House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

June 19th, 2012 / 10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on June 7 by the member for Mount Royal concerning the government's response to written Question No. 588.

I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised this matter and the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for his intervention.

The hon. member for Mount Royal claimed that the response provided to Q-588 was so insufficient and incomplete as to constitute a non-answer. He took care to differentiate this case to a similar one on which I delivered a ruling on April 3, 2012, by noting that the government had given him no indication of an intent to provide further information.

The lack of correlation between the question and the response caused the hon. member to ask the Speaker to refer this failure to respond to the Standing Committee on Finance, as per the Standing Orders.

The government House leader pointed out that given the difficulties in providing the information requested, the information, although using general terminology, was actually quite accurate.

As members know, objections about the quality of the responses to written questions have been raised numerous times in the past. My predecessors have invariably pointed out to the House that it is not the role of the Chair to judge the quality of the responses provided by the government.

The member for Mount Royal himself acknowledged this in referring to my ruling of April 3, which can be found at pages 6856 to 6858 of Debates in which I quoted a ruling on February 8, 2005.

Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of this response is a matter of debate. It is not something upon which the Speaker is permitted to pass judgment.

Furthermore, there is a passage in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, which has been quoted by previous speakers when addressing similar concerns about written questions, and which bears repeating. At pages 522 and 523 it states:

There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review Government responses to questions.... The Speaker has ruled that it is not the role of the Chair to determine whether or not the contents of documents tabled in the House are accurate...”

With regard to the member's written question, he indicated when he placed it on notice that he was requesting a response within 45 days pursuant to Standing Order 39(5)(a). Under the provisions of paragraph (b) of the Standing Order, if a question remains unanswered, that is if no response has been tabled, at the expiry of the requested 45-day period, then:

....the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond shall be deemed referred to the appropriate Standing Committee

Under the terms of the Standing Order, the failure of the minister to respond to a question applies only if the government fails to provide any reply at all within the stipulated deadline.

Although the member for Mount Royal may feel that the content of the government's answer to Question No. 588 constitutes a failure to respond, the government did in fact table a response on June 4, within the requested 45 days and thus complied with the basic requirements of the Standing Order.

Therefore the remedy he is seeking is not applicable in this instance, and the Chair cannot unilaterally refer this matter to committee.

I thank all members for their attention on this matter.

The House resumed from June 7 consideration of the motion that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate, the hon. member for London West has six minutes left to conclude his remarks.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to resume my comments with respect to the Canada-Panama free trade deal, which we hope will have the same success as Jordan did this past week. I want to acknowledge the members of the opposition who came together to help us move the arrangements for the trade deal with Jordan along. I hope that vision and support that they showed in the last free trade deal carries on this time. I would say to our friends in the loyal opposition, let us not do this for the sake of the opposition members being able to say that they have passed the deal so they as a party can never be told that they do not support free trade deals. I do not believe that is the case. Therefore, as my Cape Breton mother would say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I would like to encourage members opposite to share that same vision as we look towards Panama.

When I consider why Canada is doing any trade deals, let alone this free trade deal with Panama, it is really clear from my four years on the international trade committee that with the deals that we have signed, a very aggressive agenda with respect to free trade deals, we do it because it is in Canada's interest. We also acknowledge that it is in the interests of the countries that we trade with as well. What we tried to do is raise the level of quality of life of individuals. Without the ability to work or without solid employment, they do not have those same opportunities.

We trade with every country in the world. That is absolutely clear. Therefore, what we are looking for with Panama, as with the other trade deals that we have negotiated, is a rules-based system that will assist us when there are disputes and will make sure that we eliminate tariffs going from Canada to Panama and from Panama to Canada. That makes a dramatic difference for our country and certainly for theirs. However, there are a few advantages. If it were not in the interests of Canada, why would we consider doing this at all? It would be helpful for members of this House to have a strong sense of what it does mean for all of us to be able to put this deal together.

Clearly, the free trade agreement would require Panama to provide Canada with improved market access in a variety of areas. For those members of Parliament who have agriculture in their ridings, access to Panama in terms of imports of beef, cattle and pork matters. That is done through a combination of tariff cuts and transitional tariff rate quotas. That is very dramatic.

It is rather interesting that in August 2009, Canadian ministers announced that Panama had approved Canada's meat inspector system and lifted its BSE ban on Canadian beef. Those were progressive steps that were being taken with the long-term intent of putting the free trade deal in place.

In June 2010, our ministers announced that Panama had lifted its ban on Canadian cattle. As a result now, federally registered beef and pork meat establishments are able to export to Panama, as are Canadian exporters of cattle.

In addition to that, we put in what has now become a Canadian standard. We put in a labour co-operation agreement and an agreement on the environment. We look to standards for countries that are not as developed as Canada. We ask them to raise their standards as we deal with them. We think that is very important for the quality of life for Panamanians. In some sense it justifies the involvement that we have with them well. We think it is important and necessary for Panama to proceed on that basis.

All provinces would benefit in terms of the improvements of the framework that governs this free trade deal. Quebec, for example, would benefit from the elimination of Panamanian tariffs on exports relating to agriculture. I mentioned pork and in addition to that industrial and construction machinery, pharmaceutical and aerospace products. To my province of Ontario and my city of London, some key export areas are industrial and construction machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and furniture. The western provinces benefit. The Atlantic provinces benefit. There is not one part of Canada that does not benefit as a result of this free trade deal.

Therefore, I would encourage members opposite, as I know that members on this side will when we look to complete Panama, to give their full support, because it is clear that we almost had this done in the last Parliament. Then an election was put upon the Canadian people and as a result of that election the free trade deal with Panama died on the order paper. That can happen.

We have had debate upon debate about this. Frankly, I do not believe, as members from both sides may choose to ask some questions today, that there is any question that has not already been asked and answered, both in committee and in the House. That is to be fair to those members who were more recently elected because we covered this at length in our last Parliament.

For any questions members have, we will be candid and clear. I would ask for the sake of Canadian businesses to please help us pass the Panama free trade agreement.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for basically asking us what we do not like about this deal with Panama. Quite clearly, Panama is a country that encourages tax evasion and money laundering. Its structure is one where there are literally hundreds and hundreds of paper corporations established in that country to take advantage of its lax rules. Does the hon. member have an understanding of what it is costing the Canadian economy for these types of activities: tax evasion, money laundering and the kinds of things the Panamanian government has refused consistently to fall into line on with international standards? Does the member have an answer to that?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Madam Speaker, as I indicated in my earlier comments, there is not a question that has not been asked at least once. The question my colleague, the member for Western Arctic, has asked has been answered very candidly several times in the House, both in the last Parliament and this one.

To assure the member I do have some understanding, I would like to think that with my 30 plus years of business before I got into politics I have some understanding of business. I also have some understanding of business relationships, contractual and legal.

I would like to share something with him and the House. I do not know if we can put this to bed forever. Regardless of the answer, it will continue to come back up. However, let me be clear about one thing. Canada committed to implement the OECD standard for the exchange of tax information to combat international tax evasion in 2002. Let me update that now. In 2011, the OECD formally placed Panama on its list of jurisdictions that have substantially implemented international standards for exchange of information.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I look forward to a candid answer. In principle, we in the Liberal Party have supported the Panama free trade agreement. Having said that, while the government has been so focused on a couple of free trade type of agreements, it has been very negligent in other areas. The United States entered into an agreement with Korea which is going to have a huge negative impact on Canada, in particular within the pork industry in provinces like Manitoba.

What is the government doing for the Prairie farmers, particularly the pork farmers in Manitoba, to ensure they will be able to secure those critically important markets in Korea for Manitoba's pork?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Madam Speaker, when it is time to speak to Korea, I would be happy to have that discussion. The issue has come before my international trade committee from time to time. Today the debate is about Panama and I do not want us to lose focus on today's debate. Frankly, the divide and conquer approach confuses issues. We want to be extremely clear that today we are talking about Panama.

Let us talk about Manitoba and western provinces. The Liberal Party in the past has been supportive of our various trade agreements and I hope it will again. When it looks at Panama, Canada will have a unique advantage over other countries because of the arrangement that we made with some $123 billion of business both ways today between Panama and Canada. The western provinces will benefit from Panamanian tariffs on key support interests that include processed food products, cereal, precious stones, fats, oils, paper and paperboard. The western provinces, including Manitoba, will benefit very well by this free trade deal.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is nice to get back to work again and stay focused on additional issues after we unfortunately passed Bill C-38, the budget bill, last night. Today we have to move on to a variety of other issues, whether we like it or not, and I am happy to add a few comments on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

The Liberal Party has been in support of this agreement for some time and, in spite of some concerns, which I will outline, we will continue to be in support of free and fair trade.

One of the key concerns with respect to expanding our trading relationship with Panama has been evident with respect to the government's free trade agenda. We must not put aside our domestic practices within the countries with which we are seeking new trade agreements.

As we negotiate free trade agreements, there are some very important issues that we need to keep in mind. Whether they are issues of money laundering, tax evasion, human trafficking or issues of human rights, areas in which we could use our leverage on the agreement to make some improvements in the quality of life for people in those countries with which we are making agreements, but also to have some clear benefits over and above just the dollars and cents factor for Canada.

An additional point that should be kept in mind and one that the government would do well to carefully consider was raised by Jim Stanford of the Canadian Auto Workers, someone we see often on the Hill when we are dealing with issues in the auto industry, who recently spoke at the international trade committee. Part of his presentation outlined the following with respect to the lack of apparent benefits, as far as he was concerned, that was being derived by the free trade agreement.

Mr. Stanford pointed out a variety of things and the five longest standing trade agreements were some of the things he talked about. He referred to the trade agreement with the United States, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Costa Rica. Canada's exports to them grew more slowly than our exports to our non-free trade partners, while our imports surged must faster than with the rest of the world.

Mr. Stanford went on to say that if the policy goal was to boost exports and strengthen the trade balance, then signing free trade deals would be exactly the wrong thing to do in his opinion.

With Colombia there are outstanding issues related to labour and human rights issues that I referred to earlier. The same concerns apply to Jordan as they do to Panama.

With respect to Panama, one of the outstanding concerns has been the issue of tax havens and issues relating to money laundering, which has been talked about a lot in this House over the several years that we have been discussing and debating this particular agreement, as with other agreements.

I will put this concern into context. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, in response to issues relating to the Canada-Jordan FTA, in violation of human and labour rights and Canada's response, told this House:

...what both hon. members fail to realize is the entire issue of extraterritoriality. There are certain things we can do when negotiating with another country and certain things we cannot do because they are beyond our sphere of influence.

Even if it is beyond our sphere of influence, we should always push right to the wall to get clear benefits for Canada. Whether we are talking about human rights, money laundering or other issues pertaining to that, if we can use our leverage, we should be doing it far more forcefully.

Clearly there are benefits on both sides but there are far more benefits in my mind to Panama. Therefore, we should be using that opportunity with these agreements to get everything possible we can get out of it, not only for our country but also for the people who live in the other areas of the world that are affected by many of these agreements.

The question that must be raised is that where there are concerns and issues that would not be acceptable to Canada, we need to know what mechanisms within the agreement should be in place with countries where issues of concern are found to exist and persist. It is a question of signing an agreement and then raising it every once in a while, issues, again, about human rights or money laundering, but being able to do absolutely nothing about it and having them ignore the concerns we are raising.

What kind of strength do we have with these agreements? How many years would we allow all of this to go on before deciding to cancel an agreement because of clear violations of the rules?

Canada is earmarked out there when it comes to doing things right, or at least it used to be. We were well respected in the world because we would follow the agreement, we would ensure the agreements were fair on all sides and we would be respectful of the countries that were trying to grow, better themselves and make a better life for their people. Often we do not use enough of our country's strength to insist that there should be some improvements to areas that we have concerns about.

An example would be the Panamanian situation. When federal government officials testified before the international trade committee earlier last fall, they could not adequately address the money laundering and tax haven issues relating to Panama.

In December 2010, Panama signed a tax information exchange agreement with the United States, not with Canada. In testimony before the U.S. house ways and means subcommittee on trade on March 30, 2011, the research director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch also raised concerns with respect to the money laundering issue in the wake of the agreement between the U.S. and Panama. He said:

Panama promised for eight years to sign a Tax Information Exchange Agreement.... Yet when it finally signed a TIEA with the Obama administration in November 2010, the agreement did not require Panama to automatically exchange information with U.S. authorities about tax dodgers, money launderers and drug traffickers.

Those areas have weaknesses and, because of everybody's interest in signing these agreements, they often take one particular part of the puzzle and accept it and continue to work on the tax information issue or whatever other avenue to ensure that we stop money laundering and drug trafficking. We need to be stronger on these issues and use them as leverage.

In the previous Parliament, concerns were raised with respect to Panama being a tax haven in which instances of tax evasion and money laundering were found. Concerns were raised as to whether a free trade agreement should be proceeded with prior to a clear tax information exchange between Canada and Panama being in place.

We would be far better off to keep going slowly with this process until we have what we want, which is both of those agreements when it comes to sharing the tax. We would then be eliminating opportunities for money laundering, tax havens and other issues rather than signing the agreement and going forward in good faith, which is clearly what the government wants to do and what our party has decided to do as well. As of yet there is still no tax treaty or tax information exchange agreement signed between Canada and Panama nor an intention that it will be done.

The history, as we understand it, is as follows. Panama has asked that Canada enter into a more comprehensive double taxation treaty. Canada refused, asking instead for a more limited TIEA. Panama, which at that time had only entered into double taxation treaties, insisted on a double taxation treaty. Canada has not yet responded to this second request.

I will go back to who is in charge. I think the benefits to Panama are far better than the benefits to Canada so why would we turn around and continue to water down our leverage?

Members should note that all of the DTA's include tax information and exchange obligations between signatory countries based on article 26 of the OECD model convention. As of November 2010, Canada was party to DTA's with 87 countries, with 8 more signed but not yet in effect. As of November 5, 2010, Canada had signed 9 TIEA's, none of which are in effect.

In testimony before the international trade committee on September 29, reference was made to correspondence between Canada and Panama in which the latter was asked whether Panama had responded to the concerns expressed by Canada on the tax haven issue. According to DFAIT officials, no such response had been received.

There are a variety of concerns as we move forward. I know the government is anxious to move this forward but I hope we put in what is best for Canada first and Panama second, not Panama first and Canada second.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I was shocked to learn in my research on the subject that there are almost 400,000 corporations registered in Panama, which is four times the number of corporations that we have in Canada. It makes one think that this is not just another developing nation but quite a unique developing nation.

I listened to the member's remarks regarding her fears about money laundering, the tax haven situation and the lack of tax treaties. Would she not agree that Panama itself, through a deliberate strategy, has become a magnate for these corporations that are trying to hide behind the lack of reporting requirements and the lack of transparency? Transparency International has spoken out about countries like Panama.

Did the hon. member watch the national news on TV last night? It had an exposé on Canadian mining companies and what they were doing in Panama. Does she make any kind of connection between Bill C-300 in the last Parliament, which was sponsored by her colleague, about corporate social responsibility and the egregious, outrageous behaviour of Canadian mining companies--

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I must give the hon. member time to respond.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACT
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague got all his points in order and just about took up the whole five minutes for a response.

I am very concerned with some of those issues and I think I had made those remarks. Signing free trade agreements are good and I believe in free in trade but I also believe in using the leverage that Canada should have to ensure we are doing our job of protecting Canadians and our companies, eliminating opportunities for money laundering and the drug trade, and all the rest.

My colleague for Scarborough—Guildwood had introduced his bill on what goes on in mining. All kinds of exploitation happen around the country and these agreements need to be clear. We need to know the check marks to get out of these deals. Where are our markers on these things when it comes to issue of human rights and so on? Where are the lines where we cancel these agreements, or are we just leaving ourselves wide open to 10 years of complaining and doing nothing if things do not go in the direction we want them to?