House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Mississauga South had the floor and there are five minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Mississauga South.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to complete my comments on Bill C-46, the free trade bill between Canada and Panama.

Just generally, I have had some concerns about bilateral trade deals that we have entered into. I have spoken in the past on the Colombia free trade deal. Issues at the time had to do with human rights abuses, displacing people in the cause of improving corporate opportunities, corruption of government and the judiciary, a whole host of issues that had very little to do with the benefits of bilateral trade.

In the case of Panama in Bill C-46, we do not have the same kinds of elements but we do have one that is extremely important to demonstrate that we cannot just look at trade and the benefits of trade in isolation. Our trade exchange with Panama now is very insignificant in the scheme of things, but the expansion of the Panama Canal brings some hope and promise for increased traffic through the canal and opportunities for businesses, particularly for Canada in the construction, engineering and consulting firms. Agriculture may also have some benefits.

The other area is taxation. The finance committee is now looking at tax havens and their use as instruments for tax evasion. This is a very serious problem. It is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. With regard to Panama, the committee heard by teleconference from a witness from the OECD, Mr. Owens, who confirmed to the committee that Panama was rated as in the grey scale. That is pretty well the worst concern one could have in terms of harbouring tax evaders and the secrecy that allows them to do it.

On Thursday, Mr. Donald Johnston, who was a former minister of finance for Canada in the early 1980s and a former secretary-general of the OECD, re-affirmed and confirmed Mr. Owens comments that Panama was one of the biggest problem areas in terms of promoting or at least facilitating evasion of taxes.

The current bill does not specifically incorporate any provisions to address the tax evasion problem, which is a very expensive problem for Canada. However, there are double taxation agreements in place with other countries to ensure that a Canadian, for instance, will not be taxed in one jurisdiction and also in Canada.

The other and probably equally important issue is the tax information sharing agreements. These agreements are the instruments that would allow us to obtain more information about those who have set up situations that would probably allow them to evade taxes in Canada. That is not part of this agreement. The point of my speech so far has been that, as we enter into trade agreements, we should exhaust every opportunity to establish a good faith relationship with that country so we can deal with some of our mutual problems.

I am concerned that government members have not been speaking to this bill, which is at report stage, because if a member of the government stands to speak to it they will be subject to questions by all other hon. members. They do not want that. They do not want to be held accountable and that concerns me and it should concern all Canadians.

Trade is an important issue but democracy is a more important issue.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be speaking later to the bill and will be echoing some of the concerns that the member has mentioned, particularly around the OECD and the concerns that have been raised. As he mentioned, there was testimony at committee about concerns that the OECD raised and ones that we share.

When we look at a sequential approach, one would think that issue would be paramount to deal with that issue around concerns of banking, tax havens and disclosure.

In light of the concerns that the member has quite rightly put forward and which we brought forward in committee and spoke to in the House, can the member see fit to actually support this bill or is he stating unequivocally today that he will be voting against this bill when it comes to a vote?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my comments yesterday and this morning, the issues with regard to tax havens, tax avoidance, information sharing agreements, et cetera, are not part of this bill and have not been part of any bilateral trade bill that Canada has entered into. On occasion there have been side agreements or other matters.

My point is that the government needs to recognize that these are important opportunities as we enter into trade relationships with other countries and that we must also address other mutual points of interest, such as tax evasion.

In answer to the member's question, trade is important for us to consider. I would have liked to have heard more from the government as to its justification and its affirmations about the benefits that will come out of this one. However, the government has not spoken. I do know, however, that the trade deal as it stands now is in itself and in isolation some benefit for Canada, particularly to the agricultural sector and possibly the engineering, construction and consulting areas.

I will be supporting the trade bill but I want to ensure that all hon. members realize that there are these other issues that should be on the table at the same time as we negotiate these deals and that we should consider more multilateral deals rather than dealing with the bilaterals because it is so important in many of these same regions of Panama.

I will be supporting the bill but I do share the member's concerns.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear all of the hon. member's presentation but I heard enough to understand that he wants to support this bill; his main argument is that it would be good for Canada. I want to ask him what he means by that since we know that Panama is a tax haven and that companies establish themselves there specifically to avoid the taxes that ordinary citizens like you and me have to pay.

I am therefore wondering how he can say that it is a good idea to encourage business investments in a tax haven that is on the OECD's grey list.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me an opportunity to explain to members that tax havens are not illegal. Tax haven means that there is a tax regime or a jurisdiction where the tax rates are lower in that jurisdiction than they are in Canada. A company would establish operations in that other country and be able to do some of its business out of there and pay a lower rate of tax than in Canada.

The problem is not the tax haven. The problem is not reporting that income in Canada. We should understand that tax havens are not illegal and they are not bad. They help a lot of good companies to be better and bigger than they otherwise could be in a higher tax jurisdiction.

Tax avoidance is also not illegal. Tax avoidance is in fact necessary because people are entitled to pay the least amount of tax that they legally owe but not more. Tax evasion, however, is illegal, and that is when people do not pay any tax, do not report any income and decide to take care of themselves first. That is what we are going after. The OECD is concerned that there are far too many opportunities for companies to establish themselves in tax haven jurisdictions and to evade taxes. That is the problem and that is why it should be on the agenda of the government but it has not been and it has not explained why.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I join with others in debating Bill C-46 regarding free trade with Panama. Negotiations were concluded back in August 2009 and, according to the government, there was a comprehensive free trade agreement with Panama. The agreement also includes side agreements. We saw this pattern with regard to Colombia on labour and environment. After the negotiations were completed in August 2009, there were formal signings in May 2010.

When Bill C-46 passed second reading in October 2010, it was then referred to the committee which went through a clause by clause review of it. It is important that we and all Canadians know that the NDP brought forward amendments that would deal with some of the concerns raised by a member of the Liberal Party just a minute ago, including those around tax information, exchange agreements, double taxation, et cetera. Sadly, however, they were defeated. I will, however, put on the record that they were not just defeated by the Conservatives. They had help from the Liberal Party in defeating some of those amendments, which would have passed if there had been support from the Liberal Party.

When we look at the concerns raised by the Liberals, it is important to note that when they had the opportunity in committee to deal with those concerns, they sided with the government on this. It calls into question what the Liberal Party is doing. However, I will leave it to the Liberals to explain their dynamics on this. On the one hand, they are saying that they have concerns about tax havens. I was shocked to hear one of the members of the Liberal Party say that tax avoidance and tax havens were okay because that is a way of doing business but that we want to ensure it is reported. I will leave that for them to discuss among themselves.

However, it is very difficult to understand the Liberals' position when it comes to this bill. On the one hand they say that this is terrible and that we should not be dealing with this kind of trade agreement because of all the concerns around tax havens and double taxation. The list is long and it sounds very similar to our concerns. On the other hand, the Liberals are saying that they will vote with the government on this.

It is perplexing. I know what the Conservatives' strategy is. They have decided that multilateralism is not the way to go and so they are rushing around trying to sign up anyone to a bilateral agreement, which is precarious at best. I think it shows a lack of vision in terms of where we should be going with international trade. For the record, we have stated time and again in this House that we should be going toward a multilateral approach.

My father worked for many years as a public servant dealing with the GATT. It was important at that time for Canada to deal at a multilateral level, My father would negotiate with other countries on behalf of this country on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We know what happened to that. We know what happened with the Doha round. However, the government now says that maybe it should one day get back to that but, in the meantime, it goes down this bilateral route which undermines the whole approach of multilateralism.

Let us put aside for a second the concerns we have with this deal. Does anyone really think that signing a free trade agreement with Panama will lead to the economic prosperity of Canada? Let us get real here. We need only look at how much investment there is between the two countries. What it does is it undermines that whole intention that many of us have of going down the multilateral route. It is an opportunity that costs and it also decries this notion that we should be trying to work with other like-minded countries, particularly those in the G8 that are looking toward a fairer trade regime, and saying that we all have concerns around the way trade is done and we need to work together to ensure particularly the bigger economies in the world will follow some sort of fair regime.

However, the government is not doing that. It is going off on our own, cap in hand, to anyone who will sign one of these agreements and clearly doing it for political reasons.

As I said, no one really believes that signing a trade agreement with Panama will lead to a green and pleasant land in Canada. In fact, the government will try to spin people by saying how great it is because it is signing all these trade agreements, as if that will make a difference in lives of people. It will not. What it will do, and we have seen this in the debate and the details as we have gone over them, is make it more precarious for Canadians and also for those who are concerned about issues around international banking.

In terms of disclosure of tax revenues and investments and tax havens, the government is sending a message to the international community that it is willing to sign a deal with Panama, without having had the concerns that other governments, like France, have had about disclosure. The sequence is entirely wrong. If we thought this was the way to go, we should have dealt with the concerns of the OECD with tax havens, taxation and disclosure. However, that did not happen.

What is the message? The message is basically Canada really does not care about that. The government is so concerned about looking like it has made progress on trade, which has question marks abound, that it will look the other way when it comes to the concerns with tax havens and disclosure.

I met with ambassadors from throughout Latin America. They are very concerned about the issue of narco-trafficking. One thing said was that we had to follow the money. We have to ensure we know where the money goes.

What is the message from this country? When it comes to the issue of narco-trafficking, we will look the other way if we can put something in the window for people to see we have made progress on “free trade”. It is not principled. It is not effective. I think most Canadians, if they knew what we are signing, would oppose it. That is why it is important to take the time to debate it in the House.

I join with the members from the Liberal Party, notwithstanding their challenge in having a position and then voting the other way, that the Conservative Party is silent on this. It will not talk about it. It has a “move on, there's nothing to see here” attitude. I am not sure if the Conservatives have actually read the agreement. A great poll would be to ask those members if they had read the agreement and know what is in it. It is important to highlight that.

If we are going to be signing on to these agreements, why the hurry? Why are we not hearing from all members of Parliament on this, beyond talking points from parliamentary secretaries?

If we look at the profound effect that some of these trade agreements have had, not just on Canada, but on those we trade with, it also raises an issue. I fundamentally believe, if we are to enter into trade agreements with other countries, it should be of mutual benefit. I do not see that in this case.

We should be looking at strategic kinds of agreements within sectors. We should be ensuring they are sustainable. We should be ensuring there is mutual benefit.

When it comes to the Panama-Canada free trade agreement, we do not see that. What we see is us undermining our credibility when it comes to dealing with financial disclosure, tax havens and real fairness. For that reason, we will be opposing it. I only wish the Liberal Party would find it in itself to do the same, but we will wait for it to decide on that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. He always adds to the debate, unlike the Conservatives, but that is another day.

The member mentioned that at committee the Liberals voted against NDP's proposed amendments for the tax sharing agreements and possibly the double taxation.

I rushed out to try to get the minutes of the meetings to see what the amendments were. For the record, I am advised that the amendments were unsatisfactory in their form to establish the requirements necessary. If we look at the act, even with regard to the side agreements on labour and on environment, they are quite comprehensive in terms of their content.

The only reason someone would vote against something the NDP wanted is if the solution was inoperative. I offer that for the hon. member in that there is still this concern. None of those agreements have ever appeared in any of the free trade agreements, so we do not even have a model on how they would be incorporated into a bill.

However, I can assure the member that we do support the establishment of double taxation agreements as well as tax information sharing agreements to deal with tax evasion.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the point of view of the member. I know that when the amendments were brought to the committee, two parties voted against them. I will leave it to him to look over the minutes and talk to his colleagues about how that went down.

I am curious of the Liberal member's position of accepting tax havens and tax avoidance as long as it is declared. However, if the Liberal Party is so concerned about this issue of double taxation of tax havens, we need to understand the sequence.

When the OECD reports that it has concerns regarding a jurisdiction and we do not have this kind of agreement in place, it is odd for members to say that they will support the government's trade agreement, but they would also like to see an agreement on double taxation disclosure and tax havens be realized. The sequence is entirely wrong. A principled stand would be to say that because they are so concerned about this and until such time as it is dealt with, they will not support the government on it. Does the Liberal Party believe the government will actually get that job done? It will be moving on to the next trade agreement with whomever and forgetting about that.

The problem for the Liberal Party is that it has a position, but it has not followed up with a principled position on the vote. We can have a position, we can have many positions, but if we do not vote to back up that position then, it is just words, and that is unfortunate.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments regarding his opposition to the bill. I recognize he represents an urban riding. I have the privilege of representing a riding that is largely urban but has a large farm community as well.

Is the hon. member aware that this free trade agreement will immediately eliminate tariffs on 94% of agricultural exports from Canada and will provide exporters of beef, pork, frozen potato, malt, oilseeds, maple syrup and other products free access to the markets?

I know he may not have a direct concern for farmers, but surely he could find enough support in his party for the farm community, the producers of the great products for which Canada is known, and give them access to these markets. Our farmers desperately need this access.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I actually have a farm in my riding and we can go out and visit it.

It is important for the member to know that we understand the issues of farmers. Fundamentally, farmers have always wanted fair trade. However, when they see trade agreements such as this, which have other overlays to it, they would know these compromises fair trade. If we want to support our farmers, we need to get involved with these kinds of agreements to allow fair trade back and forth.

When a jurisdiction is on the OECD radar for issues related to its financial institutions and where the money goes, it can affect every sector. I think the member knows that. I do not think he is pitting of farmers against the rest, but I think farmers care about fair trade as much as any of us.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are here this morning to debate 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.

The Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill for a number of reasons. First, this is a bilateral agreement, which the Bloc Québécois believes is ineffective. We believe that a multilateral agreement would be more effective in developing much fairer trade that respects the interests of all of the nations.

The Conservative government has decided to drop the multilateral approach to trade and is entering into many negotiations to sign bilateral agreements. There have not been any studies done by officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or at Industry Canada to help us determine whether these bilateral agreements would be beneficial to our economy. Regardless of whether these agreements are good or not, they seem advantageous, so the Conservatives and the Liberals are jumping at them. They are jumping into other bilateral negotiations before conducting any studies.

If we do not know that we will come out a winner by signing a bilateral agreement, we should not move forward. For example, the Conservative government plans on signing a bilateral agreement with China. In 2005, Canada imported $32 billion worth of Chinese products, which generated a trade deficit in Canada of $26 billion, or $1,000 per capita. When trade with a country generates five times more imports than exports, the main priority should be to balance the terms of trade and not to make them even more liberal.

The Bloc Québécois will not support these bilateral agreements until we receive a guarantee or can be convinced that they will benefit the Quebec economy.

We are told that Panama is the most industrialized country in Central America and it has the highest economic indicators in the region. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian exports to Panama consist mainly of finished products, such as machine tools, automobiles, electronic and electrical equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. Canada also exports financial, engineering and professional services, as well as information technology and communications services.

Canadian direct investments in Panama are made mainly in the banking, financial, construction and mining sectors. Every time the Conservative government comes forward with a bilateral free trade agreement, it always includes mining.

Our primary imports from Panama are metals—mostly gold—precious stones, fruit, exotic nuts, fish and seafood.

The free trade agreement between Canada and Panama will have an impact on our country. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, this deal includes eliminating Panamanian tariffs on many Canadian products.

This means that our businesses will be able to invest in Panama without any tariff restrictions. Thus, Panama will eliminate all tariffs on non-agricultural products.

The Canadian exports that should benefit the most from these concessions are fish and seafood products, construction materials and equipments, frozen potato products, pulses, beef and beef products, most pork products, malt, forest products, and flight simulation and training equipment. So far, so good.

Canada, for its part, will eliminate 99% of its tariffs on products from Panama, except certain sugar products and products under supply management, of course.

The federal government wants to ratify this agreement very quickly because, so it says, it wants to get ahead of the United States and the European Union, which have both signed similar agreements but have a much longer ratification process.

The problem for us is that Panama is a tax haven. I would remind the House about a certain prime minister a few years ago who had interests in Canada Steamship Lines and who managed to get some deals ratified with known tax havens, including a deal with Barbados, which he just slipped through right under our noses. Panama is also part of this group of countries that are known tax havens. It is even on the OECD's grey list.

The OECD uses four criteria to determine whether a country should be placed on its grey list of tax havens: no or only nominal taxation; lack of transparency; laws or administrative practices that prevent the exchange of information; and indications that the country is attempting to attract investments that are tax-driven and do not involve economic activity.

One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that there is no or only nominal taxation. I have nothing against our corporations doing business. However, I do have a problem with the fact that, because of a lack of transparency, corporations cannot say how much money they make there and do not repatriate the money. As for laws and administrative practices that prevent the exchange of information, it seems to me that I have seen this before. I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We are coming to realize that the government is using the excuse that it must protect confidential information to withhold information about money, for example about the freeze on budget envelopes, or about what it is doing with the money. It is very annoying. It means that Canadians cannot find out what is being done with their taxes, and government officials cannot determine how much profit has been made in other countries. This issue of laws or administrative practices that prevent the effective exchange of information is tiresome.

Then there are the indications that the country attracts investments that are solely tax-driven and to not involve economic activity. We must remember that, in some countries, certain Canadian corporations have a dismal record when it comes to mining, among other activities. How will we ask questions to obtain information about what is happening? This is a problem for the Bloc Québécois.

Furthermore, the right-wing government has passed a repressive bill that, in theory, could criminalize workers. It has agreed to review the law but we are not sure that it will do so.

In short, the Bloc Québécois does not support this bill.

We do not know enough about it, and there are not enough guarantees and safeguards. It is a bilateral agreement that completely ignores human considerations and does not demonstrate the openness that should be the hallmark of such agreements.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening closely to my colleague and I was wondering if she could elaborate on the impact this might have on Quebec and its industries, for whom trade and exports are of capital importance.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, 30% of exports to Panama come from Quebec. As far as imports are concerned, Quebec's share is under $2 million.

We are all for trading with Panama and exporting to that country. Nonetheless, we do not want to be involved with these rogue states that use freer trade and making money as an excuse for violating environmental laws and workers' rights established by the International Labour Organization. These things are extremely important to Quebeckers. Even though Quebec does business with Panama, if such agreements are concluded, Quebeckers will not forget how important these two concepts are for Panamanians.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement first and then ask the hon. member from the Bloc to comment.

Under NAFTA, Canada has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees and compensation to U.S. investors who felt aggrieved by Canadian decisions. Let us say that after the Canada-Panama trade deal is ratified, Panama continues to be problematic on the tax shelter front and Parliament puts in place legislation to give Panama a deadline to clean up its act or face sanctions. Canadians banks could be restricted from transferring their money to Panamanian affiliates, for example. Article 9.10 of the Canada-Panama trade act says:

Each Party shall permit transfers relating to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay, into and out of its territory.

Moreover, article 10.6 says that Canada will always allow Canadians to purchase financial services from banks operating in Panama.

Does the hon. member from the Bloc share my concerns in this regard?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Some aspects of this agreement are still flawed, including the one the hon. member just mentioned. It is all well and fine to ratify agreements very quickly, but we have to make sure the agreements are not missing anything before we open the floodgates.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a pretty minor treaty. It is not a large bill by any means. The trade between Canada and Panama is fairly limited, some might even say “insignificant“. Certainly when compared with the daily trade between Canada and the U.S., it is not significant at all.

However, as a proposition, these treaties are important because they establish a legal framework, particularly with the reduction of tariffs and the freeing-up of trade. They are the beginning of the establishment of a legal framework for contractual relationships between countries and between corporations and persons. They are a small step in international law. However microscopic the steps might be, as a general proposition, it is a good idea to enter into these trade agreements. Members of the Bloc, my party and the NDP have rightly criticized the modesty of the agreement. That is what I wish to talk about while I have time in the House.

The side agreements with respect to labour and the environment are at least a step in the right direction. They are rather modest, hardly robust, but a step toward developing a legal framework between the two nations.

Last Wednesday I had the good fortune of listening to a lecture by Mr. Justice Ian Binnie at the University of Ottawa law school. His starting point was that if there is going to be an international economy, as there is, as nations trade more with each other and if they are to have economic relationships with each other, we must have and continue to develop our legal relationships with each other. In other words, at some point, somehow, somewhere, people who have grievances need to be able to redress them in some fashion or other, regardless of the merits. Frankly, I agree with Mr. Justice Ian Binnie, as I am sure you would, Mr. Speaker, that there is quite a gap between the development of economic relationships and the development of legal relationships.

A treaty is a modest step. As members may know, I was the sponsor of Bill C-300, which was a modest attempt to bring to Canadian corporations a degree of accountability with respect to their funding received from the government and the people of Canada.

It was ironic to me that the proponents of this Panama treaty were simultaneously very vigorously opposed to Bill C-300, when in fact all of this is the creation of a larger legal environment so that relations between people and corporations might be properly regulated. Had the government embraced Bill C-300 and, possibly, other forms of engendering corporate social responsibility, a treaty such as this might actually have been an easier pill to swallow for those who are opposed to treaties as a general proposition.

I want to quote Justice Binnie. He stated:

It is beyond question that companies have the ability to significantly influence human rights around the world for good or for ill. Sometimes influence implies obligation. In light of mounting evidence of “corporate complicity” in human rights abuses, there is, at the very least, an obligation upon the legal community—

—and I would add, upon the parliamentary community—

—to clarify the obligations of transnational companies as a matter of national and international civil and criminal law.

He then favourably cited John Ruggie and the work that he has been doing at the United Nations.

The big issue is access to justice. I do not profess to be an expert on Panamanian law, but as a general proposition I can say that the access to justice and the satisfaction one might receive from a court in a developing country is somewhat less than satisfactory.

It is quite clear that a lot of these courts are not robust, that corruption is rife, and that people seeking redress for very legitimate claims, be they regarding human rights abuses or forms of civil remedy, be they regarding environmental degradation or expropriation, do not receive satisfaction. From time to time it is Canadian corporations that are involved in these human rights abuses and there is no place for the individual to go.

If a Panamanian had a complaint with a Canadian company and wished to sue in a Canadian court, that individual would be precluded from doing so by the rule called forum non conveniens. It is a simple concept. Regardless of the merits of the individual's claim, regardless of how aggrieved the individual might be, regardless of the quantum of the individual's damages, that individual is cut off from access to Canadian courts by virtue of the fact that Canadian courts will say they are not the place in which the individual can sue for that particular grievance.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We could quite easily insert into a treaty such as this one the ability to modify in certain circumstances this rule of common law so that Panamanians in this particular instance would have access to Canadian courts so that they too could receive justice and redress from Canadian corporations.

I refer again to Mr. Justice Ian Binnie who said that a very practical level, domestic law reform is needed if domestic courts are to play a useful role in remedying international human rights abuses. He said:

For example, statutes of limitation are often unduly strict on their face or as interpreted and applied; statutory and common law obstacles to corporate veil-piercing exist and these may inappropriately shield parent companies from liability in respect of subsidiaries. There can be inordinate difficulty establishing...jurisdiction (especially where liberal use is made of the doctrine of forum non conveniens).

Justice Binnie said that in some cases there will be a good reason to limit or deny the possibility of civil recovery. However, as a general matter the state duty to protect means that a concerted effort be made to eliminate barriers to recovery that are unnecessary or arbitrary in their operation.

It is a pity that the government did not take this opportunity to open up a justice system on both sides which would allow Panamanians and Canadians access to a justice system which has some opportunity of receiving redress not only for states but for individuals and for corporations. The reason this is important is that not only does it affect the individual potential litigants, those who have been on the receiving end of human rights abuses, but it also affects us as Canadians and our reputation abroad.

I regret to say that our reputation in the last number of years has not been enhanced by the activities of some Canadian mining companies. I can literally take members on a world tour, from Mexico to Guatemala to Honduras to Peru to Venezuela to Colombia, over to various African countries, et cetera. In all of these instances people in those countries are alleged to have had some grievance with Canadian companies. There is no effective remedy for those grievances. For better or for worse, the Conservative government has cut those folks off from having access.

This could have been an opportunity to open up a legal system that is fair and just and one where there would be an opportunity for people to receive redress. Regrettably, the government chose not to do that and that is to our detriment and ultimately to the detriment of our national reputation which has been suffering around the world.

In conclusion, I see this as a minor treaty, but I also see it as an opportunity lost.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is disappointing when we talk about establishing bilateral trade agreements that are so important for a trading nation like Canada that we have to descend into a discussion that once again impugns the good name of Canadian mining companies, companies like SGS operating in Lakefield in my riding, which work with mines around the world.

The member continues to talk about Bill C-300 which specifically targeted jobs not in other countries, but jobs in this country. He impugns the good name of Canadian mining companies and would limit their ability to compete around the world. Mining is one of the most important sectors in this entire country.

It is terrible that we cannot talk about a bilateral agreement, something important to Canada, without having a member stand up and impugn the good name of Canadian mining companies. I am disappointed.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pity that even at this stage, after two years of debate on Bill C-300, the hon. member has not read or does not understand the implications of the bill.

Contrary to what he says, this actually would have been an opportunity for any company that he cited to have a full and fair grievance resolution process. However, he would rather take along with the mining companies their chances in the public media, and so our reputation continues to be degraded.

We continue to have to deal with this in a fashion that we bear the price. It has come to the point in some countries that it is not a good idea to identify oneself as Canadian. That has happened under the watch of this government and it is regrettable to the extreme.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find it grievous as well that the member continues to impugn the names of Canadian mining companies. If the member were honest with himself and accepted factual evidence, he would find that Canadian mining companies that operate abroad operate under a much higher standard of environmental concern than any other mining company from any other country in the world. I am almost embarrassed that he would continually impugn the name of our Canadian mining companies when we set worldwide such a tremendous example for other companies from other countries to follow.

He should be ashamed of himself. The member should reflect on the fact that his own leader did not stick around to vote on his bill. Perhaps he had misgivings about it himself.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am embarrassed by the member's level of ignorance about what is going on in the world. Does he want the world tour? Does he think it is a great idea that our own Governor General is embarrassed in Mexico with Mexicans saying, “Canada go home”? Does he think that it is a great idea that Canadian mining companies have difficulties in Guatemala and Honduras?

I agree with the general point that many Canadian mining companies try to operate at the highest level, but some do not. This was a very modest attempt to bring those that do not into some level of compliance with internationally recognized human rights standards.

It is incontrovertible that Canadian mining companies and large international corporations have a huge impact on human rights. The sooner the member and his party wake up to that reality, the sooner we will get on to developing a legal framework which will give fair redress to those aggrieved.

I feel bad for the hon. member. He has been in the chamber for many years, but he seems to continue to fail to get that point.

International Trade
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, many of the businesses in my constituency are talking about our Conservative government's ambitious free trade agenda. Local businesses in these small towns are anxious to take advantage of the new markets we are opening around the world.

Canada's economy remains our government's top priority. With the economic recovery still fragile, we can create jobs and economic growth by expanding our international trade opportunities.

Over the past five years, our government has concluded new free trade agreements with eight countries. Today we are engaged in discussions with two of the world's largest economies: the European Union and India.

The agricultural industry stakeholders I represent are excited about their prospects in the future as we secure freer trade with many nations. Farmers in my riding are anxious to meet the demands in these new markets.

We are proud of the high-quality foods we produce. We know the world is hungry for our products. We know that we can fill their orders.

Citizenship and Immigration
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on December 23, the Grinch was out to steal Christmas. The Conservative government cut $53 million from programs that offer support and integration services for new Canadians.

The Conservative government's cuts to settlement services have hit my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville and the region of Peel hard. We have been able to confirm that over $2.5 million was cut from the region of Peel alone.

These agencies offer language and skills training to help newcomers integrate into the workforce and the community so that they can become contributing members of society.

Where are the government's priorities? How can the Conservatives sleep at night when they cut $53 million from some of Canada's most vulnerable people and at the same time give corporations a $6 billion tax cut?

If the government is looking for ways to pay off its unprecedented $56 billion deficit, it needs to look elsewhere. Settlement services provide essential services and programs, and the Liberal Party will do whatever it can to maintain their funding.

Vanessa Grenier
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, Vanessa Grenier is a name to remember. A native of Johnville, Vanessa is an 18-year-old figure skater. In December 2010, she won the Skate Canada Eastern and Western Challenge. In January, she placed seventh in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, which means that she will move on to compete in the next world junior championships in South Korea.

Quebec senior champion in 2008 and 2009, Canadian junior runner-up in 2007, eastern Canadian junior champion in 2007—the list of awards she has received is long, and this does not even include the medals she has won at international competitions. Last May, Vanessa was even awarded the prestigious Josée Chouinard trophy by Quebec's Fédération de patinage artistique.

Vanessa's talent and perseverance make her an inspiration to all Quebeckers. I wholeheartedly hope that she will achieve her dream of participating in the Olympics.

We are proud of you, Vanessa!

Northern Economic Development
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the government once again about the high cost of living in Canada's north. Here is an example. Many Canadians are alarmed that they may have to pay $1 for each extra gigabyte of Internet. In the north, the average for each extra gig is $10, and they start counting at as little as two gigs.

In December the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee released its unanimous report on northern economic development. The report recommended:

That the Government of Canada, to facilitate the development of the northern economy by attracting and retaining more skilled workers, consider enhancing the Northern Residents Tax Deduction to more fully compensate for the costs of living faced by individuals in the North, and consider a policy that provides universality to the travel portion of the Northern Residents Tax Deduction.

The 2007 budget gave an insufficient modest increase. What northerners need this year is an increase in the range of 50%. The Minister of Finance should really look at this, because he is the one who could deliver on this for northerners.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to call upon the opposition parties to support my private member's bill, Bill C-575, First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

The issue is simple and the bill is straightforward. Aboriginal Canadians deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials. Aboriginals across the country have sent me letters and emails and have phoned to express their support for this bill.

The Assembly of First Nations passed a non-binding resolution calling for greater transparency. Let us support aboriginal Canadians by giving them this tool to have the salaries and expenses of band chiefs and councils posted on INAC's website.

Now is not the time for partisan games. I call on all parliamentarians to show their support for aboriginals, for first nations, and all Canadian taxpayers by voting yes to the first nations financial transparency act.

Human Rights
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, last August I introduced the opposition leader and former deputy prime minister of Russia, Boris Nemtsov, at a symposium hosted by the Central and Eastern European Council at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre.

Nemtsov and over 100 democracy activists were arrested, some imprisoned, using Soviet-era laws for participating “in unsanctioned gatherings”. On New Year's Eve the campaign of intimidation was renewed when Nemtsov and 68 others were arrested after rallies calling for the democratization of Russia.

Last year Prime Minister Putin threatened the opposition and established a new tenet of Putinism stating: “...you will be beaten on your skull with a truncheon. And that's that”.

Russia's leading exiled broadcast journalist, Evgeny Kiselev, lamented to me that the west has traded the Russian democratic opposition for oil and gas. As Russia slips into autocracy, the Canadian government and foreign affairs minister remain silent.

Will Canada finally send a clear message to Russia that its continued membership in the G8 is dependent on its respect for democracy and human rights?

Egypt
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada urges the government of Egypt to continue the transition to democratic reform.

While the need for democratic reform is pressing, reform should not result in a vacuum that could lead to extremism, violence and intolerance toward religious minorities.

Our government responded rapidly and within 24 hours of recommending a voluntary evacuation, the first planeload of Canadians safely landed in Europe.

As of this morning, we have safely assisted the evacuation of nearly 500 Canadians and at this time we urge all Canadians to leave Egypt.

Royal Society of Canada Report
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 5, 2001, the Royal Society of Canada released its report entitled, “Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada”. It has been said that:

This report, which made 58 recommendations, remains the most complete and scientifically rigorous synthesis of the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In 2001, experts from the Royal Society were already talking about the lack of scientific data and basic transparency with respect to GMOs. In a context of uncertainty, they underscored the need to base decisions regarding GMOs on independent scientific studies from industry in order to determine what repercussions GMOs might have on the environment and on health.

Ten years later, both Liberal and Conservative governments have completely ignored these recommendations and not a single independent study has been conducted. Their complacency toward GMOs suggests that they prefer to bury their heads in the sand.

Child Care
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Liberals made it clear once again that they do not trust Canadian parents to decide how to raise their own children. It is not surprising, though, considering the disparaging statements that Liberal members have made about parents in the past.

The Liberal member for St. Paul's has stated that parents who choose to stay home to raise their kids are not doing real work and need to get “a real job”.

The Liberal member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel reiterated the Liberal view that parents use their money for beer and popcorn instead of their kids when he stated, “They may have the money, but they use it for their own purposes...”.

Our Conservative government could not disagree more with the Liberals. We believe parents know best when it comes to raising their own children, and that is why we support choice in child care. On this side of the House, we believe that being a parent is the most important job there is.

Visitor Visas
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to change the way in which visitor visas are being issued. Last month I visited the Philippines and India to express my feelings on the matter.

Whether it was the Canadian ambassador in the Philippines or the consul general in India, I made it very clear that families in Canada should have the right to have family members visit them here in Canada.

This can be done. It is only a question of developing the political will to do so. I know that the vast majority of Canadians would support visitor visas being issued in situations such as when a father in Canada passes away and his eldest son who lives in the Philippines wants to attend the funeral; or a couple's daughter is graduating from university but her grandparents in India are declined the opportunity to visit and be a part of the graduation; or when a bride would like her sister from the Philippines to be her bridesmaid at her wedding in Canada.

Families of good character should be able to visit if for no other reason than they are family. We must fix the current system.

The Economy
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, our government's top priority is the economy and, therefore, creating jobs for Canadians. The continued growth of employment in Canada once again shows that our economic action plan and tax reduction program are yielding positive results for Canadian families.

According to Statistics Canada data, Canada has created more than 460,000 jobs since July 2009, and the economy has grown for five consecutive quarters. Statistics Canada announced today that almost 70,000 net jobs were created in January. These are positive signs, but too many Canadians continue to look for employment and the global economic recovery remains fragile.

If we continue to move forward with our Prime Minister's tax relief plan to protect and create jobs, neither the leader of the Liberal Party nor his bill to raise taxes will be able to put the brakes on our recovery, kill jobs and set the families of Canadian workers back.

Robert Mackenzie
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, on January 17 the people of Hamilton lost a true champion of the working class. Bob Mackenzie was a respected lifelong labour activist, steel worker, New Democrat and Hamilton icon. As Ontario's first minister of labour, Bob was responsible for implementing an impressive legislative agenda, including improvements to pay equity, strengthening workers' compensation, protecting severance pay and bringing in anti-scab legislation.

Although a tireless and fearless politician, Bob will be remembered most for his humanity and his genuine desire to make the world a better place for everyone. He had a natural ability to connect with the people he represented and Hamilton east became more of a family than a riding. To me, Bob is also the gold standard of mentoring. In 1984, in my first public election, Bob took precious time away from his family cottage to canvass and teach this green 29-year-old, super long-shot candidate the ropes of electioneering.

On behalf of all hon. members, I extend our heartfelt condolences to the Mackenzie family. Bob Mackenzie was a man who made a difference and he will be greatly missed.

The Economy
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, today Statistics Canada announced that Canada's economy created more than 70,000 net new jobs last month. Our government's main priority is the economy and helping create more jobs for Canadians. The creation of these jobs again shows that our economic action plan and our low tax agenda are getting positive results for Canadian families.

According to Statistics Canada estimates, Canada has now created over 460,000 jobs since July 2009, and more than a million jobs since 2006. These are positive signs, but too many Canadians are still looking for work and the global economic recovery remains fragile. We need to continue with our low tax plan to protect and create jobs, not the Liberal leader's high tax agenda that would stall our recovery, kill jobs and set back hard-working families.

Status of Women
Statements By Members

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister was recently boasting about his government's accomplishments over the past five years. The real picture, however, is far less impressive, particularly concerning the status of women. Let me refresh everyone's memories.

Since 2005, the Conservatives have slashed Status of Women Canada's budget by 40%, thereby forcing the closure of 12 of its 14 offices. They abolished the court challenges program. They eliminated funding allocated for feminist research and women's rights organizations.

Conservative members have introduced bills attacking women's rights and the gains we have made. Consider for example Bill C-391 to abolish the long gun registry or Bill C-510 on abortion. Even more recently, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development suggested that women who have other people care for their children are inferior mothers.

This government has done nothing for women. If anything, it has compromised the gains women have made over the years. That is a more accurate portrait of the Conservatives.

Bernard Grandmaître Awards
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, many good memories were made last night at the Prix Bernard Grandmaître awards gala, held by ACFO Ottawa. This annual event recognizes francophones and francophiles who have distinguished themselves with their achievements, their dedication and their commitment in our community.

I want to pay tribute to Caroline Gélineault, who won the young person of the year award—what a bright future; Alex Cullen, who was named francophile of the year; and Émile Maheu, who won educator of the year—another bright future. My good friend Ronald Bisson was named citizen of the year. Those were the Laurier awards. Congratulations also to the organization of the year, Retraite en action. The Grandmaître award was presented to Jeannine Legault, an extraordinarily dedicated volunteer, who has been putting her heart and soul into the community for over six decades. She is very deserving of this honour.

Congratulations Jeannine and all of the finalists and Laurier award recipients. Congratulations also to the organizers of this wonderful evening. See you again next year.

Diamond Jubilee
Statements By Members

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, Sunday marks a historic moment in the life of our country. Having welcomed Her Majesty to my riding last summer, it is with great pride that I rise today to say that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will mark her 59th anniversary on the throne as the Queen of Canada. On Sunday, Her Majesty will enter her 60th year as our sovereign, only the second time in our history that our head of state will mark a diamond jubilee.

Yesterday, Governor General Johnston and the Prime Minister launched key elements of Canada's diamond jubilee plans, including a diamond jubilee medal bearing Her Majesty's image.

On the verge of Her Majesty's diamond jubilee as Queen of Canada, I invite all hon. members and indeed all Canadians to reflect on this incredible woman's unfaltering and unwavering dedication to service. May she continue to serve our country for many years to come, and may we all continue to demonstrate the loyalty and affection for her that she so richly deserves.

God save the Queen.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, today in Washington the Prime Minister is continuing a pattern of talking to American officials about a perimeter security deal he will not even admit exists. The deal will almost certainly cover security measures, trade, immigration, energy, fresh water and who knows what else.

Why will the Conservatives not tell us about this deal? Is it because every other time they have negotiated with the Americans on softwood lumber, on buy America, on $16 billion fighter jets, Canadians have got a bad deal?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member opposite that Canada will always put Canada's interests first, and our government feels very strongly about that. That means keeping our shared border open to trade, open to investment and closed to security and terrorist threats.

Some $1.6 billion worth of trade crosses our border each and every year. It is tremendously important for auto workers, for forestry workers and others right across the country, and we will continue to work to ensure that these jobs are protected and expanded.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, every time this Prime Minister negotiates an agreement with the U.S. we end up losing.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the forestry industry since his softwood lumber agreement. He is exporting our jobs to the United States and importing Republican values to Canada.

Megaprisons, the death penalty, no gun control—is the Prime Minister working for Canadians or for the Republicans?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this party and this government need to take no lessons from the Liberal Party when it comes to importing American values into Canada. Our party and government are always prepared to stand up and to do what is best for Canada and we will continue to do so.

We have $1.6 billion of trade each and every day. This is important for forestry workers, for auto workers and for others who depend on that trade. We are committed to working with the Obama administration to ensure that those Canadian jobs are protected. That is strong leadership.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, those answers are empty words. The Prime Minister's record on believing in Canada is not admirable. He said we were becoming a “second-tier socialist country” and that we would not even recognize Canada when he was done with it.

To realize this Republican dream, he is now doing his best to make it more to his liking, trying failed policies on trade, crime and the environment.

Why should we expect him to look out for the interests of Canadians, when he would rather follow the example of Sarah Palin and her Tea partiers?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I say to my friend from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, I can stand in my place and say that the leader of my party has never called America his country.

This question is just a deliberate attempt to try to change the channel from the good news we heard this morning that some 69,000 net new jobs have been created in Canada. The Minister of Finance presented a plan, Canada's economic action plan, to create jobs, to create hope and to create opportunity. The plan is working. Let us not change course.

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, anywhere they have been tried, mega prisons have been a disaster. They have left states like California nearly bankrupt, with soaring crime rates and no way back. While the rest of the world recoils from the mistake, the Prime Minister is bent on repeating it.

Before we can turn back, while the Prime Minister is in the United States, will he tour the mega prisons he is trying to import? Will he sit down with Republican lawmakers who founded these ideas and listen to what a complete, total and utter failure they have been? Will Conservatives at least look at the example they are trying to emulate?

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, we do know that there is a cost to protecting Canadians and we do know there is an interest in victims who have criminal acts perpetrated against them. We also know that my hon. friend opposite is more concerned about the morale of the prisoners in the prison system than he is about the people who work there. That cost, we know, is borne by Canadians and we know that they are willing to pay it.

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

What a shock, Mr. Speaker. The Conservatives are attacking me personally and it is because they are losing the argument. They do not have the facts.

The reality is that after looking to the founders of the super prison system, somebody like Newt Gingrich, who now says this idea is too extreme and too right wing, who exactly are they listening to?

Anywhere this has been tried, it has been a complete and total failure. Let us try a simple question and see if the member can answer it. Name one jurisdiction, any one, anywhere in the world, where this stuff has been tried and worked? I can say that anywhere I have looked, it has been a complete disaster.

Public Safety
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

With all due respect, Mr. Speaker, I do not think I would insult any of our neighbours or allies around the world.

We have been to other countries, and the member opposite was part of the committee that went to Norway. We heard about recidivism. We heard about people going back to prison up to 30 times. I do not think the member's approach would work.

At the same time, we have a made in Canada approach that will work, that Canadians understand, and one that Canadians are asking us for and supporting.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is meeting today with President Obama to negotiate a common security perimeter and establish a working group to prepare a joint plan of action within 120 days.

How can the Conservative government explain that, with such a short deadline, neither Canadians nor parliamentarians have had any information and there has been no debate in this House about this very important matter?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:20 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, It is very important for us to have good relations with our neighbouring countries. We also know that a great deal of goods are moved from one country to the other across our respective borders. Daily trade between our two countries is in the order of $1.6 billion.

In this context, the issue of the security of our respective borders is also important, and we will continue to work with the U.S. government on this matter.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, a security perimeter is desirable and has been proposed by the Bloc in the past. However, security, trade and fundamental freedoms must be balanced. Canada has postponed today's meeting twice because the Canadian authorities believed that Americans were asking for too much information, especially with respect to Canadian travellers.

Does the government realize that this issue is of such importance that it requires transparency and public debate before any decision is made?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, border security—the security of Americans and Canadians—requires both countries to adopt stable measures to ensure that we fight terrorism and protect our border on both sides.

This is the context for our discussions with the U.S. government. We wish to come up with tangible and positive solutions for both countries, solutions that will cause the least amount of disruption for Canadians and Americans and ensure the continuous flow of goods across our border, without requiring a visa to enter the United States.

Canada-U.S. Border
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

The Minister of Public Safety said, "If we are going to enjoy the economic relationship we have now with the Americans, security is an issue that we must address.” That is exactly what we have been trying to make him understand for months, while this government has been planning to close a number of border crossings in the Eastern Townships and Montérégie or reduce services there.

Will the government abandon its plan to reduce border services and thereby ensure security and the free flow of goods and people at the border?

Canada-U.S. Border
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, the Canada Border Services Agency continually reviews all of the border crossings. It is important to Canadians that we have a good flow of travellers and goods back and forth across the border. However, the agency has to do it in a realistic fashion, so it continues to review the border crossings we have, and it continues to adjust that system.

Canada-U.S. Border
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not only Quebeckers who are unhappy about the reduction in services at the border crossings. I have here a copy of a letter from Mr. Bill Owens, an American congressman who sits on the Committee on Homeland Security. He is asking President Obama to intervene to keep the border open and to ask the Canadian government to abandon its plan to reduce border services.

When will this government abandon its plan, which is negatively affecting the economic development of our regions?

Canada-U.S. Border
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we continue to review the border crossings of this country. We know it is important that trade and commerce flow across the border and we also know that it is important that people cross the border. We also need to do it in a manner that is forthright and that Canadians understand.

CBSA continues to review those border crossings to make the most efficient use of its personnel and the resources it has available.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister's conduct has undermined Canadians' confidence in his negotiations with the United States. He has not informed Canadians about what he is up to and he has not consulted the House. Our trade, our industry and our border communities are all at stake. The government cannot be trusted to negotiate deals behind closed doors.

When is the government going to consult Canadians? When is it going to bring that deal before the House?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, let me say very directly to my friend from Ottawa Centre, one thing that he and the New Democratic Party can count on is that the Prime Minister will always put the interests and the well-being of Canada first in his discussions.

Since we took office, we have focused on creating jobs, creating hope, creating opportunity. That involves more open and more secure trade. That means keeping our shared border open to trade and investments and closed to security and terrorist threats. This is tremendously important, whether it is for the forestry worker or for the auto worker. We are going to continue to work hard to ensure that we have more trade, more opportunity. We have to build on the great success that we enjoy with trade today.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, all we are asking for on this side is a little democracy.

The Conservatives say they will defend Canada's interests, but the only interests they seem willing to defend right now are the interests of big polluters and their profit margins.

Reports today in the media reveal that the Prime Minister's main objective in Washington is to lobby for the oil sands. He is risking our jobs, our resources, our border communities and our privacy.

Who is left to defend Canada when the Prime Minister refuses to?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think the Prime Minister will build on the excellent relationship that this government has with the Obama administration. We will work hard to ensure markets for Canadian products, whether they be automobiles, whether they be forest products, whether they be our natural resources. It means more jobs. It means more opportunities. It means more hope.

We are pleased with the 460,000 net new jobs that have been created. Today's numbers show almost 70,000 net new jobs. That is good news, but it is not enough. We need more. That is why the Prime Minister is fighting for Canadian workers, is fighting for the Canadian economy. We will get even more results to build on the great successes this finance minister has delivered for Canada.

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are selling out Canadians. The government is ushering in the United States' so-called secure flight program, taking our private personal information and giving it to Homeland Security just because Canadians are flying over the U.S. on their way to other countries.

Now, with talk of a new North American security perimeter, Canadians are worried what this might mean for them.

What other rights of Canadians is the Prime Minister trading today, as part of the perimeter security deal?

Canada-U.S. Relations
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to aviation security, each country has sovereign rights to set the rules for its own country. The United States understands this is the case with Canada, and we have a lot of respect for the case there.

On this issue, we brought forward a piece of legislation for full, open and public debate, just as the NDP requested. I know members will be very satisfied. They will have additional time to debate that measure in the House of Commons.

However, one thing members can count on when the Prime Minister meets with President Obama is that he will put the interests of Canada and the interests of Canadian jobs as the first and foremost priorities. Members can count on that.

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development made an unsavoury remark in the House. She said, “It is the Liberals who wanted to ensure that parents were forced to have other people raise their children”.

Her disdainful remark implies that the 70% of women who send their children to day care are unfit mothers. Do the Conservatives have the nerve to repeat that insult to Canadian families?

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, let us be very clear. There is one key thing among many that distinguishes our Conservative government from the Liberal opposition: we believe that Canadian parents should have a choice in their child care.

We believe they should have a choice as to whether they care for their children at home or whether they use daycare or whether someone close them, a family member or a neighbour, looks after their children.

Not only do we support the idea, but we also support it tangibly, by providing the universal child care benefit so that parents can choose how to raise their children. We believe they are the best ones to do that.

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, she may believe that, but Canadians do not follow that logic. The cat is out of the bag. The minister has confirmed what we have always known. She said:

[I]t is the Liberals who wanted to ensure that parents were forced to have other people raise their children. We do not believe in that.

Is that what the Conservatives are telling the millions of Canadian mothers who are relying on child care outside the home, that they are bad mothers?

Child Care
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, let us listen to what some Liberals said recently. One Liberal said:

I am strongly opposed to any new national day care program with the cost running into the tens of billions of dollars. Given economic realities and competing demands on government resources, these are programs we cannot afford.

Do members know who said that? It was the Liberal MP for Markham—Unionville who said that.

I have one more here. We have the Liberal member for St. Paul's who said that staying at home to raise the kids did not constitute a real job. Shame on her.

Pensions
Oral Questions

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, after five years, the Conservatives have done nothing to offer real help for Canadian pensioners.

Their proposed plan will help some people, banks and insurance companies, giving them even higher profits, but it will leave 75% of Canadians who do not have a private pension plan without retirement security.

Why will the Prime Minister not drop his long-standing opposition to the CPP and help middle-class Canadian families?

Pensions
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Minister of State (Finance)

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what we are proposing, along with our partners in the provinces that share jurisdiction on pensions across the country. We have been in deep discussions with them trying to develop a plan. We are suggesting that the pooled registered plan will help many Canadians who do not now have any form of a pension.

We are working with our partners to come up with something. It would be nice if the opposition would quit fearmongering and scaring seniors and I suggest that they help us to develop a plan that will actually help people.

Pensions
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing but rhetoric coming from the Conservatives when it comes to pensioners, when in fact the Conservatives have not provided any help for them. On the contrary, they failed them on income trusts, they tried to cut the guaranteed income supplement and now the government is telling the 75% of the population who do not have a pension plan to get lost.

Why are the Conservatives abandoning Canadian families when it comes to old age security?

Pensions
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, we have done a lot to help seniors, who built our great country. We have increased the age credit amount not once, but twice. We have also introduced pension splitting, which has helped a number of families reduce their taxes.

We are helping seniors in our country. They should support us from time to time.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, rather than taking advantage of the crisis in Egypt and his meeting with President Obama to promote the oil sands, the Prime Minister should be concentrating on developing clean, renewable energy sources. For example, the eco-energy program for renewable electrical power will soon expire and the government has not shown any willingness to provide more funding for it.

Will the government use the upcoming budget to announce new money specifically for the development of wind and solar energy?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, we are so enthused about this that everyone wants to get up and answer the question.

We are very proud of the $10 billion that we have put toward clean energy over the past five years. We have created jobs, we have provided a cleaner environment, we have served consumers and we have saved consumers money.

Given that we are in an economic recovery, we are reviewing all our programs. The member opposite will have to wait for the budget, as does every other Canadian.

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, while the government is preoccupied with yesterday's oil economy, the Bloc Québécois is proposing that we invest in the green economy of the future.

Why is the Conservative government refusing to provide more funding for research and development in solar and wind energy when this program benefits both the environment and the economy?

The Environment
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc knows full well that it benefits from oil sands, as well as everyone else in Canada.

It is the second largest oil reserve in the world. It is responsible for the creation of almost 150,000 jobs across Canada. All the provinces benefit from that.

As I mentioned, we put $10 billion into clean energy over the past few years. We will continue to protect the environment and we will continue to work toward new clean energy projects.

Post-Secondary Education
Oral Questions

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has announced an investment of $275 million in compensation for financial aid for students. This is an important first step that the Bloc Québécois and civil society have been calling for for a long time. However, we are still waiting for over $800 million to bring federal post-secondary education transfers back to 1994 indexed levels.

When does the Conservative government plan on correcting the fiscal imbalance that still exists in education?

Post-Secondary Education
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, we have done a lot to help students earn their bachelor's degree or other type of degree. We introduced a program to provide grants that do not need to be paid back, to help students complete their post-secondary studies. The Bloc and the Liberals did not support this plan. We have also given a great deal of money to universities and colleges to build buildings where students can study. We are doing a lot for students.

Post-Secondary Education
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois has expressed what it would like to see in the budget to correct the inequalities experienced by Quebec. I remind members that the Government of Quebec is still calling for over $800 million for post-secondary education. The upcoming budget is the perfect opportunity for the Minister of Finance to show that quality education is important to him.

Does he plan on restoring post-secondary education transfers to Quebec and the provinces to 1994 indexed levels?

Post-Secondary Education
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, we are doing a lot to help students. We introduced the Canada student grants program, a program that now helps 280,000 students. That is more than 150,000 than with the Liberals' program. We have expanded the summer jobs program for students to help them study.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, this week the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation presented its strategic plan for the next five years. The CBC promised to provide more productions with Canadian content, a greater presence in the regions and better service for linguistic communities.

It is doing its job. Now, will the Conservatives do theirs and ensure that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has the funding it needs for all five years, or will they simply tell the CBC to look after its own affairs?

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I am always confused when Liberal members stand and act like they are defending the CBC when, in reality, that is the party that cut more money and more jobs from the CBC than any party in history. That is its record. It might be a sad and sorry history but that is the truth.

The CBC unveiled its five-year plan and it will be coming before the heritage committee in just over a week to talk about it. I look forward to that presentation.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, that comes from the guy who wants to privatize the CBC.

One thing is clear: all they have done over the past few years is try to bring down the CBC. When the CBC needed a loan, they slammed the door on it. When the corporation said it was going to have to eliminate 800 jobs, the Conservatives said, “too bad”. Now they have a chance to redeem themselves. The CBC has come up with an excellent plan for the next five years.

Can the Conservatives promise that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will have funding for each of those five years?

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is remarkable. The Conservative government, our party, campaigned to maintain or increase funding for the CBC and we have done that each and every year. We have kept our word regarding the CBC and it knows it can count on us.

Do members know what artists and creators cannot count on? They cannot count on the support of the Liberal Party. Bill C-32, the balanced copyright legislation, is before the committee and the Liberals will not allow the committee to meet enough to get that bill through this House. It is a shame and a disgrace.

Government Advertising
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, we now know that the Conservatives spent half a million dollars in less than a year for campaign-style backdrops for ministerial announcements. They spent almost $27,000 on a Tory blue backdrop for their response to the earthquake in Haiti. Incredibly, that is 55 times the average income of a Haitian.

What will the government not do? What taxpayer dollars will they not waste for purely partisan electoral purposes?

Government Advertising
Oral Questions

11:40 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is the responsibility of this government to communicate important programs and services to Canadians. Advertising is a key way for the government to reach a large number of Canadians on important issues. The Ethics Commissioner has said that an MP's role is to inform constituents about government initiatives and programs, and that is what we have been doing. We are fulfilling our responsibility to inform Canadians about important programs and initiatives.

Government Advertising
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government is also spending $6.5 million taxpayer dollars on a new campaign advertising five-year-old tax measures dating back to 2006. These ads, timed to coincide with Conservative Party ads, will actually cost more than some of the tax measures that are being advertised.

Even the Conservative-friendly Canadian Taxpayers Federation describes this advertising as “government electioneering at taxpayer expense”.

Why does the government cheat Canadian taxpayers for electoral gain?

Government Advertising
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is the responsibility of the government to communicate important programs and services to Canadians. I should point out that our advertising budget is in fact spent on advertising, unlike the previous Liberal government that spent its money on paying off its friends.

Airport Security
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Dona Cadman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, our government takes aviation security seriously and we are determined to keep travellers safe and secure from terrorism but we also want CATSA to be as respectful, efficient and effective as possible during the screening process.

Yesterday, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities announced changes to airport screening that will increase convenience for the travelling public while maintaining high levels of security.

Will the minister please explain how Canada's screening procedures will now follow more closely the international procedures?

Airport Security
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Yellowhead
Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question allows me to explain to the House just how we are standardizing our standards at our international airports with our international partners right across the world, including the United States, and how we will do it in a more efficient way.

We will reduce the hassle, we will be much smarter and we will have better security. This is all about being family friendly and ensuring that we target those people who are more serious threats and the items that are more serious threats, all the while ensuring that passenger comfort and quicker lines are achieved.

Health
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the infestation of bedbugs is becoming a national public health crisis in our country. We can just imagine the horror of putting our kids to bed every night knowing full well they will be eaten alive by bloodsucking parasites and we can do nothing to stop it.

The United States has struck a well-funded bedbug task force headed by the Centers for Disease Control. It has hosted two national conferences already. The government does have a role to play in the bedrooms of the nation.

Why is our government not doing anything to protect Canadians from this national scourge of bedbugs in our Canadian cities?

Health
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the NDP would ask a question about bloodsucking parasites.

However, we do understand that these pests do cause stress when found in the home and that is why the minister has instructed Health Canada to work with the pest control industry to ensure it receives the department's full support as a federal regulator. Health Canada has also created a working group to facilitate the application process for new pesticides that could help control bedbugs.

The provinces and territories are best placed to support Canadians as they respond to infestations in their homes. I acknowledge the recent progress made in certain jurisdictions.

Health
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not calling the Conservatives bloodsucking parasites. That job is already taken.

International experts say that we are on the threshold of a global bedbug pandemic, a plague of near biblical proportions. We spent billions of dollars on the H1N1 non-event, a sop to the drug companies. How about a national bedbug strategy and some research and development money so we can find a cure and a fix and give some hope to all those Canadians who are suffering tonight from this terrible national public health crisis?

Health
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, with all the situations going on in the world, it is interesting that the NDP would like to focus on bed bugs.

We have taken a leadership role. We recognize that this is a public health concern and the department is acting appropriately. We look forward to the progress it achieves in this very important health initiative.

Government Spending
Oral Questions

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, while they were flooding the media with dishonest political attacks ads against the opposition parties, the Conservatives were also using public funds to promote government programs that will end in less than two months.

When will the Conservatives stop using government resources for partisan purposes?

Government Spending
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is the responsibility of government to communicate important programs and services to Canadians. Advertising is a key way for the government to reach a large number of Canadians on important issues.

We are fulfilling our responsibility to inform Canadians about important programs and initiatives.

Government Spending
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the programs are scheduled to end in less than two months. Now that they have taken control of the Senate, an archaic, unelected and undemocratic institution, the Conservatives are using it to do their dirty work. After using it to shoot down bills passed by the elected members, the Conservatives are now using the Senate to get around the House of Commons' rules on mail-outs.

Will the Prime Minister call his caucus to order and require that public funds in the Senate not be used to finance the Conservatives' vicious political attacks?

Government Spending
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we are working hard to create jobs, hope and opportunity. We have taken many measures to rein in spending at the Board of Internal Economy.

If the member opposite has any advice or counsel for the other place, I would encourage him to take it there.

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the cuts to the aid and development community just keep on coming. The latest target for the Conservatives are teachers, learning and education.

The Canadian Teachers' Federation runs a program to help improve teaching and learning throughout the developing world. It has had its funding cut completely, without warning and without reason.

How can the Conservatives justify cutting a 50-year partnership?

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, the department turned down the project because there were problems with the application. The Canadian Teachers' Federation has been told what those problems are and has been asked to resubmit a new proposal.

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the CTF trains teachers from all over the world. It helps kids learn and pulls families out of poverty. By every measure and evaluation, including CIDA itself, it does excellent and essential work.

The Prime Minister seems to be able to find $2 million for press clippings. Why can he not find $2 million for the dedicated work that these teachers do? Why in heavens name would anybody cut such a valuable program?

International Co-operation
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, the department turned down this project because there were holes in the application. The Canadian Teachers' Federation has been told how it can fix these problems and has been encouraged to reapply.

Economic Development
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Industry likes to use the name FedNor during press conferences. But what people from northern Ontario really need is an independent economic development agency like the one in southern Ontario or the one in Quebec.

There is currently a bill before the House of Commons to allow FedNor to become a stand-alone agency, which will meet the needs of our people back home.

Why are the Conservatives opposed to this?

Economic Development
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal plan to give FedNor regional development agency status is merely window dressing and will not bring better results for northern Ontarians. FedNor is already bringing results to northern Ontario with strategically targeted stimulus across the region to spur economic development.

What FedNor provides is widely supported by local governments for its focus on economic stimulation, which enhances the quality of life for all northern Ontarians.

Economic Development
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the Conservative government and its industry minister, who considers himself a northern Ontarian, have no respect for us in the north. If they did, they would have made FedNor a stand-alone agency just like the one they set up for southern Ontario. Why the double standard? Why the hypocrisy?

Economic Development
Oral Questions

11:50 a.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I just answered that question.

I will use this opportunity to talk about Statistics Canada's announcement today about the creation of nearly 70,000 net new jobs in January.

According to Statistics Canada's estimates, Canada has created over 460,000 jobs since July 2009, the strongest job growth in the G7. A budget will be coming up soon to continue that growth, continue that economic strength in Canada. We hope the NDP will join us in supporting that budget.

The Economy
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Guy Lauzon Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, ON

Mr. Speaker, while the Conservative government is focusing on the real priority of Quebeckers, the economy, and continuing to help our farmers, the leader of the Bloc Québécois wants to trigger an election before even reading the budget.

Can the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State for Agriculture tell this House what the Conservative government has been doing recently for the economy in the regions of Quebec?

The Economy
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma
Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture)

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. We are indeed concerned and are working on stimulating the economy and creating jobs. I think the government's economic action plan has produced positive results.

We are also involved in agriculture, of course, and we are trying to encourage Canadians to purchase products made here in Canada. We are currently developing a pilot project, and the results are surprising. When we use the maple leaf logo on a product from Canada, sales increase 70%. It is a way of letting Canadians know whether a product is from Canada, and encouraging them to buy it.

Canada Post Corporation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, I brought to the government's attention lewd sex toys on the Canada Post website without even as much as an adult content warning. Today we learn that anyone can mail-order a gun.

Canada Post's website offers imitation and replica pistols and rifles that exceed the legal limit. With the click of a button, anyone can purchase these items with ammunition. The NRA may think it is a great idea to mail-order guns, but Canadians do not.

On whose side is the government?

Canada Post Corporation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Yellowhead
Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, if this is exactly the truth, then I will do a full investigation of it. If they are just toys, then they are just toys. However, if it is something that is not appropriate for a crown corporation to be advertising, then appropriate measures will be taken.

Justice
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of the week, the Leader of the Bloc Québécois and the Prime Minister agreed to work on a bill to abolish parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served, a bill that could have the unanimous backing of the House.

I met with the government House leader and we quickly agreed to two principles regarding this bill: first, that it abolish parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served and, second, that it apply immediately to white collar criminals such as Earl Jones.

Can the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons tell me if we still have an agreement and whether the government has the will to deal quickly with this matter, perhaps at the beginning of next week?

Justice
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, we are always willing to work with members of each political party to advance government bills. The answer to his question is yes, absolutely. Bill C-39 has been before a House committee for eight long years and we are ready to take action. Welcome aboard.

Health
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, from this science-skeptic government that rejects the census and denies climate change comes yet another example of Conservative interference.

The government replaced an independent medical review panel looking into the health impacts of salt with industry representatives.

The government is willing to put the health of Canadians at risk. Again, it is listening to industry lobbyists instead of listening to Canadians, even when it comes to the food we put on our children's plates.

Why will the government not leave the medical experts in charge?

Health
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, many Canadians, and particularly those with children, are concerned about the levels of salt in the foods they buy. We understand and we share this concern. That is why we initiated the sodium working group.

We thank the sodium working group for its hard work and we are pleased to endorse its interim goal for sodium reduction. We are working with our provincial and territorial counterparts to implement a strategy for all Canadians.

The advisory committee charged with implementing a strategy includes organizations that are also members of the sodium working group.

Taxation
Oral Questions

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ray Boughen Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, our Conservative government's low tax plan is building a strong economy for families, but the Liberal leader wants to promote a tax and spend agenda that will stall our recovery and kill almost 400,000 jobs.

The Times & Transcript said:

The Liberal Party is obviously still stuck in its outmoded 1960s style tax and spend mode.

[The Liberal leader] and the Liberal welfare state approach will only worsen the nation's debt and deficit—

Could the finance minister please inform the House of today's job numbers?

Taxation
Oral Questions

Noon

Whitby—Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, Canada created over 69,000 net new jobs in the month of January, over 460,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession, which means we have recovered the jobs lost during the course of the recession.

Too many Canadians are still looking for work. The economic recovery is fragile. Canadian families know that our Conservative government's low tax plan means the creation of more jobs and that the high tax plan of the Liberal Party means fewer jobs in our country.

We need to continue with our job-creating low tax plan, not the dangerous—

Taxation
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Mississauga—Streetsville.

Canada Post Corporation
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, battery operated sex toys, replica pistols, rifles, ammunition and also unregulated body supplements, are these products Conservatives feel are appropriate to be sold on a government website? These products need to be pulled and the website needs to be shut down until it is reviewed.

How could the minister have allowed this? When will the minister act?

Canada Post Corporation
Oral Questions

Noon

Yellowhead
Alberta

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House and my hon. colleague that Canada Post has already acted.

If she is finding inappropriate products in her perusing of the Internet, then she should bring them to my attention and we will have Canada Post deal with them.

Agriculture
Oral Questions

Noon

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, food prices are spiking all over the world. The UN notes that food prices are already at their highest peak since they started recording them in 1990. Bad weather around the world, higher energy costs and global food riots are set to drive prices up even further. This means seniors and families will soon find their own grocery bills unsustainable.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, our party, and many across the country are calling for a strong domestic food policy. Will the government commit to a Canadian food strategy that will help Canadian farmers get affordable food to families who need it?

Agriculture
Oral Questions

Noon

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, accessibility to food, and the food supply, are very important. The single best way to ensure we have a steady and safe supply of food is to ensure our farmers remain successful.

By protecting supply management and promoting free trade, we are ensuring that families around the world have access to the food they need.

Our government is working to get farmers a fair return for their products so they can continue to deliver safe, high quality food.

Copyright
Oral Questions

Noon

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, this week, representatives from 90 cultural organizations in Quebec and Canada have denounced Bill C-32 on copyright. They demand major changes to the bill to meet the needs of creators. By introducing a number of exceptions to copyrights, the Conservatives' bill robs creators of their livelihood.

Why is the government attacking the livelihood of artists who, for the most part, receive only a modest income?

Copyright
Oral Questions

Noon

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the government is doing no such thing.

I can tell the House what the Bloc is doing at committee. Those members are stalling and obstructing the committee, slowing it down to four hours a week in meetings. We should be meeting four hours every morning and four hours every afternoon on the bill because it is important to creators, artists and the industry.

Thousands and thousands of Canadians working across the country depend on intellectual property rights to protect their jobs. Why will the Bloc not help us protect them?

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

Noon

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, in response to my question about the teacher's application, made reference to an application that had been submitted. As we know, there seems to be some discrepancy between what happens at CIDA as an agency and what happens in the House.

I was wondering, Mr. Speaker, if you would ask her to table the application itself and all related documents to the application, as she did in her response make reference to the application.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I will speak to the department and ask for those documents.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is not an adequate response. It is up to the minister and, therefore, also up to the parliamentary secretary to make all decisions with respect to the department. It is not up to the department to decide whether it is going to release the documents. The answer has to be that she is either prepared to table the documents or she is not. There is not a lot of room between those two choices.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There is in the sense that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation can consult on what will be tabled and what will not. The hon. member says she made reference to the document. She did not read from the document, so there is no way I can compel her to table the document. Saying a document exists is one thing, but reading from it is what may require it to be tabled in the House. That did not happen that I noticed, in any event, so in the circumstances we will leave the matter and allow the parliamentary secretary to consult with the minister.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

12:05 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, the answer for the member opposite is no.

Criminal Code
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions today.

The first one is from citizens of Oliver, British Columbia who state that the Internet is an unregulated pipeline for child pornography and child exploitation, statistics show that 39% of those who possess child sex abuse materials have images of children between 3 and 5 years old and 83% have images of children between ages 6 and 12 being sexually assaulted. Whereas section 163 of the Criminal Code currently allows sentences of as little as 90 days for making criminal sex material and 14 days for the possession of this material, the petitioners request that Parliament speedily enact legislation to change the legal terminology in section 163 from “child pornography” to “child sex abuse materials” and enact strong and mandatory minimum sentences that protect children, provide justice and deter pedophilia.

Afghanistan
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, my second petition comes from folks in British Columbia, who draw the House's attention to the policy of the Canadian Department of National Defence to support and reinforce the Government of Afghanistan, which is dominated by warlords, opium producers and former Taliban commanders. They state that Canadian soldiers continue to kill and be killed enforcing this joint rule on the people of Afghanistan with no improvement in the daily lives of Afghans and no progress toward peace. They also state that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is part of a broader campaign led by the United States government and transnational oil corporations to assist control over the Middle East and central Asian region. The petitioners call on the government to remove Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan immediately.

Animal welfare
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, my last petition is in support of my Bill C-544. It states that horses are ordinarily kept and treated as sport and companion animals. They are not raised primarily as food-producing animals. They are commonly administered drugs that are strictly prohibited from being used at any time in all other animals destined for the human food supply. Canadian horsemeat products are currently being sold for human consumption in domestic and international markets and they are likely to contain prohibited substances.

The petitioners call upon the House of Commons and Parliament to bring forward and adopt into legislation Bill C-544, An Act to amend the Health of Animals Act and the Meat Inspection Act (slaughter of horses for human consumption), thus prohibiting the importation or exportation of horses for slaughter for human consumption, as well as horsemeat products for human consumption.

Employment Insurance
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I would like to present a petition signed by over 100 Canadians who have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are looking to the government to show compassion and leadership by improving the employment insurance system.

The petitioners urge several improvements to the current system, including maintaining the EI benefit duration at 50 weeks, eliminating the two-week waiting period, and ensuring that workers' best 14 weeks of employment are used as a basis for their claims.

In times of crisis, Canadians expect the government to enact policies to help ensure individuals and families are not left behind.

Cattle Industry
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour today to present a petition signed by a number of cattle producers in southwestern Ontario.

They want to bring to our attention the ongoing hardship caused to the cattle farmers of Canada as a result of the BSE crisis. A class action on behalf of cattle producers of Canada was launched in April 2005, claiming that negligence on the part of Agriculture Canada allowed BSE from imported British cattle to infect Canadian cattle.

This class action has now been certified and is proceeding to trial. The Government of Canada settled a hepatitis C class action and the residential school class action.

These petitioners are calling on the Government of Canada to appoint the hon. Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci as mediator to facilitate a settlement between the Government of Canada and the cattle farmers.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 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

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I am pleased to rise in the House to debate Bill C-46, I feel somewhat strange doing so. This past Tuesday, February 1, was groundhog day. In the United States, in Philadelphia, Phil came out of his hole and realized that he could not see his shadow. This apparently means we will have an early spring, which I am quite happy about.

Knowing that I would be debating this bill here today, it felt a little like groundhog day. We debated a very similar bill last fall, a bill that had to do with a free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada, which we did not agree with either, but which was passed in this House thanks to the Liberal and Conservative members.

When we explained why we did not agree with that bill, our reasons were very similar to our reasons for disagreeing with this bill. Of course, the current situation in Panama is a little different from what was going on in Colombia and is still going on there today. We did not agree with what was happening in Colombia last fall. The Conservatives and the Liberals voted in favour of the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, and the situation in that country has not changed much.

Atrocities are still being committed against people who simply want to defend their labour rights. Workers there have no more rights than they did before and the mining companies do not respect their rights any more than they did. The government is just as corrupt as it was before and very little effort has been made to change anything. Yet in the fall, we were told that the deal would bring considerable change and that discussions were already under way in that regard.

The government is talking about a free trade agreement with the Republic of Panama. It is not that the Bloc Québécois does not believe in free trade. On the contrary, we believe in it and are in favour of it, but we think that we should focus on multilateral approaches instead, which are much more effective in developing fairer trade that respects the interests of all nations.

However, the Conservative government seems to focus more on bilateral agreements, which do not benefit all nations and, more specifically, do not benefit the people who live in the countries involved in the agreements. These bilateral agreements are not beneficial to Quebec or Canada.

In the summer of 2010, the right-wing government in Panama passed a law prohibiting unionized workers from defending their rights and making it a crime to demonstrate to defend their rights. Of course, they say that this law is currently being reviewed, that it will be repealed and completely reworked, but what guarantees do we have?

We were told that Colombian workers would no longer be killed and that they would be heard, but they were not. They can make all the promises they want, but until we have proof and guarantees that men and women will be treated with respect, the problem will persist. One of the problems in Panama right now is that women and children are not treated with respect. Because there are loopholes in the labour laws, children continue to work and women are not treated equally and do not have the respect they deserve.

Naturally, the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill. It is opposed to any bill that would not guarantee that a country's people would have their rights respected. It is also opposed to any bill that would not guarantee, here in Canada, that our banking regulations would be respected.

Unfortunately, Panama does not respect tax regulations and there is tax evasion there. We do not have any assurances right now that this problem will be resolved. The government has not signed any agreements or treaties with Panama to ensure that these regulations would be respected that we would not have to worry in the future if the bill were passed.

I think there are already so many tax havens, and so many businesses, companies and people evading taxes, that our huge deficits keep growing. In my opinion, the people who earn the most money should pay their share, as all citizens must, including the entire middle class who pays the most tax in Quebec and Canada.

I am sure people in the middle class would like companies and individuals who evade taxes to be required to pay their fair share to the Canadian treasury. If they did, our programs could be improved and we would have better programs, not just for women and children, but also for seniors.

The government says that it currently cannot invest more money in programs for seniors and children because of our significant debt. If we went after the money in the countries where tax evasion has been occurring for a very long time now, I am sure we would manage to quickly eliminate our debt. If we just conclude free trade agreements with countries without worrying about resolving this problem, then people who are benefiting from tax evasion and agreements with these countries will continue to evade taxes and put their money wherever they can, without worrying about paying their fair share. That is wrong. Everyone should pay their fair share because everyone benefits from programs.

We are against this bill. It is important for members of the House to understand, yet again, that this type of bill should not be passed. I hope this time we will make sure it is not.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments about not supporting this bill. I am not sure of the makeup of her riding, but in my riding there are a number of agricultural producers who would benefit greatly from this bill.

This bill would eliminate 94% of the agricultural tariffs that are currently in place with respect to Panama. Products such as beef, pork, potatoes, pulses, malt, oilseeds, maple syrup and Christmas trees would qualify immediately for exempt status.

Does the member think that this bill would be a negative for farmers, or would it help farmers across Quebec gain access to markets that are so crucial, especially now when farmers are facing very difficult times?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that farmers are facing challenges and that a more effective agricultural and product-naming policy is needed. When that happens, I am sure that they will be able to sell their products more easily. We also need to keep all the services to which farmers already have access and all existing mechanisms in place, so that their products remain the products that we have in Quebec. I know that they will be happy about this.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I understand the Conservative Party recognizes the scourge of drugs in nations around the world. Quite clearly, Panama accounts for about 85% of the transactions in illegal income and about 55% of those cases are directly related to money laundering from the drug industry.

What does my colleague think about this situation where the Conservative government, with its high-sounding talk about putting Canadians in jail for every little drug crime, is now jumping into bed with a country that has the worst record in the world for laundering drug money?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that money has no smell for the Conservatives no matter where it comes from.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to join in the debate on Bill C-46. The bill has been debated in the House for quite some time and quite a few members have spoken to it. There seems to be a theme developing.

I would like to say that having a lengthy debate on a trade agreement like this is largely symbolic. The reason we are having such a debate on a trade issue in this House is that Canada is undergoing a change as an international trading entity. Canada is experiencing its first trade deficit in 30 years. Those who do not understand or study history are doomed to repeat it. There were years well after Confederation when, at various times, various governments attempted to isolate Canada from its natural trading partners and potential trading partners. We saw a period of Conservative isolationism under Prime Minister Diefenbaker, and it was not good for Canada.

What we are seeing here is a government that may talk about free open trade, may talk about improving Canada's international trade situation, may talk about Canada's international reputation as being the foot in the door toward trade negotiations, but that talk has not been followed through with achievement. Let us look at some recent facts.

Canada being denied its seat at the United Nations Security Council was a direct result of a lack of campaigning by the Conservative government for that seat. What campaign there was came all too late and was all too little. I would have thought that, of all people, those Conservatives would know something about campaigning. We will give them some credit. They use government money to campaign domestically. However, when they should have campaigned for the seat on the United Nations Security Council, they did not. We lost that international prestige. Being a member of the Security Council might have opened some doors toward further trade negotiations. It diminished Canada's role and reputation internationally.

Let us look at the second item that has blurred the otherwise glossy image of Canada on the international stage. That is the whole imbroglio around the UAE, losing the back entry, theatre entry, for our forces in Afghanistan over a petty, negligent negotiation over domestic air rights. What a shame to have this squabble on the international scene, which further diminishes Canada's image internationally.

We can start with how the Prime Minister has made statements and has spoken to Americans about how he views Canada. I particularly remember, and will never forget, his comments made about Canada to an American assembly of right-wing conservatives in Canada. He made these comments and they shall never leave my brain as long as I am able to remember them. There is a whole posse of statements.

One of them is, “In Atlantic Canada, they have a culture of defeat”. I am from Atlantic Canada. I found that offensive.

He also talked about bilingualism, one of the founding principles of our nation. The Québécois and the people who speak French in communities outside Quebec have a birthright to speak French and understand their government's services in the French language. It is something which, as a proud Acadian by marriage, I believe in very firmly. It is an entrenched principle in law in Canada, by statute in New Brunswick. I might add that in Canada's first officially bilingual city, the city of Moncton, it is not just law, it is a way of life.

However, the Prime Minister once said, “bilingualism is the god that failed”. That is what the Prime Minister said.

This bill is not about bilingualism. It is about how he perceives our country and how he sells our country to other nations. It is not a real selling pitch to say, “I live there, but in Atlantic Canada they have a culture of defeat. And our official languages policy, well, that is the god that failed”.

Also, he is the person who said that we are a failed northern European welfare state, or something along those lines.

I do not want to get used to quoting the Prime Minister verbatim because there are so many faux pas that diminish our role and reputation as an international leader.

We are facing a trade deficit, the first in 30 years. The Conservative government has diminished our image internationally, yet it wants a deal with Panama so it can say that it is great champion of international trade, that Canada's image will be completely resurrected like Lazarus because it has a deal with Panama.

There are many problems with the state in Panama. There is no question that the NDP would go on ad infinitum about all the problems with Panama. We agree, from a corporate social responsibility point of view, that there are definitely domestic problems in Panama.

There is another sovereign principle though, and that is that we cannot get involved in the affairs of foreign nations directly. What we can do is, by moral suasion, bring countries into the fold by virtue of trading partnerships and show them a better way to treat their people, to achieve internationally accepted standards of corporate social responsibility, social justice at home, et cetera. For this reason this deal is should be supported.

On this side, we see it as a symptom of how little the Conservative government has on the shelf to show for five years of governing and directing Canada through the waters of international trade, international diplomacy and our stature generally.

By definition, we are a trading nation. Our internal market is only 33 million consumers. We also happen to have massive reserves in natural resources. We need to export and import. We need trading partners. We need to cultivate positive relationships with our trading partners. How did we come to lose our trading surplus? Why did the government do this to us when we have a rising dollar and oil reserves that are the envy of most countries in the world?

The Conservative government should have been contemplating the development of new trading partnerships years ago. We knew it was risky to rely so much on our number one trading partner, the United States. The government has been lax in exploring new markets. Whenever we denigrate other countries, it does not help.

If the U.S. economy experience is something similar to Japan's lost decade, and let us hope that is not the case, we stand to keep our negative trade balance for at least a decade if we do not diversify our trading partners.

The government needs to do more to protect us from American protectionism. It is an automatic reaction in down times for some American politicians to close the tent and say that they have to protect their people. I am not debating whether they are mean-spirited or not. In the famous words of an Irish-American politician, Tip O'Neill, all politics is local. That is how protectionist measures evolved in the United States. When we have someone as eminent as Joe Lieberman and other sainted and long serving members of the House and Senate, from both parties, saying that they need to watch and tighten the borders, the economy and get America on its feet first, I believe this is not an intended but inadvertent danger posed by Americans toward our economy.

The government needs to do more to develop new trading partnerships in Europe and in the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Let us talk about China for a second.

The government is very slow to move to the realization that China is a behemoth. It is the power of the future. We must make our concerns known about human rights. We all believe in human rights enforcement and upholding human rights internationally. However, we must talk to them. There is no way we can change the heart or the mind of a nation or a people without talking to them. The government did not do that for years.

As I mentioned briefly, we have concerns with the issues of tax havens and labour rights. However, let us look at the conclusion of this.

The famed Panama Canal underwent a $5.7 billion expansion recently. It opens up new opportunities in Central America and Canada and we need to be part of this progress. There is too little that prevents us from entering this agreement. There is so much to win. We are talking about a $90 million economy in Panama. It is not the biggest deal that could be brought to the table, but we support it. We just wish the government would take better care and be a better steward of our international reputation in diplomacy, in trading and in stature.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to Bill C-46 before, but it is an important issue that deserves full consideration.

Many of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party have mentioned the many problems in the trade agreement with Panama, none more so than our member for Burnaby—New Westminster who has worked tirelessly on this file. He has single-handedly orchestrated the only truly effective opposition to this very flawed trade deal.

However, I was very disappointed to hear about what has been happening in committee consideration of Bill C-46, with the Liberals siding time and time again with the Conservatives to defeat the amendments put forward by the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster. His amendments were excellent and they would have been helpful.

Amendments that would have improved the legislation include one that promotes sustainable development. That was defeated when the Liberals joined with the Conservatives. One to promote sustainable investment was also defeated by the Liberals in committee in the same way. One to require taxation transparency was defeated by the Liberals. One to ensure the protection of labour rights, including the right to collective bargaining, was defeated by the Liberals. The key motion, to hold off on this deal until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement, again was defeated by the Liberals.

Often, it is getting really hard to tell the difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives. The way the so-called official opposition has rolled over on opposing this problematic trade deal, and other deals, has only blurred the line between these two parties so people wonder if there really is a difference at all anymore.

One of the many problems with this trade deal is the lack of measures to ensure proper conservation, particularly regarding biodiversity. I know this all too well, being a biologist myself. We know that the Isthmus of Panama has a rich ecosystem with over 10,000 species of plants. Of these, 1,250 are known to exist only in Panamanian rainforests. There is nothing on climate change or greenhouse gas pollution in either this trade agreement or in the environmental side agreement. These words do not even appear in the agreement.

Both countries signed the Kyoto accord, but as we can tell from the actions of the Conservative government and the Liberal government before it, merely signing an international agreement does not mean Canadians will respect our obligations in these agreements.

Panama's environment has a wealth of biodiversity and its diverse and rich ecosystems are now threatened by many development projects under way without regard for the possible effects on the environment. This agreement does not deal with that at all, or with any of the key environmental issues in Panama today, such as water pollution from agricultural run-off, threats to fishery resources, endangerment of wildlife habitats and therefore to wildlife as well, deforestation, land degradation, wetland destruction and soil erosion. Of particular concern are the endangerment of wildlife habitat and the depletion of fisheries as a result of projects such as the construction of commercial shrimp ponds and recreational facilities in the coastlines.

This headlong development is contributing to a level of deforestation of the Panamanian tropical rainforest and wetland destination that was only matched previously when the Panama Canal was originally bulldozed through the jungle. Together, these are contributing to major soil erosion problems in the unique geography of this isthmus country.

We cannot have a complete consideration of this trade deal with Panama without mentioning serious omissions regarding labour rights. Panama has had a poor record in respecting the rights of workers. In fact, just last year many people were killed there when workers protested draconian changes to labour laws by the Panamanian government.

The changes were typical Conservative, union-busting techniques to let companies fire and replace striking workers with impunity, to criminalize the right to demonstrate, to give police immunity from prosecution afterward and to ban the collection of dues. When they objected to all this, hundreds of labour leaders were rounded up and thrown in jail.

With a regime like this in Panama, we would think that basic labour rights would be a consideration in any trade deal, but things like the protecting of basic right to organize are not in this deal at all.

During second reading debate, some members talked about the serious problems with Panama being a tax haven. I mentioned that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, blacklisted Panama as an uncooperative tax haven in 2008. It was one of only 11 countries with no sharing of tax information.

I would like to examine the serious implications of the tax issues with this trade deal in Panama more today. The government of Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. Why? It is because it has pursued a deliberate course away from information sharing and toward becoming a deliberate, planned tax haven. It has succeeded. There are an estimated 400,000 corporations, including offshore corporations, in this tiny country, more than quadruple the number registered in Canada.

Billions of dollars in money laundering is performed in Panama each year, including money from drug trafficking from places like Mexico and Colombia. Now it is one of the world's worst tax havens on top of that.

One of the reasons the U.S. Congress has held off on a risky trade deal with Panama is because of tax shelter issues and concerns over money laundering. For example, a 2009 report by the United States state department red flagged Panama for these issues things like: laundering drug money and being an illegal tax haven; adopting the U.S. dollar; lots of offshore banks and shell companies; the world's second largest free trade zone; and its location between Colombia and Mexico. The U.S. state department also noted that Panamanian banks were already favoured by global criminal organizations for money laundering.

It is no wonder criminal organizations like Panama. The financial system is famous for its secrecy. The government there does not even have the legal authority to learn crucial information about offshore corporations set up there, even who owns them.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, again by the U.S. state department, said:

The funds generated from illegal activity are susceptible to being laundered through a wide variety of methods, including the Panamanian banking system, Panamanian casinos, bulk cash shipments, pre-paid telephone cards, debit cards, insurance companies, real estate projects and agents, and merchandise. Panama’s vulnerability to money laundering is exacerbated by the government’s lack of adequate enforcement, personnel, and resources devoted to anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism... as well as the sheer volume of economic transactions, a significant portion of which is in cash.

We are talking about U.S. cash.

Lawmakers in the U.S. want Panama to take steps to increase transparency to share tax information for a U.S.-Panama trade.

Alarm bells should be going off. We are signing a comprehensive trade deal, one that ties the hands of anyone wanting to combat tax evasion and money laundering.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to repeat a question I asked one of the member's colleagues earlier today, and that had to do with the support that the bill would give to Canadian agricultural producers.

When we think that 94% of the agricultural exports from Canada would be exempt under the bill, I cannot believe the member's party would be opposed to this kind of access to markets for our farmers.

Could he explain why his party opposes a plan that would support Canadian agriculture?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it clearly will not be a big deal for Canadian agriculture for exports to this very tiny country.

I have two questions in response to the hon. member's question.

First, why, if the Conservatives cared about agriculture in Canada, did they try to kill the Grain Commission, the inspection of Canadian grain and eliminate the grain inspector jobs across Canada, including Thunder Bay?

An even bigger question is for all the Conservatives. In this day when good, fair trade deals with prosperous, forward-thinking and visionary countries might be a good idea, why are the Conservatives making deals with the losers, instead of the winners?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in my colleague's comments on the peculiar choice for a bilateral trade agreement with that particular country given that it is one of the world's worst and most well-known tax havens where tax fugitives go to stash their money so it is free from the reach of the tax man.

I was shocked to learn that over 400,000 corporations are registered in tiny Panama, which is actually four times the total number of corporations in all of Canada.

Would the member care to comment on the idea of tax fugitives using what they call tax-motivated expatriation to avoid the reach of the Canadian tax authorities and so that they do not need to pay their fair share? Why is the government encouraging any involvement with a country that has that kind of a reputation and record?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that the Conservative government is tying its aspirations and its image to the coattails of the United States. The United States has been seeking multilateral free trade deals around the world for a long time and has failed to achieve them, including at the latest round in Doha.

It is quite clear that, having failed in multilateralism, the United States and now Canada are pursuing, one by one, these bilateral trade deals with anybody who will make them, including some of the less honourable countries in the world.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I was a little bit concerned. We are all familiar with the battle that the NDP has with free trade agreements and its opposition to virtually all of them. We have seen that in the past here in the House.

I was struck by my colleague's comments as I came into the House. He talked about the fact that we are only picking losers for the deals in these free trade agreements. We are working on free trade agreements with dozens of countries, including countries like India and Morocco. I do not know if the member is familiar with the announcement last week that we are initiating a free trade agreement with Morocco and of its importance for western Canadian durum and wheat producers.

Does the member consider India and Morocco as loser countries as well?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have little doubt that the Conservatives and I would have different definitions of the kinds of countries with which we should be signing free trade deals.

In response I will just say that we should be signing free trade agreements and fair trade agreements with countries that have basic human rights, basic democracy, sustainable economies, sustainable fiscal policies, sustainable banking situations, sustainable ecosystems and that are fair and honourable to labour.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of 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.

I am pleased to participate in a debate that, unusual for this House in recent times, we had hoped would be relatively free of heated partisan rhetoric. It is not so, but we had hoped. I support the passage of the bill for many of the same reasons that members sitting on the government side of the House support it.

Unfortunately, before we discuss the meat and potatoes of Bill C-46, we need to deal with the amendments put forward by the NDP. I appreciate that the NDP does not support the bill. I can also appreciate that it put forward amendments following the rules and practices of the House. However, this is simply a last ditch attempt to halt a bill that would allow for better economic relations with Panama.

Let us look at what the NDP is asking for and why this 11th hour effort is just another example of that party's inability to accept that free trade is not a bad thing.

The NDP began by proposing that clause 7 be deleted but that is the clause that sets out the purpose of the bill. If the description of the purpose of the bill is taken out, that poses a bit of a problem. It would be similar to a car with no driver. Maybe those members are trying for a revival of the TV show Knight Rider but most of us like to have a driver behind the wheel. They are also asking that clause 10 be deleted. That clause contains institutional and administrative provisions and, without those kinds of clauses, there would be no bill.

I know members of the NDP want to ensure that the bill does not pass, so it is not a major surprise to see such amendments, but this total disdain for the possible benefits of free trade is very disappointing. Why these stall tactics without some truly constructive amendments?

They are also asking that clause 12 be deleted. This clause deals with panels, working groups and other people involved in administering the bill, particularly in terms of labour and the environment. It seems to me that these matters are important to NDP members, so I question their objective in opposing clause 12.

In addition, they are asking that clause 63 be deleted, the coming into force provision.

Without those clauses there would be no bill. Are my NDP colleagues playing political games here in the House rather than having an informative and intelligent debate? Many of these issues have already been discussed in committee.

I can safely say that I will not support the amendments, but I will take a bit more time to talk about the bill as currently drafted.

In spite of the global economic decline, Panama's gross domestic product increased by 10.7% in 2008, which is one of the highest rates in the Americas. It is expected to increase by 5.6% in 2010. In 2009, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $132.1 million; Canada's exports were worth $91.4 million and imports from Panama totalled $40.7 million.

Canada's main exports to Panama include machinery, electronic equipment for vehicles, pharmaceutical equipment, leguminous seeds, and frozen potato products. Services related to export that Canada offers include financial services, engineering services, and communications information and technology services. Goods that Canada imports from Panama include precious stones and metals, primarily gold; fruit and nuts; and fish and seafood products.

The Panama Canal is essential to international trade. Its expansion should be finished by 2014. This $5.3 billion project could create opportunities for Canadian companies to provide services in the areas of construction, environment, engineering and consultation on capital investment projects, as well as in many other areas.

Some of the issues covered under the trade agreement include market access for goods, cross-border trade services, telecommunications, investment, financial services and government procurement.

Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on agricultural products of 13.6%, with tariffs reaching peaks as high as 260% on some products. The free trade agreement will eliminate those tariffs on 90% of products immediately, and on the other 10% little by little over the next five to 15 years. This should enhance the competitive position of Canadian agricultural exports such as frozen potato products, pulses, pork—which is currently taxed at a rate of 47%—malt, processed foods and beef.

Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on non-agricultural goods of 6.2%, with peaks of up to 81% applied on several key Canadian exports. The free trade agreement will completely eliminate those tariffs, which will certainly help Canadian exporters of fish and seafood, construction materials and equipment, industrial and electrical machinery, paper products, and vehicles and parts.

Canada would immediately eliminate over 99% of the tariffs imposed on current imports from Panama.

The free trade agreement will also address non-tariff barriers by adopting measures to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods and the promotion of good regulatory practices, transparency and international standards.

We live in a global economy and our survival as a nation depends on our ability to work with other nations around the world. We have seen the disadvantages we incur when we are slow to interact with growing economies.

The fact is that Canada today has a trade deficit. For the first time in 30 years, we are actually buying more than we are selling internationally. That is ominous for a small, open economy like Canada that has depended disproportionately on external trade for our standard of living and our wealth as a country.

If we look at where the world is headed and where the growth will be over the next five to ten years, we see that it will be in China, India and in the Asian economies. We also see a lot of opportunities in Africa, despite the governance concerns in certain countries. We see a lot of progress in Africa and we see a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity.

Then we look at the Latin American countries and, increasingly, it is becoming clear that being dependent on the traditional economies of the U.S. and Europe is not where we want to be. We need to think outside the box. We need to look for new partners and facilitate trade. We need to provide tools both at home and abroad that will make Canada a country that others want to invest in and trade with. If there are problems between the two, we will work it out. Simply saying “no deal” because no country is perfect is a pretty obvious sign of a very narrow-minded party.

Yes, I agree that Panama represents a small trading partner compared to the government's missed opportunities with China and India, but it is still a real and obvious partner. I strongly believe that there is strength in numbers and, even if the government has failed to truly engage our largest trading partners, we must never forget about the smaller ones. They provide unique opportunities and highlight Canada's place on the world stage as a country open to all.

In closing, I must remind the House that the 21st century is here and we cannot close our doors to the world. We need to be looking at partnerships with any and all governments while promoting our values and strengths abroad.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to enter into the debate on Bill C-46. If we are to use trade as an instrument to elevate the human condition and not just to exchange goods and services, then we must consider the fact that trade with Canada should be viewed as a privilege and not as any kind of right. In fact, we should be choosing trading partners who earn the privilege of trading with a great nation like Canada.

If it is our intention, even as a secondary goal, to help elevate the standard of wages and living conditions of the people with whom we are trading, if we are indeed to be global partners in the globalization of capital, then we must also consider that with the globalization of capital must also come the globalization of human rights, labour rights and environmental standards. We should use our capacity as a trading nation to achieve those secondary goals.

I would go further and argue that we should not enter into any country that will not stipulate to those lofty standards that seek to elevate the human condition. We owe it to our global partners and we owe it to the global efforts to eradicate poverty and create a planet that is sustainable for the future.

I note, not by any kind of coincidence, that the driving force behind this trade agreement is the mining industry. It is the greatest lobbyist that came forward to try to justify and defend a bilateral free trade agreement with a country like Panama that does not meet any of the standards I just pointed out. Panama does not meet any of the tests of a country that has taken active steps to recognize and protect human rights. Also, it is a country that has actively taken steps to undermine the health and well-being of the global economy by proactively creating itself to be one of the largest tax havens in the world.

We have to ask ourselves as parliamentarians why we would want to participate in a trade agreement with a country whose actions and actual practice we abhor, or claim to abhor. The members in this chamber often raise the fact that we criticize and chastise those tax fugitives who would avoid paying their fair share of taxes by harbouring their activities and funnelling their profits in dummy shell companies around the world even though the corporate taxes in this country are going down to 15%, one of the lowest in the developed world. It is estimated that we lose $7 billion a year in lost tax revenue by allowing situations to exist where countries can move their taxable profits and income into these dummy companies.

Are we not acquiescing to, or even encouraging this international behaviour by recognizing these countries with a free trade agreement? Canada, I am proud to say, does not tolerate this kind of thing lightly. It seems a contradiction to me.

In recent years we have had this debate over and over again. Even though the parliamentary secretary said we are engaged in negotiations of free trade agreements with countries such as India and Morocco, those are not the ones that come forward in the list of priorities for the government or before this chamber. We end up debating free trade agreements with Colombia and narco-states overrun by criminals, gangsters and people who murder trade unionists in the streets. Panama is not much better. It is a sanctuary and refuge for some of the worst actors in the world.

What business do we have welcoming them into our family of trade when we try to pretend that we operate at a higher standard of behaviour? Why should we stoop to that level of behaviour? Why would we be sullied? Why would we let them darken our towels until they clean up their own act?

If we are to elevate the human condition of our trading partners, it should be a prerequisite that they come up to our standards, not that we lower our standards to theirs. With globalization comes the risk of harmonizing to the lowest common denominator, not the highest common denominator. We must be ever vigilant, as parliamentarians, to ensure that the latter does not happen.

It is difficult to put the brakes on something that sounds as innocuous as free trade. I think the words were chosen very carefully. But, our negotiating history in free trade agreements has been poor. They are not fair trade agreements. The NDP is always being accused of not being in favour of free trade. Nothing could be further from the truth. If it truly were free trade, if it truly were fair trade, it would have our enthusiastic support and endorsement, but we never see that.

We always send Department of Justice lawyers and globe-trotting representatives to negotiate these free trade agreements. I do not know who gives them their mandate, but they keep coming back with pretty bad packages. Our history has been appalling in negotiating to ensure that the best interests of Canadians are paramount before these trade agreements are signed. It seems we will sign anything with anyone. We are too easy. Our bargaining stance is on our knees. We beg them to leave us with a bit of dignity when they are finished with us. That has been our experience. We wind up with deals that cost us a fortune, that do not protect and defend our standards on an issue such as supply management regime, for instance. All these things are at risk when we enter into these deals and arrangements.

I notice in this deal, again, we have made a classic mistake regarding most favoured nation treatment and national treatment. Again, foreign investment from the partner country should receive the same treatment as domestic investment or investment from any third country. The same language keeps popping up in all these trade agreements. Even after the NDP reminds the government of the day not to do that, it keeps doing it again. It does not listen to us. Sometimes I am concerned that Conservatives are not listening at all.

It boggles the mind, really. I lived through the great free trade agreement debates in 1988. I watched as we allowed section 11 in NAFTA. We leave ourselves vulnerable time and time again with our eagerness to appease and please our trading partners. We seem willing to sacrifice the best interests of Canadians.

It is like Margaret Atwood said about the Canadian beaver. It seems as soon as there is any stress at all, we get backed into a corner and we bite off our own testicles. I agree with Margaret Atwood. It is not an image that we like to dwell on, but we do not show the kind of strength in our bargaining position that we should when we are at international bargaining tables.

Now we are faced with yet another free trade agreement to debate. We debated ones on Peru and Colombia. Now we have Panama. Where are these big trade agreements with the big actors that the Conservative government says it is negotiating? I would argue it is at the negotiating table, but probably kneeling at the negotiating table, begging to please, please sign a deal with us. It will give away whatever other countries want, never mind the best interests of Canadians, never mind the best interests of the people who sent us here. The government will sign anything with anyone anytime, if it can get it through the House of Commons.

It is a good thing this is a minority Parliament. We are going to keep fighting this bill as long as we can.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am having trouble with the deal that is being struck with Panama. It is different from the deal with Colombia. Human rights are very important to my party. We can understand perhaps why the Conservatives were not so big on labour unions, but with regard to this one, I have had to listen to their pious pronouncements on being tough on crime and getting rid of the drugs in the schools and on the streets and so on. This is a situation where we are legitimizing the world's largest launderer of drug money.

What is in the minds of the Conservatives? How can they go to sleep at night when they are so hypocritical? Why do they not wake up to what they are doing and recognize what the problem is with Panama and why an agreement should not be signed?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in the province of Manitoba we have learned that if we want to get tough on crime, the profits of crime must be choked off. If we take the ill-gotten gains away from a criminal there is a fighting chance that we will stop the practice because we want to make the point that crime does not pay. That is why we put in place the proceeds of crime bill, where we could seize the assets and ill-gotten gains of a criminal more easily.

We can do the same internationally by choking off sanctuaries such as Panama that are used by international drug dealers to launder and warehouse their money. However, we do not do that by legitimizing the country and its practices.

There are 400,000 corporations registered in Panama. That is four times all the corporations in Canada. None of them produce a single thing because they are just shell companies that are being used to house and launder money, and to avoid taxes. Tax fugitives and drug dealers make up the entire chamber of commerce in Panama. Why would we sign a trade agreement with it?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a number of occasions I have seen a film narrated by Mary Walsh called Poor No More, which touches on the whole issue of poverty. One of the reasons for poverty, of course, is the tremendous influence the Council of Chief Executives has on government policy. This organization is made up of 150 of the biggest corporations in Canada and some of its members use tax havens so they do not have to pay so much money to the government. As a result, the government has less revenue to do the things it should be doing.

I was wondering if the hon. member could comment on this aspect of the trade deal.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, chartered accountants call it “tax motivated expatriation”. We call it “sleazy, tax cheating loopholes” and it is appalling.

I read a five-part series by Diane Francis in the National Post, not exactly a right-wing rag, that denounced and decried the federal government for allowing tax loopholes to exist where wealthy Canadian families and wealthy Canadian CEOs of corporations can be tax fugitives and avoid the arm of the Canada Revenue Agency. They do not have to pay their fair share which means we have to pay more. Even a right-wing journalist like Diane Francis says it should not be allowed.

The Conservatives not only turn a blind eye to it, but they ratify, endorse and legitimize it by entering into a trade agreement with a country that makes its living by sheltering drug money and offering tax havens for tax fugitives like members of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives headed by John Manley, the rich guys.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add my own reflections with respect to Bill C-46, the bill to engage in free trade with the Republic of Panama.

For just a moment I would like to reflect anecdotally on my insights on the role I think Canada should be playing in a hemispheric sense.

The globalization of capital reminds us that we live in a very competitive economic environment where the barriers to the flow of capital and investment should be reduced. The economic and fiscal corollary is that is necessary for us to reduce barriers to investment in our own economy. Traditionally, we have had high tax barriers as part of our national policy. Those particular approaches cannot be part of the character of a modern economy.

As a young person, I had the opportunity to work in the Caribbean and to travel extensively throughout Latin America. As a result of that experience back in the mid-1960s, it was my perception that because Canada was not a colonial power and not a country with a reputation for exploiting economies and people, as had been characteristic of history, we had a natural affinity and responsibility, in fact an opportunity, to develop hemispheric relationships, particularly with the Caribbean, Latin America and South America, whereas European countries had a natural affinity, a responsibility and accountability for development in Africa and Asia.

I do believe that the free trade agreement and the movement to free trade had their roots in those perceptions, those senses of what Canada's role could be in developing the kind of relationships that were more in keeping with the 20th century, the 21st century and, in fact, the future.

I will give the government credit for its outreach to the Caribbean countries, the conferences that have been held with CARICOM, the development of relationships that are non-exploitive in an historic sense, which are opportunities for the Caribbean, and now for Latin American and South American countries, to start to deal with the very issues that are residuals of the isolationism that we have had in a hemispheric sense.

Thus, while I acknowledge the points that have been made with respect to labour and human rights legislation, I also acknowledge the irrelevancy, the acrimonious base, in fact, that is established through tax haven approaches, which have been very competently described. These are the residuals of tax regimes and outlooks and viewpoints that have created the kinds of problems that have existed in social, humanitarian and criminal terms.

If anyone is to argue that we can go forward by looking backwards, that we can go forward in dealing with these humanitarian, labour and fundamentally criminal issues related to taxation, which are in fact anachronisms in today's global community, then the place where we should begin to deal with those is in our own backyard, in our own hemispheric relationships, where we have patterns of immigration, investment and reciprocity that are stronger in human terms, in fiscal and economic terms, and in terms of our own self-interest.

If we argue that what goes on in Mexico with respect to the criminal activity around drugs is only happening in Mexico, if we argue that the issues with respect to Caribbean countries and their being used as turnstiles to subvert Canadian youth in our cities, and if we argue that those are going to be addressed by isolating those particular countries, we are in fact going in a very wrong direction.

Using that as an introduction to the premises that I hope the House will use in establishing a framework for evaluating our economic outreach, I would indeed hope that, per Maslow's hierarchy of needs, self-interest and self-preservation are at the top.

What we are doing is that we are dealing with countries in a hemispheric sense, where we have historic and huge issues that are either going to be a foundation for progress or are going to continue to drag us back, and we and our children and our children's children will suffer for that.

I look at free trade agreement with Colombia, the outreach to the Caribbean, and I look at Panama now and hope that the House was sensitive to the characterization of “losers”. I have great respect for the member and I know that in the heat of the moment, that was the characterization. I know that is out of character for that member.

Here we have a country that was subject to the criminal activity of a man who is now incarcerated but was the president of Panama and who exploited that country and who characterized all that is bad, and now we have a new, free and democratic government that has thrown off the shackles of control of the United States and the Panama Canal and has now inherited its rightful heritage. We have a country that characterizes in every way the hope and aspirations of its young people.

We hope that those aspirations do not find themselves expressed on the streets in rioting in Panama City, as they are in Egypt, Tunisia and other states, where young people look down at the United Arab Emirates, at Abu Dhabi, and at the tremendous development in technology and the luxury cars and so on, and they ask what is happening to them with the unemployment in Egypt and Cairo?

The young people are saying there has to be a change. That change in Panama has been remarkable over the last few decades. That is not to say there are not problems in Panama, but they are representative of the kinds of issues we all have to deal with.

Again, reflecting on that, here I see a treaty that I am going to call a fair trade treaty because it takes the remarkable growth in Panama and reduces the high tariffs reciprocally, as other speakers have talked about.

In terms of the labour and human rights issues, while it would be better that they were entrenched in the agreement, which we would all support, this is a starting point. This is neither the beginning of the end nor the end of the beginning. It is a threshold that we can cross with the people of Panama, as we should with many other countries hemispherically, with whom we share a huge future relationship.

The time to start that is now.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague might comment that in fact ratifying the Canada-Panama free trade agreement is a good thing because Canada is a trade-dependent nation and it will lead to growth. In fact, if we get ahead of the United States, it leads to a comparative advantage and will create jobs for Canadians.

I want him to comment on the NDP's concern that Panama is a tax haven. In fact, we have agreements with many tax havens. We trade with many tax havens. I wonder if the NDP thinks we should eliminate those agreements with countries like the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, et cetera.

It is criminals who launder money. It is criminals who do not check whether a free trade agreement is in place before they conduct criminal activity.

I wonder if the member thinks this is just a red herring and, in fact, ratifying this treaty is not actually good for our economy.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is a red herring.

There are the sidebar agreements. The issue with respect to criminal activity is one that is of huge concern. It is equally concerning that our colleagues in the New Democratic Party have, from time to time, concentrated on the whole issue of human rights, labour relations, the right of free association, and so on and so forth. The sidebar agreements are not stand-alone silo agreements. They must come under the principles of the international federation of labour and the International Labour Organization.

I am confident that the professionalism, capacity and expertise of those organizations and the opportunity to use them in the manner in which labour organizations and activists have indicated is a good match. We should help them in that respect because it will reinforce the principles of the free trade agreement as they relate to on-the-ground implications and the impact on the citizens of Panama.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member opposite what his thinking is about Canada's responsibility to other nations around the world. We have been blessed in many ways in this country with the history of our institutions and the strength of those institutions that many other countries do not experience.

I am wondering how he sees the principles of freedom, democracy and the strength of our institutions tying into our responsibility around the world. I would ask him to tie them to our trade agreements and the kinds of agreements that we have made around the world with various nations.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

It is a good question, Mr. Speaker, and it gives me an opportunity to applaud the outreach of some of our former parliamentary colleagues.

We all know about corruption and the implications of corruption in other countries from a perspective of what we can do with respect to sharing what the member has described as our growth in democratic and humanitarian terms. We have colleagues who as part of an organization travel throughout the world and talk to activist groups, non-governmental organizations, government and parliamentary associations in other countries, sometimes at great risk to themselves. They attempt to graft onto those political situations the kind of institutions and institutional experience we have had over the growth of our parliamentary traditions. I laud those members. They come from all sides of the House.

That is a role Canada can play not only in a governmental sense but in a non-governmental sense. We can have a pervasive impact on developing respect for fundamental human rights and mirroring that in democratic institutions. Those efforts will make that kind of outreach more than cosmetic. They will be deep instruments of progress and a better legacy for Canada internationally.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe we should carefully and constructively study what the Canada-Panama free trade agreement says.

I believe we should discuss the questions already raised about human rights and tax havens. They should not be set aside. For example, we know that last July there was a new wave of union repression in Panama that resulted in the death of several workers, more than 100 injured workers and more than 300 arrests, including the arrests of the leaders of two unions, SUNTRACS and CONATO. That was the brutal response of the Panamanian government to protests against a new law restricting the right to strike and freedom of association and providing for prison sentences of up to two years for any worker who protests in the street. This simply shows that the agreement on labour co-operation will not really protect the rights of workers in Panama because it does not contain any real enforcement mechanism and the Panamanian government clearly intends to ignore it.

According to the OECD, Panama is an offshore banking centre and a tax haven. We have already discussed the issue of tax havens. This agreement does not address tax havens and the lack of financial transparency. A free trade agreement modelled after NAFTA would broaden the scope of the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement and would further encourage corporations to commit tax evasion. It would give multinationals other tools and reasons to challenge Canadian regulations.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I must interrupt at this time. When the House returns to this matter, the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior will have seven minutes remaining.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-574, An Act to promote and strengthen the Canadian retirement income system, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Speaker's Ruling
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair is now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on November 23, 2010, concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for Bill C-574, An Act to promote and strengthen the Canadian retirement income system, standing in the name of the hon. member for York West.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this issue as well as the hon. member for Mississauga South and the hon. member for York West for their contributions on this matter.

In presenting his concerns with respect to Bill C-574, the parliamentary secretary noted that in clause 13 the bill contains a new obligation for the Minister of Justice to “examine every regulation transmitted to the Clerk of the Privy Council for registration pursuant to the Statutory Instruments Act, as well as every bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a minister of the Crown, in order to ascertain whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions“ of Bill C-574.

In his view, this new duty would significantly alter the functions of the Minister of Justice, as it would require actuarial, financial and economic expertise that does not currently reside within the mandate of the minister. Accordingly, he contended that this new obligation infringes upon the financial initiative of the Crown.

In support of his claim that the bill requires a royal recommendation, the parliamentary secretary made reference to previous Speaker's rulings regarding bills that require a royal recommendation because they were adding a new function to an existing mandate. He also referred to some of the current duties and functions of the Minister of Justice with regard to the making of federal acts and regulations, specifically those described in sections 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act, as well as section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights.

During his intervention, the member for Mississauga South stated that the Minister of Justice is tasked with providing legal opinions on many matters, the substance of which are not necessarily directly within the jurisdiction of the Minister of Justice. In addition, he outlined that in fulfilling this broad responsibility and through proper due diligence, the minister already has available to him the specialized expertise of the government as a whole and, thus, has access to all the pertinent information with regard to whatever subject matter is at hand.

The Chair has examined carefully Bill C-574 as well as the precedents cited and the relevant statutes.

It is clear that Bill C-574, in clause 13, would require the minister to review all proposed regulations and legislation to ensure that they conform to the principles and provisions of this bill. The key question then is whether or not this review would significantly alter the existing duties and functions of the Minister of Justice.

The roles and responsibilities of the Minister of Justice are set out in the Department of Justice Act as well as several other acts of Parliament. The Department of Justice is the central agency responsible for supporting the minister in advising cabinet on all legal matters, including the constitutionality of government initiatives and activities. It also provides legal services to the government on issues that span the entire range of activities of federal departments and agencies.

More specifically, the Chair refers members to section 4(a) of the Department of Justice Act, which reads as follows:

4. The Minister is the official legal adviser of the Governor General and the legal member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and shall

(a) see that the administration of public affairs is in accordance with law;

It would seem that this section, along with the general mandate described above, clearly indicate that the Minister of Justice would be well positioned to examine any new regulations and legislative proposals to ensure that they conform to the provisions of Bill C-574.

It may be that such a review would require a certain amount of coordination of resources, perhaps even resources of an actuarial, financial and economic nature as noted by the parliamentary secretary, however, the related expenditures would be operational in nature. Therefore, the Chair cannot accept the argument that Bill C-574 would entail the expenditure of public funds by the minister for a new and distinct purpose.

Accordingly, the Chair finds that Bill C-574 does not significantly alter the duties and functions of the Minister of Justice and therefore does not require a royal recommendation.

I thank honourable members for their attention.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the proposal on pension and retirement income issues and speak to what our Conservative government has accomplished in this important area.

From the onset, let me state that our government shares the deep-rooted concerns of many Canadians regarding their retirement security. We understand the importance of a secure and dignified retirement, especially after a lifetime spent building our wonderful country. For that reason, we have been aggressively working on improving our retirement income system. Indeed, we have already taken major action to strengthen Canada's retirement income system.

What have we done? First, in recognition of their lifelong contributions to our country and our government's core belief that Canadians should keep more of their hard-earned money, we dramatically lowered the tax bill for our seniors and pensioners.

Since forming the government in 2006, our record includes more than $2 billion in annual targeted tax relief, translating into $3,000 in tax relief for a typical senior couple. This includes increasing the age credit amount by $2,000, doubling the amount of income eligible for the pension income credit, increasing the age limit for maturing pensions and registered retirement savings plans to 71, introducing the tax free savings account, which is particularly beneficial to seniors as it helps them to meet their ongoing savings needs on a tax efficient basis after they are no longer able to contribute to an RRSP, and pension income splitting for 2007 and subsequent taxation years.

What is more, our record also includes important improvements to several specific retirement income supports, such as dramatically increasing the amount working seniors can earn before facing a clawback under their guaranteed income supplement, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money. We increased flexibility for seniors and older workers with federally regulated pension assets that are held in life income funds.

Second, we took major steps to reform the legislative and regulatory framework respecting federally regulated private pension plans. Indeed, this represented the most significant reforms in nearly 25 years.

Announced in October 2009, after extensive cross-country and online public consultations held in the months beforehand, the reforms included enhancing protections for plan members, allowing sponsors to better manage their funding obligations, making it easier for participants to negotiate changes to their pension arrangements, improving the framework for defined contribution and negotiated contribution plans, and modernizing the investment rules. Those key reforms were warmly applauded across Canada.

A diverse and broad group of public interest groups ranging from the National Association of Federal Retirees; the Association of Canadian Pension Management; the Canadian Institute of Actuaries; CARP, Canada's association for the 50-plus; the Common Front for Retirement Security; the Bell Pensioners' Group; the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc.; and even the Canadian Labour Congress. all welcomed and expressed their pleasure with them.

However, those reforms to federally regulated private pension plans were only one step in a much larger process.

That leads to the third area where we have focused, as we work to improve retirement security and pensions in Canada, and that is working with our provincial and territorial partners.

While many Canadians may not realize it, the vast majority of pension plans, approximately 90% in Canada, are provincially regulated. In other words, the federal government only has the constitutional authority to make laws relating to the private pension plans of federally regulated employees, such as airlines, chartered banks and others which employ less than one in ten workers in Canada. That is why, to address larger pan-Canadian concerns about pensions, we must, and have been, examining the relevant issues with our provincial and territorial counterparts in a co-operative and constructive manner, not by imposing unilateral or fragmented solutions. We have demonstrated that co-operation by establishing a joint research working group on retirement income adequacy and by holding numerous federal-provincial-territorial summits on the issue are important.

We also believe that the Canadian public has a fundamental right to be involved in and at the centre of this debate. That is why we ensured that Canadians from coast to coast had the opportunity to make their voices heard in person and online.

From March to May 2010, for instance, we invited public input, through round table discussions, online consultations and public town hall meetings, to gather feedback directly from Canadians. Following those extensive consultations, the findings strongly suggested we explore opportunities to build further on the strengths of Canada's retirement income system.

As a result, we agreed, along with provincial and territorial governments, to explore a set of innovative improvements. I am happy to report this past December, at the last federal-provincial-territorial finance ministers' summit, we reached a unanimous agreement on a new, innovative retirement savings tool, the pooled registered pension plan or, as we also call it, PRPP.

Millions of Canadians do not have access to private sector pension plans because small businesses in Canada face significant challenges in offering pension plans to their employees or because they are self-employed.

The proposed new PRPP will allow these businesses to team up and pool their resources, using a registered financial institution, and allow the self-employed to participate. As a result, millions of Canadians who either work for small and medium-sized businesses or who are self-employed would have access to good, affordable, secure pension plans for the very first time.

The PRPP will be the biggest step forward for retirement security since we introduced the tax-free savings account. It is little wonder we have heard such positive feedback, with support from each provincial and territorial government.

For instance, Nova Scotia's NDP finance minister, Graham Steele, remarked, “There seems to be practically unanimity among the provinces” of the PRPP proposal. “It's a good idea that will now be pursued”.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business added:

—[PRPP] has significant potential to improve the mix of retirement savings options for smaller firms and self-employed entrepreneurs.

In the months ahead, we will work with our provincial and territorial partners to ensure this proposal meets the needs of employees and employers. Clearly, our Conservative government is taking a leadership role in addressing the concerns surrounding retirement income adequacy.

That brings us to today's proposal for a broad bill of rights related to the retirement income system.

First, it is clear that the proposal has some significant flaws that raise significant questions about its effectiveness. For instance, the federal government would have limited capacity to enforce these rights on behalf of the vast majority of Canadian workers as they fall under provincial jurisdiction. What is more, it does appear little consultations with the provinces and territories were conducted in the drafting of this proposal.

Second, the proposal would essentially give every person the right to shelter, on a tax-free basis, as much retirement income they consider adequate.

Such an open-ended statement has raised concerns about excessive and costly tax avoidance by the very wealthy that would ultimately jeopardize the government's ability to fund many retirement programs on which the needy depend.

Nevertheless, our Conservative government has clearly demonstrated that when it comes to pension and retirement income security matters, we are open to discussion, especially discussion that is measured, collaborative and responsible.

To illustrate that commitment, our government is willing to recommend this proposal, despite its flaws, and that it be further examined in depth at committee.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, in preparation for today's debate, I went through some material that came across my desk and I ran across a newsletter called Seniors’ Voice, which is published by Senior Power of Regina Inc.

I am trying to link why we are seeing increased poverty among seniors and among others. I am trying to link this up with the film I saw recently about poverty in general called Poor No More.

I will quote from Seniors' Voice to help us understand what is happening and how we can address priorities, in part, through the bill. This document talks about the power of corporations in our society today. It states:

Corporations have become so powerful that they now control the dominant global economic system as well as the governments of most countries. They own the mass media outlets. The would-be prominent champions of social and economic justice have been marginalized and ridiculed. Even the academics who dare to sound the alarm about global warming or the unfair distribution of wealth risk being discredited by the PR lacks of the corporations that benefit from pollution and poverty.

This overpowering influence of multinational corporations has stifled dissent and made travesty of allegedly democratic governance. It has entrenched an economic system that feeds, parasitically, on the planet's dwindling natural resources.

This may sound extreme and not all of us would agree verbatim with what is happening.

The reason we have more people in poverty, specifically seniors, is because of the way we regulate our revenues.

I mentioned the film Poor No More, which is narrated by Mary Walsh. The film talks about the influence of corporations on our government and other governments in the world and the policies that have been made as a result of this influence. It talks about the rising inequality, the corporate agenda that has taken hold of governments in the country.

An analysis of the film was done by journalist Murray Dobbin, who looked at the various corporate tax cuts that had taken place over the last few years under the previous government and the current government. He crunches the numbers and says that had we not made these cuts, we could have top quality health care. We could pay for half of the tuition of university students. We could ensure that every senior lives in dignity and out of poverty. We could have top quality care for seniors and a first-class child care program. We would still have around $20 billion left over for other needs.

We need these kinds of bills and discussions because governments have made choices and often their choices have not been in the best interests of the people of the country, but have been in the best interests of those such as the Council of Chief Executives, now chaired by John Manley.

Bill C-574 is an attempt to make things better. I thank the hon. member for York West for introducing the bill. The NDP supports the bill going to committee.

This bill creates individual rights related to pension income, such as the right to accumulate sufficient pension income for retirement, the right to determine how and when pension income should be accumulated, the right to the full, accurate and timely disclosure of the risks involved in the plan, and so on.

Bill C-574 creates rights, but does not amend the relevant legislation to enshrine these rights. It seeks greater transparency in pension fund management, but most of the funds come under provincial jurisdiction.

The NDP is also in favour of greater transparency in government pension fund management. In fact, the pension critic, the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, has already introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-361, An Act to amend the Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act (reduced risk), which presents in detail how to enhance this transparency.

In addition, with regard to Bill C-574, apparently, according to my colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, none of the national organizations that represent seniors are publicly acknowledging this bill because they think it does not go far enough. However, in light of our past commitments, it would be difficult for us to not give our support to this bill. I have always said that nothing is perfect. You always have to start somewhere and we will start by supporting this bill and sending it to committee.

In general, the NDP believes that Canadians should be able to retire comfortably and securely. Like every party, we have a plan for pension reform. It is a four-point plan. I will try to talk about our vision a little later.

The member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek stated the following on a cross-country tour:

I know from my travels throughout the country listening to seniors that there is a need for an immediate and consistent increase to programs like the GIS and the elimination of benefit clawbacks. After facing a two year freeze of old age security, seniors are telling me that the extra buck fifty this government is giving just isn't enough.

The bill my colleague is talking about his private member's bill, Bill C-564. The bill would mandate that programs such as the guaranteed income supplement are indexed to the cost of living. It would bring senior support programs in line with most government support programs, which are already linked to the consumer price index. The seniors CPI act would also create a new measure that would take into account purchases that are specific to seniors.

I will go into a little more detail on what we envision to help seniors in this country.

As I mentioned, we propose eliminating seniors poverty by increasing the income tested guaranteed income supplement, GIS, by $700 million a year. What is interesting is that this is less than half the corporate tax cuts that were due January 2010.

We also propose working with the provinces to phase in a doubling of the CPP and the Quebec pension plan benefits from about $11,000 a year to almost $22,000. This would give Canadians a chance to save in the least expensive, most secure, inflation-proof retirement savings vehicle.

What would the cost be for something like this? According to our calculations, an additional 2.5% of wages matched by employers, which is less than what one would pay for private savings plans, money one would often never see again.

Once again, we can look at this with the backdrop of the film I was talking about. I would recommend that members try to get hold of the film, Poor No More . It does not cost very much to download it from poornomore.ca.

We see that choices have been made in other areas. All governments make choices. For example, rather than choosing to double the CPP, the choice is to give corporate tax breaks. Rather than choosing to increase the GIS, the choice is to purchase stealth fighter jets, and we have had a discussion on that.

Certainly we will support sending this bill to committee, but there are more issues we have to look at in-depth when we look at poverty and seniors.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-574, an important and timely piece of legislation introduced by the hon. member for York West, who is also known as our critic on seniors and pensions.

This piece of legislation, known as the “Retirement Income Bill of Rights”, has become very popular throughout the country. My colleague has travelled throughout the country and has had discussions from coast to coast to coast on the importance of dealing with issues affecting seniors and pensioners.

This is the first bill of its kind ever proposed to protect our seniors and their savings. The legislation proposes to enshrine in law the notion that all Canadians have the right to contribute to a decent retirement plan, and to be provided with up-to-date unbiased and conflict-free information on their retirement savings.

Bill C-574 has been well researched and vetted. It is the product of months of research and consultations with legal experts, government officials, and most importantly, seniors and pensioners. The bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that does not aim to simply change one thing or another; rather, it is designed to address systematic and societal challenges relating to Canada's pension system and retirement income.

In developing this bill, the hon. member for York West who, as I said, is the official opposition's critic for seniors and pensions, went from coast to coast to coast. She spent time in my riding of Random—Burin—St. George's. One troubling theme became obvious when she was in my riding. It is clear that Canadians are not saving enough for their retirement, not because they do not want to, but simply because they cannot afford to. It is a sad reflection on our nation when our pensioners and seniors are in such dire straits that they have trouble contributing to their own savings and their own retirement incomes. It is a troubling trend. Fortunately in this House of Parliament we have the opportunity to change that. As legislators we can directly affect that.

The people we met in my riding encounter difficulties day to day, whether it is in paying high home heating costs, paying for the rising cost of gas, or paying their electrical bills that are going up all the time. It is a sad reflection on our society today that in a lot of cases seniors have to leave their homes in the daytime and spend time in shopping malls just to keep warm. They have to make decisions about whether they buy food or medication, or whether they heat their homes. They cannot do all three, again because of their income.

From old age security to the CPP and the supplement, we understand the extreme importance of protecting and preserving pension security and ensuring adequate coverage for all Canadians in the years after they stop working.

There are some dismal statistics to report. There are more than 200,000 Canadians over the age of 65 who live below the low income cutoff line. In a country like Canada, it is disgraceful. It is unfortunate that the government seems to be untroubled by the situation. The government prefers to cut social programming and essential services and make irresponsible corporate tax cuts worth billions, $6 billion a year to be precise. This is to say nothing of the government's priorities to fund things like multi-billion dollar fighter jets and U.S.-style mega prisons.

All of these initiatives pale in comparison when we consider the situation that our seniors find themselves in today.

Statistics Canada also tells us that Canada's population over the age of 65 could reach an unprecedented 10.9 million by 2036. Seventy-five per cent of those people will not have an adequate source of retirement income. That is because most Canadians working in the private sector do not have a pension plan and are not saving enough. They are effectively prevented from accumulating the same retirement income as their public sector counterparts.

With those numbers in mind, we have two choices. We can ignore the problem until it becomes a national crisis, or we can address it now before it becomes a crisis.

The basic cost of living is taking its toll on seniors and retired Canadians. Most Canadians will find it harder and harder to get by on CPP unless the system is changed.

Currently, individuals participating in generous defined benefit pension arrangements routinely accumulate five to seven times more retirement income than those who do not. These defined benefit plans are available only to public sector workers and to a very small minority of private sector workers. This creates a large societal imbalance when it comes to retirement income.

Public sector workers make up only a very small percentage of our population. Hard-working Canadians who spend a lifetime working in industries like the agricultural industry or as small business owners, or who stay at home to care for their children and families will not have the benefit and security of such generous pension plans.

As it stands now, the Income Tax Act states that an individual cannot have a generous defined benefit pension plan unless it is provided to him or her by his or her employer. Most employers in Canada do not provide for such a pension plan.

This bill is concerned with creating the conditions in which all Canadians would have access to pension plans that help them save for a secure retirement.

In particular, clauses 4 and 5 of Bill C-574 guarantee equality of opportunity. The bill would provide that any federal law that has the effect of restricting an individual's right to join a pension plan or flexibility to make the contributions necessary to accumulate an adequate retirement income would indeed be a violation.

If Bill C-574 becomes law, it would be unlawful to prevent people from joining a pension plan or restrict their right to make contributions, subject to reasonable restrictions that would apply equally to all individuals.

The hon. member's bill aims to eliminate the barriers that currently prevent the self-employed, fishers, farmers, homemakers and all others in the workforce who do not now have access to pension plans to allow them to save effectively for retirement.

Bill C-574 acknowledges that dignity in retirement is a right and that we as legislators should move to ensure that all will have such dignity through a secure and equitable retirement income regime.

This bill would also ensure that every Canadian would have access to effective retirement savings mechanisms. It would do this through empowering people with detailed, up-to-date, conflict-free information about their financial future.

The goals of this bill are simple: to create substantive rights; to give every person a chance to accumulate retirement income in a plan that will be there in the long term; to promote good administration of retirement income plans; to ensure that members of retirement income plans regularly receive good, plain language information they need about their plans; and to set out in law the goals to which we aspire legislatively as they relate to retirement income.

It is simply unacceptable that in this great and prosperous nation many elderly people live in poverty or near poverty. The Liberal Party has always understood and championed the values of security, safety and dignity.

One of the most important aspects of the bill is financial literacy. For the most part, Canadians are unsure as to the existence and/or impact of various tax provisions, savings vehicles and/or estate planning options. It is widely accepted that Canadians collectively spend billions of dollars each year on service charges, interest expenses, fees and lost income resulting entirely or in part from a lack of financial literacy. By providing greater access to timely and easily understandable financial management information, Canadians could save money which could be redirected to retirement savings.

The Liberal Party fully supports strengthening our retirement systems. Pensions and their protection is a priority for us. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, has a history of opposing improvements to Canada's pension plans, and of ignoring one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

While we have an old age security and pension system that has served Canadians well in the past, the Liberal Party recognizes there is a need to improve upon the system that we have grown and nurtured over the years.

As I meet with my constituents, it becomes obvious that the need is great. We need to deal with that. We need to start addressing the pension shortfalls today if we are to prevent a full-blown crisis in the years ahead.

In closing, the guiding principle behind the bill is the belief that a strong and secure retirement income system is essential to the well-being of Canadians.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all my colleagues for their support on the bill today and for your ruling on the royal recommendation. I had actually forgot it had been raised at an earlier time. I appreciate that the decision was to allow it to go forward to committee subject to everyone's support.

Anyone who has been studying the issue of pension reform, and I think in this last year or two many have been doing that, would know that we have learned about defined benefits and the benefits of what a defined benefit pension plan means. Those who have defined benefit plans have five to seven times higher retirement income than other people. That may be great for all those who have defined benefit plans, but we have to stop and think about those who do not have access to them and what we can do to level the playing field.

Put another way, those who have the opportunity to save effectively in things like defined benefits for retirement have much more gold in their golden years. That is what this is all about. That is precisely why Bill C-574 is so important today.

Traditionally, defined benefit plans are available only to public sector workers and to a very small minority of private sector workers in Canada. This means that only those working for very large companies or for the government have access to this type of retirement plan. We, as MPs, are very fortunate to have access to that. A short look at just what that means shows us how lucky we are to have that opportunity. We should reinforce our desire to ensure other Canadians have better opportunities for retirement. This is clearly wrong and Bill C-574 is intended to be the first step toward correcting that inequity.

This legislation is the first of its kind ever proposed to ensure future seniors have better nest eggs and the retirement income security they will need for all future years. In broad strokes, the bill would create substantive justiciable rights relating to retirement income, as my colleague has indicated, giving every person a chance to accumulate retirement income and promote good plan administration.

We have heard a lot in the last two years about the pensions plans of Nortel and other companies and what has happened to people's retirement income. It really calls on all of us to do what we can to start to put things in place that protect retirement income.

I want to take a moment to underscore this final point because it is one of the most important.

Bill C-574 would set out in law the end goals to which we should aspire legislatively as they relate to retirement income. It would legally compel both the current federal government and future governments to take real action to promote, enhance and preserve retirement income security, coverage and adequacy.

For years, successive governments have set out their plans to help enhance pensions in Canada, but they have done so without any sort of long-term road map. Clearly we have learned over the last several years the need for a long-term road map, so that in the next 20 years when people retire, they have adequate income. Otherwise, it always falls back to the provincial, municipal and federal governments to provide the funds.

That still does not give people a decent level of living. It still means that they are living just at minimum. If we can encourage the changes necessary through legislation and the Income Tax Act to provide the vehicle to protect their money, to ensure they understand full disclosure from the various companies that promote products for retirement and do everything we can to encourage people to put money away, it would certainly benefit all seniors in the future and us as a country. We would have a richer country. When we all reach the age of retirement, we will have what we need for successful and fruitful retirement, which is a lot of gold in the golden years. However, that will take all of us.

Again, I thank all my colleagues for their support. I look forward to future discussions on Bill C-574.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for private members' business has now expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Second Reading
Retirement Income Bill of Rights
Private Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

It being 2:11 p.m, the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:11 p.m.)