House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-24 on Canada-Panama trade.

However, earlier today I was up on my feet talking about Bill C-7 on Senate reform. I know we have moved on, but during the debate on Bill C-7 I pointed out that I was hard pressed to name the senators from Nova Scotia and noted that they were politically absent from the scene in Nova Scotia. I received an email from a constituent who was at home watching. He wrote:

Excellent points. Here's a note: since 2008 I have been periodically emailing Nova Scotia Senators...in relation to various political, environmental, or other issues. If memory serves me correctly, in those four years I've never received a response from any of them. I've never met any of them. You're right: they're absent from the Nova Scotia political landscape.

I know it is off topic, but it is the same day and I am hoping for a little latitude on this.

Getting back to Bill C-24, I would love to give a little shout out to Meghan Lawson who is working in my office through the parliamentary internship program. She has helped me greatly in doing research on the bill and for this speech.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to this piece of legislation. As with many other pieces of Conservative legislation, the title of the bill tries to paint a pretty rosy picture of a quite troubling proposal. The bill's long name is 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, otherwise known as the Canada–Panama economic growth and prosperity act and the protecting Panamanians from childhood predators act. That last part may not be part of the title, but the point is that we have a short title painting a rosy picture of something that just does not exist.

It is a very worrying piece of legislation. I think it jeopardizes Canadian growth and overlooks distressing concerns when it comes to Panama's record on environmental issues and workers' rights. We will hear this as a theme in many NDP speeches, because those are two things that we hold dear to our heart: the planet and the rights of people who are working. It is about the rights of the environment and the rights of people.

We think that Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade. Canada should build trading partnerships with other countries that support the principles of social justice and human rights while also expanding our business and economic opportunities.

If we just pursue these NAFTA-style deals, we are adopting legislation with a one-size-fits-all mentality. They overlook the fact that some of these countries we are negotiating with are not on the same footing, which is the situation here: Canada and Panama are not on the same footing.

We are taking the NAFTA template designed to function between large industrialized nations and are applying it to Panama, a global south community or a “developing nation”. Instead of helping Panama to grow in a sustainable way, this trade deal is really just about benefiting big multinational corporations. It would actually promote further inequity and inequality within Panama. Instead of these shortsighted bilateral deals, we need multinational trade deals that are going to benefit all trading partners both now and in the future.

As I pointed out, bilateral trade deals usually favour the dominant players. They facilitate a degree of predatory access by large corporations to less powerful domestic economies, in this case Panama, not us. If this legislation passes, we risk failing not only countless Canadian workers but also countless workers and families in Panama. They will be subject to increased inequality, and possibly a decreased quality of life.

According to the UN, a third of Panama's population lives in poverty.

Some of my colleagues discussed testimony that was submitted to committee by witnesses. Teresa Healy, a senior researcher at the Canadian Labour Congress, appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade this past December and gave some interesting testimony. She stated:

[Panama]...is currently recording relatively high growth rates, but it is the second most unequal society in the region: 40% of the population is poor and 27% is extremely poor, and the rate of extreme poverty is particularly acute in indigenous populations. Although the country has endured extensive structural adjustment, liberalization, and privatization in recent years, this has not translated into economic benefits for the population.

We need trade deals that promote sustainable growth for all partners, not ones that put big business before people. Remember that tag line, “big business before people”, because I will shortly talk about a company in Nova Scotia that specifically talks about people and the planet before profits.

The glaring shortfalls of this trade deal do not actually stop there. Although Panama refuses to sign a tax information exchange agreement, the Conservative government is still going ahead with this deal. This is really troubling considering the large amount of money laundering that takes place in Panama, including money from drug trafficking, as we know. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Panama is a major financial conduit for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers' money laundering activities. Both local and international corruption watchdogs also rank Panama really low in terms of its transparency.

Panama's complete lack of taxation transparency has even led the OECD to label the nation a tax haven. As another parentheses about tax havens, we have recently seen the U.S. trying to crack down on tax havens. It loses about $100 billion a year to offshore tax evasion and avoidance. Canada loses about a tenth of that or $10 billion a year. The U.S. is trying to crack down on these tax havens by making sure that people are tax compliant and introducing new legislation like FATCA, for example. The problem is that they are actually scooping up the wrong people. They are not going after the folks who are tax avoiders or are ferreting off this money and trying to hide it, but are hitting ordinary citizens, like ordinary Canadians.

In my riding of Halifax, there are many people who have immigrated to Canada from the U.S. and are dual citizens, as well as people who are American by accident, whose parents were American citizens and whose offspring are therefore considered American citizens for tax purposes. They did not know they had to file taxes over all these years and are now finding out that they may face tens of thousands of dollars' worth of fines. The phone was ringing off the hook in my constituency office from these folks calling and saying that they were scared, too scared to find out what their rights were and too scared to find out if they are considered U.S. citizens and do not know what to do.

As a result, we held an information session on rights and filing obligations, how the amnesty works, and those kinds of things. Myta Blacklaws in my Halifax office organized this information session. We booked a room for 60 people but when we managed to fit 125 people into that room, we started putting people into a second room. It was unbelievable. It was standing rooms only, as it were. This information session was led by a woman named Blair Hodgman, an immigration lawyer, and some tax accountants were also present.

It is really stressing people. People are scared and under a lot of pressure. Yet the NDP has been asking the Conservative government to take action to start discussions with the U.S. about what is going on, why regular folks are being penalized and that this is not what we are going after with the tax haven legislation, that this is not the intended effect and that we should be reasonable.

We have not seen action from the government on this issue. I know it is the opposite situation that we have in Panama with tax havens, but the track record on tax havens by the government has been pretty appalling, so I cannot imagine that it is going to try to enact anything when it comes to Panama as well.

Anyone who has been in the House for any period of time knows my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster and his passion for international trade and for fair trade. He has spoken to this many times in the House. He has done a lot of dedicated work on many pieces of international trade legislation and free trade deals, including this one. He actually proposed that the Canada--Panama trade agreement not be implemented until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. That sounds reasonable. We can do that. We can say that Panama only gets this if it does something. We can offer up a good faith piece that we can work with.

My colleague brought this up I think at committee. His motion was defeated by the Conservatives and the Liberals who argued that the double taxation agreement that Panama agreed to was satisfactory. The problem with the double taxation agreement is it only tracks legal income. We heard that Panama has some pretty big issues when it comes to non-legal or illegal income. What my colleague proposed would actually track all income, including income made through illegal means. As the OECD has noted, having a trade agreement without first tackling Panama's financial secrecy practices could incentivize even more tax dodging. We could be making things worse by having this agreement in place. Why would we not try to avoid making it worse, but also mitigate the problem in the first place? I think he came up with a really good solution. Considering Panama's history and reputation on these matters, it is pretty clear why this kind of agreement is absolutely necessary before signing a trade deal.

This deal also fails to take real action on addressing Panama's record on the environment and workers' rights.

First, let us look at the environment. I am the environment critic. While this deal includes an agreement on the environment, as we saw with the free trade agreement with Colombia which has a separate agreement on the environment, it actually provides no enhanced environmental protection or resources for affected communities. Given Panama's lax environmental regulations especially when it comes to mining, this oversight is extremely worrying. Let me illustrate.

One current proposal from the Canadian mining corporation, Inmet Mining, includes plans for an open pit copper project west of Panama City. This plan would see 5,900 hectares of mostly primary rainforest deforested. According to media reports, the controversial presence of another Canadian mining corporation, Corriente Resources, on indigenous lands has spurred protests from civil society groups and indigenous nations in Panama. Earlier this month reports surfaced of protesters being killed in violent clashes with police.

We know full well the devastating impact of deforestation, especially in that area of the world. Instead of taking real action to address the current and impending threats to Panama's precious natural resources, the Canada--Panama trade agreement risks encouraging a race to the bottom on environmental protection.

Why is the government so willing to ignore huge threats to Panama's environment? All trade agreements, including this one, should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems. That is another carrot and stick idea. We could say we are not going to enter into this agreement until we see action, but we are not seeing any action on that.

Lack of concern for labour rights in this trade agreement is also deeply troubling. As Teresa Healy pointed out in her testimony before the Standing Committee on International Trade, this agreement is weaker than previous agreements when it comes to workers' rights.

This agreement does not include specific protection for the right to organize and the right to strike. It provides instead for the “effective” recognition of the right to collective bargaining. The Conservatives appear to assume that the free flow of trade and investment automatically leads to better wages and working conditions, but we know that is not the case, whether it is in Panama, Canada, or wherever.

The fact of the matter is that the agreement fails to ensure that labour rights are not denied to Panamanian workers as they have been in the past. In effect, this agreement creates a free trade zone that belittles the rights of labour. This is a serious problem that already is prevalent in Panama.

I have heard some comments from the other side that the NDP is at it again, that we are against trade. That is not the case. The reality is that fair trade should be the overarching principle, not just an afterthought, of any trade negotiation. It is possible. We see these winning examples in our local communities.

For example, in Nova Scotia there is a company called Just Us!, which in 1997 became the first certified fair trade licensed coffee roaster in North America. It is actually in the riding of Kings—Hants but it does have a coffee shop in my riding. It was the first in 1997 which was not too long ago. Now there are 250 licensed fair trade companies just in Canada. They are in communities all over Canada. They recognize the need for sustainable development, the need for relationships with communities in the global south, and the need for fair trade.

The motto of Just Us! is “People and Planet Before Profits”, but mark my words, it is a profitable company. It is doing very well. It has expanded. It has a museum of fair trade in its coffee shop in Wolfville. It has two coffee shops in Halifax. The company keeps getting bigger and bigger. It is all based on the principle of fair trade. This is an idea that came from our local communities and it is working.

I also note that behind the chamber's curtains there is a little area where we can have a cup of coffee or a glass of water. I note that the coffee there is fair trade. It is good enough for parliamentarians, but somehow it is not good enough for Canada, not good enough for Canadians, not good enough for our trade agreements. I do not understand how that works.

Canadians need an agreement that supports our sovereignty and the freedom to chart our own policy, an agreement that supports our ability to be a competitive force on the world stage. We need an agreement that upholds the principles of a multilateral fair trade system, but instead we have an agreement that shows complete disregard for corruption and money laundering practices that are rampant in Panama, not to mention the country's glaring environmental and labour rights records.

We need an agreement that puts people before big business.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite mentioned a number of companies that embrace fair trade. She seemed to embrace that concept across the board. Many of us on this side have successful, profitable companies in our ridings that pursue fair trade.

Would the member not agree though that often these companies have grown out of a local initiative, often making profits, in a country that trades on the basis of a huge number of free trade agreements? There is a lot of skepticism in my riding about her party's position on this point. Would she be prepared to point out which trade agreements that Canada now has and which, if any, that we are now negotiating her party would support for the benefit of companies in her riding and mine that pursue fair trade on the basis of the trading relationships we have or are pursuing around the world, one of the most liberalized trading relationships that any major advanced industrialized country has?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would be hard pressed right now to find anything that we support because of the problem with the template that is being used. As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is a NAFTA-style template which is really a template for negotiations between two countries with essentially the same power level. That is not the case here. I stood up in the House in the last Parliament and spoke against the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement as well, which used NAFTA as the template as well, which neglected to consider workers' rights as well, which neglected to consider environmental issues as well.

The local companies in Canada are successful working in fair trade in a country that has free trade, but they are doing it in spite of that. They are actually going to communities in the global south and developing fair trade relationships as a model despite what our government is doing.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the hon. member's speech, I picked up on the issue of this being fair trade. The condition precedent for fair trade is access to a fair justice system, a system which actually balances the rights of parties in a fair and transparent manner.

I wonder if the hon. member would be able to tell me if this particular treaty allows an aggrieved person in Panama to actually pursue judicial remedy in Canada.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not know that I am able to answer that question. It is a good question.

I know that in the appendices concerning environmental rights and workers' rights, there is recourse, but I also know that we have had the same type of appendices in other free trade agreements and we have seen absolutely nothing come of it. Canada is not willing to actually pursue this.

That is a good question. I will do my research.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend, the hon. member for Halifax West, for identifying the systemic problems in the NAFTA model. Certainly there are trade agreements for blocs around the world that were premised differently. Members might look at the way the European Union was organized. All countries within the European Union were called upon to raise themselves up to the highest standards of environmental regulation. The poorer nations within the EU received some funding assistance from the wealthier nations.

The NAFTA model, as the hon. member for Halifax West said, is a race to the bottom.

I wonder if the hon. member has any comments on the investor state provisions within the Panama-Canada trade deal.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

February 27th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am getting some very technical questions today. There is nothing wrong with that. I welcome them. That is great. I like being on my feet.

My colleague raised the EU issue. All nations were called upon to reach an agreement together and to develop some sort of consensus around how to move forward with the EU. In stark contrast here, this trade deal was negotiated in record time. There was no consultation with trade unions, with environmental groups, with civil society organizations, nor with citizens.

That is not what we should expect, a fast, quick trade deal where people are not consulted. However, we do see time and time again here in Canada that is exactly what the Conservatives are doing on pretty much every subject, especially when we consider things like the pipeline with the minister saying there are too many people who want to testify. I guess it is in keeping with the Conservatives' general theme.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Halifax for her comments.

The members opposite always talk about the right of workers to reach a fair agreement that deals with their education and status. That is a problem for the free market.

If trade does not make for real progress, then we are preventing these countries from one day developing an actual market. People who have gone to school and who have decent jobs create a market. The position of the members opposite is inconsistent, as though standing up for fundamental rights does not lead to a better quality of life and the development of markets. I would like to hear the hon. member's comments on this issue.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's point makes me think a lot about the idea of using a carrot.

We can say to countries with a bad record on workers' rights that we want to do trade with them, that we want to engage in these kinds of relationships but not until they clean things up, not until they actually respect workers' rights and put in place legislation and we see there is a real commitment.

We could tell them that they have a terrible environmental track record, but that would be the pot calling the kettle black. We could tell them to clean up their act, and once we see that we will engage in trade negotiations.

Canada should be taking that kind of position where we offer an exchange for securing workers' rights, where we offer an exchange for securing environmental protection in other countries. That is the way Canada should act on the international stage.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated the hon. member's speech because he clarified the NDP's position on trade agreements.

A little earlier, I heard a Conservative member ask why the NDP did not want to export Canadian products abroad. That is a completely ridiculous blanket statement. It makes me think of when the Conservatives said that, if we did not support the lawful access legislation, then we supported pedophiles. In fact, I would like to give the hon. member time to clarify our position further. An agreement like the one proposed here can serve to increase inequality. We know that there are always winners and losers when it comes to this type of agreement.

According to the hon. member, what conditions must be included in a trade agreement such as this one in order to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected and do not end up the losers?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to share something with my colleague from Just Us!. In its mandate it says:

Most importantly as small-producers organize, they gain collective power and a collective voice. In many areas they have traditionally been exploited by colonialism, oppressive regimes and large corporate commodity traders. Cooperative organization increasingly allows farmers to control their economic and social activities and to make the decisions and investments that impact their own communities. We see their choice to farm...in the Fair Trade market, as a statement to work towards a healthier existence....

Would that not be nice?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before recognizing the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier, I must inform her that I will have to interrupt her at 6:30 p.m. at the conclusion of government business. I will let her know when she has one minute left.

The hon. member for Honoré-Mercier.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that Canada can play a positive role in taking up the challenges faced by Panama, a country that has to carve out a place for itself with a population of barely three million people in an ever-changing America. These three million people, for the most part, deserve to participate in and contribute to the growth being enjoyed by Latin America.

There are, however, facts that cannot be ignored if we wish to enter into a free trade agreement with Panama. Panama is one of the most active tax havens. The main economic activity in Panama is the provision of financial services. The G20 met in London in 2009 and stressed the importance of dealing with the problems caused by tax havens and now, Canada is working in the opposite direction and opening up a new front to facilitate tax leakage. An agreement with Panama will promote tax evasion, which involves depriving the taxman of huge sums of money. Canadians will not benefit from the agreement any more than Panamanians.

One aim is to significantly reduce tariffs. However these reductions in a poor country such as Panama could have serious consequences. For example, Panamanian products will end up in competition with Canadian products when, in fact, Panamanians will have little chance of exporting their own goods unless it is produced in conditions of poverty.

We know that the Conservative government has calculated the potential gains for Canada. Nobody is denying that Panama has a lot to offer. Nor is anyone denying that Panamanians are every bit the equals of their Latin American neighbours when it comes to their talent and their determination to provide a rich and honest life for their families.

An outstretched hand between two nations has tremendous potential. Today, I would say that such gestures are necessary. Canadians have extended a hand to welcome, dialogue and co-operate. Obviously, this co-operation benefits Canadians, who in turn create coveted wealth with their partners: jobs, good jobs, a peaceful youth, well-being, and even some money under the mattress. Canadians have a hand extended, but we are not sure that the government really understands why.

Canadians are afraid the government will use this outstretched hand to take without giving back. Canadians are afraid the government will flout Canadian values in its trade with other nations. The many oversights in this free trade agreement only fuel this fear. We need to ask ourselves if they are in fact oversights or if they are deliberate omissions. As it has done regarding the environment and in other areas, is the government limiting itself to developing international agreements based on what it can get out of them? Is it forgetting to include what it has to offer and should offer because it has run out of steam or run out of ink, or is it doing so deliberately? Are these omissions an invitation to Canadian companies to simply take what they like, without giving anything back, an invitation to traffickers of all kinds to continue to plunder?

I am certain that Canadian values are dear to the Conservative members. I have travelled with some of them and, together, we have seen how Canada can help meet certain challenges faced by these countries.

We were all touched by the difficulties being experienced by a number of our neighbours in the Americas. We discussed some promising solutions.

For that reason, I find it difficult to understand the lack of ambition in the bills they are introducing today. Having seen what we are capable of and what contributions we can make, I am surprised by the silence of the proposed agreements. The Conservatives could use the opportunity afforded by this new relationship to provide more education for young Panamanians, and more training for workers and upgrading for those who persevere.

However, they are taking the laissez-faire approach. They are choosing to let others promote Canadian values, and to let corporations make the decisions on trade reciprocity.

In its bill, the government claims to want to “protect, enhance and enforce basic workers' rights”. If the government were as serious about this aspect as it is about eliminating trade barriers, there would be more substance in these agreements. There might be a little more for Panamanians. If the government were serious, it would not merely list the areas of co-operation that are likely to be developed in the future.

The Conservatives could immediately guarantee adequate working conditions, whether by ensuring a minimum wage or labour standards that meet Canadian standards. Instead, they adopt a laissez-faire attitude. They could immediately protect children by offering them education and ensuring they are not put to work. This does not only mean eliminating the worst forms of child labour, but also asking businesses to reinvest 1% of their payroll in training, or promoting local hiring and co-operation with training programs. But the Conservatives adopt a laissez-faire attitude.

Yet, these would be winning conditions for all in an international relationship. He who extends his hand to grab is protecting his own pocket first and foremost. If the government's intention is to simply ensure a secure environment for Canadian investments, then it will confirm Canadians' fear and betray their values. On the other hand, if the government is serious in its desire to develop the potential of the Canada—Panama relationship, then it must be ambitious.

Canadian businesses must bring in as much as they take out. That is a principle of fairness essential to trade. If, in exchange for opening up the Panamanian market we only get a few fruits and vegetables at a discount, while also allowing tax evasion on a bigger scale, then there will be no gain for Canadians. Panama does not deserve to be isolated. On the contrary, that is the worse thing that could happen, including to us. Such isolation would give even more freedom to profiteers. Panama also does not deserve to open its frontiers to speculation and to investment without restrictions.

As for Canadians, they do not deserve to see their confidence and values betrayed by their government's negligence. They do not deserve to see agreements signed on their behalf promote abuse instead of combating it. We have all a duty here to ensure that this free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama is balanced and ambitious. Therefore, let us work together to ensure that it is indeed the case.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Honoré-Mercier will have 10 minutes remaining for her speech and another 10 minutes for questions and comments when debate resumes on this motion.

The House resumed from February 16 consideration of the motion.