Mr. Speaker, it is my great honour and pleasure to follow the member for Burnaby—Douglas. He laid before the House some of his concerns and the concerns of others which were raised in a very sincere and thorough fashion by the critic for our caucus in this area, the member for Halifax. She still is very concerned that the government has not listened to the concerns brought to the table by her. These are not her own concerns. These are the concerns of people who she spends a lot of time and energy to be in contact with as she does her job as critic in this place.
I do not think there is anybody in my experience so far who does such a comprehensive job of being in contact with and connecting with those individuals, organizations and groups that follow these kinds of initiatives by government in a very close and concerned fashion. They spoke to her very clearly about what they saw as good in this bill. Most important, they spoke to her about some of its shortcomings and failings.
Alas, at the end of the day the member for Halifax came to the conclusion that the government had not listen. Our experience in this place over the last 16 months is that the government does not listen very often. The Liberals were sent a message by the electorate in the election of June of last year that they wanted things to be different. They wanted this place to be run differently. They wanted more collaboration and cooperation. They wanted more inclusion and discussion with not only members, but with people in the larger society. They wanted a minority government to work differently. They wanted the government to move quickly away from a position of majority and having its way. They wanted the government to drive an agenda, no matter what. They wanted it to start listening, incorporating and taking seriously some of the very important perspectives, thoughts and ideas from all sides of the House, including people across the country. However, time and time again in this place and in committee often that this is not the case.
Although, there have been some instances where we have been able to get some things done with the government. When that happens, it is so irregular and rare that it becomes a very momentous occasion in the life of the country. I speak specifically of the better balanced budget that was passed last June before we rose. Out of some sense of desperation and its wont to hang on to power, the government listened to the NDP when it brought forward some of its concerns with the budget, in particular the corporate tax breaks which had not been raised during the election. We felt they were not in keeping with the real needs of Canadians. Therefore, we brought to the table some alternatives, options and ways to which the government might respond constructively, and it did in that instance.
We are disappointed that the government was not willing to do the same thing with Bill C-25. It was not willing to sit down with the member for Halifax and others who had some very sincere and genuine concerns about the bill. We might have found ourselves in a different position of being able to support the legislation.
We are here to get things done. We are here as a caucus not to be obstructionists, not to continually be adversarial and not to be critical all the time. We are here to find a way to hammer out legislation in committees, or informally at round tables or over dinners perhaps. We want to find ways to put in place bills, rules, regulations, new initiatives that would serve all who call themselves Canadian citizens and who have some concerns. They want to build a nation that is cognizant, proud and protective of its sovereignty, while at the same time work cooperatively with its partners and neighbours.
This is a very delicate, serious, difficult and painstaking exercise, something that we in the New Democratic caucus have had a lot of experience with over the years. We have tried to bring our perspective and intelligence to this place. We have honed an ability to find ways, places and means to have our thoughts and perspectives heard and considered. At the end of the day, in some instances, they are taken into account become part of bills.
However, in this instance that has not been the case. Therefore, we stand today in opposition to the bill, not because we want to but because we have been unable to find an openness in the government to accept some of our suggestions.
On one hand, we recognize the bill has ramifications in a number of different ways. One is the question of ownership. The government has made a significant investment in technology of which we should have more ownership. With that ownership, we should have more control and more say in how it will be used and how the information gathered will be used. Turning over the ownership of something we have invested in so generously to the private sector will not take us down that road. There are no guarantees in the private sector where something like this will ultimately end up.
At the beginning we may have confidence in the private sector enterprise that takes over this delicate piece of technology. Who knows in a week, or a month, or six months or a year where the ownership of that technology will end up. There are no guarantees, unless someone can tell me differently, that this important new development will not be sold to some foreign interest, an interest whose only interest is the bottom line. The valuable information that has been collected could be sold. We have some real concern about that.
Canada has seen that happen. We have had governments, which lean to the right, involve the private sector in the public affairs of our country. We know from experience that this does not work. Information has disappeared, or has been sold or has ended up in the wrong hands. At the end of the day we have paid a big price for that. Individuals have paid a big price. Our society has paid a big price in terms of our privacy and our concern about where our information goes. We have sincerely and seriously put that concern on the table over the last number of months.
The member for Halifax has worked so very hard on this. She has tried diligently to get the government to listen to the concerns she has brought to the table on behalf of the organizations with which she is in contact. However, we have been unable to get a positive response that would give us the confidence that the government understands those concerns or will do anything about it.
People need to understand that our government has invested a significant sum of money in a piece of technology which cutting edge, some of the best that is available. Why would we not own that? Why would we not continue to retain control over that, the functions it performs and the information it gathers and with whom that information will be shared? I am concerned about information going into foreign hands.
That leads us then to the question of protecting our own interests, our national security and our sovereignty. How will these play out? We are not convinced that the government has really thought this through. We have not been given satisfactory answers. We have not been made to feel confident that our interests, national security and sovereignty will be protected in this piece of work. This is more relevant now than it has ever been, particularly since 9/11.
The new focus now is on terrorism and security. People are concerned about who is coming in or going out of their country. People want to know what action their country will take in response to the fear that has been generated and that so often drives what we do these days, sometimes in inappropriate fashion.
Where we might decide to do something in a particular way in response to terrorism and in response to the whole question of security, another country like the United States of America might respond differently. We will be sharing this technology. Who will have access to the information generated by this technology? If a country enters into an activity in response to terrorism, or some security issue or some fear that has been raised, do we have any say or control over how information will be shared? Do we have any control over it being used inappropriately?
We only have to look at our difference of opinion with our neighbours to the south on the question of the Iraq war. The United States went into that war without the sanction of the United Nations. We felt that was not an appropriate thing to do. Canada chose a different path. In choosing that path, we kept to ourselves the information that we needed in order to defend that decision and to do what we felt was appropriate, given what was happening in the world.
If we set technology up now that will gather information that could be taken by another country like the United States and used in an inappropriate way as far as our government is concerned, how does that affect our sovereignty? How does that affect our ability to go our own way or to have our own view? How does that affect the kind of change we feel needs to happen if we are to see the world evolve in the manner that we as Canadians feel it should so we can maximize the impact that we can have as a country on international affairs?
How could we as a sovereign country interact with other sovereign countries? How could we as a sovereign country intervene in another sovereign country's affairs in order to protect human rights for example? How would this affect the organizations from which would take leadership or to which we belong? How would this affect the information we share with others?
Anybody who exercises any leadership in the world today knows that one of the most important elements of leadership is information. If we have information and some other country does not, then we go to the table as a sovereign nation from a position of strength. If we go to the table knowing that the other country has more information or information that we do not know about, then we go from a different position. We would not have the same potential for impact and change that we otherwise would.
Those are some of the things that we as a party are struggling with as we try to participate out there in the international realms of the world, with the new technology coming on stream. The private sector is not going to put up the initial seed money for this kind of technology to be developed. It is usually countries that do that kind of thing, countries that see their own interests served in the long haul by making this kind of investment.
In my view, it is certainly problematic to turn it over almost immediately to the private sector and, by doing so, to make the information it will gather and the effect it will have available to other countries that may not agree with our approach to what should be happening out there. This is something that we need to spend more time thinking about. It is something on which we need to do more work in seeing this through and finding out just exactly what the concerns are.
This is a huge leap of faith. We are being asked to take a huge leap of faith at a time when there are not many others doing so in the world we live in today. We are being asked to believe that the private sector will use the information gathered in the best interests of our country and our citizens and in the best interests of our international relationships at a time when we have seen over and over again, and recently, that the private sector is not always correct.
When it comes to ethics and how private sector companies operate, how they look after our investments, what they do with the money and the information they receive and the business they deliver, they are not always correct. In this country we all know about Nortel and some of the big scandals that have happened out there with regard to some of our huge multinational corporations.
It should give all of us reason to step back and take a sober second look. I served in the provincial legislature at Queen's Park and I remember when Mike Harris came to power. He talked about the discipline of the private sector. He said we needed to impose on government the discipline of the private sector. That was all fine until one day we woke up and read the paper and found out about Bre-X. Bre-X became a red flag for us in terms of the discipline of the private sector.
There are other examples. Martha Stewart got herself in a little difficulty because she walked the line and stepped over it ever so gently at one point in terms of whose interests she was serving.
That is the discipline of the private sector. Should we be taking this leap of faith and handing over this very valuable and important piece of technology to the private sector?
For example, should we be turning that information over to the American government? That is what will happen with this information. We in this country have had the experience of entering into agreements with the United States on all kinds of fronts, most particularly the free trade agreement and North American Free Trade Agreement. Time and time again we have been disappointed when the United States, in its own best interests, made decisions not in keeping with either the spirit or the law of those agreements, to the detriment of this country.
How could anyone suggest for a second that we should, with this new initiative we are working on putting in place, simply turn over that information without any strings attached? How can we simply turn this information over on a handshake or on goodwill or, as I said, in a leap of faith, when we have been disappointed so many times by the United States in terms of agreements we have signed with the Americans, agreements that they did not honour at the end of the day?
I look at my own community of Sault Ste. Marie and at northern Ontario and the people who labour up in those parts of the country. I look at the effect that the fight we are having right now with the United States of America on softwood lumber has had on them. The fact is that we bring that debate, that disagreement, to the courts time after time, and the courts decide in our favour, yet the United States continues to act as if it did not matter. It is as if American law trumps our law and trumps the North American Free Trade Agreement law. The United States gets its way.
We have a concern about that for this piece of technology. We have a concern about the information it will gather and the impact it will have in terms of what the United States will in fact do with it. So far we are not satisfied. Nothing in this agreement gives us the confidence or a sense of acceptance that the Americans will in fact live up to this.
In my own backyard, we have farmers who got into the cattle raising business over a period of years because they were told that through the signing of these free trade agreements they could move their beef into the United States. Slowly but surely we integrated our industry with the American industry and we ended up with less and less capacity to process beef here. With the BSE that showed itself a couple of years ago, we saw again the attitude of the United States to Canada, its trading partner, its neighbour, its best friend. When the chips were down, the Americans just shut the border down. They would not let us ship our beef.
I have talked to farmers in my own riding, in east Algoma, close to Sault Ste. Marie. Because of that decision by the United States, which we did not seem to be able to get overturned—the Americans themselves went to court to block our entry into their country—we saw the family farm, which is so fragile these days and so at risk—