennia, and built what is now the European Union. But you have to walk before you can run. They at least had a common foundation in their desire to respect human rights. It started with an agreement covering coal and steel, which became a common market, then an economic community, before turning into the true union we know today. But this is a union that continues to respect human rights, because that was one of the values on which it was built.

There is no similarity here. We are talking about a country that the Conservatives would like to see improve its human rights record, but that is not happening.

Moreover, I have news for the Conservativechief government whip, who decided a few weeks ago to give us a lesson in morality when he said that he was apparently offended because the opposition was daring to play its role as the opposition. He gave us a finger-wagging lesson in morality, saying that that is not how to make Parliament work. If I understood the Conservative Party's chief whip correctly, making Parliament work means giving the Conservatives everything they want. That is not how things work in a democracy, but it speaks volumes about this government's attitude and why the Conservatives do not see any problem in proposing a free trade agreement with Colombia, something the Americans would never do.

In fact, by debating the amendments and subamendments to Bill C-23, we are complying fully with the rules of our parliamentary institutions. We will not be lectured on morality by a government that is trying to force passage of a bill that would mean signing a free trade agreement with a country that does not respect human rights.

We will not stand for that. They can carry on admonishing us and telling us how dissatisfied they are with the results, but they are in the minority. There is an important lesson in this for anyone who might be thinking of making a change for the worse if they ever win a majority. The consequences of that are clear in the wording of Bill C-23. This bill belies the Conservatives' ideals: even if a country does not respect human rights, as long as business is good, nothing else matters.

All of the Conservatives' empty words about respecting human rights can now be examined and understood in light of what we have before us today.

The emperor has no clothes. This government talks about respecting human rights, but what it really wants is a free trade agreement with a country that systematically denies people their basic human rights.

The New Democratic Party believes that we must begin by strengthening the ability to enforce respect for human rights within Colombia. If asked, we should not hesitate to use our democratic institutions' experience to help Colombia.

But if we sign this agreement now, we will be sending the Government of Colombia the message that it does not need to make an effort to improve its human rights record because we are prepared to sign an agreement with the current Colombian government.

We must avoid sending that message at all costs. If Canada is serious and wants to become a champion of democratic values once again, we must stand up and say that an agreement like this one with a country that does not respect human rights will never make it through this Parliament.

One of the things that was the most surprising in this debate with regard to this proposed free trade treaty with Colombia was to hear the whip of the Conservatives, index finger wagging under our noses, telling us that we did not understand democracy because democracy was giving the government what it wanted. He said that we were not making Parliament work because we were not giving the government the free trade deal that it wanted with a government that does not respect human rights in Colombia. I have news for him. We are respecting every single rule of our Parliament and the institution that it represents in our democracy.

What we are saying is that it is wrong to sign a free trade deal with a government that does not respect human rights. We are going to use our ability as a major player in Parliament to do something that the Liberals do not do, which is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for democracy, and to stand up for principle.

I have a series of letters from groups around the country complaining that the Liberals are not doing what they claim to do, which is to stand up for human rights. It is a good thing that the NDP and other members of the House have stood and used their voices to say yes to greater relations with all countries, yes to using our parliamentary institutions, our experience and our human rights record to help people build capacity to respect human rights, and no to a free trade deal that sends the wrong signal.

It sends the signal that there are no problems in Colombia, that the murder of hundreds of trade unionists is something we would accept, whereas it is completely unacceptable based on all international principles and understanding of human rights, and democratic values around the world.

Shame on the Conservatives, those great givers of lessons before the eternal, those great finger waggers with regard to everyone else's behaviour. Shame on them for proposing a free trade deal rather than requiring that an effort be made in Colombia to bring up its standards of human rights, its respect for people, and its respect for social rights. That is a major difference between Colombia and us.

Shame on the pathetic Liberals, as usual talking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time, daring to say that they want to have Canada once again become a voice in the world. They are pathetic. All the correspondence in this file shows that the groups that once supported the Liberal Party now realize that there is only one strong principled voice for human rights in the House and that is the New Democratic Party of Canada.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, that was an interesting rant. I will try to counter that with some facts.

The reality is that the free trade agreement with Colombia has human rights and environmental provisions. It is a good agreement for human rights and the environment in Colombia. We have listened to the hyperbole that has continued to erupt over this agreement. We have had over 80 hours of debate in the House already and it is ongoing.

I will provide a couple of facts. Between 2002 and 2008 the number of mass killings decreased by 81% in Colombia, homicide rates have dropped by 44%, kidnappings are down 87%, extreme poverty has fallen from 21% to 12%, 32,000 paramilitaries have been demobilized, and the list goes on and on.

The question I have for the hon. member is this. We are already trading with Colombia without rules. We already have a co-operative trading agreement. We do not have a free trade agreement, so our industry is being penalized for trading with Colombia. Since we are already trading with Colombia, would it not make sense to put rules in place?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, since 1990, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia.

Colombia does not want just to have trade with Canada, all countries do with very few exceptions, it wants a privileged trade agreement with Canada. We should only put our name on privileged trade agreements with countries that respect human rights, and that is not the case in Colombia.

These great givers of lessons about law and order, they are dealing with a narco state and then they are going to stand up here in the House and say that they are standing up for law and order. Why do they not try standing up for law and order internationally? Then we will start believing them.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives would have us believe that it is now okay to trade with Colombia and give it this special status, most favoured nation status with a trade deal because it is murdering trade unionists at a lesser rate. I heard the Minister of Agriculture saying that it would be good for agriculture, et cetera. Well, it is the very trade union leaders of the farm workers in Colombia who are being slaughtered this month. We are not talking about last year.

November 1, the head of the ACA union of farm workers of Arauca, Paulo Suarez, was murdered in his home, gunned down by gunmen in front of his family.

Then on November 5, Raoul Medina Diaz, also with the union of farm workers, was also gunned down and murdered.

On November 13, just a couple of days ago, Cortes Lopez Zorayda, member of the union of teachers and union activist, was murdered by two gunmen on a motorcycle.

It is happening as we speak. How in all good conscience can a country like Canada see fit to do business with an international pariah that is gunning down every barrier to its trade ambitions without any recognition of human rights? I would like my colleague to comment.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is precisely because of facts like that, that have taken place within the last couple of weeks, that the Americans would never sign this type of free trade agreement with the current Colombian government.

What my colleague from Winnipeg Centre just said is precisely true. Canada should stand up and say, “We will help you. We will teach you. We will help you build capacity. But we will not put our signature on a privileged trade deal which by implication means that we accept what is happening in Colombia, when based on all of our traditions here in Canada, our respect for democracy, our respect for human rights, we cannot in good conscience sign this type of trade deal with that regime”.

Help the Colombians to learn. Give them examples of what institutions will work. Help them develop respect for human rights. Then we will see. Right now, that government, historical error. That is why we are going to use every means in this House under our institutions and the respect thereof to prevent this trade deal from going through.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-23, Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.

First of all, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against this bill, because it is an insult to human rights. The Conservative Party should be ashamed of itself for coming up with this bill, for trying to make us believe that it will create jobs in Colombia, when what it will actually do is help drug traffickers, many of whom are in power, to make money on the backs of workers. It is shameful. We are here in the House today to remind those people who claim to be “tough on crime” that they simply want to do business with a government that does nothing less than allow paramilitary groups to kill its own citizens, unionized workers and people who work in the mines in order to line the pockets of the criminals who run the government. It is scandalous.

The Canadian government's main motivation for entering into this free trade deal is not trade, but rather investments. Given that this agreement contains a chapter on investment protection, it will make life easier for Canadians investing in Colombia, especially in mining. What does that mean? In 1995, a Canadian corporation, Colombia Goldfields, signed a mining contract with a rich Colombian local family to extract gold from a mine that until then had been artisanally mined by the inhabitants of the Rio Viejo region. At the same time, paramilitary forces killed 400 people and displaced over 30,000 people from that region. That was to make money on the backs of workers. They did so by taking up arms to kill people and force 30,000 citizens out of that region. All that to allow a Canadian company to make money. That money is tainted by the blood of those people. Is that what we want to pass here in the House? It is scandalous. We must not sign such an agreement.

Judging by all the investment protection agreements Canada has signed over the years, the one that would bind Canada and Colombia is ill conceived. All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue a foreign government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment. Such clauses are especially dangerous in a country where labour and environmental protection laws are uncertain at best. By protecting a Canadian investor against any improvement in living conditions in Colombia, such an agreement could delay social and environmental progress in that country, where the need for progress is great.

Colombia's human rights record is one of the worst in the world. With the conclusion of this free trade agreement, Canada would deprive itself of the ability to exert pressure on the Colombian government to improve its human rights record.

The Conservative government keeps telling us that it is combining the free trade agreement with a side agreement on labour and another on the environment. Such agreements are notoriously ineffective. They are not part of the free trade agreement and so investors could destroy the rich Colombian environment with impunity, move communities to make it easier for themselves to establish their mines and continue to assassinate trade unionists.

As for the free trade agreement itself, the Bloc Québécois is not prepared to trade the ability of the government to exert pressure to promote respect for human rights for the ability of Canadian companies to invest abroad, companies that would make money at the cost of Colombian lives. That is absolutely disgusting.

The Bloc Québécois and the NDP have very good reasons to oppose this bill. In Canada, not only the opposition is against this bill, but the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the FTQ, Development and Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Lawyers Without Borders, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the National Union of Public and General Employees.

In Colombia, the coalition of social movements and organizations of Colombia includes the national indigenous organization of Colombia, the popular women's organization, the national agrarian coordinator, the Christian movement for peace with justice and dignity, the national movement for health and social security, the Afro-American African roots movement and the black community process. All these organizations are opposed to this totally unacceptable agreement.

Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in Latin America. Listen to this. The crime statistics point to a very sinister side of Colombia. In 2008, the crimes committed by paramilitary groups increased by 41%, in comparison with 14% the previous year. There was a 9% increase in the proportion of crimes committed by government security forces. Even though the number of crimes is rising, the perpetrators remain as immune as ever. Only 3% of crimes end in a conviction.

Canada is going to invest in this country on the pretext that it will help the economy. That is not true. If this agreement is signed, Canada will help the rich get richer by crushing the people. People in the middle ages were respected more than people today are by this political party, which is bent on disgracing Canada. No government on earth can accept this sort of situation, especially since our country is supposed to be democratic. A democracy has principles of law. I hope that these people will listen to reason. They will if they have a conscience. Mr. Speaker, I know that you have a conscience and that you will talk some sense into these people.

Since 1986, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia. Though the number of murdered trade unionists dropped somewhat after 2001, it has risen again since 2007, when 39 trade unionists were murdered. In 2008, the number jumped to 46, an 18% increase in one year. They are murdering trade unionists, people who defend workers. Who is doing the murdering? Colombian paramilitaries are, with support from the state.

And now the Colombian state has suddenly become angelic? We are not fooled. These people only have money in their hearts and on their minds. They have no respect for their fellow Colombians or for human rights. What is more, they have no respect for Quebeckers and Canadians who do not accept this way of thinking. At the risk of repeating myself, this is totally unacceptable.

According to Mariano José Guerra, regional president of the Colombian trade union federation, thousands of people have disappeared and unions continue to be persecuted.

For these and many other reasons, we have to vote against Bill C-23.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the member's speech, which was quite active and lively to say the least, but very important. For a number of months we have been leading the charge together to bring awareness to this ill-thought-out deal.

I want to focus on one element which I think is really important. We already have trade with Colombia. We will always have some trade with Colombia, just like other nations. However, we are talking about engaging in a privileged trading relationship. That is what this is about.

The Conservatives continually talk about how they are tough on crime. They are very serious about that and they have flooded the justice committee with a number of bills. Ironically, the committee cannot get through all the bills. At the same time, the Conservatives want to enter into a privileged trading relationship with a narco-state which has a murderous record with respect to trade unionists and which also has a drug economy. Why would the Conservatives want to engage in this type of a privileged relationship with that country?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from the New Democratic Party for his question.

He is absolutely right. The answer is not necessarily in the question, but there are certainly some troubling indicators. The Conservative Party of Canada, the product of the merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, is a party that has always said it wants to be squeaky clean. It is a party that has always approached politics as though preaching, that calls itself a down-to-earth, grassroots party, and that projects an aura of saintliness that calls to mind a full array of religious regalia. This party is trying to tell us, the elected representatives of Quebeckers and Canadians, that their approach to an agreement with Colombia is right when, in fact, they want to do business with a country that promotes the sale of illegal drugs and is known around the world as a narco-state. This is totally unacceptable.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Gatineau for his arguments in support of the Colombian people and against this bill. His words clearly evoke the misfortune awaiting the Colombian people should Colombian companies be given the latitude that this free trade agreement would afford.

My question is the following. Does my colleague understand the Liberals' position? When they were in power and under NAFTA, chapter 11 gave the latitude that is included in the Colombian agreement. They had to backpedal on that point and today they are going to support the Conservatives in their attempt to give more latitude to companies that will exploit the Colombian people. Can he elaborate on that? Does he understand their position?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my Bloc colleague from Chambly—Borduas for his question.

We should not be surprised and I am certain there will be agreement on this: when in power, and although they are two different parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have the same outlook. These parties do not think in terms of human rights. They think about making rich Canadian mining companies that establish themselves in developing or emerging countries even richer. Why will they go to these countries? Crudely put, to exploit the local people and have their friends pocket the profits. It is scandalous, unacceptable and even anti-democratic.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to once again congratulate my colleague from Gatineau on his argument, and in particular for the work he does every day for the citizens of his riding, which he represents not only with brilliance but also with great effectiveness.

I want to continue along the line raised by my colleague, with some statistical illustrations.

The U.S. State Department and Amnesty International say that 350,000 more people were displaced in Colombia in 2007.

In 2008, over 380,000 persons had to flee their homes and workplaces because of violence. According to the Centre for Human Rights, in 2008 there was a 25% increase in the number of population displacements, and 2008 was the worst year since 2002 for population displacements.

Since 1985, nearly 4.6 million persons have been forced to leave their homes and their land.It has been estimated that 7% of the Colombian population has been displaced. Every day 49 families arrive in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, after being forced to leave their land. Indigenous people account for half of the Colombian population thus displaced. In fact, 8% of the total population has been displaced, and 4% are indigenous. These figures are very revealing.

These people are displaced because they have been evicted from their land by land exploiters, big landowners and property and mining conglomerates.

The latter do their work through pressure, threats and murder. They flood the land. When the people are forced to move, they have to take shelter in the cities, and shantytowns grow up. I have been to Bogota, Colombia. Right downtown there is a mountain of cardboard houses. Every day 49 families arrive in these places. The living conditions of these people are quite unimaginable. They used to have a small landholding, their own space to grow crops to feed their family, but they were uprooted from that land. In fact companies, including Canadian companies, have the right to expropriate the people.

The agreement that is before us confirms and upholds the rules of the marketplace that cause people to be exploited.

As my colleague from Gatineau said earlier, this is outright theft, and it is part of a state system. These people are forced, by the paramilitary and all the resulting abuse, to abandon their land. This creates poverty, unemployment, crime, truancy, water shortages, power shortages, etc. The city of which I speak is a shantytown at that central mountain in downtown Bogota. There is no electricity. When there is electricity it is thanks to extension cords. The people go to get electricity at the bottom of the mountain, and quite often the cords are unplugged. When the rains come, the mountain is washed out and often people lose their homes. These are houses made of cardboard or bits of wood.

You have to see this poverty to realize the extent of it. The government is aware that it exists. The Liberal Party is aware that it exists.

A committee went there, to Colombia, and was to report to this House to give the government an opinion before it introduced its bill. However, the government did not care about that and did not even wait for the report from the committee that went to witness the situation before introducing its bill. This situation is completely unacceptable for Colombians, but it is also unacceptable in terms of the democratic process in this House.

First, the opposition is against it and the party that forms the official opposition has not even bothered to do its job as the official opposition. A majority of the public has given the opposition a mandate to prevent acts like those that are currently being committed, in terms of legislation. The Liberals did not even bother to do their job as opposition with the mandate they received, with us, from the public, which is precisely to keep watch on this government. The public did not have enough confidence in this government and gave the opposition a majority so it would act vigilantly to protect us and protect the peoples with whom we do business.

It is quite scandalous to see how the Liberals are behaving in this matter and it also violates a tradition, now becoming somewhat remote, in the time of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Because of his humanitarian positions, for example, for peace and humanity, he received a Nobel Prize. We are a long way from that. This is quite shameful. They have tarnished the reputation of those people, whose conduct in relation to human rights was exemplary, even if they did not have the same political allegiance as us. In that respect, I would say that the conduct of the present Liberal Party regarding this bill is quite shameful.

In terms of protecting the rights of workers, which my colleague has spoken about, since 1986, 2,686 trade unionists have been killed. As I said a moment ago, I went to Colombia twice, in 1974 and 1976, on cooperation missions, to establish food, agricultural and housing cooperatives. So I have had an opportunity to work with those people. At the time, in 1974 and 1976, I found the situation to be abominable and I thought that the situation had improved today.

The more I have thought about this in the last few months, the more I have realized that not only has the situation not improved, the violations of human rights have been refined. Often, they are less visible and they give people like the Conservatives and Liberals pretexts for claiming the situation has improved. Well, the situation has not improved, and we have the statistics to show that 2,686 trade unionists are dead. As soon as trade unionists start making demands, they are in trouble. There were still murders in 2007. There were 39 murders of trade unionists, an increase of 18% in one year.

I could continue like this, but I am told I have only one minute left. My colleagues are certainly going to ask me questions and so I will be able to fill in a bit more. The Bloc Québécois will definitely not approve a bill like this. Bill C-23 is unworthy of being voted on by a Chamber such as ours and we are not playing that game. We have too much self-respect to do that and we have too much respect for the people who voted for us to do that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, on September 30, the member for Kings—Hants, representing the Liberal Party, made the following comment:

To say that paramilitary forces are murdering union leaders today is false, because everybody who has been studying the issue recognizes that the paramilitary forces have been disbanded....

That is what he said after having been in Colombia for four days.

According to a recent report from Amnesty International, it found that paramilitary groups remain active, despite claims by the government that all paramilitaries had demobilized in a government sponsored process that began in 2003, and that paramilitaries continue to kill civilians and commit other human rights violations, sometimes with the support or acquiescence of the security forces.

How does the member think the member for Kings—Hants came up with that conclusion?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, when someone wants to make an unacceptable position sound legitimate, they deny the facts. The member he quotes is denying the fact that trade unionists are still being killed because he wants to support what the Conservatives are saying.

In 2007, there were 39 murders of trade unionists by the paramilitaries, and in 2008 there were 46. That is very recent. There is nothing more stubborn and immutable than a fact. The facts show that 2,690 trade unionists have been killed in 23 years. Since the beginning of this decade, there have been 40 murders a year. That is the answer and that is what they are doing.