House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was documents.

Topics

Bill C-2--Notice of time allocation motion
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Oral Questions

March 25th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, we have debated it for over 30 hours in this chamber and the standing committee has already studied it twice. Unlike the Bloc and the NDP, this government is committed to pursuing a free trade agenda. Therefore, I would like to advise that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-2, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi was able to complete his speech. He now has 10 minutes for questions and comments on his speech.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what the hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi said.

I think that what matters most today is that it is election time in Colombia, and independent observers monitoring the situation are accusing the Colombian government of fraud, spreading fear among the population and attempting to intimidate the population. All this information can be found in the report of the pre-electoral mission in Colombia.

In light of the undemocratic situation in Colombia, why is the Conservative government refusing to step in and push the Colombian government to do the right thing and establish democratic rules for those elections?

Also, how come they got a merit award when the government is trying to push this agreement through the House of Commons without the kind of debate that the human rights violations in that country call for?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my NDP colleague for his two excellent questions.

With respect to the first question, I think that the government is looking out for itself in preparation for the next election. There are not many bills right now that do not have to do with law and order. This bill, which would implement a trade agreement with Colombia, could be considered openness in the next election. I must point out that the Conservative government has not shown much openness. That is why I think this bill is pure vote-chasing. I do not understand why the Liberals decided to support it, unless they too are afraid of voters. But they do not know when an election will be held.

The two questions my colleague asked are essentially related.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, once again I guess we cannot address often enough the fact that we are here today, and the bill is still viable, entirely because of the Liberals. The bill was completely dead and the government would never have reintroduced it had it not been for the agreement that was cooked up between the government and the Liberal critic.

We know that it was only last year that the House Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that a human rights assessment impact be undertaken.

Under the former Liberal leader, the critic of the day was 100% on side with doing that. Then there was this coup in the Liberal Party. It changed leaders overnight and appointed a new critic, and now the critic has taken the Liberal position from the left over to the extreme right. Now its position is indiscernible from that of the Conservative Party.

As a matter of fact, the Liberal critic has been quoted as saying that Colombia has more robust labour rules than Canada does, and there are other quotes that would certainly question our understanding of what this deal is all about.

I would ask the member once again to give us some ideas as to why he thinks the Liberals flip-flopped back and forth so fast in such a short time.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I answer that question, I would like to add that introducing strong, robust laws in Colombia will not do any good if they are not enforced.

The government is looking to protect Canadian investments that will be made there. It means nothing to them to sign an agreement with Colombia, even though there are robust laws, since they are not enforced.

Why did the Liberals change their minds so fast? As I explained earlier, in the event of an early election, the Liberals are afraid of being perceived as not being open to international trade. But they do not explain the real dangers of violating human rights or the dangers of signing an agreement with a very poor country. We cannot sign a balanced agreement with a poor country.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have some quotations from civil society, human rights, and labour leaders in Colombia on this agreement and the amendment and its requirement to have annual reports tabled to both parliaments and be debated in, for instance, our House of Commons trade committee.

Dr. Jorge Rojas Rodriguez, a civil society leader in Colombia and president of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, says:

...this proposal sends a strong political message to Colombia about Canada's interest in seeing the human rights situation improve in the coming years.

Dr. Leon Valencia says:

I think it is...useful that the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and Canada includes an amendment which requires both governments to present an annual report to the respective Parliaments on the repercussions of the agreement on human rights in each country.

This will provide an important yearly forum to discuss the situation in Colombia, and will give Canadian citizens the opportunity to monitor human rights violations in our country.

Colombia's human rights leaders actually see this agreement as a step forward, in terms of human rights engagement. I would hope the Bloc would stand with the people of Colombia, who are seeking better economic opportunities and better human rights engagement and support. We do not want to isolate Colombia and its people but instead to engage them as partners in progress as these fine people move forward.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that the hon. member heard a single word of my 20-minute speech. How could he say such a thing if he had been listening? Two Colombians are telling us that humanitarian laws are slightly better than they used to be, but our colleague just said that 48 trade unionists were killed in 2008.

Perhaps the situation has improved, but 2008 was not 20 years ago. It was only two years ago. Even if things have improved, it is not enough. I do not understand why the Liberals feel it is not serious that people are being killed. They are only worried about trade. To me, the fact that 48 trade unionists were killed is very serious. It is unacceptable.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that my colleague, who knows this issue like the back of his hand, will be able to answer my question.

An NDP member mentioned why the Liberals, supported by the Conservatives, have re-opened the Pandora's box that is the free trade agreement with Colombia.

Is it possible that these two parties in the House support the mine owners and lobbyists who have specific interest in Colombia and that that is why they want to sign this treaty and enter into free trade with Colombia?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I think it is pretty clear that certain interests are at stake, and this explains their actions.

As I have already indicated, this is not a matter of trade, because the people of Colombia are poor. This is so that companies can mine there, without having to respect the environment, people's health, the unions or the areas around the mines. This is very important. We should not blindly accept this simply because two people from Colombia—who probably have a vested interest—tell us that human rights practices are improving.

The Liberal Party certainly found a compelling lobby to follow. That explains why they changed their minds so suddenly.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we were debating this bill before the House was suspended for the government to recalibrate. The bill was formerly known as Bill C-23, and now we have brought it back as Bill C-2. At this second reading, I want to participate in debating the bill on behalf of my party and to add a few a comments that do not directly affect the bill itself, but deal peripherally with it as a result of some of the comments made today during debate. The minister's response was a low blow in terms of our position as Liberals and was uncalled for, if I may say.

Here we are as the official opposition standing in support of the free trade agreement with Colombia. Yes, the hon. member from the Conservative Party is acknowledging that. Maybe what he should do is tell the Minister of International Trade to be a little more polite in his response, because we are not going to allow the new Conservative Party to give us a lesson on human rights. We are noted as the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unlike that party, which had to change its name not once and not twice, because Canadians were literally scared of them. However, I am going to get to the essence of the bill.

Last week I held a round table discussion with Ms. Adriana Mejía, a senior minister from Colombia whom we were very fortunate to have visiting with us. She is the deputy minister of foreign affairs in Colombia. In light of the concerns about the human rights situation in Colombia, I thought it would be a great opportunity for us Canadians to hear what the minister had to say, to hear of some of their initiatives and, of course, to question the minister.

I am very pleased to report to the House and Canadians that we had a packed house. There were members from the government, the Liberal Party, the Bloc and there were no members from the New Democratic Party. Well, we might say that maybe they did not know about it, but they knew because I went out of my way to invite them personally. I am very disappointed they could not find one member in their caucus, especially if they were so concerned, to be there and ask questions of that visitor of ours. Nevertheless, the minister went into a very in-depth presentation. She had a deck with her that I will go through and point out certain initiatives they have undertaken to address some of the concerns that we have and other members of the international community and, of course, the UN have.

However, before I go there I want to remind members that last May, before our summer recess, I chaired the committee on international trade and our guest was President Uribe of Colombia. The gentleman was very gracious and gave us a lot of latitude. Whereas initially the Colombians had said no to having any cameras or anyone else there, the president then said, yes, invite the media and people in and let them hear, as we have nothing to hide.

Of course, there were some very constructive yet tough questions put to him. I thought the questioning by the NDP was rude, given that we had invited a head of state of a foreign country. We might agree to disagree, but Canadians are a very well mannered and refined people and in a forum like that, we should ask the tough questions, but politely, civilly and in the Canadian way, and that was not done. I just wanted to put that on the record today.

Canada signing free trade agreements is nothing new, whether by that party or our party, basically the mainstream parties, if I may say, who have governed this country. It is maybe no coincidence that the New Democratic Party has never governed and most likely will never govern. Thank God, they never governed, as there has not been one trade agreement they have supported.

What leads Canadians to believe, with all this huffing and puffing, that they would even sign this agreement? Nothing does. Sometimes the viewership out there puts more credence into what people write as opposed to what politicians say. I will quote from an article:

The MPs should also press for an independent human rights impact assessment--

--which we have--

--as the Commons trade committee has already urged.

--and we are moving forward on that--

But at the same time they should challenge critics of the deal who argue that Canada would set back the cause of human rights by signing a pact. That has yet to be shown. The pact is broadly modelled on others Canada has signed with the United States, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Costa Rica in the past 15 years.

This agreement is patterned around similar agreements that we have made with our other trading partners. I have named some of them. What leads Canadians to believe that we are going to sway from the terms that we have set in the past? Are we going to make worse deals? No, I believe we are going to make better deals because we have learned from the past.

It is not that Colombia is going to make or break our economy, on the contrary. My attitude and the attitude of the Liberal Party is that if there is any kind of business that can be had for Canadians, whether they be Conservatives, Liberals or otherwise, let us go out and get it.

I am not going to go into the details on CAFTA, the Central America free trade agreement. For whatever reason, the Americans were off the starting block much faster than we were. They ratified it by one vote. Who ended up being hurt? Canadians got hurt. The Canadian pork industry got hurt. The beef industry got hurt. Various other sectors in our economy were damaged because the Central American countries signed the agreement with the U.S. and then our leverage as a country was diminished.

I do not want to see that happen here. I am not standing up to defend the government. I am standing on behalf of my party to defend Canadians, Canadian farmers, Canadian workers, Canadian manufacturers and Canadian producers. That is what it is all about. I and other members attended a luncheon and were very impressed when the minister used a PowerPoint presentation to walk us through the concerns that some of these parties are outlining with respect to other countries.

The European Union, an organization made up of 27 countries, is signing an agreement with Colombia. We know very well that European Union has very rigid guidelines as to its trade agreements. Spain is also signing bilateral agreements with Colombia.

With respect to unions, trade union leaders and workers numbered about 800,000 in 2002. Today, the number has doubled to just over 1.5 million. Who is preventing people from forming unions or associations in Colombia? They have doubled in number. With respect to trade union leaders and workers, in 2002, there were 99 trade unions and in 2009, there were 164. That is an 80% increase. To me, these numbers do not indicate that Colombia is taking away the rights of people to form associations or unions.

I will move on to talk about homicides. In 2002, there were just under 29,000 homicides. In 2009, there were a little over 15,000. We can see the concerted effort that has been made to address the concerns that not only the outside world has, but that they have as well.

In 2002 there were 2,882 kidnappings in Colombia, and in 2009 the number was down to 213. I think that is progress. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

An hon. member

It was not 213.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Maybe my colleague from the NDP who made a comment should have been at the luncheon. Maybe he should have heard the minister. If he thought that the minister was lying, he would have had every opportunity to confront the minister, as the president was confronted last June by the NDP. Again I stress how tolerant the president, the head of state, was when he was literally bombarded with comments which I felt was an unprofessional approach. Nevertheless, the gentleman stayed, took the questions and he was gracious enough to respond.

Maybe those members do not like it when I present the facts, but I have to deal with facts. That is what Canadians must know, not the huffing and the puffing that comes from people on the extreme left who, if they had their way, there would be no way.

With respect to victims of massacre, in 2002 there were 680, and in 2009 there were 147. That again is progress.

In 2002 there were 1,645 terrorist attacks, and in 2009 there were 486. I believe they are going in the right direction.

With respect to displacements, there were close to 440,000 in 2002, and in 2009 there were 114,000. That is a success story in itself. Is the number of 114,000 alright? No, even that number is too high.

What these stats are showing us is that they are working on addressing this most serious problem.

I was visited by a gentleman by the name of Frank Pearl, who works with a government program that is investing millions and millions of dollars to reintegrate combatants into society, to reunite them with their families and retrain them so they can become progressive, constructive people within their society and work for a living as opposed to doing other unacceptable acts.

With respect to women's rights, there is an entire section on how they are addressing violence against women. On December 4, 2008, they approved law 1257 for raising awareness, preventing and penalizing forms of violence and discrimination against women. It is not as though they have neglected their responsibility towards women.

With respect to internally displaced persons, I have talked about how they have been reducing those numbers consistently.

I met Mr. Frank Pearl who was kind enough to share some information with me.

Let us turn to children, on whom we put such value here in Canada. I have often said in this House that unless we address the needs of our young men and women, their proper upbringing and early education, then our country will obviously miss out on the future. They are our future. Colombia is doing the same thing. They realize that as well. They are investing heavily in their young men and women.

Let me give an example regarding free education. As of October 2009, resources transferred to schools to subsidize education costs for vulnerable groups have provided benefits for 5,230,446 children. The goal established for 2009 was 4,670,000, so they have in essence exceeded their goal.

The Colombian government, as difficult as its past has been, is making a genuine effort to address the problems we are concerned about.

The way I see it that nation is going to trade with Europe. If it is not Canada today, it is going to be some other country tomorrow.

At the end of the day, my attitude personally, and I know I speak on behalf of my other colleagues on the Liberal side as well, is that we have a unique opportunity not necessarily to benefit by doing trade, not necessarily to go in there and sell them more goods and buy some of their goods as well, as that is secondary to me. We have a unique opportunity to go to this troubled spot, if I can describe it like that, a country that understands its shortcomings but wants to do the right thing. It is dealing with difficult circumstances. The most important thing I see for us is that we have an opportunity as a nation to go there and show them the Canadian way.

If we had taken this very aggressive attitude that we are hearing from the New Democratic Party and from the Bloc as well, we would not be doing any trade with China. We would not be trading anything with China. Just imagine how many jobs Canada would have lost over the years.

What did we do? We know now that human rights, labour violations, et cetera, have been addressed in China. Twenty or 30 years ago, we would not have been able to say that, but we went there. As former prime minister Chrétien used to say, “I will go there”, and he did go there. He did engage with China and he did create jobs and opportunities. Most important, we showed them that there is a responsibility to everything and that it is not just a matter of producing goods and services and making money. It is a combination of things. This is what we are trying to do with Colombia as well.

We were ready to sign the Central America free trade agreement. I would be misleading Canadians and my colleagues here in this honourable chamber if I said that there were no violations in Central America. I am not going to name countries because that would be unfair, but I will just talk about the region. We know very well there are some troubled spots in almost any country in that region, but we were not prepared to go there. By not going there, we hurt our textile and garment industry, our pork industry, our beef industry, and many other industries that have lost out. We could have been there and showed them how we do things here in Canada.

I mentioned Mr. Pearl who was here to visit. The president himself was here and came before the committee, which I chaired, and the senior minister that I referred to was here. It shows us two things. It shows us that Colombia is not walking away. It is not saying it does not have problems. They are the first ones to say, “Yes, we have problems and we want to address them, but we also need help”. If there has ever been a country on this globe that knows how to help, it is Canada. We have an opportunity to put our stamp on Colombia by engaging in this deal.

The United Nations has also put forth certain prerequisites. The United Nations is monitoring this engagement with Colombia very closely. It is not as though the UN is saying, “Go off and do your thing”. That is not how it is. That is how it is being portrayed right now by the NDP, and that is totally unfair and inaccurate. I do not like to use the word “lies”, but it is totally inaccurate, because the UN is on top of it. If the UN is there and if we do not respect it, we are also saying that we do not respect the UN.

I look forward to answering questions from my colleagues. The government's side, the Minister of International Trade and the secretary of state know what our position is. There is no room for low blows or rhetoric at this stage, given that we are more than prepared and happy to work with them to do the right thing.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Liberal Party for its support on this bill. The reason I do that is that this is a much broader issue than simply a trade agreement.

One thing that history has demonstrated is that where countries enter into trade agreements and enter into agreements to arbitrate these disputes, the rule of law develops. Once the rule of law develops in respect of commercial activities, the rule of law in respect of human rights is not far behind. One follows the other. That is what unfortunately the NDP is missing here. It does not understand the connection between the rule of law in respect of commercial relationships and the positive implications it has for human rights.

I am wondering whether the member could comment on that.