House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labour.

Topics

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to say a little bit about Bill C-24 on the implementation of the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

As you are aware, the NDP is strongly opposed to this agreement because of all its deficiencies and inconsistencies. It is based on the former Bill C-46, which was not passed in the previous Parliament. Let us remember the proposals and amendments suggested by our colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster. He submitted 11 amendments without success and the bill was never passed.

In this Parliament, the Conservative caucus decided to introduce this bill again as Bill C-24. Among other things, the Conservatives proposed that, for tax purposes, Panama should still be considered a tax haven. This is unacceptable in the eyes of the global financial community. The Conservatives are sending the message that we are not asking any questions and that we are not imposing any constraints on countries regarding the disclosure of useful or important tax information. It seems that the negotiators of this type of agreement have not shown the importance of this and have not sent the message to the officials negotiating for the other countries involved—such as Panama in this case—that this was perhaps not a binding requirement for signing this agreement. As we know, these countries have refused to disclose this financial information. It would appear that the Canadian negotiators said that there was no problem and that negotiations could continue.

Our country places a great deal of importance on workers’ rights, as demonstrated by all the collective agreements signed throughout Canada, by the existence of unions and by legislation that permits free collective bargaining. However, the hon. members can see for themselves what is happening right now, in our country.

The Conservatives want to sign a free trade agreement with a country where there are few guarantees that there will be at least minimal respect for the working conditions of employees. In reality, that is not a binding condition, either. It sends the wrong message. In fact, Panama can say in return that it understands very clearly that, in reality, the aim of this free trade agreement is just to grant certain advantages to mining companies, oil companies or Canadian casinos. These companies will be able to operate more profitably, considering the competitive advantage they will obtain from the lower wages and all goods that they can purchase more cheaply.

The countries that should be our partners have flatly refused to sign this agreement. However, this tax information exchange agreement was one of the critical points in the negotiations that Panama entered into with European countries. The OECD has made a number of statements and has even drawn up grey lists and black lists and lists of every colour imaginable in order to categorize certain countries whose economies are dysfunctional.

However, as everyone knows, the result of this is that there was never really a positive agreement between Panama and Europe, and particularly between Panama and France. Now, Canada comes along and wants to be the sheriff. It wants to sign a free trade agreement and it tells Panama what it must commit to do. It also tells Panama that what it is asking for in return is negotiable in a very unfair fashion.

Recently, I was stunned to hear a member of this House call one of our colleagues on this side a pompous socialist, because that member thought the New Democratic Party was fiercely opposed to international trade. It does not make any sense. We were misunderstood. That is really misquoting and mischaracterizing what we want to propose, or what was already proposed on numerous occasions by our colleagues in this House.

When it comes to trade, I feel that all the proposals made by the New Democratic Party are good. These include: protecting the environment and workers' rights—and I will say it again—and total honesty regarding the financial information that must be shared to avoid shenanigans. International trade is plagued by money transfers, money laundering and similar activities.

Our dear colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, proposed amendments, but the Conservatives and the Liberals always refused to accept them. At the time, there was a deadlock because we were proposing to secure “win-win” free trade agreements, instead of “win-lose” agreements like this one.

As for the member who called our colleague a pompous socialist, it is all a matter of interpretation, because if I said the opposite, they would then be deemed to be imperialists and even colonialists. That is all part of history and those days are over.

As we will see, international trade will evolve in a way where good faith will prevail, followed by everything related to financial interests and to profits from that trade.

Instead of collecting interests or buying bank drafts, we are going to go back to the ancient basic form of trade, namely the trading of natural resources for another form of financial resources.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, I have three quick points.

First, on the socialist issue, that is how the NDP members describe themselves. I am glad they do that, because the first step in any problem is identifying the problem. Now that they know they are socialists, they can work on becoming capitalists and join the world of prosperity, democracy and happiness.

Second, Panama, as a tax haven, has been removed from the OECD grey list. It has substantially implemented global pact standards for the exchange of information. Therefore, it is probably better that the NDP not keep repeating that false fact.

Finally, I am still waiting to hear of any free trade agreement the NDP has supported in the last 2,000 years.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member reminds me of an old story about the socialist and the capitalist. At the end, the socialist is the good guy and the capitalist is all the time the bad guy who wants to screw others.

Relative to the OECD list, we do not know what the objective of that organization is. It has prepared these lists and says that this is black, that this is grey and that this is white. We will see that all of the ones on the white list are the ones who commit more fraud than the other ones.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague surely knows the old adage, “give a dog a bad name and hang him”. It is obviously always a pleasure to talk of all manner of ills and illnesses—and why not talk about illnesses while we are at it.

However, I would like to bring my colleague back to the more serious matter of the interests at play in the free trade agreement with Panama. Considering that the Liberals and the Conservatives clearly seem very swayed by particular interests—or what could be described as corporate interests with ties to the world of finance—could my colleague talk more about the fact that this trade agreement will not defend the interests of 99% of the population?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

José Nunez-Melo Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, that was indeed very well put. The member put the question rather clearly and accurately so that we could understand what is beneficial and what is not.

Canada has traditionally been a rich, developed country whose international trade has primarily been subject to the dictates of the United States of America. I can clearly remember, when I was still a student at university and at the HEC, we learned everything about economic relations. It was the NAFTA era and everyone knew that 85% of exports went to the United States of America.

Not everyone agreed with this and some argued that we would have to diversify and increase international trade with Europe, Latin America and Asia. This was suggested by some people in our discussion groups in our masters level international trade courses. These were the kinds of issues we discussed. It was only recently—less than 15 years ago I think—that we began to sign free trade agreements with other countries, those described as non-traditional customers, rather than the United States.

I can only agree with my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou. What he said was very apt.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, as usual, my colleague made some important points with respect to this trade deal and Canada's role in the world, making fair and just deals with other countries. As has been said, there is no doubt about the fact that Canada is a trading nation. It always has been a trading nation. I am from Nova Scotia. It is a trading province, always has been and always will be.

I have looked at some of the work the government has been doing, whether it be the CETA deal or what it has done on NAFTA, or other free trade agreements. The crux of the problem is that the government does not have a clear policy on what its position is on trade, just that it wants some.

Its negotiators do not have an industrial policy to work from. The European Union has an industrial policy. All other major trading nations in this world have a domestic, industrial policy to work from. They know where the strengths and weaknesses are in their economies. They know what it is that they want from a trade deal, not just the fact that they want a trade deal.

That is extremely important to begin with, to understand where we want to make gains and what the downsides might be in order to get those gains. If we understand them up front, then we understand that during the negotiations we need to make accommodations for the downsides. If we are going to engage in some deal that is going to affect a particular industry, in their wisdom, the negotiators and the government departments responsible may decide that the gains are greater than the losses. Nonetheless there are going to be losses, and they have to prepare for those.

There has to be, built into the deal, accommodation or adjustment strategies for the possible closing of an industry, the laying off of employees, the retraining, the relocation, perhaps, of the people and communities affected.

This is what a fair and responsible trade policy has to look like. It has to be progressive. It has to be fair. It has to be socially just. There has to be a commitment to human rights, to the environment, to labour protections and to making sure that the deal, in the final analysis, is right for this country.

I agree, and I bet there are not too many members on this side who would disagree, with the idea that Canada needs to be out there promoting what Canadians do best, creating new markets, creating new opportunities for our entrepreneurs, our businesses, our ideas, our technology and our resources. I do not think this country, certainly under the government, is doing a good enough job with that.

What are we dealing with here on Panama? We are dealing with a country that is important because it is a country and because there are working people, an environment, a government that is perhaps making some mistakes and doing some things that we are not happy about. Nonetheless, there are hard-working women and men in that country who are trying to provide for themselves, their families and their communities. There is an important ecosystem in Panama that we need to ensure is maintained.

However, in 2008, for example, two-way merchandise between the two countries reached only $149 million, less than 1% of Canada's total trade. Now I am not suggesting because we only do a bit of trade with this country it is not important. I would say just the opposite. It is even more important that we tailor the kind of deal that we do with a developing country like this, so we are all gaining from the experience, so the people of Panama gain as much as the people of Canada and the businesses in Panama gain as much as our businesses.

The problem is the government has put together a deal that is very much like the NAFTA deal. It is like a deal it would do with a major industrialized country. It does not have the kind of sensitivities that are necessary in dealing with a developing country, and those are some of my concerns. It does not deal to my liking with human rights issues. It does not deal appropriately with the environment, with labour rights and, has been stated by successive members of this caucus, it does not deal with the fact that Panama is a tax haven. Panama has been delisted by the OECD. As the member before me stated, it has been black- and grey-listed because it will not provide information and there is no transparency with respect to financial transactions. Even with this deal, the Government of Canada tried to get the Government of Panama to sign a taxation information agreement that would make its information more transparent and it did not happen. However, it is a free trade deal and the current government is a free trade government and it is going to sign it come what may.

It was interesting listening to my colleagues. We talk about pushing for environmental protections, human rights and labour rights. I began to think about what we have been talking about in this House in the past number of weeks and months. How many times has the government brought in back-to-work legislation? Twenty-one times, completely and utterly taking away the right to free collective bargaining for working people in this country. The Conservatives are getting rid of science. They have shut down the Freshwater Institute; the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research, gone; the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, gone; the National Council of Welfare, gone; the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, disbanded last fall. These were organizations that provided valuable scientific and fact-based research to help governments and to help the private sector, to help communities make sound decisions and conduct themselves in ways that make our communities and our countries stronger.

The government has brought in a piece of legislation we are dealing with right now, the Trojan Horse bill, Bill C-38. It has stuffed an unprecedented amount of legislation into that bill. Seventy pieces of legislation would be changed. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would be completely repealed. The Fisheries Act would be changed substantially to the point where it would hardly be recognizable. EI would be irreparably changed. Is it being changed in the face of discussion and debate? Not one iota. The government unfortunately is engaged in relations with countries like Panama and it has absolutely nothing to hold to that country because the way it is conducting itself is anti-democratic and opposed to human rights. That is why it should be subjected to all kinds of criticism from this side and from others in this country.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for having very clearly described the framework for the debate and the discussion we are engaged in with respect to this free trade treaty. He brought out the finer points, while focusing on the things that are important to us as progressives, which is to say environmental protection and respect for human rights.

What we have here is a very bad cut-and-paste version of George Bush style free trade agreements that place major corporations ahead of people.

I would like him to give us some further details about why Canadians should be worried and concerned about the fact that there is nothing about environmental protection or protection for the rights of workers, or about the fact that it may make our own working conditions worse.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question gets to who we are as Canadians, it gets to our values. Whatever the government of this country does, whether it is here in Ottawa, Halifax, Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, or whether it is in Panama, it reflects the values of the people of this country.

In a case like this where the government is negotiating a trade deal with a developing country, people are looking at our country and saying that we are taking advantage of that country, that we are a much bigger country, that we have a much bigger trade balance than Panama. They are saying that Panama is struggling and this country is taking advantage of it. People are saying that we do not care about the environment, about human rights or about labour protections. They and Canadians are increasingly asking what happened to the principles of justice, good governance and walking this earth with integrity.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for having given such an eloquent presentation that really went to the heart of the matter.

I wish to speak to my colleagues about another matter. I am very worried because a factory in my riding has been closed for a long time. One might reasonably hope that it could reopen within a few days, but unfortunately, the workers in my riding have no idea whatsoever about what the conditions will be like. Currently, it is owned by a private investor, or at least assumed to be.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives now want to raise the threshold for mandatory review of foreign investment to $1 billion. They want to raise it from $330 million to $1 billion. I am rather disturbed about this inconsistency in the government's approach to the management of our domestic economy while at the same time exporting problems that were created here in Canada by signing free trade agreements with countries whose treatment of their people raises serious doubts. There are all kinds of concerns about Panama.

Is my colleague as concerned as I am and can he tell us more about this matter?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member is working hard for his constituents, who find themselves in the difficult situation of not having a job and are waiting with bated breath to know who is going to take over ownership of the country.

My colleague talked about foreign ownership. The government recently reduced that threshold of $1 billion. It reduced it considerably because everything in this country is for sale as far as the Conservative government is concerned.

The Conservative government is looking at countries around the world. China is taking a bigger stake in the oil sands in Alberta. An American company came up here and took over Caterpillar. Within five years it shut the company down. It took all the money, the tax breaks and everything else. That American company enjoyed all of the benefits of being in Canada. Caterpillar was shut down and the workers were put out of work. The company went back to the United States.

That is what happens when we do not have a government that is prepared to stand up for working people. They can be taken advantage of by foreign companies. Every Canadian has reason to be concerned about that.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act.

To be acceptable and really effective, free trade agreements have to do more than just open new markets like Panama. They have to be based on fair, sustainable principles that benefit both countries. The free trade agreement we are debating today does not really meet these criteria. In fact, this agreement has problems that are common to many of our free trade agreements. I would like to talk about these problems, as some of my colleagues have done.

One of the most disturbing parts of the agreement is in chapter 9, which has to do with investment. This chapter covers the same principle as chapter 11 of NAFTA, which allows a company to sue a government if it creates regulatory barriers to trade.

According to Todd Tucker of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, who testified before the Standing Committee on International Trade on November 17:

Panama is one of the world's worst tax havens. It is home to an estimated 400,000 corporations, including offshore corporations and multinational subsidiaries. This is almost four times the number of corporations registered in Canada. So Panama is not just any developing country.

Indeed, for decades, the Panamanian government has been deliberately pursuing a tax haven strategy. It offers foreign banks and firms a special offshore licence to conduct business there. Not only are these businesses not taxed, but they are subject to little to no reporting requirements or regulations.

According to the OECD, the Panamanian government does not have the legal capacity to verify key information on these businesses, such as, for example, their capital structure. Panama's shadowy financial practices also make it a very attractive place to launder money that comes from all over the world.

According to the U.S. state department, major Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, as well as Colombian illegal armed groups, are using Panama for drug trafficking and money laundering purposes.

The Canada-Panama trade agreement could even exacerbate the problem posed by Panama's status as a tax haven. As the OECD pointed out, signing a trade agreement without first tackling Panama's shadowy financial practices may lead to greater tax evasion. So, an agreement with Panama would facilitate tax evasion, which would result in large sums of money not being collected by the taxman, Need I remind the House that this is a period of budget austerity, when that money is badly needed for our public services.

There are no restrictions on capital entering or exiting Panama. Transactions are protected by banking secrecy, and financial activity is not monitored. There is also a somewhat more specific problem in this case, and that is the absence of a tax information exchange agreement. The negotiation of a free trade agreement should be an opportunity to encourage Panama to be more transparent about tax evasion.

Although the importance of dealing with problems caused by tax havens was highlighted at the 2009 meeting of the G20 in London, Canada is moving in the opposite direction and is creating a new means of facilitating the flight of capital. This type of strategy is just irresponsible.

We should also note the serious environmental problems in Panama. While this deal includes an agreement on the environment, as we saw with the free trade agreement with Colombia—which has a separate agreement on the environment—it actually provides no enhanced protection for the environment or the resources in affected communities. Given Panama's very lax environmental regulations, especially when it comes to mining, this oversight is extremely worrying.

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

Why is the government so willing to ignore the huge threats to Panama's environment? All trade agreements, including this one, should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems.

But seeing that this government cut eight ecotoxicology positions at the Institut Maurice-Lamontagne, I imagine that it does not understand the importance of preserving these ecosystems.

There are also problems when it comes to protecting workers. Panama is currently enjoying relatively high rates of growth, but it is ranked second among countries in the region in terms of inequality: 40% of Panama's inhabitants are poor, 27% are extremely poor, and the rate of extreme poverty is particularly high among indigenous populations. In recent years, the country has undergone considerable liberalization and privatization, but they have not trickled down to financially benefit the population.

The Canada–Panama agreement does not include specific protection for the right to associate and the right to strike. Instead, it provides effective recognition for the right to bargain collectively. As far as union rights are concerned, the agreement is, therefore, weaker than previous agreements.

The trade agreement does not level the playing field for investors and workers. Furthermore, this trade agreement does not create a level playing field for investors and workers. Under chapter 11, investors have the right to request compulsory arbitration that they can conduct independently, however a union in Panama would not be allowed to take a case to arbitration. It can file a complaint, which would lead to an investigation followed by a report, but it would be up to the government to seek and obtain remedies. Based on our experience with agreements modelled on NAFTA, governments are not inclined to go down that road.

Unfortunately, the trade agreement with Panama does not address any of these issues. In fact, the agreement does not refer to drug trafficking, tax havens or money laundering. It does have a side agreement to deal with labour, but we already know from previous efforts with such side agreements that they have no real effect on improving labour conditions in a country.

Quebeckers and Canadians will not benefit from the agreement any more than Panamanians. Moreover, in the agreement, there are several measures modelled on World Trade Organization agreements, which have been contested for some time by southern countries.

The Canadian government justifies this accord by the fact that Panama is an established market for Canada, and that bilateral trade and investment relations show strong, long-term growth potential. Some big Canadian businesses have sniffed out good deals and believe that the accord will facilitate trade relations with Panama, despite its dubious reputation. But what price will be paid by Canadians, Panamanians and all future generations?

We, the members of the opposition, proposed changes to improve this agreement. During the clause-by-clause study, we proposed 11 amendments that would have made this bill more progressive. For example, we suggested adding certain essential concepts, such as sustainable development and investment and, more importantly, transparency requirements for taxation. The Conservatives, together with the third party, rejected our amendments. That shows how backwards those two parties are when it comes to responsible, appropriate fiscal policy.

The NDP, for its part, prefers a multilateral approach based on a sustainable trade model. That might be the main difference. Bilateral trade agreements are usually protectionist trade agreements that grant preferred treatment to some trading partners to the exclusion of others. Weaker countries typically find themselves in an inferior position relative to bigger partners. A sustainable multilateral trade model avoids those problems and protects human rights and the environment. That is why these elements should be more prominent not only in this agreement, but also in other free trade agreements. That could be one way to solve the problem. That is our proposal.

I would like to end by talking about values, because I think values are also involved. This free trade agreement could allow us to assert our own Canadian values almost everywhere in the world. Our values could be reflected in our free trade agreements; they could be understood; they could be seen; and they would be clear. This would be interesting. In fact, I do not want to speak against the people of Panama. I just think that this agreement is not good for us, nor is it good for them.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Québec for her speech. It shows great intelligence and her great capacity for work. It is very promising. It makes me trust her work on the Standing Committee for International Trade. It is a committee that I am familiar with and I enjoyed my time on it very much. It is a fascinating field to learn about.

My colleague really put her finger on the problem of our Canadian values. These values are shared by people throughout the country, by 34 million Canadians. These values, of which we are extremely proud, are related to issues of world peace and human rights.

Sometimes I have the impression that the party in power, as well as the third party in the House, have confused these values with monetary values and other values relating to the development of natural resources or to human exploitation.

I will not hide the fact that I hesitated a long time in deciding that it was an approach that suffered from naïveté, which would be touching in other circumstances, were it not for the interests linked to it and to the fact that it might colour and in fact even damage and destroy our worldwide reputation. Or else, was it tied to much less commendable interests for a small portion of the population who profit handsomely from it, and have both hands in the cookie jar?

I would like to hear my colleague’s opinion on this issue.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
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6:05 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his very astute comment.

It is indeed a question of values. We should also find out whether this agreement will benefit the entire population or only part of it. This is where the NDP differs with the government, which, all too often favours just some of the people.

This is something we have noticed in a number of policies, not just the policies involving free trade. We think it is important to promote these values for the benefit of all, not just for a portion of the population, and to do it in our own country, certainly, and also beyond our borders. These are also values that we would like to inculcate in the people of Panama. In fact, we would like to inculcate these values in everyone.

I would like to thank my honourable colleague for his very valid ideas, with which I completely agree.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member her thoughts on the issues of human rights, labour legislation and environmental concerns. She comes across as being fairly passionate in terms of freer trade maybe not being able to deal with those types of issue in these bilateral agreements.

My question to the member is related to countries like China, which exports billions of consumer products and dollars to Canada. I am sure she would have concerns related to those three issues. What would she suggest Canada do with those countries we currently trade with, where there are those types of concerns, or does it just apply to those countries where there are agreements in place?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
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6:10 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, human rights and the environment are issues of concern in any agreement with any country. However, what I wanted to emphasize in what I said was the idea of a multilateral approach. I meant a multilateral approach for other countries too, including Asian countries, where several countries can be involved. It is a better approach than bilateral agreements, which are often problematic.

This approach has often been suggested. I am thinking of Asia in particular because of the current situation. One frequently meets people—at the Standing Committee on International Trade, for instance—who suggest the idea of developing this multilateral approach and encourage us to think more seriously about it. That is why, in this case, I said to myself that it may be an answer.

It will never be possible to solve all the world’s human rights and environmental problems, but at least we can have the desire and show the leadership to work in that direction and to promote it. Nothing has even been said here about what is happening in this country. It is as if it did not exist. That is the problem.