Treaties Act

An Act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Jean-Yves Roy  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 3, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Income Tax Amendments Act, 2006Government Orders

February 21st, 2007 / 4:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue to address tax evasion and the tax havens used in Barbados.

As my colleagues who spoke before me have said, Bill C-33 is somewhat technical and contains a number of provisions to prevent circumvention of the tax rules and to prevent tax evasion. It responds to a number of requests made by the Auditor General. The Bloc Québécois will therefore support the bill. However, as I said in the question I asked earlier, I think that it does not go far enough in dealing with tax havens. Contrary to what my colleague from the Liberal Party said, we are not talking about people committing tax fraud, we are talking about people who avoid tax and find legal schemes so that they do not pay tax. The reason they can do that is that the existing legislation lets them.

In my presentation, I will try to explain how these people operate and what has to be done to stop this. On the question of tax havens, I would like to tell the House about a comment made by the Auditor General on February 27, 2001. He said that one of the biggest threats to the tax base lies in the international activities of Canadian taxpayers, particularly the use of tax havens.

Tax havens are countries that have a zero or very low tax rate and loose tax rules. That combination is an incentive for taxpayers to settle there or transfer a portion of their activities there in order to be exempt from the Canadian tax system and not have to pay taxes here. Most of the time, these are countries that are notable for their absolute bank secrecy, which makes it impossible to trace all the movements of capital that take place there.

Because of that bank secrecy, it is difficult to measure this phenomenon. In 1998, the OECD estimated that from 1989 to 1994 foreign direct investment rose three times faster in tax havens then elsewhere. That is not a small matter. The OECD drew up a list of tax havens based on four criteria: no or only nominal taxes; lack of effective exchange of tax information; lack of transparency in the operation of tax laws; and no substantial activities in the country where operations are purported to occur. Thirty-five countries met those criteria. The OECD pointed a finger at 47 other countries which, while they were not tax havens, had provisions worthy of a tax haven in certain areas. It should be noted that Canada was on the list of 47 countries because of its tax policies relating to the international shipping of goods.

In 2001, that list was amended by a group of 13 OECD member countries, including Canada, to remove the no substantial activities criterion, which brought the number of tax havens—on paper, obviously—down to 7 from 35. Those countries have not ceased to be tax havens; they are still tax havens.

In 2002, Barbados was removed from the list of countries regarded as tax havens by the OECD. However, Barbados has not changed its fiscal practices; quite the opposite is true. The tax system in Barbados is interesting. I hope that the fact that I am talking about it will not encourage any Quebec or Canadian companies to move there, despite the wonderful conditions it provides, such as a fixed fees of $250 per year and a tax rate of only 2.5% on the first US$5 million in profits. It then declines gradually, to 1% after $15 million. For a company that does not want to pay income tax, this is extremely advantageous.

In Canada, the tax system is tailor made, expressly for Barbados. Let us look at how it operates. The general rule is that all income earned in Canada or abroad is taxable in Canada. However, if income is earned in a country with which Canada has signed a tax treaty to avoid double taxation, that income may not be taxable.

If the foreign subsidiary is deemed to be non-resident in Canada and the tax treaty prohibits double taxation, the general rule that all income received by a Canadian is taxable is bent. It is then the tax treaty that applies.

In theory, in the case of Barbados, the treaty does not apply to subsidiaries that have a tax rate of virtually zero. Like the tax treaty with Cyprus, the Canada-Barbados tax treaty specifically excludes what is known as international business companies or any other similar kinds of companies that enjoy the favourable tax treatment I referred to earlier in Barbados. If we exclude these companies and consider only the normal tax rate in Barbados, which is approximately 40%, virtually all the Canadian companies with a subsidiary in Barbados have established it specifically to enjoy favourable tax treatment. For the most part, these have been established under the Barbados International Business Companies Act and are therefore excluded from this convention.

The companies covered by this provision of the tax treaty are therefore considered under the Income Tax Act to be resident in Canada and therefore subject to Canadian taxation. Based solely on the Income Tax Act and the tax treaty between Canada and Barbados, dividends received by the Canadian parent corporation of a subsidiary in Barbados should be taxed in Canada when they are transferred home. So far, so good.

There are, however, provisions in the Income Tax Regulations which are specifically designed to enable companies to circumvent this difficulty and transfer profits from Barbados tax-free in Canada. I will spare you the whole list of provisions; suffice it to say that paragraph 5907(11.2)(c) of the Income Tax Regulations, if anyone feels like looking it up, renders moot article 30 of the tax treaty, the one that excludes international business companies. It sets out a series of criteria for a company to be considered non-resident in Canada and therefore not subject to tax. Thus, Barbadian subsidiaries of Canadian companies fall into that category.

By invalidating article 30 of the tax treaty, the regulation allows the dividends of Barbadian subsidiaries of Canadian companies to be tax exempt in Canada. Incidentally, through the Access to Information Act, the Bloc Québécois obtained a copy of correspondence between the Minister of Finance and an accounting firm, confirming that this section of the regulations was drafted specifically to allow Canadian businesses to use Barbados as a tax haven.

In July 1994, Wallace Conway, of the taxation policy branch of the finance department, confirmed the following to Craig Cowan, who was employed by the accounting firm Arthur Andersen:

Be advised that proposed paragraph 5907(11.2) is intended to ensure that a Barbados international business corporation which is a foreign affiliate will remain eligible to earn an exempt surplus.

So, the bill did not come into force until 1997, but it was specified that it would be retroactive to 1994. With this amendment to the regulations, Canadian businesses with a subsidiary in Barbados win on both fronts. First of all, since their business is not covered by the tax treaty, Barbados is under no obligation to share information with Canadian tax authorities and, second, since the income tax regulations disregard that exclusion, profits sent back to Canada are tax exempt. The behaviour of the Canadian government, particularly under the Liberals, was all the more deplorable considering that Canada even worked to undermine all the efforts being done by the OECD, this to ensure that Barbados would not be deemed to be a tax haven.

This work to get Barbados off the list was done in two stages. In 2000, the notion of tax havens was replaced with the notion of non-cooperative tax havens, following a recommendation made by a 13 member committee, which included Canada.

Secondly, that same committee changed the criteria to determine whether these countries were cooperative or not. Now, a tax haven simply has to commit to being transparent and to sharing tax information with other countries to be taken off the list. That is really very little.

The tax treaty is essentially based on the exchange of tax information. Thus, once a tax treaty is signed with a tax haven, it is virtually automatically removed from the list. That change made the working group on harmful tax practices completely pointless, and Canada, as a result of what the Liberal government of the time did, was a major participant in weakening it.

For years, the failure to act could be laid at the doorstep of the Liberal Party. We must now recognize, however, that the Conservative government has proposed nothing to fix this. I hope it will soon do so. Probably the budget will be an appropriate opportunity to do it.

The Auditor General has repeatedly deplored Canada's failure to act. She first did this in 1992. In 1996, she took up the issue for the second time; in 1998, for the third time; in 2001, for the fourth time; and ultimately, in 2002, for the fifth time. Still there has been no action by the government, no action by the Liberals at the time and still no action by the Conservatives today. In fact, Canadian investments in tax havens continued to multiply over the same period when the Auditor Generals were issuing us their warnings.

From 1990 to 2003, Canadian companies invested major and growing amounts in countries recognized as offshore financial centres, particularly in the Caribbean. Between 1990 and 2003, Canadian assets in those countries grew by a factor of eight, rising from $11 billion to $88 billion. In 2003, the five main OFCs I referred to earlier were among the 11 countries where there were the most Canadian assets, and so on.

We must realize, from the various reports on television that have dealt with the subject, that this is a situation in which there is more and more money being invested in tax havens, despite the warnings from the Auditor General and, of course, from the Bloc Québécois. The government has never done a thing and we still see nothing being done about this. This is particularly unfortunate from the Conservatives, who claim to want to stand up for taxpayers. What are they waiting for, to ensure that big businesses pay their fair share of taxes, by preventing them from using tax havens?

The Bloc Québécois proposes that all tax treaties go through the House of Commons, which they do not do at present. Bill S-5, which provides for tax treaties to come into force, shows the importance of international treaties in everyday life.

These treaties do not need implementing legislation to be passed. In this case, no treaty will be submitted to Parliament, quite simply.

The federal executive controls all phases of the process of adopting an international treaty. The executive is also responsible for what takes place in negotiations—which are for the most part secret. Nothing is made public during negotiations.

The provinces are seldom consulted, and in many cases they are completely excluded from those negotiations, even though, because of something that falls under their jurisdiction, they often have an interest in the negotiations.

Today, there is no democracy at all when an international treaty is involved. It is worth noting that there is no complete collection of treaties published. The government makes them public on a sporadic basis, and we do not even know whether it discloses all of them. Even the treaty section of the Department of Foreign Affairs does not have a list that we can consult. This is quite incredible, when you think about it.

The government is not even required to table them in the House. It is not even required to inform the House or the people when it signs or ratifies treaties. I find it incredible that in 2007, in our democracy, a government can sign an international treaty without even informing the population. Obviously, the House does not approve them, yet since 2002, in Quebec, the agreement of the National Assembly has been required for Quebec to sign any treaty. This improvement was brought in by the Parti Québécois at the time. It would be interesting to propose such an improvement in this House.

Not only does the House not approve international treaties, but the members are not involved in any way in the process. All we can do is consult with the people and try to obtain their approval.

As I said earlier, the government is not required to consult the provinces even when treaties concern areas of provincial jurisdiction. It is totally absurd that no consultation mechanism is in place. This situation is completely unacceptable.

It used to be that international treaties governed relations between States and had little or no impact on how society functioned or on the lives and rights of citizens. At the time, it was acceptable for the government to unilaterally sign or ratify treaties.

Now, however, international treaties, especially trade agreements, affect the power of the State, the workings of society and the role of citizens. Furthermore, they often have an even greater impact than many bills.

The Canadian treaty ratification process is not in line with this new reality. The people's representatives must be involved in decisions that affect the people they represent.

During the election campaign, the Conservatives promised to bring treaties before the House prior to ratifying them, but they still have not kept that promise. Recently, the government signed an investment protection agreement with Peru. I would note that the agreement still has not been put to the House and that it was already signed before the members could approve it. This agreement is based on chapter eleven of NAFTA, which has been criticized by many.

When the House presses the government to honour its international commitments, as it has done in the case of the Kyoto protocol, the government does what it pleases, with no regard for the will of the people or the promise it made when it signed the treaty.

It is rather paradoxical that the Kyoto protocol is probably the most important of all the treaties this House has approved, yet the government is refusing to acknowledge and implement it. This is a far cry from the Conservatives' promise to submit treaties to the House. I do not know whether the Conservatives meant that they would submit treaties to the House, but would not abide by the House's decision or respect its will. They may have forgotten to mention that when they made their election promises.

The government should have treaties approved and then enforce them.

Not involving representatives of the people is an anachronism in treaty ratification. I would like to point out that Canada is less democratic today than it was in the 1920s.

In fact, in 1926, Prime Minister Mackenzie King introduced a resolution that was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons. It read as follows:

Before Her Majesty's Canadian ministers recommend ratification of a treaty or convention involving Canada, Canada's approval must be obtained.

In 1941, Mackenzie King reiterated his commitment to this approach:

With the exception of treaties of lesser importance or in cases of extreme urgency, the Senate and the House of Commons are invited to approve treaties, conventions and formal agreements before ratification by or on behalf of Canada.

Over the years, the House of Commons had been consulted less and less, and even when it gave its approval in the case of the Kyoto protocol, the government refused to implement it. Nothing in the rest of the industrialized world can compare with that.

I said earlier that Canada was lagging behind Quebec. In Quebec, treaties signed by the Government of Quebec are approved.

On three occasions, the Bloc Québécois has introduced a bill on treaties to modernize the whole process of concluding international treaties. I am referring to Bills C-214, C-314 and C-260. Each time, the federalist parties have rejected the bill. This is very unfortunate.

In conclusion, this bill should be improved—

Remote Sensing Space Systems ActGovernment Orders

September 30th, 2005 / 10:55 a.m.
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Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, indeed, the hon. member did not change his position on the provinces' jurisdiction. On the other hand, the other night, all parties in the House with the exception of the Bloc voted against Bill C-260 which related to provinces' jurisdiction over treaties.

In fact, our Constitution says clearly that space is a federal jurisdiction, not a provincial one. The hon. member knows that. I am not here to give him a lecture on the Constitution and I do not intend to do so either. However, will he recognize that in committee his party proposed an amendment to clause 4.3(c) and that we accepted it? He should say that the interests of the provinces are protected, which would simply reflect reality. Is the hon. member not aware of that amendment that takes into account the interests of the provinces in spite of the Constitution?

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
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The Deputy Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-260 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

June 23rd, 2005 / 6:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-260 sponsored by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

It is a source of great pride for Canadians that Canada plays an important role on the international stage. Canada's initiatives in such diverse fields as human security, peacekeeping, international development and other areas are too numerous to mention and have earned this country a reputation that is second to none. For example, in recent years Canada played a leading role in the negotiation and ratification of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court.

A key factor in Canada's ability to play this important role is the effectiveness of Canada's national government's treaty-making practices. The negotiation and conclusion of treaties, both multilateral and bilateral, lie at the heart of international cooperation and conduct of foreign affairs. We Canadians are proud of the role that the federal government has played in these multilateral and bilateral agreements that have helped many countries in the developing world.

The modern era of international relations is marked by the ongoing effort to create legal frameworks in the form of treaties that bind states and provide a structure for the international legal order.

In this context, a good treaty-making system is essential if Canada is to conduct its foreign policy effectively to the benefit of all Canadians. When one reads Bill C-260, one is led to believe that there is some doubt about Canadian practices with regard to the conclusion of treaties, but this is not the case. Our current practices, with their flexibility and capacity to respond to change, already enable us to meet our objectives while recognizing the essential role of Parliament in implementing treaty obligations.

While Canadian constitutional law clearly establishes that the negotiation of a treaty and signatory of a treaty are strictly in the purview of the federal executive, it is essential to remember that the legislative branch plays a considerable role in our treaty process. Indeed, only Parliament can change the current laws or enact new ones which allow for implementation of treaties.

In the absence of such participation, Canada would not be able to meet its international obligations. Not only is Parliament actively involved in the implementation of treaties but consultation on our most important treaties now takes place before committees and prior to the government taking binding action.

In fact, our current practices strike a careful balance between the constitutional power of the executive to make treaties and the crucial role of Parliament in implementing them. Our practice provides for flexibility and efficiency. As a general rule, the federal government would not be in a position to ratify a treaty if it were not reasonably sure that the obligations imposed by the treaty would be implemented by Canada.

For this reason, when Canada wants to ratify a treaty involving obligations within provincial jurisdictions, the federal executive consults the provinces and territories. It should be underlined that the federal government has been consulting provinces for almost 70 years on treaties.

Moreover, it should also be noted that the representatives of provinces and territories often join Canadian delegations participating in negotiations on treaties involving matters within provincial and territorial jurisdictions to reflect provincial and territorial views and interests.

In today's challenging international environment Canada must have a treaty-making process that allows it to achieve its foreign policy objectives and to deal quickly with changing and urgent situations. Canada's current practices in this area, with their flexibility that I referred to earlier, meet these imperatives.

Apart from its other flaws, Bill C-260 provides for an overly complex and inefficient procedure for federal-provincial consultations to replace a treaty-making process that for many years has served Canada and all Canadians well.

Canada's effectiveness on the international stage offers ample proof that the current constitutional balance in treaty-making measures and treaty implementation, and the well established practices are best suited to the needs of Canada and work to the benefit of all Canadians. Hence, I would not support Bill C-260.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

June 23rd, 2005 / 6 p.m.
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Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It is true, they say it all the time. Mr. Speaker, you who are totally objective, neutral and non partisan, you have heard these stories from the Bloc members in this House just as often as I have. They say the government is not respecting jurisdictions and refuse to give up anything they consider to be a provincial matter. They say so, from time to time, rarely correctly, but they say so just the same.

In this case, however, the matter is entirely within the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada, as determined by the Supreme Court in 1937. It can be redefined, if necessary. What do the Bloc members have to say? They say it changes nothing. Even if it is a federal matter, they want it to be provincial, even if it contravenes the Constitution.

“Do as I say, not as I do”. That is what the Bloc members are saying today.

As many have already noted as well, Bill C-260 ignores the role currently played by Parliament, a fundamental role in treaty practices. Not only is Parliament actively involved in treaty implementation, but consultations are currently taking place in committee on a number of our major treaties, before the government acts. Of course, the government, not Parliament, takes binding action. Nevertheless, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade plays a very active and important role.

We saw proof of that this week when various bills gave rise to controversy.

The bill was put on the back burner, we might say, and the committee will discuss the subject or issue. This proves that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is fulfilling the role I just described in this instance, since this falls under the legislative branch.

However, this does not mean we can go beyond the constitutional authority, which belongs to the governor in council—the government—and allow the provinces to act in its stead.

The provisions of Bill C-260 suggest that the roles of each of the federal and provincial governments in treaty ratification need to be clarified and that negotiated agreements providing for federal-provincial consultation on treaty negotiation and ratification are required in order to improve Canadian practice. This suggestion is clearly erroneous on both levels. It fails to consider the reality of our success in international affairs.

We need to take a moment to point out the important international role that Canada plays and the great respect that other countries have for us.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

June 23rd, 2005 / 5:50 p.m.
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NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to make a few comments this evening on the private member's bill that is before us, Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties.

While my colleagues and I have some difficulties with some provisions of the bill, I want to say at the outset that I very much applaud the intention behind the bill. I think there are some solid intentions here, which we need to figure out how to address.

As I understand it, this is the third time over a period of five or six years that the Bloc has introduced such a bill; they have not been identical but I think they were very similar. In the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia introducing this bill, I think he is reflecting a certain frustration that is felt by a lot of Canadians, and not just within Quebec either.

I think a lot of Canadians across the country are frustrated at the realization that there is very limited input, and in fact no requirement necessarily that there be any input, from this Parliament, let alone more broadly from Canadians, in relation to the signing by this government or any other government of international treaties.

I think that it is incumbent upon us to recognize that this bill is at least in part inspired by this, although I guess only the member who introduced it can really account for the inspiration. It seems to me that it is reasonable that the aspiration, and not necessarily the inspiration, for such legislation does have to do with wanting the treaty process to be somewhat more transparent, for there to be some democratic process surrounding the signing on to international treaties and that in the process there be greater accountability.

Let me say that I think the first of the stated purposes of the bill is something we ought to be considering. I want to make it clear at the beginning that my colleagues and I have some major reservations and recognize that there could in fact be some quite severe problems created if this bill were ever to be adopted unamended in its current form.

The first of the purposes stated I think does accurately reflect a feeling that the signing on to international treaties is a very important thing and that there is a concern about the fact that in many ways our ability to really act in the national interest can in fact be compromised by some of the treaties to which we become signatories.

On the other hand, I think the second stated purpose of the bill is one about which we have to be extremely careful and extremely concerned. At the end of the day, we have to be sure that we have preserved the ability of the federal government, the Parliament of Canada, to act in the national interest. If we create a process of consultation with provincial governments that is cumbersome and impractical and that in fact can make it almost impossible for the government to act in the national interest, then we have not created a solution. We have created yet another problem.

I do think that there is reason to pursue this topic. For that reason, I am inclined to suggest that we should pass this bill on second reading, with reservation, so that it can become the subject matter of a real discussion at committee about how we find a way to ensure both that there is a requirement for consultation to take place and that we recognize Canadians are concerned about the erosion of democratic accountability that can happen if there is not even a requirement. I think I am correct in saying that at the moment there is not even the requirement that a treaty be tabled in the House of Commons.

Canadians are concerned about the issue of democratic accountability. The Prime Minister went out on the campaign trail running for the leadership and presented himself as the man who would solve the democratic deficit. He said that there are excessive powers in the executive branch and in the hands of the prime minister and that we need to find some ways to put in some checks and balances.

We have to recognize that we are not doing a very good job in solving that problem. It would not hurt one bit to acknowledge that there are some serious shortcomings. There could be some very dangerous problems created in making it impossible for the government to act in the national interest with the bill in its current form. The subject matter needs to be discussed. We need to find some ways to ensure that there is a consultative process and a way to involve not just parliamentarians, but Canadians to provide input into the treaty making process.

If we do not do that, we are going to see the democratic deficit rise. When there is intense opposition to treaties into which Canada has entered without adequate consultation, we are going to see a great deal of disillusionment and that is not in the interests of a more democratic, accountable and transparent federal government.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

June 23rd, 2005 / 5:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-260.

Further to the intervention from the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, I would like to ask the following questions of colleagues in the House.

Is Canada's mechanism to conclude treaties as flawed as has been suggested?

Does that process need to be radically overhauled, as is being proposed?

Does the current practice prevent us from playing a role in defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene?

I think the answer to each of those questions is no.

Our current practice, with its flexibility and capacity to respond to change, already enables us to meet foreign policy objectives while recognizing the essential role of Parliament and the provinces in implementing treaty obligations in accordance with the distribution of powers established by our Constitution.

Bill C-260 affects constitutional order in a number of ways and raises serious concerns.

The careful balance which has been in place for decades would be altered should Parliament accept the proposal in the bill to give it the right to approve treaties prior to their ratification. This could seriously impact our ability to conclude treaties and ensure binding international commitments. This would be detrimental to Canada's foreign policy, a policy which first and foremost serves all Canadians.

As many people have already noted, Bill C-260 ignores the current role of Parliament, essential in the treaty process. Not only is Parliament actively involved now in the implementation of treaties, but consultations on many important treaties now take place before parliamentary committees prior to the government taking binding action.

The provisions of Bill C-260 also suggest that the respective roles of the federal and provincial governments in the area of treaty making require clarification and that negotiated agreements providing for federal-provincial consultations in matters related to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties are required to improve Canadian practice.

This suggestion, I believe, is erroneous on both counts and does not reflect the reality of Canadian success in international affairs.

Bill C-260 would require the Government of Canada to negotiate within six months of the coming into force of the act an agreement with each provincial government concerning the manner in which that province would be consulted in the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in the areas of provincial or shared jurisdiction.

Is this bill needed to guarantee consultations with the provinces on treaties and areas of provincial jurisdiction?

The answer to the question has to be no.

Such consultations have taken place since 1937 and the Government of Canada takes these consultations seriously. Consultations usually take place throughout the negotiation of a treaty and sometimes last for years. The consultations have to take place and they do take place. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Bill C-260 creates nothing new in this area, but it imposes, arguably, a straightjacket on the federal government for consulting its provincial partners.

The obligation on the federal government to negotiate individual agreements with each province under the pressure of an artificial deadline is not only unnecessary but could be dauntingly expensive and could have unpredictable results. Potentially, it could mean replacing what is an effective system for something less responsive, creating uncertainty where now none exists.

Bill C-260 raises another major constitutional concern, and that is that the bill's provisions would limit the treaty making power of Canada in the absence of consultations with the provinces to areas within exclusive federal jurisdiction.

It is recognized in Canadian constitutional law that the power to negotiate and conclude treaties rests exclusively with the federal executive. This power is fundamental to Canada's ability to speak with one voice internationally.

Beyond this, among the proposals put forward by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia in Bill C-260 is one that refers to a so-called royal prerogative in right of a province with respect to negotiation and conclusion of treaties in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

It must be emphasized that no such provincial prerogative exists.

As I have already noted, the prerogative with respect to the negotiation and signing of any international treaty lies exclusively with the Canadian federal executive. In this respect, Bill C-260 would violate the constitutionally determined division of powers. It bears repeating that the power of the provinces to negotiate and conclude treaties simply does not exist.

A change of this scale to the Canadian constitutional model requires far more than merely a debate in this House and one simple statutory change: it implies important, lasting, fundamental changes to our Constitution. Canada's current treaty making system, with its proven adaptability and its respect for constitutional order, best meets the interests of Canadians, so I cannot support Bill C-260.

One aspect of the bill involves a resolution of a longstanding issue, that is, it is an invitation for Parliament to involve itself as a ratifier of treaties before the treaties take effect. This proposed process, as contained in this bill, would allow or even force or require the House to be the final rubber stamp in a ratification process.

In other forms of governments, in other constitutions around the world, there may in fact be legislative ratification processes. In Canada and in other constitutional democracies, the normal procedure, one that exists now and has served us awfully well for the last many years, is that the executive of the government negotiates and enters into treaties, with or without consultations beforehand. In most cases where consultations are needed, they are entered into, in particular in Canada with the provinces.

Where there is follow-up legislation needed to implement the treaty, Parliament is involved in that. Where Parliament has a role in consultations prior to entering into the treaty, the executive of government, through its ministers, consults with Parliament.

Adding into the system now a parliamentary based ratification process would seriously undermine the current integrity of the Canadian treaty making process and undermine the credibility that Canada now has abroad.

When our government, our executive, whatever political stripe it happens to be, enters into a treaty, the international community knows that Canada is good in its negotiations and is not going to do a bait and switch game, which some countries do. In that game, the executive will negotiate a treaty, then go back home and have the legislature in that country pull back from ratification. That is a kind of two-handed, sleight of hand, bait and switch way of doing international business.

Canada does not negotiate treaties that way. When they are negotiated, we do it with total sincerity. When we sign on the line, when the government is ready to make that treaty, the treaty is entered into.

Of course, underlying all of that, and it is very important for Canadians to know that, the government that negotiates a treaty, the executive that enters into that treaty, must continue to have the full authority and support of the House. Our governments always must have that. To the extent they do not, those governments go down. That is certainly an issue around here these days in a minority Parliament.

In any event I will close on that by saying that the current system appears to serve Canadians very well. Coming from the sovereignist perspective, this particular bill, if it were to be adopted, would not serve Canadians, Canada, Parliament or our Constitution well.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

June 23rd, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak to Bill C-260, which, as you know, is a bill the Bloc Québécois has been bringing back to this House for many years.

This bill was first introduced by our colleague at the National Assembly, Daniel Turp, the member for Mercier. It was then re-introduced by the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who as you know is our foreign affairs critic. Now the torch has been passed on not only to the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, but also the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia. I want to commend him on this private members' bill.

Bill C-260 requires major treaties signed by the Government of Canada to be discussed by MPs and not just the executive branch of the government. In that sense, it is a bill that reflects the major advances of modern democracy. People will no longer accept treaties being negotiated, ratified and signed in secret behind closed doors. We are living in an age when, in addition to conventional treaties, a great number of trade and environmental treaties are being signed, for example, the convention on cultural diversity and other treaties related to culture.

It is to be hoped that in future, the international community will also be more effective at adopting rules having to do with social issues and labour standards than what we see today.

This is therefore a bill that really looks to the future. At the same time, though, it is rooted in the great battles that democrats have waged the world over and that the Bloc Québécois wages in this House. Once again, I would like to congratulate the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia on this initiative.

As I was saying, the purpose of the bill is to submit major international treaties to a vote of the House before ratification by the existing government. When we say major treaties, we mean treaties requiring legislative changes. I will return to this in a moment.

This would make it possible, first, to have greater transparency. As you know, Canada is bound by nearly 3,000 bilateral and multilateral treaties. Unfortunately, most of these treaties are tabled sporadically or sometimes not at all. What this bill proposes is that treaties signed by the Canadian government, by Canada, should be tabled and published regularly.

This is also a bill that institutes not only transparency but also a democratic process that should be automatic. The members of the House should consider major treaties and, after a debate, there should be a vote on these treaties. I just mentioned how these treaties could be defined. This would also make it possible to use the consultation mechanisms we have in Parliament. For example, the parliamentary committees concerned by the treaty in question would not only study the treaty but could also be asked to contribute during the negotiations. I think that is extremely important.

For example, we are currently discussing an international policy statement tabled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am giving the example of one committee, but it could pertain to others as well. Several experts told us that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade does not play an important enough role, with the result that Canada's foreign policy is a party policy. At the present time, it is the Liberal Party of Canada that is in power—for a few weeks still, a few months at most—and it is therefore this party that decides on policy. After their upcoming defeat, the new government will have another foreign policy that could be the exact opposite of what we have now.

If the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade were allowed to play a greater advisory role—in both the negotiation and the ratification of treaties—foreign policy would be much less partisan than it is. It would be shared by all of the parties in this House and all members, thus ensuring not only consistency but continuity in foreign affairs. I give this as an example, but it is true as well in the case of the environment, fisheries, culture and so on.

By giving the parliamentary committee and members of this House not only the privilege but the obligation to examine treaties in detail, debate them and pass them, or not, the government would vastly improve democratic life in this House and in all of Canadian and Quebec society.

It would mesh perfectly with what the current Prime Minister promised when he was running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and when he was campaigning in the 2004 election, namely to reduce the democratic deficit.

Everyone can see that the fact that the executive alone has the privilege of negotiating and ratifying treaties creates huge problems in terms of transparency and democracy.

You will say, Mr. Speaker—and you will be right—that, in the case of Kyoto, the House voted. That is a fact, because the Prime Minister agreed to have the House debate this treaty. So, the House does not have a right. In fact, depending on how the Prime Minister sees things at the time, he can permit or refuse debate of a treaty in this House.

Take, for instance, the war in Iraq. We would have liked to have seen a vote here but there never was one, because this government did not want one. Fortunately, the decision reached was in keeping with the opinion of the majority of the people of Canada and Quebec. At least it was in line with the position of the Bloc Québécois.

If Bill C-260 were passed, that would also make it possible to respect provincial jurisdictions, which is extremely important. When the Canadian government, Canada, negotiates on services or agriculture with the World Trade Organization, it is negotiating in areas under either joint jurisdiction or solely provincial jurisdiction. Thus the commitments by the Government of Canada on behalf of Canadians and Quebeckers commit the provinces.

This is so much the case that, in the new GATT agreement signed in 1994, the so-called superior level of government—which term, we all agree, has no connection with reality—is obliged to use the means available to it to ensure that the local, or inferior levels comply with the agreements signed by the central government. So what we were told is no longer true.

It is correct as far as NAFTA is concerned. A province that is unwilling to apply certain of the measures in NAFTA within areas under its jurisdiction is entitled to do this, since there are provisions for this in the agreement. However, with GATT, now the World Trade Organization, and the new agreement signed in 1994 there is a responsibility.

In fact, it may very well happen that, at the end of the day, the Government of Canada could sign a treaty and one of the provinces or Quebec might not respect it because it fell under their jurisdiction.

Taking the WTO as an example, there might be repercussions from other countries. They would tell us, “Come on now, you people have signed a treaty and now you are not able to get your so-called inferior governments to comply with it.” That terminology does not, of course, reflect in any way the realities of our respective governments.

It would therefore be advisable for the provinces to be involved in the negotiating process, so as not to end up with inconsistencies like the examples I have given.

Consider this in terms of the negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, when that was going on. It is going nowhere now, but at the time, there was an education committee. The Canadian government represented Canada, although the provinces have exclusive jurisdiction in this area. It was a bit strange to see the Canadian government sitting at the table and negotiating with the governments of 34 other countries in the Americas—well, 33 other countries, because Cuba was not party to the negotiations—when education is outside its jurisdiction.

This bill would allow us to adapt current practices of ratifying treaties to the modern day reality in the rest of the world.

Some people say that the executive branch's privilege is tied to British tradition. This is probably true. However, even Great Britain has changed its approach. Now, in the case of many treaties, the British Parliament has the duty to engage in debate and then vote.

There should be a consensus in the House on Bill C-260, and the bill should be adopted as rapidly as possible so that we can further improve our democratic life.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2005 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wajid Khan Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in the debate on Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties.

Under our Constitution, the power to conclude treaties belongs exclusively to the executive branch of the federal government. This means that it is the federal executive that negotiates the treaties and agrees to commit Canada to international obligations.

On the other hand, the constitutional power to implement treaties is divided between the Parliament and the legislatures of the provinces and territories under the distribution of powers established by our Constitution. This division of powers has been confirmed by our highest courts for many years and ensures a healthy balance between the executive and the legislatures.

The bill raises major constitutional concerns. It would alter the careful equilibrium between federal and provincial governments in treaty matters with its proposal to recognize a provincial treaty-making power. The implication that the bill is needed to guarantee consultations with the provinces on treaties in areas of provincial jurisdiction is simply wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The practice of the Government of Canada is well established. There are consultations with the provinces at every stage in development of a treaty in areas of provincial jurisdiction. This practice stems from a decision handed down by the courts in 1937 and the federal government takes these consultations very seriously.

Simply put, the federal government would not be in a position to ratify a treaty if it could not be reasonably sure that the treaty will be implemented. Thus, when Canada wants to ratify a treaty involving obligations within provincial jurisdiction, the federal executive necessarily consults the provinces.

In addition, before such treaties are ratified, the federal government requests the provinces' written confirmation that they will implement those treaties and that their legislation is in conformity with the obligations contained in those treaties.

There are numerous examples of this consultative process, including regular consultation mechanisms in some sectors and ad hoc mechanisms designed for the negotiation of specific instruments on uncommon or specialized topics of provincial or shared jurisdiction.

For example, the advisory group on private international law is composed of officials representing the provinces and the federal government. This group has been operating as a mechanism of federal-provincial-territorial consultation for some 25 years. It is a major mechanism for setting Canada's priorities in private international law, and it works well.

These priorities cover both the negotiation of new instruments and the ratification and implementation of existing ones.

There is also the extensive federal-provincial-territorial consultation process in the area of trade policy and trade negotiations, known as C-Trade. Members of C-Trade include senior officials responsible for trade policy matters in the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Agendas are developed jointly by trade officials from these various governments and discussions include matters such as the exchange of information on the negotiation of trade agreements, including Canada's position in such negotiations and the negotiating positions of our trading partners. C-Trade dialogue, which has been ongoing for 15 years, is critical to ensuring that Canada's position reflects provincial views in areas of provincial jurisdiction and gives full recognition to matters of shared jurisdiction, as mandated by the courts.

A third example is the federal-provincial-territorial continuing committee of officials on human rights that has been meeting ever since we have been party to human rights treaties. As in the case of C-Trade consultations, the group meets during the negotiation of human rights treaties prior to signature to obtain provincial and territorial input in the formulation of Canadian positions. This input is crucial to the formulation of our positions in order to obtain a treaty with clauses in areas of provincial jurisdiction that the provinces and territories will want to implement.

There are numerous other examples of federal-provincial-territorial consultation mechanisms, including ongoing consultations in the environment area such as the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and the National Air Issues Coordinating Committee, which are instrumental in developing Canadian positions on a whole range of important environmental issues.

It is not uncommon for representatives of provinces and territories to join Canadian negotiating delegations on treaties involving provincial and territorial jurisdictions. The list of examples is extensive and I will only mention a few here.

The negotiations currently underway at UNESCO on a cultural diversity instrument offer a perfect example of a major confluence of interests between Canada and the provinces. Quebec was represented by no fewer than seven members on the Canadian delegation at the second round of these talks in Paris last February.

Provincial representatives joined the Canadian delegation negotiating the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its subsequent Kyoto protocol, which imposes stringent limits on the emission of greenhouse gases.

In the case of private international law negotiations, where provincial areas of authority are concerned, Canadian delegations always include provincial representatives, such as on the Canadian delegation to negotiate a convention on jurisdiction and recognition of judgments.

As part of the ongoing negotiations on a Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, the Ontario minister of citizenship and immigration took part in the fifth round of negotiations in New York last January.

There are also scores of bilateral treaties between Canada and other countries dealing jointly with areas of federal and provincial jurisdiction for which the provinces and territories are invited to join the Canadian delegations.

In one example, there was extensive cooperation between the provinces and the federal government to conclude a treaty with Vietnam aimed at resuming international adoptions between our two countries. Quebec was part of the Canadian delegation that travelled to Hanoi.

Bill C-260 would alter our constitutional order in several significant ways: it recognizes a provincial power to make treaties they do not have; and it alters the balance of power between the executive which negotiates treaties and Parliament and provinces which implement them.

Our current system, with its inherent flexibility and its respect for our constitutional order, best meets the interests of Canadians. We have the treaties and the regulations in place. We have the executive which has been functioning effectively for a number of years. The highest courts in the land have proven that. There is no need to change that. I urge members across the way to abide by that within Canada.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2005 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario

Liberal

Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his brief historical overview. I would also like to mention two points he missed in his little account. First, it was the Chanak crisis, in 1922. Second, with respect to the Supreme Court convention, I did mention that was in the 1930s, not in 1867, the year of Confederation. I think the hon. member misheard me. I just wanted to set the record straight.

After listening to the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, his remarks are causing me to ask myself the following questions. Is the Canadian practice with respect to treaties really as bad as the hon. member suggests? Does it necessitate the radical overhaul he is proposing? Does our current practice prevent us from playing our role and defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene? My answer to all these questions is unequivocally no.

The current Canadian practice, through its flexibility and adaptability to change, already allows the government to respond to change in fulfilling the international policy objectives it has set for itself, while recognizing the essential role of Parliament and the provinces in implementing treaty obligations in accordance with the distribution of jurisdictions under the Constitution.

The bill affects the constitutional system in a number of ways and raises serious questions. The harmonious balance that has existed for decades would be compromised if the proposal that Parliament be entitled to approve treaties before their ratification were implemented.

It would have a significant impact on our ability to conclude treaties and to guarantee our international commitments. It would have a negative impact on Canadian foreign policy, which serves the interests of Canadians first and foremost.

As many have already noted, Bill C-260 ignores the role currently played by Parliament, a fundamental role in treaty practices. Not only is Parliament actively involved in treaty implementation, but consultations are currently taking place in committee on a number of our major treaties, before the government acts.

The provisions of Bill C-260 suggest that the roles of each of the federal and provincial governments in treaty ratification need to be clarified and that negotiated agreements providing for federal-provincial consultation on treaty negotiation and ratification are required in order to improve Canadian practice.

In my opinion, the answer to that question is no. Such consultations have been held since 1937, and the Canadian government takes them seriously. Consultations take place usually during treaty negotiations and sometimes last for years. They must take place and they do. There is no point in reinventing the wheel.

The bill before us creates nothing new in this regard, but forces a straitjacket on the Canadian government in having it consult its provincial partners.

The requirement to negotiate individual agreements with each province under the pressure of an artificial timeframe, which this bill would create, is not only useless, but the cost of it would be prohibitive and could produce unexpected results. It could, potentially, oblige us to replace an efficient system with something less flexible, creating uncertainty that does not currently exist.

The bill before us raises another major concern in constitutional terms. Its provisions would limit the government's power to conclude treaties in areas of federal jurisdiction without consultation with the provinces. Canadian constitutional law has provided for over 60 years that the power to negotiate and conclude treaties lies exclusively with the federal government. This power is essential to Canada's speaking with a single voice internationally.

Among the proposals made by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia in Bill C-260, one of them mentions the royal prerogative in right of provincial governments with respect to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in an area under the legislative authority of the provinces.

I have to say, in no uncertain terms, this provincial prerogative does not exist at this time.

As I already mentioned, the prerogative to negotiate and sign any international treaties belongs only to the federal executive branch.

In that sense, Bill C-260 would violate the provision in the Constitution on the allocation of jurisdictions. It bears repeating that the power of the provinces to negotiate and conclude treaties simply does not exist.

An amendment of this scale to the constitutional order would require more than a debate in this chamber. It would involve significant and lasting changes to the Constitution.

I must say that Canada's current system for concluding treaties, thanks to its inherent flexibility and respect for our constitutional order, responds best to the interests of Canadians.

The most fundamental point of what the hon. member is trying to express is that somehow there arrives from the potential of international treaties being signed, being concluded, being negotiated without consultation from all our partners from coast to coast, provincial and yes, although they are not respected formally in our Constitution, municipal players and other NGOs.

It becomes clear to me that what the hon. member is proposing very much mirrors what a former colleague of his party, Mr. Turp, proposed many years ago and that is to do indirectly by this bill what they cannot do directly, which is to manifestly provide treaty powers and to give in effect greater powers to one particular province that has an obvious interest in doing more than simply engaging in international policy.

The practical implications long term would be to recognize or to have a province then move one step further and say that the Canadian government, this Parliament, is in effect giving the right of that province to exercise a particular sovereignty which it currently does not have.

It is critical for us to understand that while we want to see more participation, the fact that there is a suggestion that there is no participation by the provinces, particularly as it relates to their areas of jurisdiction, is simply wrong and it is simply a false message to give.

We know in many domains there is a provincial interest. We see premiers attending international conferences with the presence of the federal government, usually with a flag and with someone from the mission. This is not new. Some provinces have gone as far as to open up trade offices.

To suggest somehow, as the bill does, that there is provincial frustration or worse that Parliament is not consulted on matters of treaty is simply off base.

More important, it is not just the power of the executive, and we talk of this executive in the context of democracy, it is important for us to essentially understand that the power of entering into treaties and making decisions on behalf of the country rests ultimately with an accountability. That accountability is here in the House of Commons.

That is why the Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he gets up and speaks in the House of Commons, is accountable each and every day for what he does, whether it is entering into treaties or making decisions that affect the policies of the country externally. It also means that the minister understands the difference, unlike the opposition did just a few minutes ago when it suddenly said that in the case of Burma it was okay to recognize governments, not countries.

Imagine, if we start simply throwing international law up in the air and making rules on the fly, what kind of country we would be and how we would probably be considered the laughing stock of the world.

I understand what the member is trying to do. It is sugar coated. It is soft. It is talking about regional implications. However, let us not be beguiled by what the opposition, particularly the Bloc Québécois, is trying to do. It would certainly like to have those kinds of powers conferred because there is no example that it can give where the province has not been effectively consulted.

If a province is not effectively consulted, we know that it has participated in international fora and under many opportunities where it has been engaged on issues that are somewhat in the area of shared jurisdiction.

The honourable thing to do in this case, and members of Parliament must be certainly aware of this, is to stand up for a united Canada and to ensure that this power remains within the executive power and that it remains the power of the Canadian government, as recognized by the Constitution and as upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, as is our reputation internationally, which is unblemished.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

May 18th, 2005 / 6 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

moved that Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address Bill C-260 this evening. It concerns international treaties to be adopted.

I remind this House that this is the third time the Bloc Québécois has presented such a bill in order to democratize treaty and international relations practices.

I recall that, in 1999, my former colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry, Daniel Turp, now a Parti Québécois MNA, presented Bill C-214, on which this bill is based to a large extent. The bill reached second reading, but, obviously, the Liberals opposed it.

In 2001, my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who supports my bill, also presented a similar bill. Her bill, C-313, used the wording of Mr. Turp's bill, but added a section providing for hearings to be held in committee with respect to treaties.

Bill C-313 harmonized how treaties are considered with how the House considers bills, meaning that treaties are treated—pardon the play on words—the same way bills are. We demanded that treaties be considered in committee. Unfortunately, the bill introduced by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île never reached second reading.

Bill C-260 is identical to Bill C-313. What are the objectives of this bill? First of all, there is transparency. Our aim, by introducing this bill, is to ensure that treaties are tabled in the House and published so that this process is transparent.

Second, we want to make the process more democratic, by having the House of Commons vote to approve important treaties and by introducing a process of committee consultations similar to that for approving bills.

We also want to respect provincial jurisdiction because, currently, the federal government alone signs treaties and the provinces are not consulted, as we would like. In fact, consultations with the provinces would mean that the federal government could not use its authority to negotiate international treaties to give itself a role in jurisdictions other than its own.

The free trade agreement is a perfect example. Obviously, many areas are affected by the free trade agreement. Many provincial areas of jurisdiction are also affected. Culture is one example of an area we had to defend and which, fortunately, has not yet been affected by the free trade agreement.

For example, a new free trade agreement might be negotiated in the near future, and our partners might ask us to include education, culture, universities and so forth, although these are provincial responsibilities. So the provinces must be able to have their say, oppose such inclusions and have the right to veto, if necessary.

The fourth objective, is to adapt current practices of ratifying treaties to the modern day. We are aware that there are many many treaties now that influence our lives but are negotiated in secret. These impact on our lives daily. I am referring to all of the international trade treaties, as well as to the free trade agreement. If there is one thing that really impacts on people's day to day lives, it is a free trade agreement between several countries, in this instance Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

If that agreement were expanded, it would have a very definite impact on people's daily lives. People must be aware, and well informed, of the impact of these treaties on their lives.

I should perhaps point out that, where international treaties are concerned, democracy is totally absent. There is no complete compilation of such treaties. Governments release them when and if they see fit, and people cannot be sure they are all being disclosed. There may be secret treaties we know nothing about.

At present, the treaty section at the Department of Foreign Affairs does not even have a list of signed treaties that could be made available to the public and the House of Commons, to at least know what they are about.

At present, the government is not required to table treaties in the House of Commons. This, in my view, denies the elected representatives of the people an extremely important power, the power to vote on these treaties and to relay to the government the message the people want to send through their representatives.

As I said earlier, the House does not even get to approve treaties. The government can sign and ratify any treaty it wants without consulting the representatives of the people. At the very most, treaties requiring legislative changes are brought before Parliament before ratification.

In Quebec, since 2002, a vote by the National Assembly is required. This means that only when the federal government has to amend its legislation does the House of Commons get to vote. It does so, however, only on ad hoc matters. We want to correct this approach, which we feel is totally undemocratic.

Being in no way involved in the negotiation of treaties, the House of Commons cannot consult the public. That is why we would like a process similar to the one for passing bills to be used. Obviously, a parliamentary committee can consult the public and those stakeholders who are directly or indirectly concerned by how a treaty signed by the federal government could change their lives.

It is therefore not surprising to see people increasingly expressing their opposition in the streets. In fact, there is no other place for them to be heard. This has become more pronounced in the past few years at world summits like the one held in Quebec City or others throughout the world. Many demonstrations are held at such events, especially on the issue of globalization. People revolt and demonstrate, sometimes quite aggressively, precisely because they are not informed of the content of the treaties and do not know what is happening during the negotiation process.

Obviously, when you do not have the information, and especially when it is being hidden from you, it is easy to assume that the outcome will not necessarily be positive. That is what provokes many demonstrations. People are opposed to globalization, among other things, because they know very little about the content of international treaties or the consequences, since they have not been explained.

The Bloc Québécois hopes that Parliament will give the public the chance to know about the treaties and to be consulted. This would not take any power away from the government. On the contrary, in my opinion this would only enhance it. If this power is based, as it should be in a democratic system, on public opinion, on citizen involvement in the process, then this strengthens democracy and our democratic system of governing.

Allow me to summarize the situation and the bill. The government is not required to consult the provinces. Earlier I gave the example of culture. If, in the future, our U.S., Mexican or other partners wanted to include culture, for example, in an international treaty, Quebec would be in a difficult position since the provinces are not consulted. The francophone population of Quebec, which is a francophone island in North America, could be threatened if culture were included in a treaty such as the free trade agreement.

We think it is absolutely vital, so long as Quebec remains a part of Canada—and I hope it will be a little longer—that we be consulted as is our right, as francophones and Quebeckers. It would be a way to protect our rights, in education, culture or any other area uniquely ours that is distinct from those of other provinces. We could talk about health care and privatization, which were issues at one point.

There is also university education. Reference has been made to the desire of certain American universities to establish campuses here. The public has to be consulted. People have to be able to object if they wish to these sorts of processes and requests from our partners.

Obviously, we want all treaties to be put before the House of Commons, approved by the House and put to civil society by a parliamentary committee before Parliament decides on important treaties.

I may have failed to mention one point. Important treaties are treaties that require the passage of federal legislation, that change government powers, that generate significant financial commitment, such as Kyoto, for example, that change a border, which could obviously happen, or that impose sanctions or the transfer of jurisdictions to international institutions.

In Europe, for example, this type of transfer occurs, given the creation of the European Economic Community, as defined. A new constitution is to be voted on, and certain powers are transferred. In my opinion, this is the best known and perhaps the most obvious example at the moment of transfers of jurisdictions to international institutions. We should therefore be entitled to vote on them. Important treaties are treaties of this kind or treaties that involve government jurisdiction or international trade.

We also want, as I mentioned—and these are the objects of the bill—any treaty to be published in the Canada Gazette and on the Internet site of the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is one way to democratize the process, one way to give to citizens access to the texts that are submitted, so that they can consult them. The bill also provides for a mandatory consultation process with the provinces, before negotiating a treaty the content of which comes under their jurisdictions. Earlier, I mentioned education. I cannot think of a more striking example.

Currently, in Canada, Parliament and parliamentarians only play a minimal role in the negotiation and ratification of international treaties. We keep making requests in the House of Commons, but we are constantly turned down. We also asked to vote on certain treaties, but that too was rejected. Yet, it is precisely the role of Parliament to convey the public's wishes to the government's executive branch. In reality, it is the executive branch of the federal government, namely cabinet, which controls all the stages in the treaty ratification process.

This control also applies to the content of negotiations which, as I mentioned earlier, are often secret. In fact, this secrecy is an important tool in the federal government's negotiating strategy. Nothing, or hardly anything, is made public before the parties have reached an agreement in principle on the content, or even on the wording of a treaty.

A few years ago, we got our hands on treaties that were being negotiated at the World Trade Organization, and that might have jeopardized our agricultural sector and supply management system. When farmers managed to get their hands on these documents, they literally rebelled. This was a top secret negotiation process. Of course, when people found out about it, the government had to back off.

Unfortunately, I only have one minute left and I have barely touched on this issue. However, I know that when the hon. member takes the floor later on, she will be able to say more on this topic.

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 23rd, 2004 / 9:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Chair, I will use ten minutes of my time to deliver my speech and five minutes for questions and comments.

First, I want to tell the hon. member who just spoke that I really understand her concerns. I too am a breast cancer survivor. I can understand why she is concerned about health, prevention and curative treatments.

I want to be as concise as possible. I will put my questions to the minister on the Report on plans and priorities in relation to the estimates for 2004-05 at the same time that I will make my speech. I would therefore ask the three persons who are accompanying the minister to take notes, so that I can get answers to my questions. The answers that I will ask for will also be short.

Supporting persons with disabilities is a priority mentioned on page 21 of the document and, more specifically, better tax recognition of disability support expenses.

Does the minister intend to deal seriously with laryngectomees, who are treated unfairly as regards the tax deductions introduced last year? It is mentioned that if a person can have a conversation despite his handicap, he is not entitled to the tax deduction. Will the minister correct this nonsense by recognizing that laryngectomees are persons with a disability, and will he allow them to get this tax deduction?

Another priority of the government, which is mentioned on page 23 and again on page 32, is to impose, through the legislation and to regulate consumer and health products, in order to provide safer products to Canadians.

Will the minister take action, following the submission on a quick and profitable solution to save lives, on Bill C-260, an act to amend the Hazardous Products Act (fire-safe cigarettes)?

The minister has with him all the studies which prove that such fire-safe cigarettes can be produced and that they are functional and safe. Will the minister quickly reactivate the regulations tabled in April at the Standing Committee on Health, so as to allow these regulations to be tabled in the House and be adopted as quickly as possible to save lives?

The minister is signalling that I can slow down. Good. It is because I do not want to miss a question. Mr. Chair, what you asked me earlier made me nervous.