House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Canada Post
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to present petitions from many people joining the thousands who have already written petitions and letters in support for the amendments to the Canada Post Corporation Act, library materials, which would protect and support the library book rate and extend it to include audiovisual materials.

Sri Lanka
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Madam Speaker, I have three petitions concerning the Sri Lankan issue, signed by quite a number of people in my riding, again calling upon the UN to intervene so that the hostilities will cease, that it will provide immediate humanitarian relief and that access will be granted to international organizations.

As the House knows, the overt hostilities have ceased but, as of today, the Sri Lankan army is one of the largest standing armies in the world. The Sri Lankan government seems to believe that this issue can be resolved militarily, but it cannot. The people who signed this petition are extremely worried that this will result in some very difficult times for the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, if Question No. 119 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker Ms. Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 119
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

What is the total amount of government funding since fiscal year 1998-1999 up to and including the current fiscal year, allocated within the constituency of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, listing each department or agency, initiative, and amount?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker Ms. Denise Savoie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to take part in today's debate on the implementation of the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru. I had the opportunity to examine this matter with other colleagues on the Standing Committee on International Trade. We heard some very interesting evidence, which gave us a good overview of the issues surrounding this bill.

Based on what I learned during those meetings, there is very little that is specific to Peru's situation in particular. The agreement in question seems, instead, to reflect a broader vision of what Canada hopes to adopt as its trade policy in the Americas. In that sense, my criticisms of the agreement with Peru are very similar to the criticisms I might express concerning the free-trade agreement with Colombia, which has also been brought to our attention recently.

First of all, in both cases, there was a flagrant lack of transparency when the Conservative government began negotiations with those two countries. That kind of approach is becoming quite common, and we could very easily imagine that this will unfortunately become the norm when it comes to trade agreements. I find it truly appalling that a government can present Parliament with agreements that have already been negotiated and concluded, presenting parliamentarians with a done deal. That is definitely not the best way to serve democracy.

That being said, I must also mention that, for the Bloc Québécois, this kind of agreement poses an essential problem, namely, the preference shown for bilateral agreements. In addition to weakening potential multilateral negotiations, we believe that agreements signed in a piecemeal fashion, such as this one, are more likely to tip the scales in favour of the stronger side. Such an imbalance can easily arise when we negotiate with a country whose economic size is so different from ours.

Despite its strong performance in terms of economic growth in recent years, Peru is still considered a developing country. That means that, even though that country shows great potential and is rich in many aspects, it nevertheless still has many shortcomings in the areas of labour and environmental standards. That country does not satisfy the same criteria as Canada in those areas.

Despite what the government says, we are certain that Peru will not be able to solve its development problems by engaging in free trade with a country like Canada. Increased exports are no guarantee of better wealth distribution or greater well-being for all segments of the population.

In addition, a free trade agreement would have only a minor impact on Quebec's economy. Quebec's exports to Peru account for only 0.14% of its total exports, which is a very small proportion. This is not much incentive for us to want to enter into a trade agreement at any cost, without looking at the other factors involved.

The strong presence of Canadian mining companies in Peru is one of the factors we need to take a close look at. As long as agreements contain no real policy to hold these companies accountable, there will be concerns about their content. A great deal of effort has been made to change this situation. Many stakeholders who are concerned about this issue, including representatives of the extractive industry, have met to find solutions and make recommendations to the government.

They have taken this very seriously.

I would mention the work of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries. Unfortunately, the government decided to do what it pleased and rejected all the proposals made by these roundtables.

Once again, we have to realize that the government does not care about the recommendations it receives. The current government rejected out of hand all the recommendations in the roundtables report I mentioned.

When asked to adopt mandatory social responsibility standards for Canadian mining companies abroad, the government decided to do the opposite and adopt voluntary standards. When asked to create an independent ombudsman who could conduct impartial investigations to validate complaints, the government created the office of the extractive sector corporate social responsibility counsellor, who reports directly to the minister and investigates only if authorized by the mining company. This is completely ridiculous. In other words, the government preferred to ignore all the recommendations it received and, by doing so, to benefit Canadian mining companies.

The Canadian government wasted a perfectly good opportunity to truly improve the living conditions of Peruvian workers. This same government says that it wants to help developing countries prosper only be selling them more goods at better prices. That does not work.

Therefore, at present, we still cannot rely on a truly independent organization to look into conflicts between workers and their employers. There has never been a truly level playing field between employer and employee and it is quite likely that the ratification of such an agreement between Canada and Peru will once again favour investors to the detriment of workers. That is what we will see, once again, in 2009. These types of agreements are thoroughly unacceptable for workers in developing countries.

In terms of the protection of investments, there are some very significant benefits for Canadian companies doing business in Peru. The provisions that protect their interests are taken straight out of chapter 11 of NAFTA, which has given rise to a number of legal proceedings in which we are involved. In short, these proceedings seek to place the interests of private companies on the same footing as the interest of a state in legislating for the common good. Giving the advantage to investors is completely reprehensible and goes against our very understanding of democracy and fair trade. This is a chapter that should be re-opened and not reproduced. Unfortunately, it has been reproduced too often of late.

There are other problems, as we are also concerned about the dispute resolution process.

The mechanism provides that a company considering that a government has violated the investment provisions can take direct action against the government before an arbitration tribunal. The tribunals hearing the disputes are set up to hear a specific dispute. The deliberations of the arbitrators and their decisions are secret, unless both parties to the dispute decide otherwise.

Let us imagine what would happen with workers and a major mining company. The code of silence would apply.

Instead of this mechanism, we would prefer to resolve disputes using a multilateral and centralized method, and not on a case-by-case basis. The Bloc Québécois is proposing constructive solutions. The Bloc is in favour of free trade and is in favour of multilateral agreements.

Furthermore, it really is too bad that the most controversial parts of this agreement are the most difficult to tackle, since they are an integral part of the agreement and unless we can change them, we will have to reject the whole agreement. The parts on which some progress has been made and which should be emphasized more must be treated the same way. This is the case for advances made in terms of labour and the environment.

To start with, the fact that the measures on these two issues were treated in the same way just shows that they were secondary concerns in this agreement. We would have liked these measures to be included in the body of the text of the agreement. That way, they would have had much greater authority over the agreement. Once again, we have made proposals. It is unfortunate that, for a lot of issues that have a direct impact on people's quality of life, we need to depend on the goodwill of the parties involved. Unfortunately, experience shows that a company's goodwill goes more easily with measures that can help their own investments. Measures to protect the environment and workers can be costly and do not yield instant benefits. That is why the government has a role to play.

We cannot be at the mercy of purely commercial interests. When we trade with another country, we cannot look only at the impact on our balance of trade. There are also lives at stake and the well-being of millions of workers and people who live in these countries. We need to take this into account, think about it, and do something about it.

I would like to tell the House about an interesting proposal put forward recently during a meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade. This interesting proposal was put forward by the secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress. After explaining how the current model of concluding free-trade agreements has failed so far—which he demonstrated very clearly—he talked about a new way of practising trade. I really like this new model, and so does the Bloc Québécois. He proposed the idea of concluding fair-trade agreements as opposed to free-trade agreements based purely on commercial trade. As I was saying, I quite like the idea, in the sense that it is understood that the agreement must be beneficial for both partner countries, for merchants in Canada, Quebec and Peru, for workers in Canada, Quebec and Peru and for farmers in Canada, Quebec and Peru. It must be fair. Such a fair-trade model would serve to reinforce social norms, and protect environmental and labour standards in both countries.

The main difference is this: with fair trade, the focus is on the social aspect and not on lower customs tariffs meant to increase exports. I think this proposal deserves our attention. It deserves our consideration, for this agreement and for all future free-trade agreements with other countries.

In our current approach, the primary goals of our negotiators are simply to seek out greater diversity in trade partners and expand the list of potential markets for Canadian products in Latin America. Clearly, achieving those objectives could be in the Quebec's economic interest, but the lack of overall vision shown by this government in matters of trade policy is worrisome.

The Bloc Québécois is effectively seeking a change in Canada's trade priorities. Canada should now shift its focus from trade liberalization to creating a more level playing field. With respect to the agreement with Peru, we believe that, on the one hand, it opens many doors to Canadian investments in mining in Peru but, on the other hand, it does not include adequate provisions to protect workers and preserve the environment. We also believe that, in the absence of any real policy to hold Canadian mining companies operating abroad accountable, it would be morally wrong to approve a free trade agreement with Peru, in light of that country's poor record on mine work.

As I said earlier, it can obviously be interesting for Canada to have an investment protection mechanism, as Canadian companies established in Peru stand to benefit from strong protection for their investments under this free trade agreement. This agreement will allow Canadian companies involved in mining, for instance, and whose human rights record is less than stellar to sue the Peruvian government, should it ever implement legislation that affects their profits. Substantial compensation is provided for in the event of nationalization or expropriation. In other words, the power to legislate as it sees fit within its jurisdiction is taken away from the state.

The Bloc Québécois objects to the Conservative government's strategy of piecemeal trade deals and advocates a multilateral approach. The current economic crisis is proof enough that the market economy cannot run properly without rules. That is what people are finding everywhere, even south of the border, in the United States. The market economy as we know it has to change. For that to happen, we need responsible governments capable of thinking more in fair trade terms than strictly free market terms.

That is what the Bloc Québécois has been trying to make this House and every committee we sit on understand.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the remarks of my hon. colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. We work together on the Standing Committee on International Trade, where he is doing very good work.

We have had our differences in the past on issues such the softwood lumber deal, which has caused thousands of jobs to be lost in Quebec and which, sadly, the Bloc Québécois has supported. Another sellout agreement was signed with respect to shipbuilding, in spite of the fact that dozens of workers from shipbuilding plants in Lévis wrote to the Bloc warning that it would cause job losses and that they should not support it. So, we have had our differences. My personal opinion is that the Bloc Québécois made the wrong decision, but it will have to justify the position it took on that issue.

Today, we are on the same page, and I greatly appreciated the remarks made by the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who has provided a very good critique of the agreement.

My question deals with the comments made earlier today by the parliamentary secretary about labour and environment rights provisions not being important and trade being what matters. Until now, the government always said it was trying to ensure that labour and environmental laws were protected.

Today, however, it has shown a bit more of its true colours, saying it was not important.

Could my hon. colleague comment on these remarks by the parliamentary secretary?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his good comments and kind words. I also greatly enjoy working with my colleague on international trade matters.

As I mentioned in my speech, we completely disagree with what the parliamentary secretary said this morning. We must review the rules of international trade and how we do business. In my speech, I mentioned what the Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress told us. He said that it was time to change our practices and to include, in our agreements, fair trade provisions. We need forums and organizations with the means to verify and evaluate what takes place when free trade agreements such as this one with Peru are implemented.

We are forced to make decisions about this agreement, and others as well, without examining what will happen in Peru and Canada. We have no statistics. Thus, we are presented with a fait accompli, once again, and that is absolutely deplorable. My NDP colleague and I will work hard to ensure that the House includes such provisions in future agreements in order to ascertain what happens with these agreements.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I am quite surprised to hear this. I really had no idea that the Bloc Québécois would be against this Canada-Peru free trade agreement, and especially the MPs from ridings on the New Brunswick border.

I will give an example. Not too long ago, a company called Atlantic Yarns shut down in my riding, in the Atholville area in New Brunswick, on the Quebec border, near Pointe-à-la-Croix and Matapédia. Several dozen or even a hundred employees lost their jobs because it took too long to establish this Canada-Peru free trade agreement.

Today, I hear the Bloc member saying that we should not move forward with this agreement. However, to my knowledge, citizens of his province, Quebec, worked for Atlantic Yarns in Atholville. I am surprised, because even the plant union is in favour of the agreement, because it knows this could be one way to save the plant.

We know that the NDP is against it. Nevertheless, I would like my Bloc Québécois colleague to think about what I said. Instead of rejecting this agreement why does he not look at the positive side and the jobs that could have been saved and that could be created? In our case, jobs were lost and people from his own province perhaps also lost their jobs. I would like him to think about that and to comment on what I said.