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

Bill C-31—Notice of time allocation motion
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

While I am on my feet, I will advise that Bill C-31, protecting Canada's immigration system act, has been debated on six days in the House and there have been over 80 speeches. That is in addition to over a dozen committee meetings where members studied the bill. Yet even with all of that debate and study, I must advise that an agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) concerning the proceedings at report stage and third reading of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, the Marine Transportation Security Act and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Act.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at those stages.

Bill C-31—Notice of time allocation motion
Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Malpeque, Public Safety; the hon. member for St. Paul's, the 41st General Election; the hon. member for Sudbury, Telecommunications.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Davenport.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this afternoon to speak to the bill, which our party is opposing, Bill C-24, a free trade agreement with Panama.

Many people on the other side of the aisle have been asking us today what kind of deals we support. We stand very clearly in support of fair trade.

This agreement is a marginally improved copy of the George Bush era style. It puts big business before people. There is no effective enforcement of human rights. There is lip service to environmental protections without any real tough measures or dispute mechanisms. It is a NAFTA copycat. These agreements have been in the past designed for trade between two industrialized countries. We have ourselves and Panama which is currently a developing nation.

This is a deal that was negotiated, like others, in record time, without consultation with trade unions, environmental groups, civil society or citizens.

A fair, sustainable trade deal would not only address the needs of business but it would also address the needs of workers and the concerns over the environment. We have global environmental issues. We have global issues around workers' wages and workers' rights. These need to be reflected in any deal that Canada signs internationally because what we sign internationally speaks to who we are as a country.

According to, not just us, but the U.S. department of justice and other entities, Panama is a major conduit for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers and their money laundering activities.

The OECD has noted that having a trade agreement without first tackling Panama's financial secrecy practices could incentivize even more offshore tax dodging. There is a reason to believe that the trade deal would not only increase tax haven abuses but it would also make fighting them that much harder.

It is one of the many ironies that we experience in this House daily. We have a government that pretends to trumpet this belief in law and order domestically but will play footsie internationally with regimes that do not have proper transparency or accountability when we are talking about organized crime, drug cartels, when it is clear that Panama has not tightened up its measures around tax.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster put forth several moderate amendments that dealt with some of the fundamental issues that Canada stands for: fairness, treating workers fairly, allowing for collective bargaining and protecting workers and the environment. We on our side do not believe that economic development, economic activity and stewardship of our environment are mutually exclusive terms. We believe they can work together. In fact, we believe that is the key to future prosperity, not just for Canada but for countries like Panama.

The NDP has consistently opposed NAFTA-style trade templates that focus on the interests of multinational corporations and ignore these other basic important elements of any free, democratic civil society, and that is workers' rights and the environment.

This trade model ultimately rejects fair and sustainable trade which, in turn, generates discontent and protectionism. The NAFTA model has shown unparalleled efficiency in driving and entrenching the political and economic domination of large transnational corporations and is currently at the heart of the ongoing drive for bilateral FTAs.

In our country and in my riding, there are many immigrants and new Canadians who are desperate for work. They are sometimes working three jobs at minimum wage just to make ends meet. We do not need one more instrument in the race to the bottom for wages, not just in Canada but internationally. We need to create good jobs, protect workers' wages and allow workers to bargain collectively not just here but in countries that we deal with. In fact, trade agreements are economic agreements and partnerships between us and other countries but, as I have already said, they also speak to who we are as a country. Are we a country that is willing to toss aside, throw overboard, throw under the bus, whatever metaphor one wants to use, those things which our forefathers and foremothers fought for?

I go back to workers' rights. This deal echoes the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. I know the party in the corner seemingly had no problem with the ways in which workers' rights were not protected in that agreement. It is willing to throw workers under the bus in this instance, too. We expect that from the government and we are getting used to it from the Liberals but we on our side will not do that.

What do we stand for? What does fair trade look like to us? We believe in an alternative and better form of trading. As an aside, which is not a minor aside, there are other countries that aggressively promote their businesses internationally and locally. There are countries that spend hundreds of times more than we do promoting, for example, their wine industries abroad and we are not doing that here. In other words, we have many ways in which to promote trade with other countries, celebrate and promote the innovation, technology and things we produce here in Canada and we are missing out on those opportunities. We are missing out on them in the ever-expanding arts and culture sector. I can say that from first-hand experience.

The New Democrats believe in an alternative, in a better form of trading, in providing a comprehensive and commonsense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrate that the trade deals Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industries, and that the government does not sign any trade agreement that would lead to a net job loss. What could be controversial in an amendment like that? That seems like due diligence to us. It seems like a no-brainer. We want to ensure that the deal we sign will not create net job losses. There should be a means test of assessing whether this agreement is good for the Canadian economy, not just a few large multinational corporations that get backdoor access to government ministers.

Those are some of the ways in which we believe that international trade agreements should be negotiated. We also know that many Canadian workers, families and businesses support this direction.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my colleague's speech, and there was so much misinformation that I just do not know where to start.

One of the things we should all agree on is that what the Leader of the Opposition calls jobs is a disease. He said that quite clearly. The NDP policies actually makes sense in a kind of twisted way. It needs to inoculate Canadians and people around the world against jobs and shut down any trade agreement that might actually improve trade and create jobs between the countries.

Is my colleague aware that Canada and Panama have committed to ensuring that their laws respect the International Labour Organization, one that he supports, of course, the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which covered the elimination of child labour, forced labour and discrimination, the respect of freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively? Is he aware of that, or is this something that the NDP researchers do not let their members know? The NDP has the idea that anything that creates jobs is a disease, like open and free trade, and that is a bad thing to do.

He still has not answered the question as to whether there has ever been a free trade agreement that the NDP has supported. We would like to know that on this side of the House.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is so much misinformation in that multi-pronged question that I do not know where to begin answering it.

However, I can tell my hon. colleague with some certainty, which perhaps the researchers on his side have not fed him the bad news, that Ontario has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. These were not the $10 an hour jobs, the kind the Conservatives are creating that they are in such a celebratory mood over. We have lost good, high-quality jobs that people can raise a family with. What we want for Canadian workers is the same thing we would like for the workers in Panama, which are jobs they can raise a family on, where they do not need to take three low-paying jobs and never see their kids, never be able to work in the community and never be able to get involved because they are desperately trying to stay above water. That is the kind of job creation we look for on this side of the House. That is the kind of job creation that would be reflected in international trade agreements that we would support.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will make reference to the potato industry that I talked about earlier. It provides approximately 1,000 real jobs in the province of Manitoba. Those workers are making a relatively decent living with valuable jobs. They contribute immensely to Manitoba's economy, and we hope to see the industry grow. Does the member have any kind words to say in regard to the potential of being able to increase demand for our potato product on the Prairies by looking outside of Canada?

Panama currently is one of our consumers. It purchases many Manitoba french-fry and potato products. Does the member not see any benefit whatsoever if there were some sort of freer trade agreement that would help solidify that particular market? I just cite that as a specific example. Does he see any benefit whatsoever for those 1,000 workers in Manitoba?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I love french fries as much as the next guy, and if there is an opportunity to expand the markets for potatoes I will not be the guy to stand in the way of that. However, the member is mixing things up. We are talking about a very large-scale issue here. We are talking about money laundering and hidden taxes, and my friend in the corner is talking about french fries.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening very carefully to today's debate about the bill to create a free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.

Canada does not have an extensive trade relationship with Panama. Trade between our two countries amounts to less than $150 million per year, which is not much. However, the government now wants to formalize a less than satisfactory situation marked by an imbalance between the rights of workers and the rights of big companies. That is exactly why the NDP does not agree with the bill before us today.

The government did not consult with unions here or in Panama. Panamanian workers' rights have not been formalized, even though the government claims that this bill will formalize a mechanism to give workers the right to some oversight over free trade between our two countries. The sad thing about all this is that, realistically, that right is nothing but an illusion. It does not really mean anything. In Panama, workers do not really have the right to disagree. I will come back to that point shortly.

I also want to make another point. Today, we are debating the passage of a bill on free trade with a country that does not give us any hope, like the rest of Latin America. We do not want other countries to follow into Panama's footsteps to make their laws, to develop future free trade initiatives. That is not the country I want to rely on and use as a model for future bills. That country has serious problems related to tax havens and money laundering.

I do not understand why the Conservatives are so interested in moving forward with a country that has not shown that it is prepared to rehabilitate itself and to engage in open and transparent free trade. On the contrary, it is a country whose economic activities are not conducted in the open. That may be why the Conservatives are so interested in moving forward with that country, since they also prefer to avoid doing things in the open and want to make sure Canadians are not aware of the impact that the bills debated in this House will have on the rest of the country.

What concerns me in all this is the lack of openness. The Conservatives want to turn into reality, to codify a situation that is not balanced. This will benefit large corporations, but Panama's workers and average families do not have any reason to believe that they will be better off.

I find it hard to see why we are passing a bill involving a country that has so little trade with Canada. And even if that trade were to expand, there is no guarantee that this growth will not take place on the negative side, namely money laundering and drug trafficking.

I thought the Conservative government wanted to avoid increased drug use. I wonder if this agreement will not have the opposite effect.

As for the rights of workers, I want to mention a few amendments that were proposed by the NDP when this bill was brought to the attention of the House, during the 40th Parliament.

At the time, we proposed eleven amendments. Among other things, we wanted to define the notion of responsible investment as maximizing social good as well as financial return in the areas of social justice and corporate governance, in accordance with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. I do not believe that the bill before us today is an improvement over the legislation introduced during the 40th Parliament. Among other things, that amendment did not get the support of the House today.

This is a free trade initiative that is really based on the major free trade agreements of the past. For example, in the case of NAFTA, the two partners were rather major industrial and economic powers.

Canada and the United States have had an important relationship for a long time. That is also the case for Mexico. These countries all have a very important trade and industrial history. We signed agreements based on the fact that each of the two or three partners has a certain amount of power. I am thinking in particular of the auto pact signed a number of years ago. This type of free trade benefits both parties. However, the agreement we are debating does not strike a balance.

Panama and Canada are not on the same economic and industrial level. The Canadian economy is based on exports, especially of natural resources, whereas Panama has a black market economy, an economy based for the most part on money laundering and drug trafficking.

Do we really want to formalize a relationship with a country that is incapable of being transparent and of showing that it can promote another economy and that its own is based on activities that will benefit and not harm Canada?

We believe in a model based on a trading relationship that will not cause job losses. We recommend free trade agreements that will contribute to the growth of the Canadian economy. I think the Canadian economy depends above all on the well-being of its workers, who must have the means to spend money and support their communities.

In the bill before us here today, I do not see how this agreement will benefit the workers of our regions, who will be very much affected by these changes, especially those concerning employment insurance. What benefit is there for them? This free trade agreement would benefit Panama, but what does it do for our workers? I would really like to know. Will seasonal workers in eastern Canada benefit from this bill? I highly doubt it. This bill is worthy of George Bush and his trickle down economics. This created a negative situation in the United States, where the economy has collapsed. That country still has not recovered.

I do not understand why anyone would want a bill based on bilateral trade worth less than $150 million.

I want to come back to the issue of workers and of the rights they will have under this bill. In Panama, according to chapter 11, when there is a dispute, investors will have the right to request compulsory arbitration that they can conduct independently, however Panama's unions can only file a complaint and it will be up to governments to seek and obtain remedies. The government of Panama has not ever shown that it wanted to go further and really apply workers' rights. Consequently, if the unions are not entitled to give concrete expression to the recourse being proposed in today's bill, this right becomes a mirage and not a concrete right. It is a very theoretical right. Unfortunately, Panama's unions will have neither the means nor the legal capacity to give concrete expression to the right that this bill claims to be giving them.

Clearly, workers will not be able to take advantage of these illusory rights. If members are looking for a reason why the bill before us should not be adopted, then that is their reason. Workers do not have any rights in this bill, and Panama's workers deserve better than that. This bill should be amended to improve the lot of Panamanian workers.

Several laws in Canada should be amended to improve the lot of our own workers.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, throughout this debate we have heard a lot of untruths from the opposition. I would like to make a correction for the record.

Panama is no longer on the OECD grey list as a tax haven. This is a repeated claim by the NDP. Panama is improving, so it can participate in free trade agreements. Panama was removed from the grey list by the OECD in 2011 after having substantially implemented global tax standards for exchange of information. This is a big development. It is important. It demonstrates that countries that want to have free trade can improve for the goodness of their citizens and for the betterment of Canada.

Why will this member not support free trade?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments.

We certainly do support trade that respects human rights and improves the lot of workers. However, I do not see why we should support a bill that will primarily benefit big business and others who are already well placed to profit hugely.

I remind members that, very recently, even Nicolas Sarkozy also made the point that Panama is still a country that supports the black market. It is a country with a huge capacity for drug trafficking. This is nothing new. One organization has said otherwise, but a lot of organizations do not agree with the member across the way. There are a lot of improvements that need to be made in Panama, and progress will not be made by adopting a bill like this.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, sitting on the international trade committee, I actually thought the NDP was starting to come around on some of these trade issues. However, listening to the remarks made here this afternoon, obviously not.

There is no question that there are some problems in Panama in terms of money laundering and tax havens. Does the NDP really believe that by slamming the door shut the situation will be improved? It is our biggest trading partner in Central America. There are opportunities for the continued export of seafood, potatoes, et cetera that we are exporting there now. I think there is a huge opportunity, if we can get in the door, in terms of the new canal being built, in terms of the infrastructure. I know there are some restrictions on that infrastructure because of agreements with the United States.

Does the member not think that we should at least be trying to get in the door, signing an agreement? I believe if it is a partner with another country, it will have a better chance of overcoming some of the labour abuses and other things happening in its system, because the economies do become more linked.

How can the NDP say we should just slam the door shut, as if that is going to do anything for Canada or the workers in Panama?

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the only people I see slamming the door shut are the Liberals and the Conservatives.

We proposed amendments. We continue to suggest changes to this law. We want to improve workers' rights. We want to make sure that all parties, especially in Panama, are going to benefit, and that workers in Canada are going to benefit from this bill in front of us. There is no proof whatsoever, no study, that shows that passing a bill such as this would actually improve the plight of workers of the world.

We need to make sure that if we are going to pass a bill here in this House, it is actually going to be beneficial to all the parties concerned. We should be standing up for those who need our protection. That is the point of this House.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. Even before we started, it was pretty clear what we were going to face from the government across the way, with the help of its supporting choir in the Liberal caucus.

There is not one member of this caucus who does not fully understand and support the notion that we are a trading nation. Our survival depends on our ability to trade. The issue is not whether one believes in or supports trade. If we did not support trade, we would not have much of an economy.

When we are defining the rules of engagement for Canada in trade agreements, the question really is whether they are only going to be about the bottom line. Is that the only thing that matters? If that is the case, then the Conservative approach, supported by the Liberals, is exactly the right approach. In fairness to the Liberals, I acknowledge that once the government gets into this deal, it is going to start working magic somehow and doing things that are not in the agreement.

The Conservatives have been clear: as long as an agreement makes money, it is a good deal. We in the NDP do not agree with that attitude. We think there is more to a trade agreement than just the bottom line. We have said on many occasions that our trade policies should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade.

Where I come from in Hamilton, that sounds very much like Canada. That is who we are, or at least we used to be like that. When there were issues of labour rights or environmental protection, not to mention a host of other issues, it used to be that Canada was always seen as the cavalry. If we were not leading in making improvements and changes, then Canada was one of the first countries to be called upon to add support.

I have said many times that we do not have influence in the world because of the size of our economy or the size of our military or the size of our population. Our geography, both in size and in its proximity to the United States of America, makes it pretty clear that any trade agreement would have to improve our bottom line, or why bother? However, to leave it at that is not Canadian. It is not the Canadian way.

It is no longer the case. Those of us who travel to international forums and so on and run into other parliamentarians around the world are always being asked what happened to Canada. Where did the Canada that was respected go to, the Canada that was prepared to say it is not just about dollars, that there is more to it?

We do give a damn about what happens to workers in other countries that we have trade agreements with. We care equally about the environment, because there is only one, and it is not decided by national boundaries.

In my opinion, we in the NDP have taken the approach that the majority of Canadians want. We did not tell the government not to do any trade agreements. Hon. members across the way ask us to show them one trade agreement that we have ever supported; I ask them to give us one that would actually meet Canadian standards, and then we would gladly support it. We in the New Democratic Party will not just roll over and forget about human rights, labour rights and the environment. That we will not do.

I was not at committee. I am not a member of that committee. However, I do know about some of the presentations that were made, and I would like to read a couple briefly into the record.

The first was from Dr. Teresa Healy, who is a senior researcher in the social and economic policy department at the Canadian Labour Congress. Dr. Healy said:

However, the Canada-Panama agreement does not include specific protection for the right to organize and the right to strike.

If I can speak as an aside, given what is going on in this place right now with the pending legislation, it should not really surprise anyone that given the government's view of its own workers, its view of Panamanian workers would be even lower.

I will continue with the quote:

It provides instead for the “effective” recognition of the right to collective bargaining. On trade union rights then, the agreement is weaker than previous agreements.

On labour issues, fines are small; there are no countervailing duties; there is no provision for abrogation or any other such remedy; and yet again, labour provisions remain in a side agreement rather than in the body of the text.

That is for a purpose, Mr. Speaker.

The problem is, and the point that I am making about the way Canadians view free trade agreements and whether they are free or fair, suggests the government cannot just leave the issue alone. It had to come up with these side agreements.

Although I am not a lawyer, we can be assured that those side agreements do not carry more power than the main agreement. If the government were serious about protecting the rights of Panamanian workers and the right to have a sustainable environment, it would be in the main body.

Dr. Healy goes on to say:

Let me speak a bit about the context of labour rights in Panama. 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: 40% of the population is poor and 27% is extremely poor, and the rate of extreme poverty is particularly acute in indigenous populations.

Unfortunately, that sounds familiar.

Dr. Healy goes on:

Although the country has endured extensive structural adjustment, liberalization, and privatization in recent years, this has not translated into economic benefits for the population.

In response to the international perception that Panamanian labour laws were rigid and a disincentive to foreign investment, President Ricardo Martinelli announced unilateral changes to the labour law in the summer of 2010. The law ended environmental impact studies on projects deemed to be of social intere, it banned mandatory dues collection from workers, it allowed employers to fire striking workers and replace them with strike-breakers, it criminalized street blockades, and it protected police from prosecution.

The severity of this attack on labour rights was met with strikes and demonstrations. The police were exceedingly harsh in their response—and this was just the past summer. At least six people were killed, protesters were seriously injured, and many were blinded by tear gas and police violence. Three hundred trade union leaders were detained before the President withdrew the labour provisions and called for a national dialogue of moderate trade union leaders and business leaders.

That is one quote.

I would like to read a second one if I could. This is from Mr. Todd Tucker, who is research director at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He said:

I have two central points. First, 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.

Let me elaborate on the first point. What makes Panama a particularly attractive location for tax dodgers and offshore corporations? Well, for decades the Panamanian government has pursued an international 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're subject to little to no reporting requirements or regulations.

You have to be kidding, Mr. Speaker—one minute? My, time flies when having fun. Let me then get at least--