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 trade.

Topics

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

February 4th, 2011 / 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.