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

The Environment
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present two petitions today.

The first petition is from 28 residents of the Kitchener—Conestoga riding who are calling on the government, in the spirit of global solidarity, to take collective action by signing and implementing a binding international agreement replacing the Kyoto protocol, and to implement climate justice by playing a constructive role in the design of the green climate fund under the United Nations' governance.

Falun Gong
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, the second petition is from about 150 residents of the Waterloo region who are calling on the government to use every possible channel and opportunity to call for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong, especially at meetings with top Chinese leaders, and also to help rescue 10 family members of Canadian residents who are incarcerated for their belief in Falun Gong in China.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou has the floor for 14 minutes.

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March 1st, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I will pick up where I left off a few weeks ago. I talked about the value of signing bilateral free trade agreements with countries around the world. That consideration is all the more relevant when we have very limited trade relations with the country in question, as is the case with Jordan.

On Monday, in my speech on the free trade agreement with Panama bill, I pointed out that trade between Panama and Canada represented an insignificant fraction of Canada's total trade with the rest of the world. We have to ask ourselves whether associating ourselves with Panama is worth risking Canada's international reputation. We could ask ourselves the same question about Jordan.

I should mention that, in 2009, total trade between Jordan and Canada amounted to barely $86 million. As with Panama, trade between Jordan and Canada is growing quickly without a free trade agreement in place.

I would like to go back to the first part of the speech I made about Jordan. We have examples of high-achieving countries around the world. I spoke about China and Brazil. They are increasing their international trade enormously without signing free trade agreements. However, these countries are very active through other means. They are using much more powerful and much more worthwhile means to increase their foreign trade and support their economy.

It is very important to take that into consideration. Because the way I see it, signing free trade agreements in such a disorganized way, without reviewing them beforehand, without determining whether or not they are small in scope, raises many more religious issues or, at the very least, the question of a basic belief that is not supported by fact—let us think of progress that we could measure and that would enable us to provide benefits to all Canadians.

This is a governmental approach that I find very worrisome. We can even wonder about the possible interpretation: as I said on Monday, is the government not sort of running away to avoid facing growing domestic problems?

I am the critic for small business and tourism. I can see that, currently in the Canadian economy, we are having problems supporting start-up companies. Entrepreneurship is seriously lacking, and the government is not taking care of that. But what the government is doing is overloading officials assigned to reviewing and implementing free trade agreements by increasing the number of superficial, artificial agreements that do not meet the needs of Canadians as a whole, for peanuts, for insignificant things that will, however, have a significant impact.

I would like to point out to the House that, if Bill C-23 is approved, Canada—without any guarantee and without having properly reviewed what is involved—will end up with ties to a country that may still have serious problems with regard to labour law.

Previously, when the NDP had serious concerns about this, it had learned and understood that there were outrageous cases of exploitation of foreign workers. A concrete example would be what is happening in the textile mills in Jordan. People were working in atrocious conditions, were living in totally inhumane conditions and were practically treated like slaves.

Jordan wanted to achieve some progress in that regard. But is it enough so that Canada can associate with Jordan without causing serious harm to Canada's reputation, since it has such a strong influence on the international scene? That is the situation Canada is in. That is why the NDP does not necessarily oppose at all costs entering into a free trade agreement with Jordan or any other country in the world. However, the NDP insists that we must have sufficient guarantees before we will support it.

As a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade—which is often dysfunctional and is too easily denied the basic tools needed to assess the work of officials and the minister in question, as well as free trade agreements under negotiation or already concluded—I am quite concerned.

The fact that the NDP agrees that this bill should be sent to committee for examination is in no way a blank cheque. This does not mean we fully support the bill as it currently stands. We still have questions and concerns. This does nothing to put an end to the attitude shown by this government, which is simply using one distraction after another to try to hide all the deficiencies in its management, not to mention all the scandals that keep emerging.

I have the honour of being part of a very young caucus; many NDP members are in their twenties. This agreement commits Canada for a long time, indeed, for a very long time. A parallel can be drawn here. A free trade agreement is almost like a marriage contract between two people. That is why we must examine it very carefully, in order to weigh the pros and cons and to know what we are committing to.

Unfortunately, sometimes in matters of the heart, a union between two people is entered into lightly and too quickly, which can be disastrous. The Government of Canada has adopted a rushed and reckless approach. I would encourage all hon. members of this House and all the members of the committee to participate in an open, clear and transparent review.

If the government wants the unanimous support of this House for this bill, then it should involve all the parties concerned, which it is not doing. At least, it has not so far. For the six years the Conservative Party has formed the government, it has shut everyone else out. It makes me wonder what that means for the interests of our country and for our future. It is not a healthy approach.

That is why the NDP is showing openness so that the government can share with us, in good faith, the information it has and show us clearly, through cold hard facts, the value of this future free trade agreement.

I am going to keep an open mind even though I have been rather disappointed by the government's attitude in the past. We will, however, give a quick account of the problems with the existing agreement that the government is trying to push through the House.

We are willing to work with the government provided that it is willing to consider the problems with the current agreement. When the agreement was concluded and the NDP was able to speak to this matter during the previous Parliament, the NDP pointed out that a number of credible, independent international agencies had warned us about the general abuses endured by workers in Jordan, especially foreign workers.

Unfortunately, in some of the textile plants, there are cases of slavery. There have been some credible reports on that. Canada cannot condone this. When it comes to international agreements, our country is completely against such practices.

To sign this agreement without having a guarantee from the Jordanian government that it is addressing the problem, actively working on it and fighting the abuse of foreign workers would be an outright betrayal of our international commitments. I am sorry, but I am not prepared to put our excellent reputation on the line for the paltry amount of $85 million worth of trade in 2009.

This free trade agreement also refers to the protection of investments. Although we have not been negotiating a long time in the case of the European free trade agreement, I have worked on it a fair bit. I have said it before and I will say it again: provisions that protect investors who do business in Canada are an aberration. It makes no sense because the rule of law prevails in Canada. We have all the legal mechanisms and legal protections necessary to guarantee investors that they will be treated with respect and that their rights will not be violated. What effect can the government give to a provision to protect Jordanians, or even Europeans, who invest in Canada? Is Canada a banana republic? The government will have to account to the committee on that. The government will have to explain what this means and why it is going down that road.

The lessons of NAFTA have shown that the NDP was quite right to be cautious and to ask for guarantees. We will do so with this free trade agreement and with others.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou for his excellent speech. He also raised many questions about the future of this bill. I studied labour law and I find that this bill raises many questions in this regard.

Labour laws must be harmonized across Canada. I am wondering what the hon. member has to say about the fact that they should also be harmonized with the laws of the countries with which we are working. Canada has always been a leader when it comes to human rights, particularly with respect to workers' rights. I would like to know what the hon. member thinks about this.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead for his question, which is particularly relevant. We could look at the question from a philosophical perspective: does Canada want to be a model or, on the contrary, do we prefer to turn a blind eye to situations that are completely unacceptable? Canada has signed many international agreements to protect human rights and workers' rights because it is against slavery and the exploitation of human beings. In the House, we have even discussed how to combat human trafficking. So why support the virtual slavery that exists in Jordan?

I would like to draw the House's attention to an issue that really hurts our pride. There is already a free trade agreement between the United States and Jordan, but the United States ensured that the agreement itself—and not a side agreement—included provisions pertaining to the resolution of labour relations disputes. The United States wanted guarantees. Even with these guarantees, Tim Waters, the political director of the United Steelworkers union, said that, after 12 years, the agreement has not been as productive as expected. This gives us some idea of the scope of the problems that Jordan is currently experiencing.

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech. He said that we need to have sufficient guarantees to be able to support this bill. He talked about labour law, but his comments suggested that Canada should impose its own conditions to make the free trade agreement acceptable to us. Could the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou expand on that?

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question. In terms of guarantees, we could take a colonialist approach and impose conditions, but that is obviously not the approach of the New Democratic Party, not in the slightest. However, as a trading partner in any trade negotiation on any scale, I think that we have every right to be demanding. That does not mean imposing our will, but we have to ask questions when we notice problems. We may wonder why certain things occur in that country and why, despite an international agreement being reached, it still tolerates a situation that is in violation of the agreement.

That is one of our concerns. Unlike its diplomatic relations, which Canada can suspend at any time should a problem arise, a free trade agreement is a considerable commitment on Canada's part.

Thus we may find ourselves in a position where we support and are complicit with governments that do not fulfill their duties toward their citizens and other residents. That is unacceptable and the New Democratic Party would like to look at this aspect with the government, transparently and on an equal footing. Is the government going to address our concerns? Is it going to agree to open the books and answer our questions? We are open and we hope that the government will answer our questions.

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his excellent speech. We are indeed showing openness here, by moving forward and allowing this bill to be sent to committee to be improved and refined. I have a concern with this bill in terms of NAFTA's famous chapter 11, of which everyone is aware. Not only is it still detrimental to our workers, it is also detrimental to the environment. Unfortunately, Canada has been involved in well-known legal challenges. Some private multinational companies have filed lawsuits because of environmental protection legislation.

As we work to analyze this bill, and eventually to study it in committee, would it be important and essential to check whether protecting the environment and the working conditions of our workers at home does not present a problem?

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Drummond for his question.

We are talking about the free trade treaty bill, but I would rather say treaties—a series of agreements. In parallel with a free trade agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, there is also an agreement on the environment and an agreement on labour cooperation. It is certainly good that we are able to identify these matters. We will be able to see if the separate agreements are sufficient. The problem is precisely that they are separate from the main text of the free trade agreement, contrary to the American approach.

Let us concentrate on the environmental aspect. If there are problems of an environmental nature, potential conflicts will be resolved by consultations and by the exchange of information. And if the consultations do not allow the conflict to be resolved, the aggrieved party can ask for an independent panel of experts to be set up to look into the conflict. That is not stringent at all. I do not want to make assumptions about the Hashemite Kingdom's good faith, but, at the same time, is that going to be enough? I recall the example of the free trade agreement between the United States and Jordan in 2000, which was not enough to solve the major problems about rights and about the exploitation of workers. Similarly, we have separate agreements on labour rights and on the environment. If we do not obtain sufficient guarantees, the unfortunate danger is that they will be agreements in name only.

So it is very useful as a marketing exercise, but, in terms of standing up for the interests of workers, both Canadian and Jordanian, it may be more an opportunity for the two countries to have a high-level cocktail party than to provide concrete benefits to their people.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to speak to this issue. I will be speaking in favour of sending this legislation to committee where I hope to see amendments welcomed to make this free trade agreement more humanitarian, more environmentally friendly, and definitely more beneficial for Jordan and Canada.

Many people probably are wondering how big Jordan is. Jordan is a small country. It is one of our trading partners but it is not one of our top trading partners. Out of our top 100 trading partners around the world, Jordan is ranked 88th. We do a fair bit of trade with Jordan. Our two-way trade amounts to $85.9 million. We export about $70.1 million and we import $18.7 million, mainly in clothing and textiles. If we compare that to Norway, which is ranked 10th out of all of our trading partners with exports to Norway of $2.5 billion, we can see that Jordan is important but it is not as large a contributor to our imports and exports. This begs the question: Why must there be a free trade agreement with Jordan?

We should be looking at facilitating trade around the world with many different countries. We are living in a global economy and we need to address many of the global issues.

I have been doing some research, although I must admit it has only been a very little amount because of the timing. It seems to make sense to me that this treaty with Jordan would be significant not only because we already have a good relationship with Jordan, but because it is also seen as a gateway to the rest of the Middle East and northern Africa. As such, it may not be significant on its own, but it would give us a foothold and open that gateway into other countries. We cannot ignore that.

I have also noticed that the diaspora from Jordan is very active. According to the last census, about two-thirds of them live in the Toronto area. Part of the diaspora lives in my community of Newton--North Delta as well. They are Canadians who contribute to our society but for very good reasons have kept strong links with their home country.

As we look at what is happening internationally, it is always good to explore markets around the world, big and small. At the same time, we have to look at what that means.

I want to refer to NAFTA. I was not in Parliament when NAFTA was negotiated, but I do know that some of the fallout from NAFTA has not been good for Canadians.

In my province of B.C., logs are being loaded on trucks to be shipped to the United States while towns in B.C. are turning into ghost towns and dormitory towns as the mills close down.

In British Columbia and other provinces, people see well-paying jobs that gave them some security with respect to health care and pensions going over the border. They are wondering what free trade really means. Does it mean that we give away Canadian jobs? That is the question that has to be asked every step of the way.

We always hear that there will be a review panel to review this and that. My experience with review panels has not been all that great.

Let us look, for example, at the administration to the south of Canada. After all, we did sign NAFTA with the Americans. Their government blatantly said in a speech to the nation that companies that bring jobs back into the United States will get greater tax benefits, and it will look favourably on companies that create jobs at home.

Whenever we look at free trade agreements, we often feel that we cannot raise those kinds of issues, or how often do our government negotiators do that. Other countries do not shy away from protecting their jobs at home. The Americans do not shy away from offering extra tax incentives to keep companies at home, growing jobs at home, instead of contracting out to call centres and manufacturing places all over the world.

That is one side of the free trade agreements that we always have to be aware of, the net effect on working people right across this country.

The other side of the coin is we always have to pay attention to what happens in the country that we have signed a bilateral agreement with. We have signed some bilateral agreements with countries to the south of us. In my previous life, as the president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation and then with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, I had the privilege to travel to many countries where I saw the sweatshops and the working conditions. I saw the beautiful roads that bring goods up to the north. However, once one leaves those main arterial routes, what one sees is abject poverty.

Canadians have to ask themselves if that is what they want for their future. Do they really want to see child labour? Do they want to see children in deplorable working conditions? Do they really want to save a few pennies while those kinds of working conditions occur in other countries?

Let us look at the labour situation in Jordan. From all accounts it is not that great. However, to give Jordan credit, it has signed agreements and protocols. Unfortunately, very little enforcement is taking place. As a trading partner, do we really want to finalize this trade agreement if we do not see some teeth given to enforcement?

The United Steelworkers Union supported this free trade agreement in the beginning. Then it began to see what the working conditions were like.

Charles Kernaghan, the U.S. National Labor Committee executive director, testified that after nine years of a U.S. trade agreement, thousands of foreign guest workers in the Middle East kingdom continued to be stripped of their passports, forced into 99-hour--let me stress that, 99-hour--workweeks and were denied their rightful wages while being housed in bedbug-infested dorms.

Even though the USW had supported the U.S.-Jordan trade deal when it was negotiated in the early days, it now says that it was a decision its union has come to deeply regret. It no longer supports it. The U.S.-Jordan trade deal immediately descended into the trafficking of tens of thousands of foreign workers to Jordanian factories.

We know that Jordan is very dependent on migrant domestic workers as well. Some of them are not just hired as domestics to work in people's homes, but to work in textile factories as well. Once migrant domestic workers are hired, there is very little mobility for them. They are at the mercy of their employers. It is not easy for them, even after years of service, to change employers. Therefore, though Jordan has committed in a side agreement to address labour laws, it behooves us to do due diligence and to make sure that we see some action on enforcement.

Human Rights Watch Canada, in October 2011, released a report called “Domestic Plight: How Jordanian Law Officials, Employers, and Recruiters Fail Abused Migrant Domestic Workers”. The report details the absolutely deplorable working conditions for domestic workers. Most of these workers come from countries where people are desperate to go somewhere to make a living. They come from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines and India. The report shows that very little has changed since these issues were first raised in 2010. That definitely should draw our attention and should push us. I am sure our negotiators will be pushing hard on that. We will be looking for some commitments to that at the committee stage.

When we do free trade with another nation, we have to look at not only what we gain out of that deal but what kind of an impact it has on development within that nation. For example, should foreign investors get a higher level of protection than investors from within Jordan? I would say absolutely not. It is so colonial in many ways to say, “We are coming in, we trade with you and therefore we should get better investment protections. Our companies, individuals from Canada who invest in Jordan, should have better, superior provisions for the protection of their investments than Jordanians themselves”.

I do not know how we could look at ourselves in the mirror if we were to sign such agreements. Certainly, I know that as a Canadian, it is very difficult when foreign corporations have better rights than Canadians. Therefore, why would I want to support something that would give such lack of protection to Jordanian investors? As part of the agreement we should absolutely ensure that no such two-tier system, one for foreign investors and one for native investors, is created.

It is very similar when we look at environmental issues. We live in a global economy. We live in a world that is shrinking every single day it seems. We can watch what is happening in our living rooms. I can turn on my TV and see what is happening in drought-ridden Africa. I can see the abject poverty and the need for humanitarian aid immediately. I can see the violence in Syria and experience it, sitting in my chair in my living room.

In the same way, our environment is not confined within different countries. Whenever we negotiate, it is absolutely imperative, not only for our generation but for the generations to come, that we pay special attention to ensuring that we build in environmental protections. Whatever happens in Jordan, whatever regulations it adopts, has a direct impact not only on Jordan and countries surrounding it but really on the whole globe, just we know that the clearing of the rain forests has a direct impact on our climate here. Therefore, it is imperative for our world's existence that we pay special attention to addressing environmental issues.

It is often easy to say that it can be a sidebar deal, we will deal with it later, or that we cannot really push for environmental issues until after we are a trading partner. One lesson I have learned is that we have a far better chance of getting somewhere when we still hold some chips in our hands. We do, so let us not put that one off.

It is the same with human rights. I have not changed my position in the House over the years. As a nation we have a very proud history not only for advocating for human rights around the world but for being champions of human rights around the world. Over the last few years, we have seen that reputation tarnished a bit. Yesterday in committee I heard about a comment made in South America that Canada no longer really cared about our reputation overseas and that we do not have the kind of reputation we used to have. I can tell the House that Canadians care very deeply about our reputation around the world.

When I was much younger, I travelled around Europe from England. I was always amazed at how many Americans had the Canadian flag attached to their backpacks. Those were the days when I could travel with a backpack. I do not think I could do that today. I often asked these young Americans why they were not wearing their American flag. They said that they got much better treatment when they wore the Canadian flag, that people treated them totally differently. Before leaving the U.S. they would try to acquire a Canadian flag to sew onto their backpacks or wear, to show that they were from Canada. They said they were welcomed and that people would want to speak to them and tell them about the amazing work we were doing on human rights issues, on addressing poverty and on working with developing countries. We were known as peacekeepers, as a nation that brokered peace and because of that they had a great deal of admiration.

However, in my opinion, we no longer have a seat on the United Nations Security Council, thanks to the actions of the government. Canada no longer has that untarnished image as peacekeepers. I would say that it behooves us, and I plead with the government, to make sure that as we are looking at signing free trade agreements, be it with China, Jordan or any country around the world, that we absolutely make human rights a central issue. We have to make sure that we are there not only as advocates but that we make it one of our conditions, and that we put some teeth into those negotiations to enforce human rights in those countries.

We have heard the argument that we can do that after we become a trading partner. We need to be doing that now. As I said at the beginning, I am supporting the bill going to committee, where New Democrats will be raising those concerns.