House of Commons Hansard #71 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

KAIROS
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present.

The first petition is about restoring the funding for KAIROS. Many listeners may not be aware that it is a faith based organization that promotes sustainable development, human rights and peace.

This call for reinstatement of funding is because of the many important projects that KAIROS is involved with, including a legal clinic to assist women who are victims of the on-going violence in the Congo, African youth organizations, the women's organization protecting human rights abuses in Colombia, grassroots local support in peace and human rights work, and women in Israel and the Palestinian territories who work as partners for peace in the Middle East.

The petitioners are calling upon the Government of Canada to immediately restore its funding relationship with KAIROS and fund the KAIROS overseas programs for the period 2010 to 2013.

Sisters in Spirit
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition calls on the government to allocate funding for the Sisters in Spirit.

Specifically, the petitioners call on the Parliament of Canada to ensure that the Native Women's Association of Canada receives sufficient funding to continue with very important work protecting women through its Sisters in Spirit initiative and to invest in initiatives recommended by the Native Women's Association of Canada to help prevent more women from disappearing.

Multiple Sclerosis
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition regarding chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency and the liberation procedure.

Seventy-five thousand Canadians suffer from MS and over 1,500 people have been liberated worldwide, with researchers from Bulgaria, Italy, Kuwait and the United States, showing an improvement in brain fog, fatigue and motor skills. Dr. Zamboni, the pioneer of the technique, said that the procedure is safe and that clinical trials should proceed.

The petitioners are asking that nation-wide clinical trials be implemented for evaluating venography and balloon venoplasty for the treatment of CCSVI in persons diagnosed with MS.

Passport Fees
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my petition calls on the Canadian government to negotiate with the U.S. government to reduce U.S. and Canadian passport fees.

American tourists visiting Canada is at its lowest level since 1972. It has fallen by 5 million in the last seven years, from 16 million in 2002 to only 11 million in 2009.

Passport fees for multiple member families are a significant barrier to traditional cross-border family vacations and the cost of passports for an American family of four can be over $500. While over a half of Canadians have passports, only a quarter of Americans have passports.

At the mid-western legislative conference of the Council of State Governments, attended by myself and 500 other elected representatives from 11 border states and three provinces, a resolution was passed unanimously that reads, be it:

RESOLVED, that [this] Conference calls on President Barack Obama and [the Canadian] Prime Minister to immediately examine a reduced fee for passports to facilitate cross-border tourism;

...we encourage the governments to examine the idea of a limited time two-for-one passport renewal or new application; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution be submitted to appropriate federal, state and provincial officials.

To be a fair process, passport fees must be reduced on both sides of the border. Therefore, the petitioners call on the government to: (a) work the with the American government to examine a mutual reduction in passport fees to facilitate tourism; and finally, (b) promote a limited time two for one passport renewal or new application fee on a mutual basis with the United States.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Richmond Hill had the floor, and he has eleven minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

I therefore call upon the hon. member for Richmond Hill.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated earlier, we are a nation of traders, and obviously, one of the issues that clearly comes to mind is the approach we take in terms of our trade relations with our neighbours, particularly when we have about 85% trade with the United States.

Clearly what we need to have is a vision. We need to clearly have a plan as to what we need to be doing. I talked about the fact that although the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement is an interesting approach, there is a wider market in that area, in terms of the Arab free trade area, which, with 18 states, is very important. The fact is that a multilateral approach is absolutely critical. Given what has been happening in Doha, we need to really push multilateral agreements. We need to push multilateral agreements, in large part because our neighbours are clearly doing that: Australia, the United States, the EU and others. It is very important that we be a player.

Jordan is a very good example of a country in which modernization in terms of banking and monetary infrastructure has been progressing. It is a good place to invest. Obviously, we recognize that, and we want to encourage Canadian business to recognize it by bringing on organizations such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and organizations that will have an interest in participating in this type of agreement so that we can encourage the best and the brightest in this country to be on the leading edge.

Without some kind of overall strategy, these kinds of agreements are simply one-offs. We need to hear from the government in terms of what overall approach we should be taking in terms of providing leadership to deal with our competitors.

I go back to the Asian-Pacific again to say that in the Asia-Pacific, we are not a player, and we need to be, particularly in places such as Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, and others. What do they all have in common? They are all part of ASEAN. While other countries are looking at doing free trade agreements with ASEAN and the 590 million people who live there, we are standing idly by. We cannot afford to do that.

We need to be aggressive in these areas. If we are aggressive in these areas, we can compete, particularly on the environment. In the environmental area, we are experts on clean water, contaminated soils, and clean air. Environmental companies are very interested in participating there.

When I referenced my meeting, with our Minister of the Environment, in July 2007, with King Abdullah of Jordan, I mentioned the fact that they were very interested in the environmental technology this country has. Agreements like this will hopefully give Canadians an opportunity to access those markets. These are things that we should have been doing. We need to do them in a broader context as well. Without that kind of push, we are going to be left behind. We continue to do these one-offs. They are not necessarily the most productive or the most useful.

Speaking of the environment, in the agreement there are side agreements on labour co-operation and on the environment. I would point out that on the environment, one of the things I am pleased to see is that we are going to comply with and effectively enforce the domestic environmental laws and not weaken the environmental laws to encourage trade or investment. That is important. We are not going to weaken them; we are going to strengthen them.

We are certainly going to ensure that provisions are available to remedy any violations of environmental laws and to promote public awareness, because the environment is extremely important not only for Canada and Jordan, but in general, in terms of what we can provide. Providing these kinds of safeguards is obviously going to be important. They are going to be important not only for those countries and the people in those countries, but again, because we can share that expertise and get our environmental companies involved, particularly on issues of desertification and irrigation, on which we can provide expertise. Particularly in an area of the world where water is in short supply, Canadian expertise and technology can be part of the solution.

We can be part of the solution only in Jordan in the Middle East. Yet we have a trading area of 18 nations. I again point out, whether it is with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the United Arab Emirates, that we need to be a player. I hope that the government will come back and look at the issue of expanding this in terms of a multilateral approach, which would give us more access and opportunities for Canadian business. Standing still is obviously not appropriate.

We also have the side arrangement, on the issue of labour, to guarantee freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of compulsory labour, et cetera. A colleague in the New Democratic Party raised this issue. I would suggest that this is where the Standing Committee on International Trade could bring witnesses forward to make sure that if there are areas of concern, they are addressed. Any agreement can be strengthened. It is absolutely important, for the protection of workers, to make sure that they have the ability to organize and carry out their activities free from fear, discrimination, and pressure. That is one of the aspects of this agreement. If there are opportunities to strengthen any of these, then we need to do so. They are basic human rights, and we want to make sure that they are enshrined.

Jordan has a high degree of internal security and stability. It is a free-market-oriented economy. That is something we encourage not only for Jordan but in other areas of the Middle East where we could continue to promote free-trade opportunities. In a free market, we can be a major player. Jordan has a well-developed banking and communication system. We can take advantage of that, given the expertise we have in those areas.

There is no question, in looking at tax rates for Jordanian and Canadian companies, that there are opportunities where Canada could play a role. However, we have to go back to the issue of developing a more regional approach, because other countries are doing that. Other countries are saying that in a very competitive global environment, given the economic situation around the world, we cannot sit at home; we have to be there. That is what we are hearing from the business community. I hear that from small- and medium-sized businesses all the time.

I appreciate that when we are looking at these issues and bringing those witnesses forth at committee, we will be approving simply one agreement. How do we strengthen our role internationally and competitively in a manner that really addresses Canada's strengths, whether that be the environment and dealing with climate change or telecommunications, two particular areas in which Canada is very strong.

We talked about agriculture. We have seen that it deals with subsidy issues. Agriculture is very important because we export so much. In looking at those opportunities, I mentioned the Japanese, who are able to sign agriculture agreements with countries we never would have thought of, such as Mexico or the Philippines. I think that if we really put our minds to it, we can do more. This particular agreement gives us an opportunity to say that if, in fact, we are not going to be successful at the Doha Round on the issue, we need to deal with it in a multilateral way. I know that there are colleagues here who clearly see that as an opportunity.

I hope that the Government of Canada will continue to show leadership, because our American friends, the EU, and others are not standing still. They are being very aggressive. As with the experience in Korea, we know the importance of accessing those kinds of markets, because those countries are clearly looking well beyond their shores.

We have talked about a free trade agreement with Japan. Again, the larger issue is an Asia-Pacific agreement. If we are not a player in that part of the world, if we are not a player in a larger sense in the Middle East, we are going to be left behind.

I know that my time is coming to an end. I urge colleagues to support sending it to the committee. It is important that we examine not only this bill, but again, the broader picture of where we want to be in the 21st century in terms of our trading relations. How will they strengthen our own domestic economy so that Canadians are at work and so that we can provide leadership on the world stage.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my colleague's comments. I know that he has been an active participant in all of the debates on free trade agreements. One of the things that has been a commonality among the trade agreements that have come before the House, at least since I have been elected, is that labour issues have always been part of a side agreement.

I welcome the member's comments. He said that we could take this to committee. It is imperative that we strengthen sections that are of real concern, not just to people in the labour movement here in Canada but indeed, in Jordan, and in the case of other free trade agreements, right around the world.

I wonder if the member could speak briefly to whether there has ever been any success at the international trade committee in actually amending these labour agreements and whether his support, ultimately, for this free trade agreement will be conditional on the strengthening of those labour provisions.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, to my knowledge, there has not been, but that does not mean that there could not be. First of all, we need to make sure that the strongest teeth are in an agreement in terms of labour practices with respect to the issues I raised, such as the collective right to negotiate and unionize, et cetera.

At the same time, we need to be that beacon. We need to be able to continue to push. What we would expect at home we would also expect internationally when dealing with other countries. Obviously, even in the case of Colombia, provisions were put in the agreement, particularly in the area of human rights. Obviously it is not perfect, but we should not demand anything that we would not demand at home in terms of the issues the member has raised. Again, we need to collectively push that issue at committee and going forward.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, here we go again. It is another sitting of Parliament and we are debating yet another free trade agreement. As I understand it, we will be debating two this week, with the Canada-Panama free trade agreement scheduled to be considered in a few days.

It strikes me as a case of serial bilateralism, something for which I would encourage the government to hurry up and find a cure. So far, such agreements have neither enriched Canadians nor led to a coherent or wise industrial and trade policy framework for our country's future prosperity. On the contrary, since the first Canada-U.S. trade agreement was signed, the rich have been getting richer, while the rest of us are falling farther and farther behind. The middle-class, as has been well-documented over and over again, is shrinking and the poor are getting poorer.

However, perhaps that is okay for the Conservative government as long as its friends and the wealthiest corporations are doing all right, not much else seems to matter to it. How else do we explain that the government can find over $1 billion to spend on the G8/G20 without batting an eye, while it keeps saying it simply does not have the money to spend the $700 million necessary to lift all Canadian seniors out of poverty? It simply defies logic, unless the government really does not care.

Instead of debating yet another free trade agreement in the House, we should go back to basics. Let us talk about the kind of Canada we want to leave for our children and grandchildren. When it comes to trade, let us talk about creating a comprehensive, principled trade strategy for our country. That trade policy has to be an integral part of an overall national economic strategy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad.

Instead of laying out such a trade policy, the Conservative government keeps pushing its patchwork approach, where our country's global competitiveness is determined based on the profitability of Canadian multinational corporations operating abroad rather than on the ability of Canadian-based producers to compete and thrive on Canadian soil in a dynamic global economy. Surely it is the latter that ought to be our goal.

However, the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement does not meet that goal, just like the softwood sellout did not meet that goal, the shipbuilding sellout did not meet that goal and the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement did not meet that goal.

Let us take a quick look at the agreement. It is, as I said earlier, yet another one in a series of bilateral agreements that the government is busily signing around the world. However, bilateral agreements usually favour the dominant economy and ultimately facilitate a degree of predatory access to the less powerful domestic economies, which multilateral trade negotiations under the WTO would not necessarily allow.

That is why my NDP colleagues and I have consistently opposed NAFTA-style trade arrangements that put the interests of multinational corporations before workers and the environment and that have increased inequality and decreased the quality of life for the majority of working families.

It is precisely the shortsightedness of the so-called free trade model that results in the rejection of fair and sustainable trade and that generates the discontent, which ultimately leads to protectionism and increases the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. The NAFTA model has shown unparalleled efficiency in driving and entrenching the political and economic domination of large transnational corporations and it is currently at the heart of the ongoing drive for bilateral FTAs.

Let me focus the majority of my time today by talking about labour issues. As the NDP labour critic, I am sure most members in the House would expect me to do so.

Although Jordanian law recognizes some trade union rights, those remain limited. Union activity is tightly controlled and the right to collective bargaining is not recognized. There is a chapter on collective agreements in the labour code, but the right to strike is heavily curtailed as government permission must be obtained in order to call a lawful strike.

Many of the labour violations are laid out in a recent report by the UN Refugee Agency. I would commend members of the House to read the 2010 annual survey of violations of trade union rights in Jordan. What is without a doubt the most striking part of that report is the section that deals with the continuing abuse of migrant workers. Despite amendments to the labour law in 2008, which stated that domestic workers were to be treated on an equal footing with Jordanian workers in terms of medical care, timely payment of wages and subscription to the social security corporation, nothing much has changed in the day-to-day lives of migrant workers.

The 2009 official figures showed that more than 322,000 migrants were working in Jordan, but that unofficial estimates put unregistered migrant workers at 100,000 to 150,000. Many are employed without the proper permits, have their passports taken and are forced to work extremely long hours.

Let me give an example. The Israeli owner of the DK Factory in Irbid QIZ abandoned 17 Jordanian and 151 Bengali workers without any pay or benefits. According to the textile union, the problem began when a supervisor had beaten a worker on January 22 in a dispute over a vacation and a financial request. Ninety-three Bangladeshi workers staged a work stoppage that day in protest.

The next day workers returned to work to find the factory gates closed and to learn that the owner had fled the country. The government took nearly one month to respond to the union's complaint, finally beginning to provide some food and shelter for the abandoned workers. An investigation revealed that the employer had been preparing to leave the country for several months and had deliberately provoked the workers to strike.

Here is another example. Some 130 Sri Lankan female workers from the Al.Masader/Mediterranean factory in the Al Dulayl QIZ (EPZ) went on strike on March 1 in protest against being forced to live without heat, hot water or electricity. As management had refused to solve the problem, a local union set up a team of 10 representatives to resolve the dispute. However, a group of organized men beat one of the union activists, threatening to throw him from the dormitory roof unless he agreed to not meet with the female workers again. A complaint was made against the gang, but police refused to intervene. The union has finally arranged a resolution and workers returned to work on March 8.

There have been similar reports of organized gangs that threaten workers and try to destabilize relations between the union and the workers.

I could go on. Reports of forced overtime, beatings, insufficient food, the illegal withholding of passports and other abuses amounting to conditions of forced labour are rampant in Jordan. All too frequently, when workers protested, they were beaten by police, arrested and then deported to their home countries. Some remain in prison still.

The United States already has a free trade agreement with Jordan, but clearly that has not helped. A trade agreement in and of itself does nothing to stop the abuse of labour laws. On the contrary, what this throws into clear relief is that the much touted labour side agreements that are part of every trade agreement are toothless and the one before the House today is no exception.

Yes, I want this trade agreement to be studied in committee. I am not suggesting that Jordan is like Colombia, where paramilitary thugs and drug pushers are connected to the government. In fact, Jordan continues to be a relatively stable country in the Middle East, with some democratic structures. The country has been hard hit by the economic crisis and faces rising unemployment and debt. In an act reminiscent of the Conservative government's prorogation of Parliament, King Abdullah of Jordan dissolved Parliament in mid-2009 in order to push through new economic reforms.

Clearly not all of the country's problems are solved. A U.S. state department report that was referenced earlier in this debate by my colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, gives further proof of that.

Therefore, no, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect this trade agreement to be scrutinized further. In fact, I would argue that the international trade committee has an obligation to investigate further. We must hear from women's groups, human rights organizations, business and labour groups, all of which have an interest in addressing the impacts of this agreement.

To ask for such hearings is not being obstructionist. It is simply a matter of due diligence, which ought to be at the heart of how all of us in the House do our work. It is even more important on a file where so little evidence has been presented to verify its success.

Over the years, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, we have heard a lot of cheerleading about how wonderful the various bilateral trade agreements will be for our country, but there has been no hard evidence that their promise has been fulfilled.

I remember during the first free trade agreement that Canada signed with the U.S., Stelco, which is a steel manufacturer in my home town of Hamilton, sent a letter to all steel workers in the plant, telling them that in the upcoming federal election they should vote for parties that supported free trade because their jobs were at stake. That trade agreement has been in place for decades now and I would defy the government to find a single steel worker who would say that it has been good for his or her job. On the contrary, decent family sustaining jobs are disappearing and are being replaced by precarious and part-time work.

It is time to stop celebrating trade agreements when there is not a shred of evidence that they will benefit Canada or Canadians. It is time to develop a meaningful industrial and trade policy that will ensure jobs for Canadians. It is time to focus on policies that will lead to middle-class recovery.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's comments on the bill were insightful. She talked about migrant workers and the fact that the government would have to recognize a labour dispute as being a strike. She raised some serious concerns.

With regard to human rights, we understand that it is not worse than the Colombia issues we brought forth. However, there are some issues and perhaps she could elaborate a little more on what the impact would be with regard to migrant workers.

Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address this a bit further. The hon. member is quite right. We have seen in trade agreements, like the one with Colombia, where the remedy for having ignored human rights laws or labour laws is simply to pay a fine. In Colombia's case, many people heard many of us on this side of the House say, “Kill a worker; pay a fine”, because really that was all that was in the labour side agreement. It is never okay to engage in labour abuses. It is never okay to abuse migrant workers.

The contention I would have with respect to this free trade agreement in particular is that once again we have a side agreement that deals with labour issues. It is not part of the central document that governs this free trade agreement. When we look at the provisions of remedies available to ensure labour rights and the rights of migrant workers are respected, one will find it is nothing more than a toothless tiger.

For that reason, it is imperative we review the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement, that we do due diligence and make absolutely certain that we also protect around the world the kinds of labour standards we want to see for Canadian workers.