Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today in the House and speak to the motion introduced by the member for Joliette. This is a motion demanding that the government bring any draft agreement on the free trade area of the Americas before the House before ratification by the Government of Canada.
For a number of years now, there has been much talk about integrating the American continent. The free trade area of the Americas project is a very ambitious one.
The idea is to bring the various countries of the Americas together within one economic group and to implement a regional system based on the principles of rules of law, free trade and democracy, in order to raise the standard of living and improve working conditions so as to ensure sustainable development and respect for the various cultural entities. The free trade area of the Americas comprises the 34 democratically elected governments on the continent, representing a market of 800 million consumers, with a combined GDP of some $10 trillion U.S.
This new economic entity could, without a doubt, cause major social and economic upheaval in the societies involved in this bold plan. But, despite the extreme importance of the undertaking, there is a breathtaking democratic oversight.
Again yesterday in the House, the member for Joliette asked the government to make public the basic texts of the free trade area of the Americas negotiations. Even the institutions committee of the Quebec National Assembly, a non-partisan committee it should be pointed out, tabled a report in June 2000 entitled “Quebec and the Free Trade Area of the Americas: Political and Socioeconomic Effects”. Unanimously, the committee asked “That the final accord of the free trade area of the Americas be submitted to the elected bodies of Canada before being ratified by the federal government”. The government, as it so often does, gave us a nonsensical answer. But the question called for a very serious reply, because this is a very serious matter.
As a responsible political party, the Bloc Quebecois demands total openness from the federal government in the negotiation of international agreements such as the free trade area of the Americas.
We democratically elected Canadian parliamentarians and representatives of the public, and civil society, have the fundamental right to know what is being negotiated on our behalf and on behalf of those who elected us and whom we represent here in the House of Commons. The participation of civil society in the planning and decision making processes is no longer merely something to be considered. It must be an integral component of world governance.
Since this government took office in 1993, the ratification process of international treaties and the democratic debates on the content of these treaties have been significantly shortened.
In order to put an end to these undemocratic practices, the Bloc Quebecois tried to make the ratification process of international treaties by parliament more open and democratic by introducing, last spring, a bill to that effect, Bill C-214. Members can well imagine that the Liberals defeated this bill. Yet it provided—and this is only normal—that Canada could not negotiate or sign a treaty without first having consulted provincial governments, if that treaty dealt with a provincial jurisdiction.
Moreover, before being ratified, treaties would have had to be the object of a resolution in the House of Commons and the Minister of Foreign Affairs would have had an obligation to submit all the documents necessary for an informed debate by parliamentarians.
All that the Bloc Quebecois was asking, and is still asking, was for the Liberals to respect provincial jurisdictions, as stipulated under the constitution. This is a brief outline of the issue of openness, as perceived by my party.
However, there is another issue in which I take a great interest concerning the negotiations on the free trade area that will take place at the summit of the Americas that will be held in Quebec City, from April 20 to 22. I am referring to anything that has to do with workers' rights.
Let us make one thing very clear right from the beginning. The Bloc Quebecois demands that globalization and free trade be put in human terms. We want international treaties to include provisions to protect social rights and workers' rights, and direct reference to the obligation for nations to comply with the regulations contained in the ILO's seven basic labour conventions. These conventions have to be included in every commercial agreement that Canada signs.
Here is what these conventions say. Conventions 29 and 105 deal with the abolition of forced labour. Conventions 86 and 98 deal with the union rights pertaining to collective bargaining and employee organization, including the right to elect union representatives without any interference from the employer or the government, and the right to strike. Conventions 100 and 111 provide for equal pay for equal work and for the elimination of discrimination in the workplace. Convention 138 deals with the minimum age for admission to employment, or the abolition of child labour.
This is why we would propose to include the ILO's seven conventions on the fundamental rights of workers listed above in a continental agreement, thereby forcing employers and governments to comply with these conventions before they are allowed access to any benefits from the agreement.
Even today, on the issue of basic labour standards, there is still no link between international trade and the protection of the rights of workers.
Even though these seven ILO conventions have to be honoured regardless of a country's level of development, few countries are actually willing to allow the use of trade sanctions to enforce these standards. Moreover, the ILO has no power to force countries to endorse or to apply these standards.
Even more troubling is the fact that we still do not know if the Canadian government is willing to make the necessary efforts to ensure that social rights are respected.
As a matter of fact, last June, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Minister for International Trade stated that social rights had nothing to do with trade, adding that he could not do everyone else's job. Not only are these words troubling, but they are totally unacceptable and irresponsible.
In conclusion, I simply want to remind the House that, for the Bloc Quebecois, there is a precondition attached to the ratification of any trade agreement Canada might sign, such as the one regarding the free trade area of the Americas.
Such agreements must include provisions of a social nature referring directly to the obligation of the states to abide by the rules contained in the seven fundamental conventions of the ILO. It is simply a matter of basic human rights and we just cannot let it get away from us.