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 trade.

Topics

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-24, an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Panama. I enjoyed the comments of my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway. However, when he says that Canada should enter into an agreement with Norway, for example, he ought to remember that there was an agreement that was to come in the last few years with the EFTA countries, which included Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The NDP voted against that, as I recall.

I appreciated my hon. colleague's point that trade is essential to our economy. It is important that members recognize that and understand what arises from that.

I come from a trade-dependent province, Nova Scotia. I recognize how important these kinds of agreements are to our economy, to job creation and to our families. My hon. colleague talked about the Canada–U.S. free trade agreement. In the early 1980s, the Canadian government of Mr. Trudeau was very concerned about arising sentiments of protectionism in the U.S. A variety of tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers arising in the U.S. were of great concern, causing issues for Canadian businesses trying to sell to the U.S. The process was begun under that government of discussing the possibility of an agreement with the U.S.

My biggest concern with the way the Mulroney government approached the negotiations with the U.S. was that its approach was to say that its whole economic policy was going to be dependent on getting a trade agreement with the U.S. It said to the U.S., “let us sit down and negotiate”. What kind of position are government members in if they make it clear publicly to the counterpart in negotiation that they are not going to leave the table, that they have to have an agreement as they have told their country that it is vital to their future to have this agreement? That does not put them in a very strong bargaining position. Surely it would have been better to have entered that negotiation differently.

My difficulty with the NDP point of view is that it can never find an agreement that it can support. Members are convinced that they could have negotiated a better agreement that was far more in Canada's favour. That is nice to say. Maybe there are things that could have been done differently. However, it is a bit unrealistic to say they could have negotiated a far better agreement and gotten everything they think is important. That is not what negotiation is like. It is a two-way street. That is why my friends in the NDP have never been in favour of any trade deal with any other country, as far as I can recall, no matter how many jobs it created for Canadians or Nova Scotians or how much, for example, it helped our regional economy in the Atlantic.

If we look at the record, Canada did very well. If we look at the economic performance of Canada and the U.S. during the 1990s and the decade between 2000 and 2010, the results for Canada's economy were very strong. My difficulty with the NDP approach is that opposing these agreements is preferring protectionism. Protectionism provides temporary relief. Two hundred years ago, or a little less than that, my great-grandfather was a shipwright in Dartmouth working on sailing ships. When they started to fade away and metal and steamships took over, we could have said we were going to prevent those from coming in, that we would support with protectionism and tariffs our wooden shipbuilding industry. That might have provided some relief for a little while, but sooner or later it would have had negative impacts on the economy. The standard of living for people in this country would have gone down.

I think that is the result when we have the kinds of protectionist barriers that my NDP colleagues favour. The alternative to the U.S. trade agreement, perfect though it may have been, would have been more barriers to our products.

If we look back to 1988-90, of course the trade agreement was negotiated in about 1987, we were 90% dependent for our trade on the U.S. Ninety per cent of our exports went to the U.S. That was an enormous proportion of our economy. So, to say that we did not need to have that or that it was not good enough simply is not a good enough answer. I think we have to come up with a better argument than that.

Speaking of the impacts on Atlantic Canada, I encourage colleagues to read the recent report of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, which was produced in connection with its outlook 2012 conference. It is cleverly entitled “Let's Get Out of Here”. It presents an interesting study on how Atlantic Canadian firms are taking on the world. They are not saying, “Let's get out of here and move to Fort McMurray”. They are saying, “Let's get out of here as Atlantic Canadian businesses, move around the world and sell our products to create jobs here at home”. That is the idea that they are promoting.

Atlantic Canada has been successful in building innovation-based businesses that have been focused on niche markets, while also capitalizing on our key resource sectors. However, those key resource sectors are struggling these days. If we look at what is happening in forestry, when people in the U.S. and around the world are reading fewer newspapers, when there are as not many houses being built in the U.S., that has a huge impact on the pulp and paper industry and on the lumber industry. So, we need to have other kinds of businesses, in the new economy especially, that are creating jobs.

One constant in our success in Atlantic Canada has been a reliance on trade. Before Confederation, the Maritime provinces and now the Atlantic provinces, were very strong traders. They were known as very successful traders with the U.S. and Europe. Yet, whether we are talking about Europe, the Middle East, China or America, Canada, particularly Atlantic Canada, has enjoyed success in all major markets in the world. Not enough success, in my view, but considerable success.

The fact that our reliance on exports to the U.S. has gone from 90% to 80% over the past couple of decades is a positive thing. Although we are not quite as reliant on exports to the U.S., we are still heavily reliant. I think we can expect that, for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will continue to be our most important market.

While we support this particular trade agreement, Canadian families, Canadian workers and the Canadian economy have been very poorly served by the government, which is failing in terms of its overall trade agenda around the world. While the Prime Minister and his ministers rack up a lot of frequent flyer points, jetting around the globe, they have basically ignored our key market: the U.S. We do not see much effort there.

More than $1.4 billion is traded between Canada and the U.S. on a daily basis as part of the largest commercial relationship between any two countries in the world. Yet the Conservatives have sat on their hands and watched as the border has thickened. We do not see the kind of effort there that we ought to see.

Canada's geographic, economic and cultural advantages in a North American market of nearly 500 million people will remain a major strategic asset in a rapidly evolving world, but not if we continue on the path the government has put us on.

As some of the speakers before me have noted, this trade agreement with Panama is yet another example of the current government pursuing new arrangements, at the expense of established agreements. The consequences, I think, are clear to anyone who has seen the recent trade statistics, which show declining exports and a trade deficit.

The one thing we can say about the Conservative government is it seems to be enamoured with deficits. Certainly, we know that it put the country in deficit after inheriting a $13 billion surplus. It put us in deficit by April of 2008, six months before the recession began. The government's mismanagement of Canada's trading relationship has resulted in trade deficits for the first time in 30 years. That is very worrisome. I am sure we will hear some fictions about the government's fiscal record and, we hope, about its record fiscal deficit this afternoon and the consequences for seniors, fishermen, the unemployed and just about everyone else who will pay for the Conservatives' incompetence.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Madam Speaker, I just want to express my appreciation of the measured speech and tone from my friend, the member for Halifax West on the subject of free trade.

I would certainly rebut what he had to say with regard to our government's engagement with the United States. He knows that since the May 2 election campaign, our government has extended the softwood lumber agreement, the lumber agreement that the Liberals had lapse on their watch without actually engaging in renewed negotiations. We renewed it and now we have extended it by two years.

We have gone beyond that with our beyond borders program that the Prime Minister announced with President Obama prior to the Christmas break, the most deepening steps we have taken to further liberalize our trade agreement with the United States, from FTA, NAFTA and now the beyond borders agreement.

Our border infrastructure program has put more money into border crossings than ever before in this country's history. We are also now expanding, as the hon. member knows, the second span across from Windsor to Detroit.

Our government has invested heavily, because we recognize and we believe in creating Canadian jobs through world sales. We understand that the important relationship with the United States, the most successful trading relationship in the history of the world, is something to covet, to cherish and to build upon responsibly for the interests of Canadians.

We are doing that with all these agreements, all these investments and the approach we are taking, so I would certainly hope he would agree with me that we have taken seriously our responsibility to have a healthy relationship with the United States, and further, that he would agree that the constant antagonism to the United States by the official opposition is entirely unhealthy to the Canadian economy.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I can agree with the last point that it is important that we have good relations with our southern neighbours. I think it is also important that we state our point of view at times.

When George W. Bush was the president, there were things he did we agreed with and others we certainly did not. One of the things on which we clearly disagreed, and very strongly, and one of the things for which Mr. Chrétien deserves great credit, is his decision not to follow the U.S. in going to war in Iraq.

That was the right decision. It was a tough decision, because there was certainly lots of pressure at that time from the U.S. and from the Conservative Party. The current Prime Minister was most anxious and most critical of Mr. Chrétien and his government for not going to war in Iraq. That is a fine example.

Overall, on the question of the thickening of the border, we assume, with the perimeter deal, that they did not insist on getting better access to the U.S. market.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, the Liberals opposed the free trade agreement with the United States, campaigned on it in the 1980s and said in the 1990s that they would withdraw Canada from NAFTA.

I am just wondering if he could inform the House what the Liberal position on trade is now. Are the Liberals still opposed to the free trade agreement with the United States, as they said they were in the 1980s, or are they in favour of it now?

I would also like my hon. friend's comments on the question of whether or not he thinks that the situation of workers in this country, 25 years later, is better as a result of those trade agreements or worse.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I hope I will have time to answer both questions from my hon. colleague from Vancouver Kingsway.

I think he is engaging in a bit of revisionist history. In fact I encourage him to look at the Liberal red book, its platform from the 1993 election. He will find that the government of the day said it would try to negotiate agreement on labour and environment with the U.S., and that is exactly what happened.

There were side agreements that were negotiated on those issues, similar to the agreements that have been made on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

The fact of the matter is that the long history of the Liberal Party has been in favour of trade, going back to Sir Wilfrid Laurier. We are still in favour of trade. We have supported many trade agreements.

We do think there is room for improvement, and as I said before, entering into the negotiations with the U.S. toward that agreement on the basis of saying that our whole economy policy is dependent on this was not a basis for strong negotiation.

If we look at the impact on the economies of Canada and the U.S. and the benefits to workers across this country, of the growth that happened in the 1990s and between 2000 and 2010, I am not sure how my hon. colleague could say Canada did not benefit during that period and that Canadian workers did not benefit.

Yes, there were changes, and yes, there was a process and a time of transition for many workers, as there constantly is, but especially in a time of new technologies and global growth. I think we have to work hard to help workers adjust to those times, and part of that is training.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, over the last two Parliaments, I think this is my third or fourth time speaking to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

I have to say that this is an agreement that has not improved with age, nor has the debate on this issue, frankly. I continue to be struck by the inability of both the Conservatives and the Liberals to differentiate between free trade and fair trade. We in the NDP are not against trade. We recognize the important role trade plays in our economy, but it is not good enough to just keep bringing forward a series of bilateral trade agreements as if such agreements will somehow magically give us a coherent and smart industrial and economic strategy.

On the contrary, there has been no economic strategy, no real focused trade strategy, and the result has been that most Canadians are worse off now than they were before.

The government simply cannot keep doing these ribbon cuttings for free trade agreements and expect that the job is done. This is no small issue. When we look at the last 20 years since the implementation of the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, we see that the real income of most Canadian families has gone down, not up. The real incomes of the two-thirds of Canadian families who constitute the middle class and those of the poorest Canadians have gone down, right across the country.

The only people who have actually profited and seen an increase in their real income over the past 20 years since the first of these agreements was implemented have been the wealthiest of Canadians. The wealthiest 10% have seen their income skyrocket. One-fifth of Canadians, the wealthiest 20%, now take home most of the real income in this country.

For the Conservatives, that is entirely fine. In fact they are completely unapologetic for having espoused the principles of the robber barons of the 19th century. Listening to their speeches, I am surprised they have not quoted John D. Rockefeller, who said, “The disparity in income between the rich and the poor is merely the survival of the fittest. It is merely the working out of a law of nature and a law of God”.

It is certainly a sentiment that is deeply imbedded in the Conservatives' free trade agenda and in that of the Liberals before them. However, Canadians deserve better. They deserve fair trade instead of free trade. Fair trade puts an end to the race to the bottom by delivering on the promises of sustainable livelihoods and opportunities for people in the poorest countries in the world.

Poverty and hardship limit people's choices, while market forces tend to further marginalize and exclude them. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation, whether as farmers and artisans or as hired workers with larger businesses. That two billion of our fellow citizens survive on less than $2 per day despite working extremely hard makes it painfully clear that there is indeed a problem.

I want to put this into context by quoting extensively from an article from October 2010 called, “Back to the 'Good' Old Days”. It was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Although it is focused on Asia, its observations and conclusions directly relate to the issues in Latin America. It begins with the legacy of the robber barons that I alluded to earlier. It then goes on to state that the first 60 years of the 20th century were focused on curbing the worst excesses of unfettered free enterprise through government regulations, minimum wage increases and the growth of the labour movement.

It says:

Strong unions and relatively progressive governments combined to have wealth distributed less inequitably. Social safety nets were woven to help those in need.

Corporate owners, executives, and major shareholders resisted all these moderate reforms. Their operations had to be forcibly humanized. They always resented having even a small part of their profits diverted into wages and taxes, but until the mid-1970s and '80s they couldn’t prevent it. Now they can.

Thanks to international trade agreements and the global mobility of capital, they can overcome all political and labour constraints. They are free once more, as they were in the 1800s, to maximize profits and exploit workers, to control or coerce national governments, to re-establish the survival of the fittest as the social norm.

This global resurgence of corporate power threatens to wipe out a century of social progress. We are in danger of reverting to the kind of mass poverty and deprivation that marked the Victorian era. Indeed, this kind of corporate-imposed barbarism and inequality is already rampant in many developing countries.

It is worth pausing here to reflect on the submission made by Dr. Teresa Healy, senior researcher for social and economic policy at the Canadian Labour Congress, during the Standing Committee on International Trade deliberations on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

She pointed out that Panama is a country with a population of about 3.4 million people. It is currently recording relatively high growth rates, but it is the second most unequal society in the region. Forty per cent 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.

This should give all Canadians pause to think. It was not that long ago that our forebears were mistreated in workplaces, and the prospect of a reversion to Victorian social conditions should alarm all of us. The CCPA article I was citing earlier reminds us what the conditions were like in Canadian workplaces in the 1800s. Conditions in the mines were especially bad, with most of the miners dying from accidents or black lung disease before they reached the age of 35. Hundreds of thousands of children, some as young as six, were forced to work 12 hours a day, often being whipped or beaten.

A Canadian royal commission on child labour in the late 1800s reported that the employment of children was extensive and on the increase. Boys under 12 worked all night in glassworks in Montreal. In the coal mines of Nova Scotia, it was common for 10-year-old boys to work a 60-hour week down in the pits. This royal commission found not only that were children fined for tardiness and breakages but also that in many factories they were beaten with birch rods. Many thousands of them lost fingers, hands and even entire limbs when caught in unguarded gears or pulleys. Many hundreds were killed. Their average life expectancy was 33.

As late as 1910 in Canada, more than 300,000 children under 12 were still being subjected to these brutal working conditions. It was not until the 1920s, in fact, that child labour in this country was completely stamped out.

Yes, we finally did the right thing in Canada, but somehow the government wants us to believe it is okay to simply ignore the fact that such practices are still rampant in the countries with which we are signing trade agreements. The Conservative government has completely abandoned any notion of corporate social responsibility, and through its trade agenda it is giving state sanction to the continued abuse of labour, human and environmental rights in countries such as Panama. It is completely outrageous.

Make no mistake. Already in most of the developing nations, they have brought back child labour. Conditions in most factories operated by or for the transnational corporations in Asia and parts of Latin America are not much better today than they were in North America and Europe in the 1800s. Thousands of boys and girls are being compelled to work 12 hours a day in dirty, unsafe workshops for 40¢ or 50¢ an hour.

The article went on to say that in the United States another robber baron, Frederick Townsend Martin, boasted:

We are the rich. We own this country. And we intend to keep it by throwing all the tremendous weight of our support, our influence, our money, our purchased politicians, our public-speaking demagogues, into the fight against any legislation, any political party or platform or campaign that threatens our vested interests.

If nothing else, I guess we have to appreciate his honesty. At least he was upfront about the corporate agenda in his day.

It was David Rockefeller who restated the operating principle of the corporate agenda in modern times. In 1990 he said:

We who run the transnational corporations are now in the driver’s seat of the global economic engine. We are setting government policies instead of watching from the sidelines.

That is the sentiment that guides the corporate interests who are pushing our government to enter into the bilateral free trade agreements with willing partners around the world. It is a sentiment that has been blindly accepted and adopted by successive Liberal and Conservative governments that have been only too happy to oblige in the implementation of this corporate agenda.

Surely we do not all need to submit to the notion that might is right. There is an alternative vision of our economic future that believes that no one should be left behind. That is the kind of future my NDP colleagues and I have been championing in this House. It is a future that is based on fair trade, not free trade.

If we do not amend our trade agreements to incorporate the principles of sustainable development and recognition of human and labour rights, then the trade agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. In truth, we should be hanging our heads in shame.

If Canadians were aware that we are condoning practices by our trading partners that we would never condone at home, then I am certain they would call on us to abandon such trade relations. That is why I will be voting against the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question regarding her comments on labour issues. The front page of the bill states:

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.

Furthermore, if one goes to the agreement on labour, it talks about such things as:

a. improve working conditions and living standards in each Party's territory;

b. promote their commitment to the internationally recognized labour principles and rights;

c. promote compliance with and effective enforcement by each Party of its labour law;

d. promote social dialogue on labour matters among workers and employers, and their respective organizations, and governments;

e. pursue cooperative labour-related activities for the Parties' mutual benefit;

f. strengthen the capacity of each Party's competent authorities to administer and enforce labour law in its territory; and

g. foster full and open exchange of information between these competent authorities regarding labour law and its application in each Party's territory.

I know that my colleague has talked about some of the labour policies that have taken place in many other countries around the world and we do not want to see those things happening either. I choose my products. Does she not think that we have the opportunity—

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

March 29th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I must give the hon. member time to respond. The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I note there was not really a question at the end of that speech. However, I would remind my colleague that I, too, have looked very closely at the Canada-Panama free trade agreement and she will note that the section she was reading from with respect to labour rights is, in fact, nowhere near the main text of the free trade agreement. What she is quoting from is a side agreement. Why would a government relegate fundamental labour rights to a side agreement in the larger context of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement?

I will also ask her, because I know she will want to respond, why the Conservatives voted against two amendments that my colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, moved in committee with respect to labour rights the last time we debated this issue. There were two in particular that I want to bring to her attention. The first would have protected trade union workers in Panama by offering the right to collective bargaining. The second would have required the Minister of International Trade, as the principal representative of Canada on the joint Panama-Canada commission, to consult on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian labour and trade unions. Why did the government vote against those amendments if it is so adamant about being in support of labour rights?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's candour and boldness in proclaiming that she will not be voting in favour of this particular free trade agreement. I would be interested if she would tell us how she will be voting on the free trade agreement with Jordan. I know there was some concern. I understand that New Democrats voted to send it to committee. Does that mean they support the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement? I am not sure about that.

Furthermore, given her beliefs, to what degree does she think that Canada as a nation should punish countries that we trade with but who have human rights issues? An example of a country of that nature might be China, which the NDP and others have expressed concern about in regard to its human rights practices. Would she try to limit trade with that country in any way?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I really do appreciate the question with respect to the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement. Of course, that bill was debated in the House and we have already voted on it, so I am a bit surprised that the member would not know what the NDP position has been on that.

With respect to his second question, I believe that any trade agreement must put human rights, environmental rights and labour rights front and centre in the negotiations. That clearly has not happened in the trade agreement before us today and that is why I have been absolutely clear that I will not be supporting this trade agreement when it comes time to vote on it in this House.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Bill C-24, as many of my colleagues have done before me. First, I would like to thank the hon. members for Burnaby—New Westminster and Windsor West, who worked so hard on this file.

I would like to clarify the position of the government, which seems to believe that everything is black or white. From the outset, I think it is very important to point out that, often, what we hear in debate is that the NDP is against all trade and against any measure that would help our Canadian industries to grow. That is not entirely true, and these comments need some clarification. The NDP is in favour of trade, but not at any price or for any reason. As the hon. member who just spoke pointed out so eloquently, we must be sure to consider certain important factors, such as workers' rights and sustainable development, when signing free trade agreements.

I think that the best way to say it is that we want free trade agreements that are equitable and fair and that truly take into account social justice and the other factors that I just mentioned.

To this end, there is one more thing we need to consider when examining the bill before us to implement a free trade agreement between Canada and Panama. The people of Chambly—Borduas have often shared with me their fears and worries about Canada's standing and reputation. The way our native country is perceived and the way we work with other countries in the world politically or economically may not seem important when we are talking about travelling to another country. And yet it is very important because we have a responsibility as a privileged and developed country to share these values.

When we sign free trade or other agreements with different countries, it is our responsibility to share those values and to behave in a way that will lead to economic growth and enhance rights in general, workers' rights and sustainable development. This must be done not only in Canada but throughout the world. The government often neglects this responsibility, particularly when it comes to bilateral free trade agreements, which are inadequate.

I listened with interest to an earlier question put to the member for Hamilton Mountain, who was speaking about the fact that the bill and the free trade agreement could support workers' rights. However, I am finding it very difficult to understand, as she pointed out, why the Conservatives voted against the well-reasoned amendments suggested by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster in committee if this is a truly an important issue to them. If the government were truly concerned, it would have taken the time to consider the very reasonable amendments moved.

It is important to also highlight another one of our international responsibilities. Panama is considered a tax haven. And this is an economic free trade agreement. Thus, I find it very difficult to consider that we will be dealing with a country that allows money laundering and tax evasion.

As I said, my colleague has worked very hard on this, and I would like to commend him. In fact, the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster moved an amendment that would resolve the issue of fiscal transparency. We could implement measures that would require Panama to exchange tax information with Canada. This would lessen the risk of illegal money laundering activities and so forth. I have already talked about these measures.

Once again, both the Conservatives and the Liberals rejected this amendment because they believe that Panama has a satisfactory double taxation agreement. I would like to point out that this is not a very good argument because the double taxation agreement pertains to fiscal transparency for legal revenue such as taxes, and we already know the source of such revenue. This measure does not at all deal with illegal revenue, but it could if the Panama agreement included my colleague's amendment, which seeks to bring about complete fiscal transparency.

The other aspect I would like to discuss is key to our argument. Several of my colleagues and I mentioned it earlier. I am referring to the rights of workers in the manufacturing sector. These rights are at the heart of a free trade agreement such as this one.

I can already hear the counter-argument that the NDP bows down to the unions. That argument is totally ridiculous in this case, because we are talking about developing countries that are still in the process of adapting their regulations and creating a culture of labour rights and human rights, which are fundamental rights. It is important to note that, while very competent people at the Canadian Labour Congress—Ms. Healy, as my colleague mentioned—have done research, we are not talking about a simple union matter here, or the will of a union. We are truly talking about important issues regarding labour rights. It is not complicated. We are talking about the people who will be making the products that are subject to this trade agreement. Human resources are at the core of this trade agreement. They are the foundation of the transactions that will take place. The jobs are more important than the profits that will be made.

The government likes to talk a lot about the jobs that these free trade agreements will help create. If we are going to talk about job growth, let us also talk about the quality of those jobs, here in Canada and in Panama. The government should focus on creating high-quality jobs for the people of Canada and of Panama. The government says that Canadians want economic growth, but as I was saying earlier, that growth should not come at all costs. I think our constituents, the people we represent, would agree. Here and around the world, we have built a reputation, a culture of defending labour rights and creating high-quality jobs. I think we would want the same thing for another country, Panama in this case.

That is a problem that comes up quite often, not just in this free trade agreement, but in a number of others. The government blindly applies the same negotiation strategies and the same conditions as the ones used for the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1980s and 1990s. That was another time, but the government is trying to apply the same conditions today. Not only are we dealing with a country where the situation is very different from that of our neighbours to the south—the United States and Mexico—but the times are different as well. This is 2012, and the reality for workers has changed. For example, in the manufacturing sector, the tools available for workers are different. Accordingly, working conditions have changed. I think that we have to adapt to that vision going forward.

I will conclude by reiterating that the NDP opposes this bill not because we are against trade, industry and economic growth, but because we are against trade at all costs at the expense of justice and fairness. We want fair trade that is consistent with our fundamental values as they relate to human rights. Those rights are essential when we talk about trade in economic terms, because that also involves cultural exchanges with another country. We must be faithful to our reputation and our values in any agreement we sign, especially at the international level.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I would refer my colleague to the front page of the bill on the agreement with Panama. It includes an agreement on labour co-operation between Canada and the Republic of Panama. I will not read it all, but I suggest he take a look at article 18.03, which refers to the obligations between Canada and Panama and our encouragement for Panama to develop good labour laws.

The NDP members have indicated they will support the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement. Many people have argued that this agreement is a lesser agreement than the Canada-Panama agreement. Could the member comment on why the NDP members refuse to support this agreement, which would give people in Panama the opportunity for hope and a better life?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
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11:20 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. I will refrain from commenting on what she seems to be saying—that a bill relating to the agreement between Canada and Jordan is of less value. As has been said, we have to explain and clarify. I hear what she is saying and it is entirely correct: the bill contains some measures, but they do not go far enough; it is not complicated. We have very serious concerns about workers’ rights. This is indeed a start, but it is not enough.

I will ask my question again: why did they oppose the amendments proposed by my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster if they really have a clear, precise, strong position on standing up for workers’ rights? Why do they not work with the opposition to propose measures that will strengthen what is already in the bill, as she said, but that will help in tangible ways? What is provided in the bill as it stands is not sufficient and does not go far enough. There have to be much stronger and more serious commitments to improving existing working conditions.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, could the hon. member expand upon this? If one applies certain principles that he spoke about in regard to free trade agreements, would one apply those very same principles to trade in general?

For example, if his concern about worker exploitation is the reason why he would not support the free trade agreement with Panama, would he not apply those same principles when he deals with trade in general with all nations in the world? Would he abandon those principles and stick strictly with free trade agreements?