House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today to speak to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

Listening to the debate there is obviously a divergence of views in the chamber. The minister made an important point that is worth repeating and which I will probably repeat a couple of times in my intervention today.

It is worth repeating that this is not a brand new agreement. It is not an agreement that was just tabled before the House and laid in front of all the members. This agreement has been in the informal stages of negotiations since 2002-03 and has been a formal agreement since 2007. It passed through the chamber. The committee actually went to Colombia and heard first-hand from Colombians in all parts of the country. Whether they were people involved in commercial businesses or government organizations, whether they were NGOs or they represented the International Labour Organization, we heard from dozens and dozens of Colombians.

We walked the streets of Bogota, Colombia which a few years ago would have been unsafe. I think Colombia has made great strides and that a good portion of that forward momentum is the direct result of increased trading links with the rest of the world.

However, for some reason or another, we have two parties in the chamber that want to condemn the Colombians for actually moving forward and advancing their own country.

This agreement is an important part of our Conservative government's strategy to make the Canadian economy stronger. In these difficult economic times, it is important to keep doors open in the region and around the world for our producers and our exporters. Our government has provided leadership internationally in encouraging free trade and open markets and discouraging protectionism. Our government knows that trade and investment agreements play a critical role in creating new opportunities for companies and helping the global economy recover.

That is why we are committed to an aggressive trade agenda in the Americas and beyond. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, along with the related agreements on the environment and labour co-operation, is an important part of this broader trade agenda.

Canada currently has long-standing free trade agreements in force with the United States and Mexico under the NAFTA agreement, as well as agreements with Israel, Chile and Costa Rica. Under this government, we have very recently implemented new free trade agreements with the European Free Trade Association and Peru on July 1 and August 1 respectively.

Earlier this year, Canada also signed a free trade agree with Jordan and, of course, this free trade agreement that we are currently debating here in the House of Commons with Colombia.

On August 11 our government successfully concluded free trade negotiations with Panama. At the announcement of the conclusion of these negotiations, the Prime Minister emphasized our government's commitment to strong trading relationships and partnerships.

We are also looking ahead to other important partners around the world. At the Canada-European Union summit in May our government launched negotiations toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement and on Friday the Minister of International Trade met with a group of trade ministers from the Caribbean communities to discuss the way forward for our trade negotiations with them.

Those are yet further examples of how hard this government is working to pursue bilateral and multilateral trading relationships that work for Canadians.

We also remain dedicated to advancing our ongoing free trade negotiations with other partners, including South Korea, Singapore, Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

Our trade agenda will continue to be ambitious. We have started exploring deeper ties with India and Morocco and are currently involved in technical discussions with Japan.

What does this very active trade agenda mean for Canada? To be more concrete, let us take a look in more detail at just some of what we have achieved so far this year.

The bottom line of what this ambitious trade agenda means is jobs, opportunity, more exports, more products for Canadians and more choice for consumers. It would not only help Canadians but it would help other nations that become our closer trading partners.

The Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement is a first generation agreement with an emphasis on tariff elimination. Implementing this agreement, the first free trade agreement Canada has ever completed with European countries, will open more doors for Canadian producers and exporters by increasing their access to these wealthy and sophisticated European markets.

Canada's producers and exporters will benefit immediately from the elimination of duties on all Canadian non-agriculture merchandise exports upon the coming into force of the free trade agreement. Tariffs will also be eliminated or reduced on selected Canadian agricultural exports such as durum wheat, frozen french fries, beer and crude canola oil. As well, Canadian companies will be able to access innovative technologies and other inputs from EFTA markets, including through the importation of machinery and scientific and precision instruments.

With the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement, there are also considerable benefits for Canadians. Canadian producers will benefit from Peru's immediate elimination of tariffs on 95% of current Canadian exports, with most remaining tariffs to be eliminated over a five to ten year period. Products that will receive immediate duty-free access to Peru include wheat, barley, lentils, peas and selected boneless beef cuts, a variety of paper products, and machinery and equipment.

This agreement also provides enhanced market access in service sectors that are of interest to Canada, including mining, energy and professional services. Canada's banking, insurance and security sector will also benefit from the greater access to the Peruvian marketplace.

The free trade, labour co-operation and environment agreements signed with Jordan in June of this year are not yet in force but the legislation will be forthcoming. We can still look at what the free trade agreement will offer Canadian producers once implemented.

The Canada-Jordan free trade agreement would eliminate tariffs on over 99% of recent Canadian exports by value to Jordan, directly benefiting Canadian producers and exporters. Key Canadian sectors that would benefit from this immediate duty-free access include forestry, manufacturing and agriculture and agri-food sectors in which Canadian companies are global leaders.

The free trade agreement with Jordan would improve market access for both agricultural and industrial goods and help to ensure a level playing field for Canadian exporters vis-à-vis competitors that currently benefit from preferential access to Jordan's market. The parallel labour and environmental agreements would help to ensure progress on labour rights and environmental protection.

It is simple: By bringing down barriers to trade and investment, the Conservative government will help Canada's business compete in an ever more competitive world and stimulate the Canadian economy.

A closer economic partnership with Colombia would similarly reduce tariffs for Canadian exporters. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement would also expand opportunities for Canadian investors and service providers. This agreement would also help Colombia build a more prosperous, equitable and secure democracy, a democracy that can contribute to growth and economic stability in the region.

From the start of the global economic downturn, our message has been clear. Ensuring free and open trade is vital to the international effort of strengthening the global economy. Canadians can count on their government to lead these efforts and to take every opportunity to oppose protectionism and defend free and open trade on the world stage. They can also depend upon our efforts to help Canadians through and beyond the current economic difficulties.

Protectionism is not the answer and it has never been the answer. Partnerships and reaching out in a broader trading agenda are at least part of that answer. This is why I ask for the support of all hon. members for the Colombia-Canada free trade agreement.

I have a bit of time left and there are a couple of things that have been hinted at in debate. Some of them were discussed in a little more detail, but it is important for all members of this House to take a look at the Uribe government.

When we were in Colombia with the committee, we were granted an audience with President Uribe and his entire cabinet. Those audiences seldom ever occur, even when free trade agreements are being negotiated. We had a very open, frank discussion about politics, free trade and the challenges Colombia is facing.

I would ask all members to take a look at President Uribe's cabinet and the president's own background. They face formidable obstacles and challenges in Colombia, but everything that has occurred in Colombia under President Uribe's watch has been positive. I know some will take exception to that statement, but it has been extremely positive.

The president witnessed violence first-hand as a young child. Many of his cabinet members have been kidnapped by FARC and some were held for a year and a half or three years. Others have been kidnapped by the right-wing paramilitaries. His cabinet is not made up of right-wing ideologues, which the opposition continually wants us to believe. That is far from the truth. He actually was able to reach into Colombian society and draw people from all over the political spectrum to his party and his cause. That is an accomplishment that not many people can match.

The reason is very clear and simple: Colombians wanted to get out of the dire straits they saw their country in. They wanted to have personal safety and the ability to travel throughout the country. The roads were not safe. They wanted to have some type of police presence that would avoid the continuing kidnappings; not that they do not still occur, because they do still occur, but there are markedly fewer than there were even a few years ago.

The politically motivated murders have decreased, not increased. We have seen better labour standards brought into place because of that government. We have seen a better adherence to the justice system because of that government. There are safer streets and highways and freedom of travel in Colombia that did not exist 10 years ago. It was absolutely impossible to travel between communities and cities in Colombia without jeopardizing one's life.

Why did Canada negotiate a free trade agreement with Colombia? It will open new markets and export opportunities for Canadian companies and will supply Canadian jobs. We have to do that because other countries are already ahead of us. As the minister said, we believe that the United States will be opening up its agreement very quickly to deal with the Colombians. The EFTA countries have signed an agreement with Colombia. The European Union is looking at signing an agreement with Colombia.

It should be noted that none of these agreements have the same level of labour and environmental parallel clauses that our Canadian agreement has. Ours is far superior and far more protective of labour and the environment than any free trade agreement by any other country in the world. It is important.

Even though our present level of bilateral trade with Colombia is fairly low at around $1.2 billion, that trade is growing exponentially. We have tremendous opportunity not just in Colombia but throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

When our government came to power in 2006, we had a time of opportunity in this country with a very robust trading arrangement with the United States of America and Mexico in the NAFTA agreement that allowed for good times. That trading agreement is under more pressure today because of the worldwide economic downturn. That trading agreement has been threatened from all sides.

What was our government's answer? We looked beyond our immediate borders and, quite frankly, we followed the money. Canadian foreign direct investment in the Americas was already there ahead of us. Canadian companies, whether in the extractive sector, whether in agriculture, whether in manufacturing, were already in South America, Central America and the Caribbean with a tremendous amount of Canadian foreign direct investment. We followed that investment.

We are seeking not just opportunities. I do not want this to sound callous and that it is simply about Canada. It is absolutely about Canada, but there are also tremendous benefits for the countries with which we are signing these agreements.

Why would we not look at the Americas, our neighbours, those in the same hemisphere and the same time zones? Why would we not look for enhanced trading relationships in Central America?

Why would we not look at the opportunities for growth and the opportunities that our political cousins in the Americas are facing in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras? These countries have huge, growing economies. They have huge populations. They have great challenges. They have tremendous poverty. The only way for them to move forward is to trade with the rest of the world. They have to seek beneficial, comprehensive trading agreements.

The Liberal critic asked a question earlier about rules based trading. It is a very simple concept. Rules are in place that apply both to Canada and to the country being traded with for the benefit of both, for the protection of investment by both countries.

There are a number of issues and a number of them have already been spoken about. The extractive sector continually comes up in the discussion on free trade with Colombia. For a few moments I would like to talk about the Canadian extractive sector.

Our extractive sector is absolutely a world leader. Canada represents about 40% of the mining business around the world. Canadian companies operate in 148 countries. We are the preferred operator.

I was privileged to be at the WTO in India and I spoke to the minister of trade from Ecuador. The first comment was that Ecuador wants to work with Canada.

We have a big extractive sector. Canadians respect the environment, respect the rules and respect labour. We have great companies doing great work. We continually hear negative comments. We continually hear NGOs saying that none of this occurs. We should be extremely proud of the work that our companies are doing around the globe. There are companies from every province in Canada and they are doing good work.

We should be reaching out beyond our closest neighbours and outside the NAFTA agreement. We should be looking at the European Union and places like India and China and places in our own hemisphere such as South America, Central America and the Caribbean where there are tremendous opportunities for Canadian trade, for Canadian jobs, and for Canadian security. At the same time we will benefit our neighbours and our trading partners who desperately need the foreign currency and the market.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by my Conservative colleague. As always, the Conservatives—and I find this terrible and extremely dangerous—present only part of the facts to try to sell their proposal.

My colleague is singing the praise of the Uribe government in Colombia when it is clear that crimes committed by paramilitary groups increased by 41% in 2008, compared to 14% in 2007. Over 30 members of Congress are currently under arrest, and they are generally close to the president. Crimes committed by the country's security forces have increased by more than 9%. Since 1990, 2,690 trade unionists have died, including 39 in 2007 and 46 in 2008. According to the U.S. State Department, nearly 3,500 people will be displaced.

I would like my colleague to comment on those figures.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question because it is particularly important, when talking about numbers and facts, that one has all of the numbers and facts.

Without question, Colombia is still a dangerous country. It still has tremendous challenges. It takes a different point of view to see where it was 10 years ago, 5 years ago or 2 years ago. Without question, Colombia is headed in the right direction.

Between 2002 and 2008, kidnappings decreased by 87%. The 13% that are still occurring are unacceptable, but kidnappings have decreased by 87%. That country is moving in the right direction. Homicide rates have dropped by 44%.

Does Colombia still have a lot of violence in the country? Absolutely, it does. Is it diminishing? Yes, it is. Moderate poverty has fallen from 55% to 45%. All of the signals are headed in the right direction. Life and security are improving for Colombians.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's realizes what his comments sound like when he says that we should be embarking on a free trade agreement with Colombia because Colombians are killing people with less frequency, speed and rapidity than they used to.

My good friend and colleague, Dick Martin, who is no relation, was the president of the United Steelworkers Local 6166 in Thompson, Manitoba. He became the head of the Federation of Labour in Manitoba and then became the head of ORIT, which is the organization of trade unions for Central and South America.

Dick Martin went to Colombia a number of times and came back with firsthand reports of the wholesale mass assassination of trade union leaders in that country. The total figure, and I am not exaggerating, was 3,200 murders: the head of the teachers' union, the head of the carpenters' union, the head of the steelworkers' union, the head of the miners' union, and on and on. These people were shot in their driveways as they left their homes by government-sponsored hit squads. And the Conservatives want to enter into a trade agreement with that country.

Trade with Canada is not a right, it is a privilege. Colombia has to deserve the privilege to be in a free trade agreement with this country. Its behaviour, the experience and empirical evidence is such that we should be boycotting Colombia, never mind entering into a free trade agreement with that country.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, after that outburst, I am almost at a loss for words.

The first answer is quite simple. The NDP is not supporting this free trade agreement. It has never supported any free trade agreement. The NDP has no intention of ever supporting a free trade agreement. It is as simple as that.

The NDP will take whatever numbers, statistics and facts it can find along the way and twist them into some type of a warped little package to support what its members are saying. I really do take exception to that because I know exactly what I am talking about and exactly why we should be moving forward on trade with Colombia and other nations around the globe.

The member talked about labour rights. This specific agreement is accompanied by the labour co-operation agreement, which commits all parties to respect and enforce standards such as the freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and the elimination of child labour. It commits parties to provide protections for occupational safety and health, employment standards such as minimum wages, overtime pay, and non-discrimination. It goes on and on.

It is supported, by the way, by the International Labour Organization, which has an office open in Colombia today. It has a full-time presence in Colombia. It is constantly inspecting the agreement.

We have promoted labour rights and environmental rights. Is the situation in Colombia perfect? No one is saying that. No one is attempting to say that. Is the situation improving and headed in the right direction and will we end up with a better Colombia down the road because of this agreement? I truly believe we will.

It is embarrassing that the NDP cannot separate the wheat from the chaff in this agreement and agree with the good things that will come out of it.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, in June 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that legal provisions be added to the agreement to force Canadian companies working there—mining companies—to act responsibly towards local populations with respect to human rights, the environment and sustainable development.

The government's response to the national roundtable recommendations is inadequate. At present, complaints are only filed with the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor if the mining company agrees to such a request.

Could my colleague on the other side of the floor talk about this and explain how the government would proceed if there were a problem in a remote area in Colombia?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Again, Mr. Speaker, this is a totally separate debate from this discussion, but the part of the debate in which the member wants to engage is a whole question about extraterritoriality.

The Canadian government is not the sovereign government in Colombia or in any other country with which we do business, nor should it be. We deal professionally with political governments around the world. Our mining companies, as I said earlier, have some of the highest standards of corporate social responsibility of any group in the extractive sector. They are the companies that most countries want to attract, because of those standards of corporate social responsibility.

We encourage our extractive sector and Canadian business community in the development and implementation of corporate social responsibility initiatives, including involving local labour unions and local NGOs. We support the extractive industry's transparency initiative, which supports governance and transparency in developing countries through the full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues for oil, gas and mining industries.

We have put a number of checks and balances in place to make sure not only that Canadian companies quite frankly talk the talk, but that they also walk the walk, respecting the full political rights of other countries. We would not want some other country telling Canada what to do, nor do we want to be in the position of telling them what they should be doing.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, this debate should not be about ideology, it should be about people: the people of Colombia whose lives have been ripped apart and turned upside down by civil war and narcopolitics. The good, decent and proud people of Colombia deserve a better future and the kind of economic opportunities provided by legitimate trade.

Colombia has made real economic, social and security progress in recent years, but it is a fragile progress, under the constant threat of FARC terrorists, drug gangsters and hostile attacks from the Chavez regime in Venezuela.

Colombia's external trade has helped real people piece their lives back together despite these threats. These are people I met, like Valentina, who lived on her family's farm until 10 years ago when FARC murdered her brother and drove her family off the farm. Valentina now works in the flower trade and helps to provide food and a home for her family.

I met Maria who was pregnant with her first baby 14 years ago when FARC murdered her brother and mother and took their farm. Maria and her three children and husband now live in a house they own because of exports and a housing subsidy from her Colombian employer. Maria dreams of her children getting the education that war and narcoterrorism have denied her.

Carlos became a member of the paramilitary because it was the only clear economic opportunity he had as a youth. His violent life in the paramilitary fuelled by drug money was cut short when an ambush attack rendered him a paraplegic. Today, as part of the Uribe government's paramilitary demobilization efforts, Carlos is now involved in peace and reconciliation and he is getting an education.

Carlos told me he believes the FTA agreement with Canada is needed to give young Colombians legitimate economic opportunities, which he was denied, to save them from the violence of the narco-economy.

It is about people like Gerardo Sánchez, Luis Fernando, Walter Navarro, Colombian union leaders who support the FTA with Canada and believe it will be good for Canada, good for Colombia and good for their union members.

Colombia is a country with good people, tremendous natural beauty and resources. It is a good country where things have gone terribly wrong for over 40 years. It has been paralyzed and divided by a civil war that began along ideological lines, but it has more recently evolved to a narcowar with no ideological fault lines, only greed, desperation and violence.

Since 2002, there has been tremendous progress. Progress has been made particularly in terms of security. Eight years ago people were afraid to walk the streets of Bogotá and 400 municipalities were controlled by FARC.

There needs to be more progress, but the progress has been steady. The Uribe government's progress on security is one of the reasons it enjoys a 60% approval rating. Success is not where one is at, it is how far one has gone from where one started. Based on any reasonable analysis, the Uribe government has made progress.

Still, more needs to be done in Colombia, and they need our help. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, evil flourishes when good people do nothing.

If we refuse to engage a country like Colombia that is making progress, where civil society leaders, unions and government and victims of both paramilitary and FARC guerilla violence are all trying to move forward, and if we isolate Colombia in the Andean region and leave Colombia exposed and vulnerable to the unilateral and ideological attacks of Chavez's Venezuela, we will be allowing evil to flourish.

Canadians, as good people, cannot morally justify doing nothing. If any member of Parliament or any Canadian is concerned about human rights in Colombia, we have an obligation to engage Colombia more deeply.

The FTA establishes an ongoing rules-based system to monitor and help govern and improve labour rights, human rights and environmental progress in Colombia. Labour rights and labour rights issues in Colombia have occurred in the absence of a free trade agreement. There is already a commercial relationship between Canada and Colombia, but there is little in terms of a rules-based system to guide that relationship.

SNC-Lavalin just opened up an office in Bogota. Brookfield Asset Management recently established a $500 million fund to invest in Colombia. Again, this is occurring outside of a robust rules-based trade agreement.

The question we must ask ourselves as Canadians is how a new free trade agreement, with the most robust labour and environmental provisions of any trade agreement that Canada has ever signed, can do anything but strengthen our capacity to positively influence human rights and labour rights in Colombia.

In late August the member for Toronto Centre and I completed a four-day visit to Colombia. We met with civil society groups, union leaders, trade industry representatives, UN and OAS officials. We met with senators, economists, think tanks, as well as President Uribe and members of his cabinet. We visited a flower production facility and a project supported by MAPP-OAS, Mission to Support the Peace Process, an OAS organization in Medellin. We met with both supporters and opponents of the free trade agreement, and we sought out both sides of the debate.

On balance, most individuals and groups, including human rights NGOs, believe in the ratification of the free trade agreement with Canada. They do not believe this agreement would have a negative impact on economic or human rights conditions in Colombia. Many believe the agreement could in fact improve Canada's monitoring of labour and indigenous rights through its rules-based framework and the two side agreements on labour and the environment.

We saw first-hand the challenges faced by the Uribe government in its fight against drug production and trafficking, the FARC and emerging criminal gangs.

We met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights representative, Christian Salazar. We discussed with Mr. Salazar cases of false positives or extrajudicial executions. He told us how the UNHCHR is working with the ministry of defence towards establishing an independent monitoring system to help uncover other possible cases and prevent future ones. He told us how violence against trade unionists has decreased significantly over the last three years with the demobilization of paramilitary groups. In his view the Colombian government has made progress in its fight against impunity by increasing the number of cases being investigated. At the same time he cautioned us about former paramilitary members regrouping into criminal groups. He welcomes the Colombian government's recent invitation to participate in the investigation of these criminal groups.

We met with members of the second commission on international affairs of the senate. Some senators were in favour and some were against the FTA, which frankly demonstrates that Colombia has a well-functioning democracy.

We heard from Senator Pinaque. He occupies one of the senate seats reserved under the constitution for indigenous representatives, which is more than we do in Canada for indigenous peoples. He expressed concerns that he has not seen economic progress for indigenous people in Colombia. The concerns he expressed were legitimate, the same concerns we hear in Canada from aboriginal and first nations people: the need to ensure that economic progress comes with equitable distribution. These are the kinds of concerns we are dealing with in Canada as we ensure that first nations and aboriginal communities are full partners in developing resources in Canada. Frankly the challenges we face in Canada around economic engagement of our aboriginal and first nations communities are the kinds of co-operation and dialogue that could benefit both Colombia and Canada. We both face similar challenges on how to ensure that economic growth happens equitably and is shared with our first nations people.

The majority of the senators we met with expressed confidence that the FTA with Canada would help create jobs and prosperity for Colombians. The agreement would help Colombian producers who export to Canada while lowering import costs for all producers, especially the manufacturing sector.

One senator from Cúcuta on the Venezuelan border stressed the need for Colombia to diversify its trade relationships beyond Venezuela and Ecuador in order to mitigate the risk, particularly from Venezuela and the Chavez regime, of shutting its borders unilaterally and ideologically to Colombian exports. Canada faces a similar need to diversify our trade relationships, but for different reasons. We simply cannot isolate Colombia in the Andean region with the Chavez regime being as dangerous as it is.

Most of the senators felt that the FTA would improve labour conditions in Colombia through increased investment and economic engagement with Canada. They see Canada as a positive force. They believe that Canadian companies have been strong practitioners of corporate social responsibility, and they believe there has been progress in the protection of unionized workers and their leaders. Eighteen hundred union leaders are currently under special protection, full-time security provided by the Government of Colombia.

There has been progress in the disarming of paramilitary groups. There has been a reduction in violence overall and specifically violence toward trade unionists. The senators also spoke to us about the tripartite commission in Colombia that is made up of government, unions and employers. This commission, under the supervision of the ILO, is helping Colombia comply with its international labour the ILO commitments. At the 2009 annual meeting of the ILO, the ILO noted that progress is being made in Colombia.

Finally and most importantly, most senators acknowledged that a FTA with Canada would strengthen and improve living conditions in Colombia. It would help reduce poverty, prevent the resurgence of illegal armed groups, and help prevent more Colombians from entering the narco-economy.

We met with a group of Colombian economists who spoke in favour of a rules-based free trade agreement with Canada. They emphasized Colombia's need to move forward with this FTA, particularly now that countries like Chile and Peru have successfully ratified FTAs with key trading partners of Colombia including Canada. They stressed the importance for Colombia to diversify its trade relationships, again away from countries like Hugo Chavez' Venezuela. The Chavez threat to Colombia was a common theme repeated to us throughout our meetings in Colombia. We also learned that FARC guerrillas are increasingly being based in Venezuela, that they are being harboured by the Chavez regime to continue their attacks on Colombia and on companies and individuals in Colombia.

The labour movement is supported, in fact, by several private sector unions in Colombia. The labour movement in Colombia represents 6% of the workforce and the opposition to this agreement largely comes from the public sector components of that labour movement. As such, these public sector union members in Colombia have nothing to lose in pursuing an ideologically rigid anti-free trade position, but those who have the most to gain from the FTA are the workers currently in the informal economy which represents 56% of the labour force. These Colombians may be able to join the formal economy if Colombia's exports and foreign direct investment continue to grow.

There is general agreement among the economists that the security situation in Colombia has improved dramatically under the Uribe government and that the demobilization of paramilitaries is on track. During our trip to Colombia, we met with civil society groups focused on human rights. We heard concerns about former paramilitary members in Colombia now reorganizing as criminal gangs involved in the drug trade. We met with a representative from Colombia's national indigenous organization who spoke about the need for greater consultation with indigenous communities over investment and free trade, and the protection of biodiversity.

Human rights groups told us that Canada's FTA with Colombia needs to be robust in areas of labour rights. During our trip, we met with union leaders and industry representatives. We learned that much of the narco-trafficking is in large cause because in poor parts of Colombia, particularly in rural communities, there is no other opportunity but the narco-economy and that legitimate trade opportunity is required. Many Colombians feel that the FTAs will lead to work in the legal economy, that trade is the best way to move Colombia forward. They believe that FTAs will not only lead to increased protection of Canadian investment but also increase protection for Colombian workers.

We met with Canadian private sector firms regarding corporate social responsibility. They view the FTA with Colombia as not just protecting Canadian investment but in improving their capacity to effect positive change as Canadian practitioners of corporate social responsibility in Colombia. Our mining and extraction companies in Colombia are guided by strong principles of corporate social responsibility. Canadian companies like Enbridge have won labour safety awards. Enbridge has been recognized for human rights training that is has provided to security personnel which are required to protect its investments and its workers against FARC.

During our trip, we heard repeatedly how the involvement of Canadian corporations in the Colombian economy has raised corporate social responsibility standards in Colombia. Canadian entrepreneurs in Colombia are making a real difference in ensuring that Colombian labour standards continue to progress. The fact remains that labour laws in Colombia are actually stronger in many areas than they are in Canada.

The challenge is around enforcement. Colombia needs more inspectors. There are only 430 labour inspectors in the entire country, but the Canadian government is providing funding to significantly increase the number of inspectors and that needs to be a priority for us.

Unlike other countries in the region, in Colombia 85% of royalties paid by the Canadian extractive firms go back to local communities. These royalties help these communities pay for social investments like health, education, and infrastructure like roads and safe drinking water.

We met with think tanks in Colombia to discuss the challenges on peace, security and human rights including labour rights. Again, it was felt that Canada could help as a bridge builder, that there is a toxic relationship now between governments and many of the unions, organizations and the NGOs, and that Canada could in fact be a very positive bridge builder between these groups by being a responsible corporate social citizen in Colombia.

Outside Medellin we met with flower cultivation factory workers, 500 workers in fact. As part of Asocolflores, the national flower production association, this flower factory has made a huge difference in providing employment to people who need it, people who were displaced from their lands by the drug trade, people who did not have any other legitimate opportunities until this company provided them, through trade, with the opportunity to improve their living conditions and those of their families and to strengthen their security.

We met with union leaders from the private sector and public sector in Medellin. A majority of them in fact supported the FTA and viewed it as being essential to strengthening Colombia's standard of living. They characterized their views as not ideological but pragmatic, recognizing that globalization is unavoidable and a rules-based FTA such as this one with Canada can be beneficial.

We participated in a session convened by the OAS-MAPP, Mission in Support of the Peace Process with victims, ex-combatants and local institutions. We discussed the need and the important role of the OAS and Canada's support in terms of the reintegration process in Colombia. Victims and ex-combatants talked about the challenges they face in returning to their communities.

Now is the time for Canadians who are sincerely concerned about the well-being of the Colombian people to economically engage them, not ideologically abandon them. Evil flourishes where good people do nothing. Legitimate trade can help the people of Colombia replace the forces of evil with the forces of hope. Now is the time for the good people of Canada to reach out to the good people of Colombia, to help them build a more peaceful, more prosperous and fairer future.

The Economy
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, this summer I took the opportunity to travel to every area of Kootenay—Columbia, talking to my constituents and taking pictures with them hard at work on projects and programs funded through Canada's economic action plan.

The Conservative government has been getting shovels in the ground and projects energized for the benefit of all my constituents. We have multiplied the effect of our economic initiatives by using a very wide variety of programs. From one end of the riding to the other, I heard people voicing cautious optimism. They appreciate our economic action plan and what it means to their families and our communities throughout Kootenay—Columbia.

As we work our way out of this worldwide recession, my constituents give the Conservative government an A plus.

However, without exception, they are angry with the useless, counterproductive, dangerous, opportunistic election talk by the opposition coalition. My constituents give a massive F for failure to the Liberal, NDP and Bloc coalition.

Donald Marshall, Jr.
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, recently in August, the Mi'kmaq Nation lost a great man and reluctant hero in Donald Marshall, Jr. Affectionately known as Junior to his friends and family, Marshall was one of 13 children of Caroline and Donald Marshall, Sr., former grand chief of the Mi'kmaq Nation.

Donald Marshall, the man, was only a boy when he was wrongfully convicted of murder, a crime he did not commit. He was acquitted. A subsequent inquiry found that the system was not working for the aboriginal people.

Donald Marshall was thrust into the spotlight once again when he simply went fishing. The fishing trip resulted in the landmark Marshall ruling by the Supreme Court, upholding treaties with the Mi'kmaq people and upholding their rights and traditions.

I attended Donald Marshall's funeral and I think the life of Donald Marshall was best outlined by Grand Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations. He said that Donald Marshall was “a man who carried himself in a humble and dignified manner, a man who believed in his people”.

Tackling Economic Crime
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, today the Bloc Québécois will introduce a bill designed to abolish parole after an offender has served one sixth of his sentence.

This practice allows white collar criminals who are guilty of economic crimes to get out of prison after serving only one sixth of their sentence. In effect, it turns harsh sentences into a few months in jail.

Given the economic scandals that have made the headlines in recent weeks, we must do away with this practice. The Bloc Québécois bill is simple and reflects a broad consensus. It is one of a series of measures designed to tackle economic crime. We are counting on all the parties to show good faith and help fast-track this bill starting tomorrow.

Climate Change
Statements By Members

September 14th, 2009 / 2 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, in just 83 days, the world's leaders will gather in Copenhagen to finalize an action plan on climate change. Yet, here in Canada, where is the action? The government drags its feet on concrete measures while the Arctic melts, the Prairies burn or flood, and communities suffer severe weather and unprecedented forest fires.

As emissions rise, so does regulatory risk. Investors are looking elsewhere. Our renewable energy sector flounders. Where, they ask, are the long-awaited federal targets and standards for greenhouse gases and pollutants? Where is the opportunity to review these rules?

The New Democrat climate change accountability act is now at committee. It prescribes the promised science-based achievable targets committed to by other G8 countries. It offers a framework for accountability.

Thousands of concerned Canadians have contacted their MPs seeking swift passage of this bill. They want their MPs to put the future of Canadians ahead of partisan interests.

The Economy
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the MP for Oakville, I report back to the House of Commons today that in these challenging times the residents of Oakville are very pleased that their government is working to create jobs and build a stronger Oakville in Ontario.

Since the last budget, they are happy to see the federal government invest $15 million to help build a new Oakville transit facility, $15.5 million for 1,000 long overdue parking spots at Oakville's GO station, $8 million for a new water treatment plant, and $15 million for Oakville's Sheridan College. They also know that there is more to come.

These investments demonstrate our government's commitment to stimulating the Ontario economy by getting shovels in the ground to create jobs for Ontarians. These projects will improve transportation efficiency, support a healthier environment, enhance local facilities and stimulate further investment.

Thanks to the hard work of our government, Oakville is on the right track for its economy to grow immediately and thrive into the future.

Honoré-Mercier Secondary School
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud and excited to extend my congratulations to the 50 young people from École secondaire Honoré-Mercier who took part in the June launch of a CD entitled “Un chant d'espoir”.

This CD of songs that the students themselves wrote and performed, with the support of artists from Nuits d'Afrique, is the culmination of a Secondary IV French project. The songs address social issues that affect these young people, who come from various cultural communities.

Julie Patenaude, who instigated the project, also deserves recognition for the work she did on the CD. Her perseverance and creativity were vital to the success of this wonderful venture and speak volumes about the quality of the teaching staff at the school.

I wish them the best of success in the coming school year.

Portage Plains United Way
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise and pay tribute to the Portage Plains United Way.

I was pleased to attend its kick-off luncheon last week and to see first-hand the commitment these people have to giving back to their community.

This United Way donates 100% of all funds raised to organizations in Portage la Prairie and the surrounding area. These organizations include Big Brothers and Sisters of Canada, the MS Society, the Portage Family Abuse Prevention Centre and many others.

I want to congratulate it and wish it great success as it begins its fall fundraising campaign.

The leadership that groups like this show can set an example to all of us in the House as we begin our fall session.

Let us commit to putting the needs of Canadians above all else. Let us all commit to serving Canadians instead of asking Canadians to serve our own political agendas. I believe we can do it and Canadians deserve it.