House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was privacy.

Topics

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, as I understand it, there are now going to be private inspections. This will be another privatization move by the Conservatives. Inspections will increase from 8,000 to over 65,000 per year. There will be no ombudsperson's office to evaluate any problems or investigate complaints. There will be no refund or compensation for the consumers who have been abused by these problems and no refund or restitution of the taxes collected.

I would like to ask the hon. member whether I understand this correctly.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, as always, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North has perfectly understood the legislation. I guess the question has to be why the Conservatives would move this bill forward. Have they not read the legislation? Do they understand the legislation? Why would Conservatives vote for legislation that is, as the member for Windsor West said, years late and millions short?

As the member for Thunder Bay--Superior North has said very eloquently, there is no ombudsman's office. There is no refund or compensation for the years of ripoffs. There is no refund or restitution on taxes collected.

There is an increase in inspections which we certainly agree with, but because the Conservatives are trying to find in a shell game some way to benefit, I guess their supporters, they are saying private companies have to do it and they can charge the price they want. This means that in a riding as far flung as Thunder Bay--Superior North, if a private company is set up it will be able to enforce on mom and pop operations any price it wants.

The inspections are mandatory. We will have a situation where a mom and pop retailer will not have a choice and the price will be set by the person providing the service, particularly in rural and northern Canada. This is yet another example of the contempt the Conservative government has for rural and northern Canadians. It is not just the softwood lumber sellout. It is not just the collapse in farm incomes, particularly in Alberta. For an Alberta farmer to vote Conservative I gather after their inept policies would be a sore mistake. It is a series of measures that go against what rural and northern Canadians stand for and what is good for them.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, for obvious reasons, I am comfortable with this subject. I cannot support a bill that promotes petty treatment of small gas retailers across the country. I thought that the government was trying to help at a time when rising energy prices cannot be explained by supply and demand. This is a real problem that the government does not want to hear about or deal with.

I am very concerned about Bill C-14 for a number of reasons, which I will be permitted to expand on at some length. Hon. colleagues will know that this is an issue that I have spent a considerable amount of time on. I have devoted my time. I thank the people of Pickering—Scarborough East for indulging me over the years, as well as the people of Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge and the people of Ontario riding, all three ridings over time representing a good chunk of Canadians, or well over half a million Canadians in that period of time.

I am concerned because this bill suggests, lends itself to or gives the impression that it is doing something which is patently false. The government is not going to give the public any reassurance whatsoever that prices they will pay at the pump, or in fact the measurement, are going to be accurate.

I mentioned earlier the concern I had with respect to how the government is portraying this particular issue. To suggest that somehow it is achieving fairness at the pumps, or as the Minister of Industry lamentably, and I would suggest slanderously, suggested that retailers in this country are chiselling people is simply not only incorrect; it is misleading and it is wrong. The minister ought to have apologized.

Given that the minister has not, he has constructed a body of regulation, which in my view and I think in the view of Measurement Canada, in and of itself will do very little if anything except to undermine the integrity of what is left of competition at the retail level in the gasoline industry in Canada.

Just before the Prime Minister provoked an election, breaking his own word, the industry committee had an opportunity to look at one of the major reasons why energy prices were going up in 2008. It had everything to do with a loophole created that allowed a lack of oversight to the commodities industries around the world. We can recall that energy prices in July 2008, as far as oil was concerned, reached $150 a barrel virtually. The price at the pumps went up substantially. There were a number of other causes and effects, including commodity costs for food and other forms of energy.

The industry committee had one day to look at this before the Prime Minister pulled the rug out from under us in order to obtain an election. Rather than looking at the issue that was confronting Canadians and undermining their standard of living and undermining, as it continuously does, their issue of balancing the cost of living, the government instead chose to pick an article that appeared in May 2008 in the Ottawa Citizen and give it some credibility by talking about it without any actual verification of the numbers, to allow wild extrapolations in terms of the number of pumps that are askew.

Rather than dealing with the fact that we have lost a significant number of refineries in this country due to mergers and acquisitions, rather than dealing with the fact that wholesale prices now move up in lockstep in most provinces and most large communities across this country, rather than dealing with the unfairness of temperature compensation, and I will explain that in a moment, the government chose to narrowly go after the odd gas retailer.

All this would be correct if in fact we learned that the government knew full well that 94% of all the pumps it tested over a rigorous years' period proved to be accurate. Of the 6% that were found to be inaccurate, 2% actually gave consumers more product, and while 4% may have been askew, one would really have to make an argument, both in court and in the public domain, to suggest that somehow gas retailers were involved with chiselling the public.

If the hon. members in the government who proposed this bill had taken the time to actually learn how a pump works, they might find, as we see in so many other instances, that there is obviously a duty of care but retailers may not know that a pump is broken, they may not know that the pulser, which is part of the electronic process, may have malfunctioned, they may not know there is a mechanical problem even after they have tested and even after they have calibrated.

Why is that important to know? It is because they may realize there is a problem, through no fault of their own, and they will test that. Why do they want to test that? It is very simple. No reasonable retail gas retailer in this country is going to want to have a gas pump that malfunctions. The reason is that their volumes will be out, and their logistics and inventory report, which they have to make day in and day out to ensure accuracy for their own economic reasons, are there.

The incentive to do something wrong is certainly not there, but more importantly, there has been no jurisprudence here. There has been no case, to my knowledge, where someone has been convicted of deliberately defrauding someone. If that is the case then I want to hear about it because I have not heard a single cogent argument coming from the government to justify this. It is in fact a solution in search of a problem.

We know that it can lend itself and head toward some very unintended consequences, including penalizing and skewing an industry whose representatives, mom and pop gas station retailers and other people, are working day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try to make a living. The government has the audacity of penalize them and call them chisellers and suggest somehow it is going to remedy the situation with a magic wand saying, poof, we now have new effective fairness at the pumps. This is misleading to Canadians. This is telling Canadians that something is going to happen that does not. I am surprised to see in a few media reports that somehow they have bought this line. It is not going to do anything to help Canadians. Let us understand that when we target a particular industry we had better back it up with facts.

The facts we have before us are very simple, and I suggest this to the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I have measurement compliance rates from 2005 to 2009, which will take in the period of the Ottawa Citizen article and all the other little things the government says it has done, through Measurement Canada by sector. I have about 30 of them here, which includes sectors where there are less than five data points, where there is not a lot of oversight and inspection, but it has a number of areas: hardware stores, retail rubber products, general merchandise, laundries, cleaners, piece goods, precious metals and stones, alcoholic beverages, honey and apiary, non-metallic minerals, quarries and sandpits, waste collection, transportation, metal scrap, fruit and vegetable, fur and skin, retail gasoline, dairy farms, dairy products, textiles, chemical products, food and beverage manufacturing, electricity, livestock, poultry and there are a few others.

In looking at Measurement Canada's own guide of these 30 or so industries, we find that retail gasoline is the second highest most compliant in the country. So we are going after an industry whose reputation is very good by our own analysis and yet we have a government that wants to target them. With a 93.11% compliance rate, it is only slightly behind honey and apiary at 93.33%. That surprises me because if it is not an admission that the government has this terribly wrong and is targeting the wrong industry, why for goodness' sake has it not gone after the quarries and sandpits industry with a 47.42% accuracy rate? Why has it not gone after the electricity industry? The government says that we use gasoline. Well the last time I checked, this place was lit up by electricity. Its compliance rate from Measurement Canada is 74.19%. One-quarter of what we are buying may not be accurate, and industries and consumers use it day in and day out. Our country is driven by this and yet Measurement Canada, through the direction of the government, decided we are going to target the good guys here.

We are going to go after them because we do not want the public to know that currently energy prices are being manipulated through a lack of oversight both in terms of the trading platforms at NYMEX and around the world. We do not want to let people know that there have been a number of strategic withdrawals of refineries in Canada, removing supply and as a result artificially bumping up the price of gasoline. We do not want to talk about a Competition Act, written in 1986 by the oil industry at the invitation of the then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to go and rearrange the Competition Act in such a way that it would be the first time that a western country has allowed its very act of policing the commercial industries to be policed by the very people it is meant to police.

It seems to me that we have missed the point here and the government has done something that is classic smoke and mirrors. This is a distraction. This is to give people the impression that somehow when they are pumping gasoline in fact they are not getting what they pay for.

There are probably in excess of 130,000 pumps in this country. There are about 70 billion litres of gasoline and diesel dispensed. I was able to get this document finally from Measurement Canada after three and a half months of requests. They finally gave it to me with one week's notice to review this in advance of this debate and of course for our presence in committee. I was surprised to learn that the $20 million from Measurement Canada, which the government is trotting out as being the annual average rip-off of Canadians, actually turns out to be $8 million, because it recognizes that $12 million of that could have actually gone in favour of the consumer.

That being the case, we know the government is somewhat challenged when it comes to statistics. We know it has a problem with Statistics Canada as it relates to the census, but that should not be surprising, given how it extrapolates its views with respect to statistics and data that it tends to trot out, which it knows to be wrong, which it knows to be false.

Let us put that into context. The average skew of gasoline in Canada is 0.018. That pales in comparison to what is occurring today, which the government does not want to talk about. I am not sure whether it believes that this is acceptable. We have not heard much from it. I have put forth changes to the Competition Act and suggested that we have a petroleum price monitoring agency, for which the Liberal government advocated and implemented and which the Conservative government killed as its first act upon taking over in Parliament in 2006.

Canadians would have what Americans and others around the world have, a better understanding of the inventory picture in the country, but no, Conservatives do not want Canadians to have that. They want Canadians to believe that 0.018% of the time, there might be a skew and they might not actually get what they pay for, but they say nothing of the fact that in Toronto today, there is a 5.3¢ ripoff. In Vancouver it is 9¢. In Montreal it is 6.3¢. In Ottawa today it is 6.1¢.

This is ludicrous. We are worried about 0.018% on a litre of gasoline, but we do not think that 5.5¢, 7¢, 8¢ or 9¢ is a problem. Do the math, and for the media that happens to be watching this, maybe they could do the same as well because, frankly, this is unacceptable. It is in fact not only false; it is a fraud. I cannot, in all good conscience, support something like this, which is meant to do something that it will not do, that is, to give false expectations to consumers who rightly ask the question, “Why has Ottawa failed us?” I could go into substantial detail of why that is, but let us talk about the bigger picture.

We know this morning that commodity prices on food, particularly corn, have skyrocketed. This may be in response to certain economic conditions around the world. The media seems to be focused on potash, but the bigger question is this. How do prices get manipulated? How is it possible that we have abandoned regulatory oversight of how trading on these markets, the energy markets above all, is avoided? Why do we not understand or care in this country, and why do we hear nothing from the finance minister, or anybody on that bench, about what the Americans and many other parts of the world, particularly Europe, France and Britain, are saying? They are saying that it is time to get control of the derivatives, the swap dealers. These are dealers that were created in light of a loophole created in 2000.

Some colleagues here in the House will remember that the year 2000 was the famous year in which the 262-page report of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act took place that allowed energy traders to establish their own exchanges in which to trade contracts and then of course be exempted on exchanges in their entirety from government regulation. That has led to the direct impoverishment and to the consequences of the 2008 period of time in which energy prices spiked.

We could talk about collusion and conspiracy, which is always a convenient argument that is brought out, but I have to remind colleagues that we have to have competitors who would otherwise have different prices, meeting in the dark of night under little lamps, conspiring to bring prices together. That era of competition at the retail level and, more importantly, at the refinery level, is gone. It is over.

Wholesale prices by city are established usually by a leader. In Canada, nominally that tends to be Imperial Oil, at about 3:30 or 4:00 p.m. every day. That wholesale price is simply followed within a microsecond, and whatever that price is, it is traded publicly. It is available to most Canadians if they want to see it. It is not, as a result, price-fixing but rather a distinct, severe and almost pathetic lack of competition in Canada at the wholesale level.

We had very little discussion recently regarding the affect of declining suppliers on the Canadian market. In eastern Canada the Shell refinery closure in Montreal has meant that a once slack supply situation throughout eastern Canada, particularly the Maritimes, Quebec and part of Ontario, is now affected. How is it affected? Let us look at it this way.

Three months ago, wholesale prices in Montreal and Toronto were on average a penny and a half below Toronto. As of last night, those wholesale numbers have changed rather dramatically. They are now a penny and a half above Toronto. As a result of the closure of the refinery in Montreal, Canadians, not the industry, not its apologists or those who ignore it in the media, pay the freight.

Canadians will have to pay more. Looking at that difference of 2.5¢ a litre in the past three months added to the bill of every ordinary Canadian, who uses 100 litres a week, winds up being $2.50 to the average family multiplied by 52 weeks. Canadians have now been told they can pay another $250.

The fact that we cannot look at this issue more intently means Canadians will continue to suffer. It means Canadians will continue to realize just how irrelevant Parliament, and more important the Conservative government, is with respect to coming up with solutions.

I know of no jurisdiction, particularly the United States or Europe, that would tolerate the exit from the market of a player. It would not tolerate the level of concentration in our country. It would it accept that the Competition Act, written by the very people it is meant to police, would ultimately be chaired by somebody who worked for the industry.

We all recall the issue in 2000 of Superior Propane. I brought a bill before the House to prevent a monopoly to occur in the propane industry, and it passed. Our friends in the other place, many of whom sat on the boards of directors of many of these companies, decided they would not allow the bill to go through. I was surprised to learn that the current Competition Commissioner, with all due respect, was counsel for Superior Propane, which obtained that monopoly. Talk about the fox marching into the chicken coop.

Nothing has amazed me more than this industry because money talks. We have been woeful in our ability to address the real substantive dollar and cents issues that Canadians want us to tackle. I am not against this industry. I want the industry to flourish. I want energy markets to behave in a way that responds to the fundamentals of supply and demand. However, what I have is thin drool and dribble coming from the government by it saying that it will target the very people who have been targeted for years.

The people who have lost in our country are hard-working independent gas retailers. Day in and day out they try to eke out a living with very skinny margins and are often subject to predatory pricing created by a Competition Act that has been decidedly in favour of one thing, and that is intensification of monopolization.

If I have done anything in 17 years as a member of Parliament, it is to try to illustrate the economic injustice that is occurring. I will not lend my name to this bill. I will not support this bill. I encourage members of Parliament to look at the bill, look at the bigger picture, look at the real issues and vote it down.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his long-standing interest and work in this area. I also thank him for sending me a copy of the measurement compliance rate, which indicates that retail gasoline has a current compliance of 93%.

The fact is Bill C-14 proposes that the inspection process will cover another eight areas, with perhaps more areas in the future. It proposes to cover retail food, which has a compliance rate, according to his chart, of 90%. Dairy farms have a compliance rate of 89%. Downstream petroleum has a compliance rate of 66%. There are also mining, metals, grain and field crops. It will cover a number of the areas that have a high compliance of the current rate and some which are under compliance. Interestingly enough, It does not include quarries and sandpits, which has the lowest compliance of 47.42%.

We have been observing that we would favour government inspectors over privatizing the expansion process. We are seeing an effort to outsource, to privatize the inspections and increase the number of inspections, which would create a lot of extra expenses for some of the smaller mom and pop operations, no matter what sector they happened to be in.

Could the member comment on that?

In 1995 when the Manitoba Conservative government privatized the car inspection process, the price of used vehicles went up substantially overnight and there was a lot of abuse. The CBC did some undercover operations that showed garages were ripping off customers by fixing all kinds of things that really did not need to be fixed.

Could the member also comment on that?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member does raise some very important points. However, he should not be swayed by what Measurements Canada says. If we look at its website today, we will find that it says “fairness at the pumps act”. That is a very political, crass, irrelevant and, I would suggest, dishonest reflection of what the bill is purported to try to accomplish. We were told by Measurements Canada that was not the title. However, if we go to its website right now, and I am sure it is probably going to take it down in the next few minutes, we will see that it says “fairness at the pumps act”. Just punch it into a Google search.

The hon. member should not be swayed or somehow led down the garden path by either Measurements Canada or the government. This really is about going after and targeting, as the minister said, chisellers, chisellers who do not exist and are a figment of the government's imagination.

It is also important to know that with a compliance rate of 93% or 94%, it means the other 6% or 7% may in fact be favouring consumers, but through no deliberate attempt. Things can and do break down. If we find out there is an inspection process, it is in our interest to ensure that it is correct. If the inventory is lost or off, it can mean terrible consequences for the people who have throughputs or gas stations across the country, where they have hundreds of thousands of litres every year. If they are off by 1%, that is a lot of money at the end of the year.

The question is about private or public inspection. The issue is the NDP has a reason on this, and I do not disagree with it. There has to be absolute concern. One of the amendments I wanted to see was to ensure that our officials were in fact governed by, adhered to and are sworn in as public servants. It is important for the Crown to demonstrate due diligence.

One thing the Liberals did in committee was to ensure absolute due diligence by the minister to ensure those people were held to the highest account, that there was accuracy in their testing, in the various methods that they use. It is very difficult to test these things. There is not one universal way in which we test.

Because the government did not get rid of temperature compensation, it means we lose 4% or 5% of the amount of volume of gasoline we buy because we are at 15° Celsius. Fifteen degrees Celsius assumes that we have had over a year of that temperature. It is 6° in Canada. In Hawaii it is 15°. Therefore, the public is being ripped off by 5% or 6%. Again, the government wants to go after retailers who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to make ends meet. That is disgusting. That is an outrange.

Frankly, I hope the media is looking at this. I want to talk to it about its lack of understanding and precision on this issue. What I see is a target of an industry that has done very well, has done its best and is still the whipping post of the government.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to ask a question of my colleague, but I will begin by prefacing just how critical the issue of fairness at the pumps is for the Canadians who I represent in northern Manitoba. We have an area with extensive distance between us as communities. We have roads that, unfortunately, due to the lack of federal investment, are substandard in many cases. People have to purchase heavier duty vehicles, which costs them more money for gas.

On the other side, we also have communities with high rates of unemployment or people with very low incomes. They struggle to make it by and do not have money to waste at the gas pump.

In recent years, especially a couple of years ago when the prices went through the roof in our part of the country, there was a serious concern about the gouging and its impact on northerners and people who lived in parts of Canada like mine. There was much discussion about how we could solve this real challenge facing Canadians. Yet despite the work by many in the House and the push to get this issue dealt with in a timely way and effective way, nothing has happened.

Could the member comment on the effectiveness of this bill and the lack of an ombudsman's office to evaluate the problems that Canadians have brought forward and the absence of a refund or compensation for consumers who are ripped off? Their concern is they are spending more money and they are being ripped off, yet the plan is not looking at that. There is no refund or restitution on the taxes collected on the phantom gasoline purchases, the pumps which do not dispense as much gas as is shown. There are so many pieces that do not respond to what Canadians have talked about. I would like to hear the member's thoughts on these points.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for North Bay, a rural riding though it is a little closer to the smoke of Toronto, also brought forward very much the same concerns about the less travelled parts of the country, where there is a greater dependence on energy-intensive transportation fuels.

It will probably help the hon. member to know a couple of things about the price. In Winnipeg the gas is about 65¢ a litre wholesale, plus whatever the taxes are in the province of Manitoba. It is not very far from Ontario, so it would not have the HST, thankfully. That would be the tax passed by the federal Conservative government.

What concerns a lot of us, though, is the issue of transportation. If I understand the member correctly, her riding is about 500 to 700 miles within a geographic area. Transportation cost is about 2¢ for every 1,000 kilometres. One would think if it is at the outside, 2.5¢, maybe 3¢, that should make the wholesale price about 69¢. If we add the usual taxes, which come up to about 25¢, we are talking about 94¢, plus the GST, plus 7¢ for retailers, which is about what they need to turn the pumps on, especially in areas where they do not get a lot of activity. Therefore, the price should be $1.04 $1.03, $1.05, and I am sure it is a lot higher than that.

When we talk about calibrating and checking these pumps out, one of the unintended consequences I was referring to earlier in my speech would be that the inspection would have potentially the effect of removing gas pumps that currently exist because they would not compliant. I am not suggesting that should be the case, but we have to find a mechanism that takes into consideration rural Canada. The government did not it that into consideration. I propose a sliding scale that will see reviews take place in a way that will not be unduly burdensome of rural Canada.

The other thing the hon. member needs to know is that gas pumps can be faulty sometimes in favour of the consumer, based on how little they are used or based on overuse. There is a number of reasons, electronically and mechanically. These are all internal parts. When we look at the way a pump works, and there are 3 metres per every 5 or 10 or 12 pumps, the reality is the retailer will not know. That is why they inspect them periodically, usually within a three month period. In communities like mine in Toronto, for instance, they are inspected more frequently because retailers do not want the pumps to be off. They cannot afford to have them off. It is not in their interest to rip off the public. Not that the government would understand that because it has never actually taken the time to look at how a retailer runs.

However, in rural regions of the country, this would be a recipe for disaster, especially when we do not know who is inspecting the pumps. What if the inspector does not happen to like the retailer? There is a number of considerations about which the government did not think. As a result, in my view this is not a bill worth supporting.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Is the House ready for the question?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

Fairness at the Pumps Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, a few weeks ago, the Bloc Québécois and I spoke out against Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. The Conservatives' eagerness to ratify this agreement was one of the reasons we could not support it. About a month ago, while we were considering this bill in the House, we found that it was not in line with the Bloc Québécois' values and beliefs or those of Quebeckers.

Our position remains unchanged because we have seen no indication that neither workers' rights nor the tax haven situation in Panama has improved since then. My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I will never be able to support any agreement, treaty or government decision that does not respect these fundamental rights. We will never accept such an agreement unless we can be certain that these rights will be respected.

Before going any further, I would like to answer a question that was asked by the Conservative member for Abbotsford. After my last speech on this subject, he asked why the Bloc Québécois would not at least allow this agreement to go to committee to ensure that amendments are made that would satisfy the Bloc. I would say that if some of these problems could be fixed in committee, we would be in favour of sending the bill to committee. However, some of the problems with the agreement or relations with Panama are beyond Canada's control. For example, there is the issue of police repression of unions. As my colleague, the member for Joliette said, although we could study the issue in committee, we would be wasting our time if the Panamanian leaders have no interest in examining and addressing the situation.

That said, since I have the honour of speaking on this topic today, I think it is important to briefly reiterate the Bloc's position on bilateral agreements. The Bloc Québécois is not a protectionist party. Quebec exports 52% of what it produces, and our businesses, especially cutting-edge businesses, could not survive in the domestic market alone. That is why the Bloc Québécois supported NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and was the first party to propose entering into a free trade agreement with the European Union. Clearly, our party supports free trade.

We believe that in order for trade to be mutually beneficial, it must first be fair. This would be easy if the Conservatives were willing. A trading system that results in exploitation in poor countries and dumping in rich countries is not viable. Members can be assured that the Bloc Québécois will never tolerate a system of free trade that would result in a race to the bottom. We simply want to increase wealth and not poverty, in Quebec, Canada, and in the countries with which we are signing agreements.

We are well aware that the absence of environmental or labour standards in trade agreements puts a great deal of pressure on our industries, especially our traditional industries. It is very difficult for them to compete with products made with no regard for basic social rights. We are in favour of a real policy of multilateralism, not the shameless pursuit of profit at the expense of people's living conditions and the environment, which is all too often the case with the bilateral agreements that the government wants to sign.

I would like to remind the members of an aspect of this agreement that the Bloc Québécois finds very worrisome, and that we proclaim loud and clear every time we have the chance.

Panama is still on the OECD's grey list of tax havens, and it is even on France's blacklist of tax havens. Yes, I said France. Obviously Panama poses a problem.

While major European corporations are leaving that country because of its lack of banking transparency and its promotion of tax evasion, Canada wants to send its companies there. Does that make any sense? We need to think about this. The fact that France is pulling out of the country and we want to go in needs some serious consideration.

The Bloc Québécois feels it is imperative that, before concluding a Canada-Panama free trade agreement, the Conservative government sign an information sharing agreement with Panama. Nonetheless, this agreement must not exempt subsidiaries located in the targeted jurisdictions from paying income tax.

I want to repeat that, even though the free trade agreement signed on May 14, 2010, comes with a comprehensive agreement on labour co-operation, protecting labour rights in Panama remains a serious concern.

President Ricardo Martinelli's right-wing government passed Law 30, legislation that is considered anti-union, just a few months ago in June 2010. It is unbelievable. Basically, the law criminalizes workers who demonstrate to defend their rights. Here we are in 2010 and that government is still passing that kind of legislation. Once again, this certainly gives us something to think about.

We also know that Panama was shaken in recent months by crackdowns described as anti-union. Between two and six people were killed and about 100 were injured during violent demonstrations that were held after Law 30 passed in June 2010.

As a member who comes from the agricultural labour movement, I naturally believe that workers' rights are universal rights, and no trade agreement, no free trade agreement—and I mean none—should be entered into without absolute assurance that workers' rights will be respected. That is a fundamental principle of fair trade. That is how fair trade begins. It is not rocket science.

Accordingly, we rigorously apply that principle to all of our actions and the decisions we make. That is one of the reasons we simply could not support the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement recently. Our party acts in accordance with our values and policies.

Even though on August 5, 2010, the Panamanian government agreed to review this law, we nonetheless have cause for concern about the Martinelli government's true willingness to respect the International Labour Organization conventions. Why is the government in such a hurry to ratify this agreement? Should we not ensure that the Panamanian government is backing down on Law 30 before we make any commitment? Why not make sure the Panamanian government reverses its decision and supports labour rights in that country instead?

Without any assurance that workers' rights are respected in Panama and considering that this country is still on France's blacklist and the OECD's grey list of tax havens, it is not possible for the Bloc Québécois to support this bill.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his presentation. He has raised some extremely serious points about the bill we are debating today.

I would like his opinion or that of the Bloc on the government's agenda with regard to this free trade agreement. It took the same approach with Colombia and other countries, an approach that ignores human rights, fairness and transparency. These values are important to Canadians but, as we can see, the government is taking a very different approach.