House of Commons Hansard #74 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, there has been a wave of anti-union repression in Panama, resulting in several workers killed, over 100 injured and over 300 arrested, including the leader of the SUNTRACS and CONATO trade unions. This was the government of Panama's brutal reaction to protests against new legislation restricting the right to strike and the freedom of association, including provisions to jail up for up to two years any workers taking their protest to the streets. This simply proves that the labour protection agreement will not provide any real protection of labour rights in Panama as it lacks any effective mechanism for enforcement and the Panamanian government clearly intends to ignore it.

This is but one reason why we against this trade agreement. I will give more reasons why we oppose this trade agreement.

We are engaging in a NAFTA-style trade agreement with a country that is also an offshore banking centre that acts as a platform for multinationals and a conduit for opaque banking activities and tax evasions.

We heard recently in the news media about Canadians who were avoiding taxes. Panama is just one of these countries where Canadian corporations can take the profits they have earned off the backs of Canadian workers, Canadian workers who have paid their share of the taxes to improve society as a whole so the poorest Canadians can live better. However, these companies are taking their profits, which may be millions or even billions of dollars, and investing them in Panamanian banks where they do not pay any income taxes.

We are building a so-called free trade platform that would provide front corporations with additional powers and incentives to challenge Canadian regulations and standards and shape trade to serve their needs and not the public interest, and I want to expand on this a bit.

We just finished a year-long strike in my community. A foreign company challenged Canadian regulations and standards by using scabs to perform the work of striking workers, by using intimidation, by firing people just for expressing the fact that the company did not want to negotiate, by ignoring bylaws in our community, bylaws that were set in place to protect the people of our region. The company was housing scab labourers in office buildings. They were sleeping in those buildings. This is completely against the bylaws of my community of Sudbury. The company had the gall to take our municipality to court over this. The company was breaking the bylaws, but it was the one that was taking our municipality to court. That is why I want to repeat this: Canadian regulations and standards and shape trade to serve their needs and not the needs of the public.

We are making it easier for Canadian and foreign corporations to move to Panama, flaunt Canadian labour laws and pay their workers in Panama an average of about $2 an hour, and not have to pay pensions, benefits and sick days. Pensions, benefits and sick days are the core values of Canadian workers and they should be the core values of any Panamanian worker.

Canadian laws state that workers enjoy certain minimum workplace safety and benefits. Corporations in Panama do not have to do any of this. Imagine if we did not have any safety laws in Canada. Imagine what would happen to the workers who worked in deep underground mines if there were no Canadian laws to protect them so they could go home to their families at night. We are encouraging companies to invest in Canada and flaunt our Canadian laws.

This agreement is without a labour co-operation agreement, without any vigorous enforcement mechanism. The same template was used in the Canada-Colombia agreement, “kill a trade unionist, pay a fine”. The labour side agreement does not deliver an effective mechanism for the protection of labour rights. The side agreement on the environment has no effective mechanism to force Canada or Panama to respect environmental rights.

The agreement commits both countries to pursue environmental co-operation and to do work to improve their environment laws and policies, but it can only ask both parties to enforce their domestic laws. If they do not, there are no consequences. In other words, Panama can do anything it wants to the environment and there are no consequences.

Why is the Conservative government in such a rush to move more jobs overseas and enhance the capacity of multicultural corporations to evade taxes and leverage additional power over Canada's government and Parliament? With this agreement, we will move more jobs out of Canada, the same as the Brazilian company that bought Inco and moved jobs out of Canada. When jobs are moved out of Canada, there is no net benefit to the Canadians.

We are not against free trade agreements. We are not against foreign ownership. We are against losing our jobs in Canada. We want these agreements to be beneficial, not only to the Panamanian people but also to Canadian people.

The Canada-Panama agreement is another marginally improved copy of the George Bush-style approach to trade. It still puts big business before people, with no effective enforcement of human rights and pays lip service to the environmental protection without any real, tough measures or dispute resolution mechanisms.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

George is back.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

I haven't heard that for at least one speech.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

I can hear the opposition members talking about George Bush, but they are sure anxious to follow his lead. That is why the want to sign the trade agreement with Panama.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice and many other entities, Panama is a major financial conduit for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers and money laundering activities. Again, just like we did with Colombia, we want a free trade agreement with a drug-producing country. How will that benefit Canadian workers? I do not know.

It is yet another trade deal negotiated in record time, without any consultations with trade unions, environmental groups or civil society and citizens. A fair and sustainable trade deal would not just address the needs of business, but also the needs of working families and the environment.

I will give the House our vision of a realistic free trade policy. The NDP reaffirms its vision for a fair trade policy that puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public sector social programs and the elimination of poverty at the heart of an effective trade strategy. Would it not be nice if we could help eliminate poverty in Panama with an effective fair trade agreement?

Canada's trade policy should be based on the principle of fair, sustainable and equitable trade, which builds trading partnerships with other countries that support the principle of social justice and human rights, while expanding business opportunities. We want our Canadian businesses to expand their opportunities, but we want them to do it in a fair and equitable way for workers across the world.

Fair trade should be the overarching principle, not just an afterthought of trade negotiations. The NDP strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relations that can be established with Panama and other countries, one that includes the following within an overall fair trade strategy.

The first is to provide a comprehensive common-sense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrates the trade deals Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industry and that the government does not sign any trade agreement that would lead to net job losses.

The second is to ensure that the trade agreements Canada negotiates support Canada's sovereignty and freedom to chart its own policy, support our ability to be a competitive force on the world stage and support the principles of a multilateral fair trade system.

The third is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote and protect human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been created under sweatshop conditions, forced labour or other conditions that are not in accordance with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

The fourth is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of the ecosystem.

The fifth is that any time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to proceed with enabling legislation would be subject to a binding vote on whether or not to accept the terms of the agreement.

The current system which consists of tabling FTAs in the House for a period of two sitting days prior to ratification is neither mandatory nor binds the government to a decision of the House.

These are very simple suggestions that I have read. These principles could be easily implemented into any agreement that we sign with any country.

I do not know what the rush is with the Conservative government.

I would like to read into the record a letter from the Hon. Michael H. Michaud, member of Congress. Parts of this letter have already been quoted today, but I want to read the whole letter:

Just when we thought we'd heard almost everything there is to know about the American International Group (AIG), from its bailouts to its bonuses, many may not know AIG is suing U.S. taxpayers claiming it “overpaid” U.S. taxes on activities in Panama, a country which applies low to no regulations and taxes on firms registered there. AIG wants to get back those taxes it dodged with this Panamanian front....

We could substitute “U.S.” or “American corporations” or “AIG” with any Canadian company.

Panama's industrial policy is premised on obtaining a comparative advantage by banning taxation of foreign corporations, hiding tax liabilities and transactions behind banking secrecy rules and the ease with which the U.S. and other firms can create unregulated subsidies. According to the State Department, Panama has over 350,000 foreign-registered companies.

AIG is very keen on tax havens with Panama.

Imagine, a small country like Panama has 350,000 foreign registered companies. I think the only reason it has so many foreign registered companies is that it is a tax haven. Companies do not have to pay taxes so they are investing in Panama.

The New York Times ran an exposé on how AIG is currently suing the U.S. government for $306 million in back taxes it claims it does not owe thanks to its use of one of Panama's corporate entities, Starr International Company, SICO. SICO is AIG's largest shareholder. It is also the manager of a compensation fund for AIG employees who are paid by AIG in shares. SICO's chairman is former AIG chairman Maurice Greenberg. The same company that received government bailouts and used taxpayers dollars for outrageous bonuses is now demanding twice the amount of the bonuses it paid in back taxes.

If people are not already outraged by the greed of AIG executives, the fact that it is using Panama's tax haven statute as a way to sue the American taxpayers for back taxes is completely egregious. The Panama free trade agreement would make matters worse.

I will finish by asking, what is the rush? Let us stop and think about what we are doing here. Let us think about the Panamanian workers. Let us think about the Canadian jobs we could end up losing.

Most of all, let us think about the Canadian companies that are hiding money in Panama and not paying taxes. That is tax money that could be used to improve our health care system, improve our education system and provide long-term care facilities which we are lacking. We could use those taxes for a lot of other good Canadian values.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, today we are debating another free trade agreement. As always, the NDP stands to debate against it and will vote against it. I find it quite disappointing that every NDP member stands and says, “We are not against free trade, we are just against this free trade. It is just this agreement. It could have been much better”. Every member so far has said, “We would support it if it was fair trade”.

The truth is, this negotiated agreement is fair trade. It is much fairer than what Panama has seen on the environmental file and on the labour file.

A number of members from the NDP have stated that it has not done anything to address the sweatshops and child labour. That is not correct. This declaration covers a wide range of worker rights. It covers the abolition of child labour. Why are the NDP opposed to that? The right of freedom of association is in the side agreement. The right to collective bargaining, elimination of discrimination and the elimination of forced or compulsory labour are in the labour side agreement. I just want to get that on the record.

I have a question for the NDP members as they have been languishing, opposing every free trade agreement. There is one member of the NDP who has had a certain measure of success and that, of course, is former premier Gary Doer. He defended NAFTA. He supports these types of free trade agreements. Why is it that the New Democratic Party here does not take the lead from former NDP premier Gary Doer and start defending some of these trade agreements that we are negotiating?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, the member opposite is right: former premier Gary Doer was a great New Democrat and he still is.

I reiterate that we will support fair trade with any country. Fair trade means that we are not going to murder trade unionists. We are going to elevate the poorest of the poor. That is what we want to do. That is what fair trade does. Free trade does not do that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, the issue with respect to tax havens has been addressed, according to another colleague, through the OECD. It has created a grey list and is looking very seriously at, particularly within the context of globalization, capital mobility and so on, building tax accountability into the global banking system. The OECD is moving on that.

Would it not be better to address the kinds of issues the member has raised by having this bill go to committee to look at that? It could look at taking Canadian leadership on an issue that has been described as the next generation of globalization and the issue of banking institutions which must be addressed. Would it not be better to take that approach than to say there is no opportunity here to achieve labour solidarity so let us not go there at all; let us just say that we cannot do that and not negotiate? Why not continue the negotiations and address those kinds of issues and bring back a better bill?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a very good question and I am glad the member asked it. It is obvious that the bill will go to committee because, for the 106th time, the Liberals are going to vote with the Conservatives. What a coalition that is.

Hopefully, when the bill gets to committee the necessary change will be made that will make it possible for trade unionists to live a free life, that it will be possible to lift up the poorest of the poor and make their lives better. Hopefully, when this bill is at committee we can make some of those changes.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member talk about fairer, more sustainable trade that shows more respect for the environment and workers' rights. The Liberals and Conservatives in the House seem oblivious to this issue in an international context, but Bloc Québécois members would like to see fairer international trade.

I listened to some of the arguments made by Conservatives. One of them talked about the Panama Canal. He wondered how we could refuse to sign a free trade agreement with Panama given that it has the canal. That is odd because I never heard anyone say that this free trade agreement with Panama would lead to lower tariffs for our ships going through the Panama Canal. This shows—

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I would like to give the member a chance to respond to the question.

The hon. member for Nickel Belt.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

We do not want to do business with Panama because of the Panama Canal. It has nothing to do with that. We want the Canada-Panama agreement to be fair and balanced for workers. That is what we want. We want it to be good for the environment, for Canadians and for Canada's industries. I wonder why the government is so anxious to sign this agreement. Why is it not taking the time to think a little bit about it and make changes to it? We hope that when it goes to committee it will undergo some positive changes that all members of Parliament here today, from both sides of the House, will agree with.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Crowfoot talked about this agreement earlier regarding child labour and the supplemental side agreement. If the Conservatives are sincere in their efforts to right human rights, to protect labour laws, why do they not put it into the full agreement instead of a side agreement that has no real value?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question. Why do the Conservatives not put the contents of the side agreements into the main agreement? I do not know why they do not do that. It makes sense to me and probably makes sense to everyone on this side of the House. It is probably because they are side agreements and they do not have to live up to them if they are broken. That is why they are side agreements. If anything ever happens that is not correct, they do not have to live up to them because they are side agreements. It is as simple as that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in the debate on Bill C-46, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

We are debating a motion that was proposed and moved by the member for Hamilton Mountain, the NDP labour critic, to delay consideration of the bill for six months, given the serious problems with it that she outlined in her speech yesterday. We usually call it a hoist motion, and if there has ever been a piece of legislation before the House that deserves to be hoisted off the agenda, it is this bill to implement the trade agreement between Canada and Panama.

Once again, we have before us a bilateral trade agreement that was presented to the House and Canadians with all kinds of claims about how good this will be for Canada and the Canadian people. Sadly, the reality is that in the past these free trade agreements have not done much for either Canadians or for trade.

There is a debate going on about the efficacy of these agreements. Studies are showing that more often than not trade actually declines between countries after bilateral free trade agreements have been signed. This has been shown to be the situation in the United States, with the agreements that it has signed. As champions of this method of improving trade around the world, the Americans will really have to struggle with that research.

The NDP international trade critic explained earlier today that, when we look at the value of Canadian trade in real dollars, factoring in changes in the value of the dollar, this lessening of trade is in many cases true for Canada as well, perhaps with the exception of NAFTA. Canadian trade exports to countries with which we have signed bilateral trade agreements have actually gone down after the agreements have come into effect. Costa Rica is a good example. And generally, there is no clear correlation between increases in exports and these so-called free trade agreements.

In addition, some people are arguing that our trade exports with the United States would have gone up regardless of the NAFTA agreement. Even with NAFTA, the grandpappy of all these agreements, there is some question about how well it did all the things that it promised to do. The benefits of these deals are highly overrated and oversold by the governments that have put them forward to the Canadian people and the House.

The reality is that the situation of Canadians has not improved with the signing of these free trade agreements, starting with NAFTA. Where is the prosperity that was promised every time we heard about one of these agreements? The incomes of the wealthiest 10% of Canadians have increased dramatically since the implementation of the NAFTA agreement, but every other income category in Canada has either stagnated or declined. These deals have not been good for middle-class Canadians. They have been a disaster for low-income and working Canadians.

There is a real problem with bilateral trade agreements, with seeking out specific trade agreements with specific partners around the world. There is also a serious problem with the effect these agreements have on Canadian sovereignty.

We have all heard about chapter 11 of the NAFTA agreement, which allows for the override of the democratic will of Parliament by corporate interests. We know that the same kind of provision is included in the deal we are discussing today. It has been included in other trade deals that have been brought forward since NAFTA, and we know that such a clause amounts to a serious diminution of the sovereignty of Canada. We have to protect our ability to make the laws that we need in order to ensure prosperity and success in our own country.

It would be great if the Conservative government spent as much time and effort promoting Canadian trade as it does in negotiating these questionable free trade agreements. It is remarkable to consider how little Canada spends on promoting Canadian exports around the world, compared with Australia or the European Union. There is probably more bang for our buck in trade promotion than in pursuing these kinds of deals.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

2 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have 15 minutes when this debate resumes.

Statements by members, the hon. member for Brandon—Souris.