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

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wish we could somehow teach this concept in the school system or have a way of getting the point across to Canadians because I know that Canadians watching the debates yesterday and today, by and large, would probably be well educated now in the bad human rights record of Colombia, but they might not be up to date about what constitutes a fair agreement.

I think people have an open mind and are willing to learn about this but it is a hard concept to explain in a media that is not receptive to the idea in the first place because we are always all about earning money. If it does not make top dollar, then it does not make top spot in the discussion.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government keeps telling us that this free trade agreement contains side agreements on labour and the environment that are not part of the agreement itself. Apparently, these side agreements state that failure to comply with government standards or respect human rights can result in fines of up to $15 million per year.

Once the maximum penalty has been reached, no further penalties can be imposed under the agreement. Companies will be able to flout environmental standards without risking their investments. The government will have no problem getting away with human rights violations. Fifteen million dollars is a drop in the bucket to mining companies that make billions of dollars in profits.

I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, our critic has called that provision “kill a trade unionist, pay a fine” because that is basically what it is. The government has said that if people are killed then it will put money into this fund but only up to $15 million no matter how many people are killed. That is the wrong answer because the government should clean up the whole issue of human rights abuses in Colombia before it starts to promote and push an agreement like this.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking in the House of Commons today to denounce Bill C-2, the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. There are many reasons why I disagree with this bill as it has been introduced by the Conservative government.

My colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé made some good points about human rights and spoke about the ineffectiveness of parallel agreements. In my speech I will touch on these issues as well.

For Quebeckers and the citizens of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, certain arguments have come to the forefront of this debate: environmental protection, respect for workers' rights and respect for the most fundamental human rights of the Colombian people.

I would like to explain why I am worried that Bill C-2 will pass. The Canadian government's main motivation is not trade. It is looking to make life easier for the Canadian investors, particularly in mining, who will invest in Colombia. The desire to protect Canadian investments abroad is legitimate. However, it seems obvious to me that this must not be done at the expense of the fundamental rights of Colombians.

I am worried that this agreement would be detrimental to the development of the people of Colombia. We must understand that increased trade should not be the government's only motivation. An agreement such as this must also contain provisions that allow us to establish a position of strength and, through negotiations, to work toward both implementing social measures that would benefit Colombians and establishing rules that respect the environment and laws that improve the living conditions of workers.

Judging by all the investment protection agreements Canada has signed over the years, the one that would bind Canada and Colombia seems ill conceived. All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue the local government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment.

To be more specific, we feel that these provisions could be harmful for a country where labour laws, environmental laws and respect for the people are uncertain at best. While attempting to protect our investments, the Canadian government is putting itself in a situation where it could increase the risk of delaying social and environmental progress in a country in great need of such progress.

I would like to point out that my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher referred to some of the organizations that have reported on the situation in Colombia. I thank him for doing that. Colombia's human rights record is one of the worst in the world and certainly in Latin America.

The government of Colombia has the right to adopt, and should adopt, legislation to protect its environment and improve the quality of life of its people. We must determine whether it has the means to implement such measures and the means to fulfill its ambitions.

Yes, this regulation could cause companies that have invested in that country to lose some profits. We need to have some protection against nationalization without compensation, I do admit, but we also must include some provisions that will allow Canada to put pressure on the Colombian authorities.

The Bloc Québécois cannot support the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, as it stands.

Under no circumstances should the Canadian government swap its ability to pressure the Colombian government to respect human rights and protect the environment for guaranteed profits from investments by Canadian companies abroad.

I would point out that ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement is also being delayed, particularly because they are trying to clear up concerns over human rights abuses. It is a matter of justice.

I consulted a number of people in my riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. I cannot support the bill in its current form until Colombia brings in stricter legislation to protect minimum labour standards and the union movement, as well as stricter legislation to protect the environment.

The advantage of establishing a trade agreement with a country lies in the ability to develop a partnership with it. When economic barriers are reduced, trade between the two countries can increase. That is what one would hope to achieve with an agreement between Canada and Colombia. The likelihood of that happening in the near future is pretty low, though, considering the means being used.

When we look at the figures for imports and exports between Canada and Colombia, we can see that, not surprisingly, the vast majority of Canadian investments are in the excavating industry, specifically in mining. In 2007, imports in that sector accounted for nearly 31% of all imports from Colombia. In dollar figures, this represents almost $138 million. Canada buys only primary commodities from Colombia. We import $155 million worth of coffee, $72 million worth of bananas and $62 million worth of cut flowers. Adding agricultural and agri-food products brings the total to $387 million. Foreign direct investment in Canada is approximately $1 million, while Canadian investment in Colombia is approximately $1 billion.

Here are the aggregate trade data. In 2008, Canadian imports were rising and totalled $644 million, as were Canadian exports, which totalled $704 million. The pace of growth is quite varied, just as we predicted during the debate in the last session. In Quebec, imports amounted to $88 million. That is a 0.5% decrease from 2007. Quebec imports into Colombia represented about 14% of Canada's total imports. Exports amounted to $120 million in 2008 and accounted for about 17% of Canadian exports to Colombia. Quebec exports increased by a little less than 2% between 2007 and 2008.

Canada has other trading partners in Latin America and the Caribbean that rank higher than Colombia. In recent years, trade between Canada and the other Latin American countries has increased considerably, which has meant a smaller share of trade with Colombia than with other countries in the region.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia is growing exponentially. To create a predictable environment and ensure that foreign investors will not be dispossessed of their property or have it nationalized without compensation, countries conclude treaties protecting investment. That is standard procedure and the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this kind of treaty.

The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States had a chapter on protecting investment—chapter 16—and was the first agreement in the world to include a dispute settlement mechanism which both countries could use. The FTA worked very well. No cases of discriminatory measures against foreign investors were reported and none were taken to the arbitration panel. During the five years the FTA was in effect, the value of Canadian investments in the United States increased by 41%.

However, things went downhill with chapter 11 of NAFTA. By virtue of chapter 11 on investment, foreign investors can go directly to international courts, bypassing the filter of the public good that governments would apply. The concept of expropriation is so broad that any legislation that might have the effect of reducing an investor’s profits can be interpreted as expropriation and give rise to a lawsuit. In addition, the amount of the suit is not limited to the amount of the investment and includes all potential future profits. It is completely abusive.

This chapter has been decried by everyone. As soon as legislation, for example to protect the environment, is passed and reduces a foreign investor’s profits, the government is exposed to astronomical lawsuits. Over the years, Ottawa signed several bilateral agreements that basically copied chapter 11 of NAFTA. There was so much criticism, however, that the Liberals stopped signing these kinds of agreements. It is very hard to understand their about-face in this regard, and I hope they will review their position and vote against the present agreement.

Under the Conservatives, Ottawa returned to its old ways and negotiated many such agreements. In the case of Colombia, the Conservative government has ceded to multinationals the task of determining the common good.

The Bloc Québécois opposes the bill to implement the free trade agreement with Colombia because it contains clauses copied wholesale from chapter 11 of NAFTA. The Bloc wants the government to return to the previous approach used in treaties, which did not amount to a charter for the multinationals at the expense of the common good.

The displacement of communities is a serious problem in Colombia. There are several reasons for this human disaster, including internal conflicts within the government, paramilitary groups and guerrillas.

The arrival of extractive industries is also a major reason for forced migration.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-288, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (tax credit for new graduates working in designated regions), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

moved that the bill be concurred in at report stage.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

moved that the bill be read a third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, again we are gathered to debate Bill C-288, to give every new graduate who settles in a designated region a tax credit. This bodes well, because it means the bill has passed committee stage.

In 2007, my colleague the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord introduced a similar bill, namely Bill C-207. It received support from a majority of the members in the House at all stages and even got as far as the Senate. I promise my colleague, young people and the regions of Quebec to have the same determination to get this bill passed.

To put this into context, the purpose of Bill C-288 is to give a tax credit to every new graduate who settles in a designated region. Since being introduced in the House, this bill has come a long way and has received a great deal of support.

Bill C-288 is supported by a variety of groups and generations throughout Quebec: the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, or FECQ, and the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, or FEUQ, which represent 40,000 and 125,000 students respectively in Quebec; the FADOQ network, which has 255,000 members, and the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, which represents 972 municipalities. They have all given their full support to the bill. What is more, the bill is supported by a number of RCMs, chambers of commerce and youth employment centres.

In addition to this sizeable support, last November the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I delivered 3,000 postcards in support of Bill C-288 to the office of the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. Contrary to what some people have suggested, these postcards were indeed signed by people who are affected by the bill.

Before going any further, I would like to thank two colleagues: the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier and the hon. member for Churchill who have been behind Bill C-288 from the beginning.

I would also like to thank the representatives of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec who came to show their strong support for Bill C-288 by testifying before the Standing Committee on Finance. I greatly value their support because, in a way, this bill is designed for the thousands of students and graduates who will move out of large urban centres to go live and work in the regions.

The main purpose of this bill is to attract young graduates to the regions in order to help solve two main problems: the exodus of young people and the serious shortage of skilled labour. It is important to encourage young graduates to settle in the regions, where they will start their professional careers, and to recruit skilled labour for the benefit of the regions.

The exodus of young people is becoming increasingly problematic in terms of the economic vitality of areas that are far from large centres. These areas need young graduates in order to develop and to enhance their ability to innovate. Obviously, giving recent graduates who settle in regions a tax credit of $3,000 per year—up to a three-year maximum of $8,000—would help revive local economies and meet labour needs.

The exodus of young people has a negative impact, both socially and economically, on any region. It speeds up population aging and reduces the average education level of the people left behind, which undermines the region's ability to innovate. The more remote regions are losing the most residents. In many cases, they depend on one type of industry; these are called single-industry regions.

Gone are the days when resource regions could prosper based solely on extracting natural resources for primary processing elsewhere. In order to grow, the regions will have to look to technology and develop their processing industry more.

Quebec was hard hit by the forestry crisis. Since 2005, Quebec has lost 26,000 jobs in the forestry industry alone, that is, the industry and related services, such as transportation and logging equipment. This represents 50% of Canada's total loss.

Since the Conservatives came to power, about a third of all forestry jobs have disappeared. Some regions have been decimated. Since the summer of 2004, my region, the Upper Laurentians, which has been hardest hit by the crisis, has lost 58% of all forestry jobs in Quebec.

Of the 17 forestry companies in my riding, 14 have been forced to close their doors. Heavy machinery operators, engineers, technicians and truckers have borne the brunt of these job losses. Those with higher levels of education, special skills and expertise, such as engineers, have been forced to leave our beautiful region to find work in their fields.

The Government of Quebec realized that to promote regional economic diversification, it would have to develop new business opportunities in other fields.

This is a major hindrance to the development of secondary industry and high-tech. In all of the studies that have been done, many companies have said they would only be able to stay in their region if they did not grow very much. So long as businesses stay small, they can take care of professional and technical work themselves. If they grow, they have to hire skilled workers. Difficulty finding such workers in the regions might force companies to relocate to urban centres, where they are more likely to find qualified workers.

Bill C-288 proposes a beneficial tax measure for all young eligible graduates in Quebec and Canada. Quebec is not the only province experiencing a youth exodus. Across Canada, economic activity has gradually moved from more rural regions to larger centres. Some provinces—Quebec, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba—have introduced a graduate tax credit. The Quebec government introduced its credit in 2003, then amended it, so that it now resembles the tax credit proposed in Bill C-288, which I am talking about today.

The Conservatives tried to derail the debate on this bill by grossly inflating the cost of the program. In his November 24 report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer assessed the proposal according to a number of different scenarios. I would like to clarify some of the data so that members can focus on the essence of the bill.

First, the regions designated in this bill will be determined by the Minister of Finance, after consulting with the provinces involved. Second, the regions will not be designated based on the number of people who would be affected; they will be based on the needs identified in these regions far from Canada's major cities. I should point out that the bill excludes metropolitan regions with more than 200,000 residents. Third, the bill must focus on resource regions and regions with low rates of urbanization that are struggling with long-term unemployment rates, an indicator of poor employment prospects.

Finally, we used economic and health regions as geographic criteria. We then used the long-term unemployment rate to determine the regions where job prospects are more difficult—4.7% and up in 2006. From these regions, we considered only the regions that had over 12% of their population living in rural areas.

In total, we identified 34 health regions that met these criteria, representing 8.24% of the Canadian population. According to the estimates of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, such a measure would cost around $230 million per year, rather than the $600 million claimed by the Conservatives.

Of course, other regions could be added during the discussions between the federal government and the provincial governments, but these regions will have to meet the requirements of the bill, and have a high long-term unemployment rate, combined with a low rate of urbanization or a low population density.

Adding a few regions that meet the above criteria would not substantially increase the cost of the bill.

We still want the support of Liberal and NDP members for this Bloc Québécois initiative. We hope that Conservative members will put aside their partisan ideology and act in the interests of young graduates and the regions.

I believe that many young people who are about to complete their post-secondary education or professional training are waiting for this bill to pass. A number of my colleagues have probably had exploratory visits from young graduates. These young people are in contact with community stakeholders, the decision-makers, and are in a position to determine the regions' needs and to tell us what kind of labour force is needed in our regions to develop secondary and tertiary processing.

The bill creates many expectations. It provides an incentive for attracting youth back to the regions. However, young people who are interested in returning are also interested in the quality of life they may find there. A young person who moves to the region may start a family. Families add vitality to a region.

As I stated earlier, this time I hope that the Conservative members, especially those from Quebec—in particular the members for Pontiac, Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and Jonquière—Alma—as well as the independent member from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier will understand that they must put their regions' interests ahead of their party's interests in order to support all regions of Quebec and their young people.

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am on the finance committee that reviewed the bill that is before us and I take some exception to the characterization that this is partisan. I really want to encourage our colleagues from the other parties to really look at this.

My question for the sponsor of the bill is, how does she consider the bill fair? Does she not believe in fairness in the tax system, where we compare students who happen to be from an area that has over 200,000 people to those students who are from areas that do not have 200,000 people? How is the Canadian tax system fair when we give a tax bonus to students beginning their careers just because they are from a larger urban centre than those who are not?

Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

March 25th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I see we are facing extremely different points of view. I do not understand. We are not talking about unfairness. Bill C-288 is designed specifically to encourage young people—who usually have to go to urban centres for training or study purposes—to return to the regions if they wish.

The regions of Quebec are at a crossroads. Indeed, several regions have been hit hard by the forestry crisis. I said in my speech that several regions still depend on a single industry, and I used my region as an example, because that is the case there. If we want to develop secondary and tertiary processing, we need to have a skilled labour force. In order to have a skilled labour force, young people must return to the regions. But young people who go to urban centres develop a network of friends and might be tempted to stay in those urban centres instead of returning home, knowing they will not find work there.

This is an incentive. This does not affect other options, other credits that young people can benefit from. This is an additional measure, nothing more, but one that will encourage young people to return to the regions.