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 trade.

Topics

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, like many of my colleagues, I am rising in the House today to speak about 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.

As many of my colleagues have already pointed out, Bill C-24 is a new version of a bill that was introduced in the House during the previous Parliament, but that died on the order paper at the time.

In August 2009, the Conservative government entered into negotiations surrounding the future free trade agreement with the Republic of Panama. The agreement also included side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.

This free trade agreement was signed on May 14, 2010, and tabled in the House of Commons as Bill C-46, but the legislative process ended at the clause-by-clause review by the Standing Committee on International Trade.

This same bill is now being reintroduced without any significant improvements over the previous version.

The NDP was opposed to Bill C-46 in the 40th Parliament for the many reasons that have already been enumerated here in this House.

Again, we are going to have to oppose Bill C-24, because there are no provisions in it to remedy the fundamental flaws that have already been cited in this House.

The Canada-Panama agreement negotiated by the Conservative government is in fact only a slightly improved version of the approach to trade taken by former American President George Bush. Once again, in this free trade agreement, big corporations come ahead of the Canadian and Panamanian people, and absolutely nothing is being done to ensure respect for human rights, and very little to protect the environment.

More specifically, it is obvious to my colleagues in the NDP and myself, at least, that there are no provisions in the Canada-Panama agreement to ensure respect for workers’ rights in Panama. If the agreement is ratified by Parliament as it stands, there is absolutely no guarantee that the rights of Panamanian workers will not be flouted as they have so often been in the past.

But honestly, is anyone here surprised by this? If we look at the Conservatives’ record since the May 2, 2011, election, it is clear that workers’ rights are the very last thing on this government’s list of priorities.

In barely a year, they have introduced a record number of bills to force workers back to work and violate their fundamental right to negotiate their conditions of employment in good faith. Given this kind of contempt for the rights of Canadian workers, it is really not surprising that there would be no provisions in the Canada-Panama agreement to protect the rights of Panamanian workers.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster had already proposed two amendments at the Standing Committee on International Trade to remedy this major flaw in the bill.

Those amendments would, first, have protected unionized workers in Panama by guaranteeing them the right to bargain collectively, as is the case here in Canada, or at least as it was before this government came to power.

The amendments presented by my colleague would also have forced the Minister of International trade to consult regularly with representatives of Canadian workers and with Canadian unions.

We know that this kind of consultation seems somewhat repugnant to this government, but New Democrat members think this measure is essential before we can ratify a free trade agreement with Panama.

Of course, in spite of Panama’s bad record when it comes to defending workers’ rights, those amendments were naturally defeated by the Conservatives, with the support of the Liberals.

With the Conservatives confirming on a daily basis their bias in favour of businesses and management—with their brutal attacks on workers' basic rights—it was hard to expect a different outcome.

Another major problem with Bill C-24 is the fact that it does not include any measure to prevent tax evasion. It is important to note that the Republic of Panama is still regarded as a tax haven. In fact, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, recently said so.

Even though these issues were raised by my colleagues during the 40th Parliament, Bill C-24 is still seriously flawed when it comes to tax disclosure.

Despite repeated requests from Canada, the Republic of Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement.

This is very troubling, considering the large amount of money that is laundered in the Republic of Panama, including money from drug trafficking.

The Conservatives are constantly boasting about the importance they attach to law and order in Canada and about the fact that they are prepared to put Canadians in jail for years just because of a few marijuana plants. However, they refuse to do anything to create obstacles for big drug traffickers. It is really impossible to understand this government.

In its present form, Bill C-24 is not acceptable to the NDP. This trade agreement, which is quite similar to NAFTA, unjustly favours multinational corporations at the expense of workers and of the quality of our environment. This type of agreement with various countries that are often at an economic disadvantage compared to Canada, increases social and economic inequalities, while also significantly reducing the quality of life of workers and their families.

The rights of workers all over the world are important to my NDP colleagues and to myself. We cannot, in good conscience, support an agreement that does not do anything to protect the basic rights of the country with which that agreement is reached. We already have enough problems protecting our own Canadian workers against this government, which is barely able to conceal its contempt for their rights. We should not, in addition, start interfering with the rights of workers in Panama. It just makes no sense. We must ensure there are guarantees, so that they can negotiate their collective agreements freely and in good faith, as should be the case in any democratic society.

Since the beginning of the debate on Bill C-24, Conservative members keep repeating the same old arguments dictated by their government, without trying to understand our position on this issue.

My colleagues and I have made speeches in this House that are very clear. Our position on international trade is clear: we believe in the importance of international trade, but it has to be fair, sustainable and equitable trade. It is totally false to say that the NDP does not support international trade. I think I will say that again for the benefit of my colleagues opposite: it is totally false to say that the NDP does not support international trade. We simply believe that the trade agreements being negotiated have to respect and support the principles of social justice, sustainable development and human rights, which is not to say that we have to neglect the need to expand our trading opportunities.

We are aware that Canada has to trade with other countries; to import and to export. That is the system we are in. That is how things work and we are very aware of these realities. However, my colleagues and I in the NDP do not think that Canada's economic prosperity needs to come at the expense of workers' rights in other countries, people who are less fortunate than we are and who do not enjoy all the freedoms we had before this Conservative government came on the scene. We can indeed see that the rights to free association and to collective bargaining are fading away as the weeks go by.

It is completely absurd and false to say that the NDP wants to close our borders to commercial products from other countries. We do believe, however, that the government should stop focusing exclusively on the NAFTA model and should remain open to exploring other possible solutions to establish trade ties with other countries.

We must ensure that Canada puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public-sector social programs and the fight against poverty at the heart of its trade strategy. As soon as this government presents us with a free trade agreement that respects the principles of social justice and sustainable development, we would be pleased to support and vote in favour of such a bill. So far, however, we have yet to see such a thing in the history of Canada. The Liberals did not present any such agreements, nor have the Conservatives.

So, until that time, we will continue to oppose them. However, there is still time to amend this bill and ensure that the principles of social justice, sustainable development and the fight against poverty are respected.

I invite my Conservative colleagues to reflect on this and remain open to the kind of amendments that my colleagues are proposing.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering to what degree the NDP will have credibility on the issue of free trade agreements. On the one hand, when we look at 2015, it will be saying that it supports fair trade but that it does not support free trade agreements, and yet hundreds of thousands of Canadians have benefited immensely. I cited the potato industry in Manitoba.

Canada is an exporting nation and we are very dependent on our ability to trade worldwide. That is what generates jobs and wealth.

After listening to members of the NDP, there is a difference between the NDP and the Liberals. We see the value of freer trade agreements.

Contrary to what the member's colleagues would have said on the front benches, if, for example, the amendments the NDP proposed in committee had passed, would the NDP members then have supported the bill in the House?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that some of the nuances of my speech and those of my colleagues were not grasped by the member in the corner. I liked what the member for Davenport said earlier.

From the beginning the NDP has said that it encourages free trade if it is fair and just. This has yet to be seen in Canadian history. In the future, we will have a great deal of credibility among workers whose rights we will have defended, among Quebeckers whose culture we will have defended—an aspect sometimes neglected by these free trade agreements—and among future generations, for protecting the environment.

By defending the principles of social justice, the fight against poverty and strong public programs to help people, we will have the credibility needed to vote for the next free trade agreements that will respect the principles we defend.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Djaouida Sellah Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her eloquent speech and clear explanations. There are no doubts.

I would like my colleague to comment on the current scenario. From the beginning, the Conservative government has used the muzzle and the bayonet. Now, it will find itself with a trade agreement with a country that is a poor student and a tax haven.

I would like to know what impact this will have on workers' rights, on the right to association and the right to strike. Unfortunately, these rights are not in the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the very important and greatly appreciated work that she does for her constituents.

The problems with the right to negotiate, freedom of association and the right to strike are likely to be very serious for the countries of South America, primarily for Panama, because this type of agreement contains no guarantee those rights will be protected.

We are already flouting the rights of our Canadian workers by stopping them from negotiating their collective agreements and by preventing negotiations in good faith. Basically, the government is telling employers that they do not have to try and negotiate because it will be there to save them and to give them exactly what they want at the expense of the workers, who will have to make do with whatever salaries and working conditions employers want to give them. This kind of risk is very real, and it already exists in Panama, where the workers do not have the same rights as we do at all.

In signing such agreements without protecting their rights, we will merely be worsening their working conditions, and we will not be able to pass on the democratic social values particular to Canadian society that should be spread throughout the world.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before recognizing the hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, I must inform him that I will have to interrupt him at 6:30 p.m., at the end of the time provided for government business.

The hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty funny to realize I only have only three minutes to talk about all this, but what is even funnier—and I am not a specialist in international agreements—is when I hear my Liberal colleague talk about the credibility of the people in the NDP.

I think it is hilarious and laughable that, when his former leader had his ships registered in Panama, the lakers in the Great Lakes got themselves beautiful Panamanian flags. People can see right away the kind of country it is. As this is one of the rare opportunities I have to speak about this issue, I have to say that today it is certainly the cherry on the top to talk about this agreement with a country that is none too encouraging in terms of the Canadian economy.

Once again, we see the government on the other side preparing to slip a bill through that will put CP workers up against the wall with a gun to their heads, and simultaneously presenting us with a potential free trade agreement with a country where workers at many levels are denied the right to strike. And when I suggest that the whole thing is laughable, it is because their proposal does not at first glance strike me as obviously popular; what they are putting forward is a plan for a free trade agreement with Panama, a country which, to say the very least, does not have a sterling reputation and is recognized as one of the most notorious of tax havens.

I was reading Le Devoir, which reported that Panama was one of the countries where tax shelter transactions, like those currently practised in Barbados, were most widespread. I find the whole idea pathetic.

I am not casting aspersions on the people in Panama who have products to export. But I wonder whether tomatoes will cross the border more readily than people. We are going to trade agricultural products with these people, but we do not want to see their faces, and that is very sad.

Once again, it' is a back door agreement that serves the interests of a number of specific people who have lobbied the government, which always tends to lend a friendly ear to business interests rather than ordinary people. Enough said.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The Hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher will have seven minutes to speak when the House resumes debate on the motion and five minutes for questions and comments.

The House resumed from May 17 consideration of Bill C-25, An Act relating to pooled registered pension plans and making related amendments to other Acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 6:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division at the report stage of Bill C-25.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on Motion No. 1, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #225

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I declare Motion No. 1 defeated.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Pooled Registered Pension Plans Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If you seek it, I believe you will find agreement to apply the vote for the previous motion to the current motion, with the Conservatives voting yes.