House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by eight minutes.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain has 14 minutes and 30 seconds to complete his remarks.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up where I left off by recapitulating. I was telling the House that I was terribly disappointed to see this bill making it to third reading, thanks to the Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, imposing closure twice, once at the Standing Committee on International Trade and again in this House, in order to limit debate. Such reversal of position is disastrous and very disappointing coming from the Liberal Party.

The Conservatives keep telling us over and over that, in their opinion, the human rights situation in Colombia has greatly improved. I agree that the situation may not be as disastrous as it used to be, but it is far from ideal. People continue to be displaced and unionists to be murdered. Canada's former ambassador to Colombia, Mr. Matthew Levin, from whom the current ambassador took over, basically said the same thing. On the Colombian economy, he had this to say:

The [Canadian] government knows that the Colombian reality is not ideal. There is poverty, violence, lack of access to services.

There is more. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade, Pascal Paradis, of Lawyers without Borders, said that the UN and the Organization of American States considered that the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet was still going on in Colombia.

It is hard to believe that a government would push us and cut the debate short to incite us to pass this type of bill. If it passes, it will do so with the support of the Liberals alone and not the Bloc Québécois. We will do our utmost to keep opposing this bill and to say to the people of Quebec and Canada that this agreement is completely unacceptable due to human rights violations.

At the Standing Committee on International Trade, the Conservatives and Liberals often say that they have been there. I was not a member of the committee at that time. They say that the situation has improved, that workers' rights are better respected, that there is less displacement of people and fewer murders. That is what we hear from the people who have been there, but there are also people who are saying the exact opposite.

How can it be that there are credible people who are testifying that the situation has not improved that much? It is impossible that Canada—which was once regarded as a leader for its defence of human rights in various countries—is now promoting a free trade agreement with a country like Colombia.

In order to get an idea of the situation, since I did not go to Colombia, I have read a lot and listened to witnesses. I know that there are four people who think the opposite of what the Conservatives and Liberals are telling us. They say that the situation has not changed. I would like to lend them my voice and my speaking time because they also need to be heard. They were silenced when the debate was cut short. They were not able to appear before the committee.

In 2008, four Canadian public sector union leaders went to Colombia. They were: John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada; George Heyman, international vice-president of the National Union of Public and General Employees; Denis Lemelin, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers; and Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

They toured the country and produced a document with joint and individual statements about the status of human rights in Colombia. Their report paints a totally different picture than what the Conservative and Liberal members are telling us in the Standing Committee on International Trade.

In July 2008, these four public sector union leaders made a one-week tour of Colombia. What they saw and heard there prompted them to share their observations in the hope of making as many people as possible understand the dangers workers in this South American country face.

Having seen the damage unregulated commercial activity causes most Colombian families, the Canadian union leaders promised to deliver a message of concern, solidarity and resistance to their millions of members in Canada—which is nothing to sneeze at—the Canadian government and all Canadians.

This document and other measures are part of that process. The document contains comments and personal observations from the leaders, who met with many Colombians and listened to their concerns about the harmful effects of free trade with Canada on the Colombian people.

These union leaders were inspired by the hope these people cling to and the growing resistance movement they witnessed. During their tour, the leaders focused on human rights.

I am delivering this message on their behalf, because the Bloc Québécois' greatest concern is that the government is ignoring human rights violations. It needs to ignore them if it is going to ratify an agreement that makes no sense.

The union leaders focused on human rights and labour rights, working conditions and the impact of privatization without guaranteed human rights and labour rights. They shared their concerns with representatives of the many sectors of Colombian society, including the Colombian interior minister and other senior officials, the Canadian ambassador and members of his staff, leaders of the central union of workers or CUT and union leaders at all levels, members of the opposition party—the Polo Democrático Alternativo—leaders of the indigenous peoples' movement, members of NGOs, groups representing Afro-Colombians and other displaced persons, as well as journalists and ordinary people.

Although three of the four leaders had never travelled to Colombia before, their unions were already familiar with the struggles of Colombian workers. All four have been working at the international level with Colombian unions for a number of years. They have been cultivating union relations as part of projects funded by their international solidarity funds and through exchanges of Canadian and Colombian workers.

You might wonder why they would embark on such a tour. After returning from Colombia, they followed up with a video on how the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, which was only a proposal at the time, would be disastrous for these workers.

All the unions opposed the signing of such an agreement, especially in light of the horrifying human rights and labour situations in Colombia. The leaders knew very well that more trade unionists had been assassinated in that country than anywhere else in the world.

To strengthen the arguments against the free trade agreement and to consolidate the union solidarity already established, the leaders decided to go to see for themselves what the Government of Colombia had done to this South American country since President Uribe gained power in 2002. What they saw convinced them that they had to oppose the free trade agreement even more vigorously and in very clear terms. The leaders were asked many times to be the voice of the Colombian people and to oppose the agreement as long as the government of Alvaro Uribe has not shown that it has solved the problem of the permanent repression of trade unionists and other activists and guaranteed their protection.

This document gives them a voice and proves them right.

What we heard from the people who took this trip to Colombia gives even more weight to the fact that, in 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade also adopted a resolution that an independent, impartial, and comprehensive human rights impact assessment should be carried out before the Conservative government considered introducing its bill in the House.

Proof was needed, coming from an independent study, that human rights were being respected. Now, it is the opposite. The Liberals and Conservatives are breaking their word. A Liberal member even proposed an amendment suggesting that we wait for the agreement to come into effect and the bill to be passed.

They will be happy with an assessment of the situation by the Government of Colombia. Colombia will be both judge and judged, and Canada will be satisfied with that. This will allow the agreement to be adopted, when we know very well that the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement does not necessarily propose any major increases in trade between Canada and Colombia, but instead, aims almost solely to protect the investments of Canadian mining companies that will exploit natural resources and workers in Colombia.

It is truly unfortunate to watch this going on. The Bloc Québécois will vote against this agreement at third reading.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:35 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is a relatively new member to the committee for international trade and I appreciate his interaction on that committee. However, I am sure he read over previous reports and studies from the committee and therefore would be well aware, although he said in his statement that there was no preliminary study on this bill, that there absolutely was a preliminary study on this bill in the last Parliament.

The committee travelled to Colombia. I travelled to Colombia myself on this study. We met with Colombians, labour leaders, union officials, human rights groups, Afro-Colombians and indigenous Colombians. All the very groups that the NDP has said that we never met with, we did meet with, and then we met with them again at committee hearings.

My question for him is quite simple. For the first time in 21 years, Colombia will not be included in the United Nations International Labour Organization's list of 25 nations to be examined for failure to comply with international workers' conditions. That is absolutely in recognition of the fact that Colombia has moved forward on workers' rights and on the protection of union leaders. The Colombian government officials will tell us that things are not perfect there yet but that they are moving in the right direction.

I wonder if the hon. member would comment on that.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, after hearing the member's question and comment, I realize that we can get statistics to say whatever we want.

The member missed part of my speech earlier. He said I was not on the Standing Committee on International Trade at the time. I want to point out that, just as there are two sides to a coin, there are always two versions of the same situation. The Conservatives, supported by the Liberals, say that all is well in Colombia, as I mentioned in my speech. But others take a different view. Other people have travelled to Colombia and say the opposite is true. That is the point I was making by quoting these individuals earlier.

They told us that the reality was not all that rosy. It is far from being as rosy as the government purports it to be. The situation has not changed, far from it. Murder and forced displacement continue. All this agreement is about is favouring and benefiting mining companies. It is far from being a true free trade agreement. The Bloc Québécois is not against free trade agreements, but this particular one does not ring true.

Since there are two different views of the human rights assessment, we believe that, when in doubt, the thing to do is to abstain. It is better to vote against this bill and wait for a real, independent preliminary study to be conducted.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the United States-Colombia free trade agreement that was signed four years ago in 2006 under the Bush administration, it is still to this day sitting in the U.S. Congress and it is in no hurry whatsoever to pass that agreement.

Therefore, it is true that this agreement would not be passing in this House either had it not been for the good luck on the part of the Conservatives that the member for Kings—Hants became the new critic for international trade and basically flipped on the issue from the previous critic's position and decided to endorse the Conservatives' position. That is why and how we find ourselves here today.

We would be no further along the path than the Americans are in the United States had it not been for the change in Liberal leadership and the change in Liberal critics, which moved the Liberals' position on international trade to the right, right in line with the Conservatives' own position on foreign trade. The one and only reason this deal is moving forward now is because of the Liberals. Otherwise, this deal would be as dead as it is in the United States.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP member compared the Canada-Colombia agreement to the agreement between the United States and Colombia. He reminded us that responsible members of the U.S. Congress realized they had to negotiate further before pursuing the agreement, all the while keeping an objective eye on the human rights situation in Colombia.

The Americans put the agreement on hold. The agreement was negotiated, but the American people's representatives have not yet signed it into law. They realized that this would be like rewarding the Colombian government for its indifference and for being unable to enforce human rights on its territory.

The U.S. government is to be congratulated on its foresight and proper management of the situation. It was able to stand up to a country like Colombia, which many consider to be one of the world's worst offenders.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member wants to argue with me about whether the American Congress is prepared to entertain moving this agreement forward.

I do not know who he has been talking with in the United States, but the member for Kings—Hants and myself were part of the U.S.-Canada visitation program back on February 19 and 20. In fact, we met with perhaps 40 senators and congresspeople and, in the case of at least three Republican legislators who support the agreement, have great respect for the Uribe government and who would do anything to have this agreement proceed, they told us straight out that this agreement was dead, that it was going nowhere.

Therefore, why has the Conservative government put this as one of its top priorities? It is very curious that the top priorities of the government are to close down the six prison farms in Canada and to deal with issues such as a Colombia free trade deal. One would think there would be many more initiatives that a government would want to be pursuing rather than a free trade deal with Colombia that is going nowhere in the United States, contrary to what the government member was trying to insinuate.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member has made another interesting comparison. He pointed out that the United States is conducting a thorough and objective analysis of what is going on in Colombia.

The Americans do not appear to be interested in signing an agreement that would have a negative effect on human rights, particularly because they know that the Colombian government cannot or will not do anything to control violence in its country.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bloc members have spoken to the fact that this free trade agreement is really all about investment for big companies. I wonder if the member could confirm that.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, this agreement does contain a provision to protect the investments of Canadian companies planning to exploit Colombia's natural resources. Considering current trade volumes between Canada and Colombia, it seems to me that there are other priorities that the Conservative government—

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am really thrilled to be speaking again. I am sure that this time around the hon. Conservative member will be recognized for a question when that time comes. I am sure he will be very eager and feverishly working on a question or two over the next 20 minutes. Nevertheless, he will have to wait for 20 minutes before he gets to ask his question.

We have gone through a very, very lengthy process dealing with this particular piece of legislation. I certainly want to compliment our critic for his enormous efforts over the last year or so on this issue. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster has been tireless in his efforts to stop this free trade agreement. It took the combined coalition of the Conservative government and the Liberal opposition to crush his efforts, and they did it in a very unsavoury way at the end of the day. The fact of the matter is, they denied key witnesses who should have been able to present on the bill.

Many key witnesses from Colombia, as well as Canadian and Colombian trade unions, were denied the right to appear at the committee, including the CLC, which represents 3.5 million workers. The National Union of Public and General Employees, NUPGE, one of Canada's largest unions with over 340,000 members, was refused. Several other organizations were cut out of the process by this unholy alliance between the government and its Liberal servants in this case.

I only have to look back to two years ago historically to see that there was a point at which the Liberal Party was on side, more or less, in terms of opposition to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Under the previous leadership and the previous critic, the Liberals were in agreement to have an independent human rights study, which is what has been demanded and still is being demanded as something that is absolutely necessary in this process.

As soon as the Liberal Party changed leaders and the leader changed the critic, the position of the Liberal Party on the Colombia free trade deal turned right in line with that of the Conservatives. The Conservatives received a bit of a gift, because they knew that the deal was dead. They knew this deal was as dead as the Colombia-United States deal.

Let us deal with that for a moment. The George Bush administration signed the agreement with Colombia and the United States in 2006, four years ago, and the U.S. Congress to this day has still not ratified that deal. The member for Kings—Hants and I were in Washington on February 19 and 20 meeting with up to 40 individual members of Congress and the U.S. Senate.

While we did not include this item on our agenda, we let them bring it up. There were at least three Republicans, not Democrats, but Republican members of Congress who said, “We love Uribe. We love the Colombian-U.S. free trade deal, but it is dead. It will never make it through the Congress of the United States. It is very sad, but it will never happen”. Why does the Conservative member opposite cling to this hope that passing it here in Canada will somehow revive it in the United States? Maybe that is the government's intention, to basically show, in the Conservatives' own minds, leadership and pass the Canada-Colombia free trade deal and ratify it so that it will be an example. Perhaps that is the strategy here. The Conservatives could go to the United States Congress and say that Canada passed it and the U.S. should follow suit.

We have argued all along that this is absolutely the wrong way to deal with free trade, particularly with a country like Colombia. As I indicated before, this deal was dead in the House in terms of ratification until single-handedly the member for Kings—Hants resurrected the whole process through some late night partying with the Colombian leadership. I think he claimed he was dancing until the sun rose. He did get a signature on an amendment which he felt would make the agreement fly.

The Conservatives were only too willing to go along with this because they had nothing to lose. They were going nowhere until the member for Kings--Hants saved them. He has brought in an amendment which essentially says that the Colombian government will make up its own human rights annual reports. Is that not sweet? That is the standard to which the Liberals are prepared to hold the Colombian government. Essentially it would put full trust and faith in the Colombian government to police itself.

It is going to be business as usual in Colombia. There is no real incentive now for the Colombian government to clean up its act in terms of human rights. Before we ratify this free trade deal, we have the power over the Colombian government to say that unless and until it can show that it has changed its approach and cleaned up human rights abuses we will not ratify this agreement. What have the Conservatives done? They have simply laid down, given up, and rolled up the white flag. The government is going to ratify the agreement regardless of what happens in Colombia. Colombia can come up with its own annual reports and self-assess its progress on human rights.

That is a terrible way for the Liberal Party to approach agreements like this. I feel worse for the Liberals than I do for the Conservative government because they actually believe all this stuff and they got what they wanted.

It has been pointed out that the NDP has given more speeches than there are members in the NDP caucus. The government said that 40 NDP members have spoken but there are only 36 members in our caucus. I have no idea how the government does its math. Suffice it to say that we have fought this agreement for as long as we could.

People must wonder why this agreement is such a high priority for the government. In 2008, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Colombia totalled more than $1.3 billion. We have always said that there is trade with Colombia and there always will be trade with Colombia, but there is just no reason to implement a free trade agreement.

Canadian merchandise exports to Colombia totalled $703.8 million in 2008. Major exports include agriculture goods such as wheat, barley and lentils, as well as industrial products, paper products and heavy machinery.

Canadian merchandise imports from Colombia totalled $643 million in 2008. Major imports consisted of coffee, bananas, coal, sugar and flowers.

Bill C-2 has attracted considerable attention from the media and various civil society groups, many of which were opposed to Canada's implementing a free trade agreement with Colombia because of its human rights record and because of the fear of the impact of free trade on investments and the environment.

We have experience. We have dealt with NAFTA for a number of years now and in the case of agriculture, for example tomato growers, in certain parts of Mexico, we have found that indigenous farmers have been put under a lot of pressure and put out of business because of the free trade agreement. If that could happen under NAFTA, it can be suggested that the same could happen under this type of free trade agreement.

I will deal with this later if I have enough time, as it is hard to fit in all of the points, but the fact is that there are indigenous farmers all over South America and certainly in Colombia who have sustained themselves for many years with their small farms. Free trade will flood that market with imported foreign food and will put those farmers out of business. That is what happened in Mexico and that is not good for the long-term sustainability of the local population.

We seem to think that somehow trucking produce around the world and spending a huge amount of money on fossil fuels, gasoline and trucks to get the produce there is the way to go. The reality is that we should probably be pulling back and trying to produce as much of our product in the local market. We should be encouraging the Colombian farmers to improve their farming methods but also certainly to produce the products there so they become more sustainable, rather than simply specializing in nothing but one product to export to Canada, and then of course have other products sent from Canada to Colombia, as opposed to developing independent self-sustainable enterprises.

CANADA-COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Brandon—Souris, MB

Why do you hate Canadian farmers, Jim?