Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the minister and the official opposition's critic for having demonstrated such eloquence in describing a bill that is, all in all, relatively modest.
In examining Bill C-41, an act to amend the Canadian Commercial Corporation Act, I found that there are basically three amendments. I admit these changes seem quite in order, however, what is more disquieting is what the bill does not contain.
The first of the three amendments contained in the bill separates the functions of chairperson of the board and chief executive officer. The bill describes the new functions of the two officials in charge of this new Canadian Commercial Corporation.
The second amendment authorizes additional borrowing to allow the corporation to pay its bills to small and medium size businesses diligently, because, as we know, these businesses are often in need of liquidity.
The third amendment would permit the corporation to charge an amount that it considers appropriate for providing services.
After looking at these three amendments, one cannot help but agree with the minister when he says that the purpose of the bill is to ensure that the Canadian Commercial Corporation be more focused on trade, and be better able to respond to the needs of exporters and evolving competition on international markets. He referred to the Doha Conference, which may indeed lead to increased access to a certain number of markets that currently allow either limited, or no access, to international competition.
I must add that the Canadian commercial corporation's contribution is not negligible. I noticed that of the 264 Canadian suppliers that signed contracts abroad through the corporation, 69 were located in Quebec, which represents approximately one quarter of the contracts that were signed. Most of these contracts were in fairly strategic sectors of economic activity and of greater Montreal's economy in particular.
For example, the most sold products are rail equipment and vehicles, at close to 44,3%. As for aerospace as has been mentioned on several occasions during the debate on Air Canada and the current problems with civil aviation, this sector accounts for 18.4% of equipment sales under CCC contracts. Finally, there are armaments at 7.7%.
It is, moreover, important to keep in mind that the Canadian Commercial Corporation plays a key role in respecting the defence protection sharing agreement signed in 1956. As we speak, 60% of the CCC's activities are still governed by or relate to the DPSA.
Obviously, as the minister has said, for some years now the corporation has sought to redirect part of its operations to help Quebec and Canadian exporters to do business with governmental agencies in numerous countries. In this connection, it needs to be acknowledged that it could be playing a far greater role than it is at present.
A survey commissioned by the Canadian Commercial Corporation of 506 exporters in the year 2000 indicated that 82% of them did no business with a foreign government. Worse yet, 86% had never tried to do so. Yet in 1999 government contracts throughout the world totalled $5.3 trillion U.S. in business. We are talking here of 18% of total world trade.
As we know, the coming round of WTO negotiations—and much vigilance is required in this connection—is likely to open up new market opportunities with public administrations. This represents a potential that is, obviously, not being exploited.
It is to be hoped that with the particular amendments the bill would introduce, the corporation could play this role of helping our exporters do business with foreign public administrations.
From this point of view, the Bloc Quebecois supports the bill. It adds the necessary tools for access to these important contracts, as I mentioned earlier, although it could go further.
Where we have a problem is that as the corporation diversifies its activities while maintaining its original functions, and here we are referring to products, such as in connection with national defence, there should be an extremely rigid legislative framework to prevent the Canadian Commercial Corporation from helping a company to export weapons or strategic products to countries which are violating human rights, waging unjustified wars, or encouraging the presence of terrorist groups within their borders.
There is an inconsistency here in connection with weapons and strategic products in that there is no very specific legislative framework guiding the CCC's operations in this or any other bill.
There are a few lines in the Canadian Commercial Corporation's report about the environment and the CCC's social responsibilities, but this seems completely inadequate to us. It puts me in mind of the debate we had a few days or weeks ago in the House and in the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade with respect to the Export Development Corporation.
We read in the Canadian Commercial Corporation's 2000-01 annual report:
CCC voluntarily applies its environmental review framework (ERF) on all capital projects.
This bothers me. How can a crown corporation, as in the case, unfortunately, of the Export Development Corporation, adopt an environmental framework outside the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act? It seems to me that this should have been tightened up. We know that it is very important, particularly in light of the awakening global concern with environmental impacts, including from projects related to foreign investments, often by large international companies.
We find what we read here completely inadequate. We would have liked to see the bill include provisions requiring the environmental framework the corporation uses to assess the impacts of the projects it supports to be better defined and applied much more rigorously.
In the section on the corporation's social responsibilities, it states:
Beyond traditional concern for economic well-being, there is growing interest amongst consumers, shareholders and governments with respect to the effect that business activity can have on genuine social prosperity, good governance and human rights.
Therefore, it is mentioned. What follows is a sentence that I could not manage to understand. I do not know if it is a bad translation or simply that they do not want it to be understood, but it says, and I quote:
Corporate social responsibility speaks to the degree to which corporate business practices reflect ethical principles protecting the community, human rights and the environment.
It is incomprehensible. This corporation will, in the end, take an interest in these concerns that it considers particularly sensitive in terms of public opinion, if it affects its corporate business practices, which should reflect ethical principles that are unknown to us. The only law that this document refers to is the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.
I hope that concerns regarding human rights, the environment and democratic rights as a whole are considered more important than issues of corruption, which must be adequately suppressed.
This document announces that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is currently undertaking a pilot project with Canadian businesses and representatives of the corporation to determine what the CCC's corporate social responsibilities are in the context of international trade transactions.
In this regard, I found the following statement absolutely shocking from the point of view of the interests of the minister himself:
The CCC continues to keep track of DFAIT's work in this area and will respond accordingly to relevant recommendations resulting from the process.
Again, I wonder if it is the French translation that is bad or if the wording is deficient. When the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade will have completed its process, will the corporation engage in cherry picking to determine what it deems relevant in the reports that the ministers will have before them?
In that respect too we expected something a lot more substantial concerning the review of the impacts of projects supported by the Canadian Commercial Corporation in terms of social, human and democratic rights.
In this context, it is clear that we agree with the proposed changes. However, this is not nearly enough. I hope that we will have the opportunity, either following a government initiative or our own initiative, to have a debate on these substantive issues.
These issues are all the more important because the corporation will assume its responsibilities with Quebec and Canadian businesses in a context where—and I think that last weekend's protests should, at last, serve as a lesson to this government and to other governments involved in negotiations to liberalize trade—we must be aware that the public is now getting involved.
It is not just those who protest in the streets and who did so in Ottawa this weekend—and I should mention that my daughter was there to show her solidarity with the others, something which reflects the involvement of our young people—and when they do get involved, it is not necessarily against the opening up of markets. The public wants to make sure that this opening up of markets, this globalization will serve people and communities, and not just economic interests, particularly those of large businesses.
We still have not had this substantive debate. The Liberal government has not yet given us the opportunity to do so, but I can assure it that in the future, especially following the WTO negotiations and the negotiations on a free trade area of the Americas, we will be present to ensure that human, environmental, social and labour rights are respected.