House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to speak today to this bilateral trade agreement between Panama and Canada.

It seems that we have not learned too many lessons from our experiences with NAFTA. As a result of NAFTA, we have seen hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear over the border and into other countries. We have also seen the logs that used to be manufactured right in B.C., where Canadians had a chance to have well-paying jobs, go over the border and Canadians jobs leave with them.

Instead of focusing on multilateral free trade agreement talks that actually focus on agreements that would benefit not only Canada but all the countries involved, that would take environmental factors into consideration, that would take labour laws into consideration and that would take sustainability in the long term into consideration, the government is going down the wrong path in signing bilateral free trade agreement after bilateral free trade agreement.

When we look at Panama's labour laws and the lack of protection for its working people, it absolutely amazes me that the Government of Canada, where we once valued the rights of working people, is so intent on signing an agreement with a country that has so little respect, so little regulation and so little support for working people.

This is no surprise as it is the same Conservative government that has attacked the rights of working people in B.C. It is attacking their pensions and is attacking the rights of workers, rights recognized by the United Nations, to full, free collective bargaining.

First, we must not forget the postal workers where the Conservatives did not allow the bargaining process to play out. We recently had the case of the Air Canada workers where the pilots had not even gone on strike and yet the government intervened with very draconian legislation, once again taking away the rights of working people.

On the other hand, we know the government favours corporations. Now that Air Canada is blindly allowing all the Alveos jobs to leave this country, we suddenly hear this mantra that those are private companies. The same government gives billions in tax giveaways to private corporations and thinks that kind of interference is okay but the kind of interference that keeps jobs in Canada is not okay. That is not okay on this side of the House. We are determined to keep jobs here in Canada for Canadians.

Let us look at another aspect of what is happening in Panama. When we want to start trading with a country, we need look at how that country is viewed. Panama is seen as a tax haven. We will not have a very clear understanding of the reportings of income. Not only are we worried about people and big corporations who will hide their money in a tax haven like Panama, we also need to be concerned about a lot of the drug lords who will hide their ill-gained money in Panama.

How can we enter into a trade agreement where there is so little transparency when it comes to the reporting of income and how the institutions work? Once again we need to relate it to what is happening back here.

The Conservatives talk about their so-called crime agenda, which is really a prison building agenda, and yet they are ready to sign a free trade agreement with a country that has flagrant violations when it comes to being a tax haven and flagrant UN violations of workers' rights, .

I had the pleasure of visiting Panama many years ago, which seems like another lifetime. I am sure many changes have taken place but, from friends I have talked to in Panama, I would say that two realities still exist in Panama. There is the reality of the gated communities, in which many American citizens live. They are huge fenced-in communities with a large amount of military hardware to protect them. Panama has had violations around labour rights and has been criticized internationally.

The French recently criticized Panama saying that it would be very difficult for the international community to trade with it as it was a tax haven. However, once again, no surprise here, our government is going ahead with its ill thought out agenda of signing free trade agreements without building in protections for Canadians. It is also our responsibility to ensure that the free trade agreement is not to the detriment of citizens in Panama. As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our international work and how we look at the rest of the world. We really need to start paying attention.

Todd Tucker, who is part of the Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, made a compelling case about Panama being one of the world's worst tax havens. He said that the Panamanian government had intentionally allowed the nation to become a tax haven. He went on to say that the tax haven situation in Panama was not improving under the current government and conditions in Panama. He also said that, in addition, a trade agreement with Canada would only worsen the problem and could cause harm to both Panama and Canada. That should be enough to give all of us time to stop and reflect before going ahead in a heedless way.

Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress spoke to the committee regarding the agreement on labour co-operation. She testified that while the international labour organizations labour standards are invoked, the agreement is still weaker than it should be. As well, the current Panamanian government has been increasingly harsh on labour unions and workers in recent years.

Why am I not surprised that the Conservative government pays too little heed to the normal, average working person in Canada and attacks their rights? Why would we expect the government to enshrine or protect workers' rights in developing countries like Panama? The government has gone out of its way to attack unionized workers and the working people here and it sells our jobs out of Canada. Why would it stand up for the workers in Panama or to keep the jobs here in Canada?

The government is turning a blind eye while, as I speak, thousands of jobs are leaving this country. I do not trust the government to protect the interests of everyday Canadians because it only protects the interests of corporations and big money.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Kerr West Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, I do not normally engage in questions and comments, but the false indignities of the left-wingers can drive one nuts and drive ordinary Canadians nuts.

Here is someone who is expounding on behalf of a party how much its members care about Canada and how much they stand up for Canadians, yet people go to Washington trying to kill Canadian jobs. Anytime a budget comes forward trying to help veterans, those members vote against it.

If you are so indignant and so caring about Canadian jobs, why would you turn down a Canadian company and hire a foreign company to take care of your leadership convention which just took place? Canadians were turned down for a foreign firm.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would like to remind all MPs to direct their comments through the Chair.

The hon. member for Newton--North Delta.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, throwing out deflections that have very little to do with the debate at hand will do very little to convince Canadians. The Conservative government is sending jobs out of the country. We just have to look at what has happened in Ontario, in Montreal and other parts of Quebec, in B.C. and across the country. The government cannot be trusted to protect Canadian jobs and Canadian interests. The Conservative government has one interest, and that is to give billions of tax breaks to rich oil companies and big banks and then sit back and let the working people in the country struggle to make ends meet.

The Conservatives have the opportunity to take care of Canadians. I hope they do so in the budget today.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would like to remind members to wait until they have been recognized to make comments. Otherwise, they will wait for a very long time to be recognized if they continue to heckle from different sides of the House.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Malpeque.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, while I do not agree with a lot that the government is doing, I do believe the Canada-Panama trade agreement is a good agreement.

Where I differ substantially from the NDP and the member who just spoke is I think trade can be utilized to improve human rights and improve economic conditions.

I cannot understand where the member is coming from when she said that the trade agreement would worsen tax havens. How could that be? Once we build a trading relationship we have more authority. Just closing the door and leaving them out there is not going to solve anything. Opening up the door gives us the opportunity to improve those relationships and demand that the tax havens be closed and demand that workers' rights be respected.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, that is exactly the point. Our greatest opportunity to try to ensure some positive changes are put in place is before we sign on the dotted line of a bilateral agreement.

The very best chance to ensure some protection for workers' rights and ensure action is taken so that Panama is not a tax haven for ill-gotten money, as well as legal money, is before Canada signs that agreement. The government could use this opportunity, but it is not going to because it has no interest in protecting workers here in Canada or anywhere else.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, there are two ways it could go and quite clearly, this is a race to the bottom.

When we enter into a trade deal with a country even though we recognize it has certain characteristics, we are saying that it is okay. What are we saying to our own people? We are saying that it is okay to seek out tax havens, to launder money, to do all those things. What we are seeing here is a race to the bottom. Is that not the case?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, my colleague made a very thoughtful comment.

Absolutely, this is about a race to the bottom. This is not about what is good for Canada or what is good for the people of Panama right now. This is about what is good for big international corporations. This is about what is good for the very wealthy, who do not need more doors opened for them.

The Conservative government is missing a prime opportunity to ensure that the rights of workers are enshrined.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand in this House today to offer my comments on Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

I will start by talking generally about the perspective I bring to this House from Vancouver, Vancouver Kingsway in particular, and the good folks there. I think this is a broad consensus of their views on trade policy. The principles I am about to talk about fairly express those points of view.

Trade is very important to Canada. It is recognized by all Canadians who care to think about this issue that trade is essential to our economy. British Columbia is a coastal province and a trading province. There is a very strong commitment to the concept of trade being very important not only to the development of the economy of Canada but also the economy of British Columbia.

There are many businesses and enterprises in British Columbia, as there are across the country, that engage either directly or indirectly in the import or export of goods and services around the world. This is particularly the case with Asia with which British Columbia and businesses in British Columbia have a particularly strong tie.

Trade allows goods and services that are within the productive capacity or local expertise or resources of one country to be exchanged with those of another. That is why I can say certainly on behalf of the New Democrats that we believe trade is good. We believe it is desirable. We believe it is critical to our economy.

The question that should be raised with respect to any trade deal is the terms on which that trade ought to be conducted. Are there any principles, policies or rules that should be applied when Canadians consider the exchange of goods and services out of our country and the entrance of goods and services into our country?

There is a vast spectrum in the political world. We have heard some views expressed in this House during the debate. At the far end of the spectrum, there are those who assert that trade ought to be totally free, that the market should be free to act on its own, and that goods and services should be allowed to enter untrammelled to whatever market those goods and services can penetrate, and that government should stay out of the way. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who have the view that trade should be highly regulated, that there should be high tariffs, that countries should be closed and highly protectionist.

On the one hand there are the proponents of total free trade, who think that goods should be able to enter a country regardless of the other country's labour standards, environmental standards, and regardless of the human rights situation in that country. On the other hand there are those with a very closed approach to trade who think it should be very difficult for goods and services to enter the economy.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Vancouver Kingsway, and British Columbia and, I think, on behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada, we believe that we should have a policy that pursues well-managed trade, not free trade, not a closed approach to trade, but fair trade. That is the approach to trade this party has taken every since the free trade debates opened up in this country some decades ago.

Why do we take this position? We believe that Canadians do not want goods and services that use child labour to enter Canada. We do not want goods and services that are the product of destructive environmental practices to enter this country. Canadians do not want goods coming to this country from countries that have very poor human rights records. Canadians do not want goods and services to enter this country when those goods and services come from an economy that is so fundamentally different from ours, with such lower standards that it actually hurts Canadian employers' ability to compete.

I will give one example. One of the reasons the NDP led such a spirited campaign with the Liberal Party in the 1980s, who opposed the free trade agreement with the United States at the time, was that we would be opening our borders to the U.S. economy which had 10 times the power of ours. In some of the southern states there were no labour standards, there was economy of scale, and employers were paying so little in wages that it would hurt Canadian employers. That was a major concern.

At that time, there was a burgeoning textile industry in this country, particularly in Quebec, but in other provinces as well. Employers were paying good wages. They were paying for health and welfare plans and pension plans. Workers were paid wages on which they could raise their families. Employers were paying workers' compensation benefits to the government to compensate workers if they were injured on the job. The employers were paying EI premiums in case workers became unemployed. These were the kinds of jobs that were being developed in this country. As soon as the free trade agreement was signed, textiles were allowed to flood in from the southern United States, where there were no unionized jobs, wages were half the rate that Canadian employers were paying, employers were not paying into social programs and there was no public health insurance. The result was that Quebec's textile industry was decimated. Canada lost tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands if we include jobs in other industries. These were good, middle-class, well-paying jobs.

There is a lot of rhetoric around trade in the House. The facts are that over the last 30 years, since the neo-liberal or neo-conservative, depending on one's point of view, concept of pursuing untrammelled free trade agreements, a significant change has occurred in the living standards of workers in this country. By any measure, according to many groups, Canadian workers today make less money in real terms than workers did 30 years ago. The middle class has been squeezed and the inequality of wealth distribution in this country has risen dramatically over the last 30 years. That is not rhetoric; that is a fact.

Part of the reason that happened is the trade policy that has been pursued not only by the Conservative government but by the Liberal government before it. At one time, I think it was in 1993, the Liberals campaigned on removing Canada from NAFTA. Of course, it is not uncommon for the Liberals to change their minds once they get into power, and they never did remove Canada from NAFTA. It is important to understand that Canadians and New Democrats want a trade policy based on encouraging trade and making sure that the sound principles I referred to are respected.

Regarding the bill that is before us today, New Democrats are concerned about it and do not believe it is a sound piece of legislation.

When the committee considered this bill, compelling testimony was heard from witnesses regarding the tax situation in the Republic of Panama, as well as its poor record of human rights. I do not hear anybody on either side of the House disputing the human rights record in Panama, but it is a concern.

Despite requests from the Canadian government, Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This is very troubling, considering the large amount of money that is documented to be laundered in Panama, including money from drug trafficking. Some years ago there was a study done, I believe at Harvard University, which listed Panama as one of the top three countries for money laundering from drug cartels in South America. Panama's complete lack of taxation transparency has led the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to label the nation as a tax haven. It is not the New Democrats calling it a tax haven, it is the OECD.

Recently Panama was removed from the so-called OECD grey list, after substantially implementing the standard for exchange of information when it signed a tax information exchange agreement with France. That brings Panama's total agreements to the critical 12, the international standard. However, French President Sarkozy, in a speech at the end of the G20 conference in November last year in Switzerland, named Panama as a country that nevertheless remains a tax haven.

I believe that all people of Canada and members of this House should be concentrating on pursuing free trade agreements with countries that raise environmental standards, respect human rights, protect Canadian employers and make—

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Burlington.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his well thought out speech. I do not agree with most of it, but it was well presented.

My question is simple. On this side of the House we are in favour of free trade agreements. We have signed a number of them over the years since we have come to office. The New Democratic Party has been opposed to every one except for one. I believe the NDP supported the agreement with Jordan.

I like to talk about specifics. Could the hon. member highlight the actual differences between what we have signed with Jordan, which the NDP members agreed with, and what we have signed with Panama?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a fair question from the hon. member.

Before I get to his specific question, the hon. member said he disagreed with most of what was in my speech. I spoke about building trade agreements between Canada and the rest of the world that are based on principles that respect human rights and make sure goods are not produced in countries that are destroying the environment.

I spoke about signing agreements with countries where they do not use child labour to produce goods, and where the economic conditions are comparable to Canada. This way, Canadian employers do not have to compete against countries where people are paid $1 an hour, and where there is no workers' compensation, employment insurance or standards. I heard an hon. member say that is not Panama.

Panama is not known to have high environmental, human rights and labour standards. I would say that we on this side of the House continue to pursue trade agreements with countries that respect those standards.

I do not really know why the hon. member would oppose anything I said, unless he is in favour of environmental degradation, disrespect for human rights and lower labour standards. However, I do not think he would agree with that.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, it does seem that the New Democratic Party might be on a paradigm shift here. Its members might be looking at the possibility of favouring free trade agreements.

My question to the hon. member is this. The hon. member qualified what was important for New Democrats to support a free trade agreement. Could he give us any clear indication as to other countries with which the government or the House should be looking at entering into more formal free trade agreements? Could he cite any countries as examples?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, certainly I can list countries that I think Canada should be pursuing agreements with. These would be countries that are world leaders with respect to the environment, labour standards and human rights. Countries like Sweden, Norway or Denmark would be a good start. However, I notice that the government is not engaging in discussions with those countries.

I think we should be carefully examining each country that we propose to trade with, and making sure that trade with those countries is beneficial to the Canadian economy and employers. Moreover, it is not necessarily the identity of the country all the time, but it is the terms on which that trade is going to be conducted. We should not be signing agreements with countries that do not squarely put labour standards, human rights and environmental standards in the text of the agreement. The government has taken an approach to relegate those important concepts to side deals that are not part of the text of the formal agreement, leading many to believe those concepts have secondary importance.

We on this side of the House are going to continue to make environmental, human rights, labour and employment standards central planks in any trade agreement we have with any country. If those countries agree to respect those standards, then an agreement could be good for their economy and the Canadian economy. We will support those agreements.