House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, one human right which is incredibly important is the right for people to provide for themselves and their families, to have the resources to put roofs over their heads and food on the table. Our great hope with this free trade agreement is that it will help spur economic growth in Jordan. That is tremendously important.

I should note that Jordan, under the king's leadership, has made great strides. He has sped up some of the reforms that he had already undertaken in the Arab Spring. We welcome that. He has been a great constructive partner for peace throughout the region. This government has taken a strong stand on human rights all around the world. The Prime Minister, in a recent visit to China, brought up these issues at every senior meeting and discussed them forcefully, as Canadians would expect him to do.

When I spoke at the United Nations on behalf of Canada, I raised the plight of various groups around the world, whether they be women, religious minorities, gays and lesbians, people seeking political reform around the world, or people seeking justice, freedom and democracy. That is essential. We have sought human rights in Sri Lanka and Iran, which has an abysmal human rights record, and we will continue to do that.

I appreciate the member's thoughtful comments on wanting to get this bill to committee so that it can be studied more thoroughly.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree that our government spoke out and took a very strong stand when it came to human rights in Sri Lanka. It made me feel very proud when that happened. I commended the minister personally at that time.

Human rights are not just about earning a living. They are also about working conditions of workers. After almost 12 years of a free trade agreement with the U.S. in which Jordan had made commitments to work on those issues, a report was released at the beginning of this year which stated that there are still people being forced to work 99 hour weeks and their wages are being withheld. Part of the human rights issue includes the right of working people to negotiate and have a say in who they work for. Their passports are taken away, their salaries are withheld from them, they have to work horribly long hours and live in deplorable conditions.

We have an opportunity and I would urge the minister to take this opportunity to protect people in Jordan.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, we talk about labour or environmental laws, and the importance of human rights. Some countries, from a Canadian perspective, are more challenged than others in being able to meet world standards. This includes many of the countries we have a lot of trade with today. One can reference China, where there has been a great deal of expression with regard to these laws.

Free trade agreements are quite often, in principle, a movement toward economic co-operation and development between two countries. They are an extension of trading that is currently in place. The question I have for the member is this. To what degree do we hold back on these agreements because of environmental and labour laws and human rights issues when in fact we are already trading with those nations? We are trying to influence them. None of us in the chamber supports the exploitation of child labour, as an example. We are trying to discourage that in the world. To what degree do we not enter into free trade agreements because of those types of issues, when we are already trading with countries like China?

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree that it is not just when we look at free trade agreements but also when we are trading that we need to look at human rights issues.

We already trade with Jordan, so why is there this need for a free trade agreement? Obviously it goes beyond that. I suppose it is a little like dating. When dating, one can just wake up one morning and decide not to go out on a scheduled date, much as it is when a country is trading without an agreement. However, when one signs a trade agreement it is like committing to a marriage or a long-term, legally binding relationship that would take quite the rigmarole to get out of.

I would call this our second sober look at a relationship. Yes, one might be dating and there may be problems with the dates, but before putting on a wedding ring, one would look at all of the dates again with a little more clarity. I would hope so anyway.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I would ask my friend if she agrees that we have a real disconnect when we talk about trade agreements. It is as if when we question new trade agreements, we are somehow against trade.

I am very cognizant of the fact that the Uruguay round resulted in a new version of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the WTO, in which all nations are involved. We trade with all nations and the GATT rules are more than adequate in most circumstances, but these additional trade rules tend to be more about conveying new powers to corporations and new obligations on governments.

I would ask the member to comment on that.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, absolutely, we have seen that happen with NAFTA and other free trade agreements. There is more and more power being invested in international corporations and powers that go way beyond. Often as nationals we are told that we have no control over that because it is part of the NAFTA deal. This is what I meant about going from a date to a marriage.

I also want to talk about child labour. We know the horrific nature of child labour, but I want to point to a province in Canada, namely B.C., where it is legal for children at the age of 12 to go to work. That is in our own backyard and we need to address that too.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Newton—North Delta for her excellent speech on human rights. We are talking about a free trade agreement and we can change things at the international level. This is the right time to do it, particularly when it comes to human rights. I would like to focus on women’s rights, because in Jordan, unfortunately, not very many women are in the labour force, even if they are very highly educated. I would like to know what my colleague thinks about women’s rights in Jordan.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, when it comes to women's rights, we have challenges right here in our own country. We know that in the Middle East and in a lot of the eastern countries and South America, women do face greater challenges. When we look at a lot of these domestic workers, many of them are women who are working horrendously long hours. Our trade agreements are an opportunity for us to build in human rights and protection for vulnerable workers, including women.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the new Bill C-23 on free trade between Jordan and Canada gives us an opportunity to consider the nature of such an agreement. A free trade agreement means opening doors. Canada is opening its door to Jordan, and Jordan is opening its door to Canada. But what is going to come in? That is a fundamental question. Our cultures are different in terms of human rights, labour law and environmental law. Is it possible to harmonize these two countries? Well, that is the entire question, and the entire problem.

We hope that this agreement will bring progress to Jordan in terms of human rights, environmental law and economic law, but that is not a foregone conclusion. At first blush, the problems are significant. When it comes to labour law, in some areas Jordan looks more like the Middle Ages than like a modern country.

Our steelworker colleagues have told us that on one visit they observed abuses in relation to migrant workers, there being many of them in the textile industry and in home support work. First, those workers very often have their passports taken away from them when they enter the country. They are required to work at a hellish pace, more than 90 hours a week. Very often, their wages are not paid or it is difficult for them to get their pay. When it comes to housing and nutrition, the least that can be said is that they are deficient. They live in cramped, dirty apartments or dormitories. Their food is nothing special; it is low in both calories and vitamins.

Working conditions like this are unacceptable, particularly when we will be competing with that country economically. Our entrepreneurs, who pay wages and make sure that our country’s social and humanitarian laws are obeyed with respect to all workers in Canada, will be facing competitors who have no such concerns and spend as little as possible on their workforce. This agreement, which might well be copied in numerous Middle Eastern countries, must not send our entrepreneurs into bankruptcy and Canadians into unemployment. This is a fairly basic question for the political representatives of the Canadian people. We want a trade agreement that benefits both countries and that is not going to lead to a reduction in Canadians’ economic and social rights.

That is not the only problem, although we have seen some encouraging initiatives. Jordan has taken some important steps. To begin with, there was a reform of the labour laws, which recognize the right to organize, the right to unionize, the right to speak and the right to negotiate collective agreements. These are important steps that must be considered. Jordan has also banned human trafficking. This is an important step in a country where recruiting people from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and India to work in Jordan was a flourishing industry. These foreigners were recruited and, once in Jordan, not paid. Jordan now wants to put an end to this practice.

Jordan has also criminalized forced labour in its labour code. Forgive me for saying this, but it is some ways an acknowledgment of the existence of slavery. Forced labour includes compelling someone to work for an unreasonable number of hours. Jordan criminalized this practice in its criminal code. It is prohibited. In 2011, Jordan harmonized its relations with the International Labour Office and the International Labour Organization. These are very important steps and that is why we are not opposed to this agreement, however we do want to review it.

These are positive steps. If Jordan has taken a step towards integration with the global marketplace then, for goodness sake, why not? This is very encouraging. Seeing Jordan pass laws, however, is one thing, but making sure they are enforced is quite another. This is important and must be verified. We recommend, therefore, that this bill proceed to second reading, where it can be more closely considered, and where we can determine whether the promises made have been kept. This is to be expected.

We will keep a very open mind as we consider this bill in committee. We will review what Jordan has done. Having said that, we will be exceedingly inquisitive and prudent, and we will not take any statements as gospel truth. We will make sure that there has been progress, that these laws have brought about true change, and that domestic workers are no longer slaves, let alone sex slaves, as is sometimes the case. We will demand to see the change.

There is also the matter of the environment. Before the Conservative government came into power, Canada was truly determined to combat pollution and provide a safe environment for Canadians and workers. The guarantee was made that the workplace was not deadly. It was guaranteed that any environmental emissions would not be dangerous in both the short and long-term, for Canadians now and in the future. These are basic things. There are no illegal dumping grounds in Canada; there is no chemical soup in our waters. We will not tolerate having our environment sullied and our access to clean water jeopardized. All that seems quite basic and yet, when it comes to clean water, there are some shortcomings, particularly on first nations reserves. It is quite disturbing for a country like Canada, but it would appear that we have the willingness to change. I shall take that into account and hope that things do indeed change.

What is the situation in Jordan? The rules in this regard are not clear. It is simply indicated that neither of the two countries has the right to suppress the basic environmental rules. But does Jordan already comply with the basic minimum rules? Can Jordan be compared in this regard to Canada? All the indications are that it cannot. That means this constitutes an invitation to all the polluting industries of Canada to relocate to Jordan, where they will not have to make expensive investments to conform to Canadian standards, and where they will not have to pay the workforce as well as they do in Canada. This is an important question.

In certain countries, people have said that asbestos was safe if worked properly under acceptable health conditions. It seems that this is the case in Canada. However, we know that in countries to which we export asbestos, this is absolutely not the case. This question is relevant and deserves to be verified. We do not want to encourage a country to become a dump for the whole world because it has an agreement with Canada. That would be neither acceptable nor tolerable. Our public image all across Canada depends on this, as do our ethical standards as a community. Do we want to develop an economic and political culture in which profit prevails over respect?

In short, we shall certainly not sign a blank cheque. There are more problems in the area of economic rights. Expropriation is prohibited. Do we have the right not to be expropriated when we invest in a country? I am sorry, but no. To promote the economic rights of its citizens, a country may legitimately consider it necessary to expropriate a private enterprise, even if that enterprise is a foreign company from a country with which a free trade agreement is in place. An expropriation can be carried out for medical, economic development, educational or a multitude of other reasons within the context of a democratic government.

Expropriation does not mean theft. It is simply the forced purchase of a company which is regarded as essential to the country. This is a country’s sovereign economic right. It appears however that there is an intention to place a limit on this agreement. That limit is likely to affect Jordan more than Canada, for there are a great many Canadian multinational mining and manufacturing companies. There are few Jordanian companies liable to invest in Canada in key sectors of our economy. If that should happen, however, I do not see why Canada should require a barrier of this nature. Yes, a sovereign country, any sovereign country, has the right to protect the economic rights of its citizens by effecting an expropriation. Hydro-Québec was born of an expropriation; so was Ontario Hydro. Petro-Canada was established through expropriations. We are not complaining about this.

There is also the issue of repatriating profits, which can be a bone of contention. Repatriating profits, if they are excessive, could put a country in a difficult situation, leading to a deficit on balance of payments and a lack of investment. In Canada, we are currently experiencing what is known as Dutch disease. Our dollar is going up because of massive natural resource exports, especially in the energy sector. At the same time, we are experiencing a major deficit on our balance of payments. That is what is known as Dutch disease. And it comes on top of a loss of our industry.

A sovereign country can choose to tackle this problem by restricting the repatriation of profits through legislation that requires the profits to be partially or fully reinvested. It is not illegal for a country to want to make sure that its economic partner guarantees a financial return. A sovereign country does not need to limit its powers in a free trade agreement. The free trade agreement has to bring wealth to both countries. In the present situation, that does not seem to be the case. We are eroding the powers of a state in favour of private enterprise and capital. We are forgetting that we were elected by our constituents to defend them, not to sell or give up on their rights. We will have to think carefully before we pass this type of legislation.

We keep seeing the same types of problems. We negotiate agreements with small countries without asking any questions about the very nature of the rights in place in those countries. Panama is the perfect example. Some say that it is a problem because it is a tax haven. No, Panama is not a tax haven, it is a tax dump. Every drug trafficker goes through Panama. That is no recommendation. Will we be able to guarantee that there will be an end to those practices? No, and that is a problem. Now we have exactly the same type of problem. We are not saying no to what is unacceptable. We know about it and we put up with it.

In what has been proposed, the agreement is lacking when it comes to corrective measures. In an agreement between two countries, it is important to document what might cause problems and the action we will take to resolve those problems. There are major shortcomings in that respect as well, and we would like to put an end to them. In discussions in committee, we would like to hear opinions and proposals so that we can amend an agreement that is questionable at the moment. That does not mean that we are dismissing any possibility of an agreement with the Middle East, far from it. We appreciate it when a country agrees to negotiate agreements with us that may be highly profitable, that may lead to an increase in imports and exports and, especially, that may help a country improve its legislation.

It seems that Jordan would really like to become a country that is not at the low end when it comes to human rights, that is not a dumping ground for corporate polluters. It does not want to be a country where domestic work is almost associated with prostitution. We realize this. We are quite pleased to see the direction being taken by the Jordanian people and government. If it is true, this direction deserves to be encouraged. If this is the case, we will negotiate as equals with a country that has given us satisfactory guarantees with respect to basic human rights.

We will need to consider plenty of other factors, in addition to economic, labour and environmental rights, including religious rights and issues relating to family and matrimonial law. How are we going to align these agreements? All of that will be an essential part of the committee's discussions.

It is because of this very possibility of discussing these factors that we are going to support this bill on the trade agreement between Canada and Jordan at second reading.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech. Since this is about a bilateral free trade agreement and not a multilateral agreement with several countries, can he tell me about some of the guarantees that should be put in place with regard to Jordan?

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the risk is twofold. Given that we are negotiating an agreement with a country whose human rights situation and socio-economic conditions are far below ours, we could end up with the lowest common denominator and certain rights could be abandoned. The reverse would be even worse. We would then be involved in a kind of economic colonialism. Both would adversely affect both Canada's image and the everyday rights of Canadians.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, if I heard correctly, I thought the member made reference to the NDP's voting in favour of the bill going to committee. If that is the case, am I to assume that the principle of free trade agreements is something the NDP is now looking at supporting? Is it just a question of having an appropriate amendment that would ultimately see the NDP supporting free trade agreements?

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, a trade agreement is an agreement between two peoples. It implies much more than economic transactions. It indicates the future of our relationship at all levels. In that context, we are not opposed, but it is not just a matter of a few amendments. We are talking about human rights and about our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the NDP, some things are not negotiable and we will not bargain them away. I am a member of Parliament for the NDP, not for the Liberals. So I will not be selling my soul.

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

March 1st, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Madam Speaker, could the hon. member go into more detail about the concept of corporate expropriation and the circumstances that would give rise to it?

Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, here is an example that happened right here in Canada. In the 1960s, the Government of Quebec felt that the foreign concerns controlling our production and distribution of electricity were a hindrance to the smooth economic development of Quebec. As a sovereign people, we decided to take possession of the assets that, in large part, were ours.

We paid for them; we did not steal them. We paid the proper price for those facilities, those means of electricity production and distribution. Another country like Jordan could decide to do the same thing. It is not a crime for a government to make sure that its citizens have access to electricity.