Mr. Speaker, on May 15, 2007, I had the opportunity here in the House to talk about why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-53, which is identical to Bill C-9, An Act to implement the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention). Today, therefore, I will talk about how international treaties are now typically drafted with no regard whatsoever for democracy.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois wants all treaties to go through the House of Commons. The current way of doing things completely disregards democracy. Bill S-5, which provides for the coming into force of tax conventions, shows how important international treaties are to our daily lives. These days, treaties are brought before Parliament only when they require enabling legislation.
In Canada, Parliament and parliamentarians play a minimal role in negotiating and ratifying international treaties. The federal executive controls all phases of the process. The executive is also responsible for what takes place in negotiations, which are, for the most part, secret. This secrecy is an important part of the federal government's negotiation strategy. Next to nothing, and sometimes nothing at all is disclosed before the parties sign an agreement in principle on the content and even the wording of the treaty. Even though the provinces are usually kept abreast of negotiations for trade agreements, they participate very little in the process and, with few exceptions, are totally excluded from the decision-making process.
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. The treaty section at the Department of Foreign Affairs does not even have a list of signed treaties to consult. The government is not required to table treaties in the House of Commons. It does not even have to inform the House or the public that it has signed or ratified treaties. The House does not 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 in the National Assembly is required. Being in no way involved in the negotiation of treaties, the House of Commons cannot consult the public. 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. The government is not required to consult the provinces either, even though it cannot implement treaties that concern areas of provincial jurisdiction and the provinces are not bound by the federal government's signature. It is totally absurd that no formal consultation mechanism is in place.
The government is preventing the provinces from being able to act internationally by controlling their international relations and by not allowing them to reach treaty-like agreements. This is 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. This agreement is based on chapter 11 of NAFTA, which has been criticized by many. Yet the government concluded it without putting it to the House. 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.
As was the case when Bill S-5 was passed, the fact that Bill C-9 will be passed quickly is an opportunity to show the government that democracy is not something to be feared when concluding fair treaties. The government must honour its promise to submit to the elected representatives any treaties that it intends to ratify, as it is forced to do here today with the three tax treaties. Once it has ratified them, it must honour them, as we hope it will honour the tax treaties we are discussing here today, and the Kyoto protocol, which the House is pressing it to honour.
This failure to involve the representatives of the people is an anachronism. It is impossible to tell from the division of legislative powers provided in the Constitution Act, 1867 which level of government, federal or provincial, has authority to sign a treaty with a foreign government. No provision is made in the Canadian Constitution for a jurisdiction anything like external relations or international relations. This is understandable, however, because when the Constitution Act, 1867 was passed by the British Parliament in London, Canada was still a colony of the British Empire. In 1867, the British Parliament reserved for the British Crown the power to represent the Dominion of Canada internationally and to enter into treaties with foreign countries on its behalf.
Under section 132 of the Constitution Act, 1867, however, the federal government was given responsibility for implementing, in Canada, treaties entered into by the British Crown, where these were applicable to this country.
In 1931, pursuant to the Statute of Westminster, Canada, as well as several other dominions of the British Empire, acquired full independence and, along with it, the authority to act with all the attributes of a sovereign state on the international scene. It was then that the federal government acquired jurisdiction over external affairs. Considered a royal prerogative when the Constitution was written, this authority was transferred to the government which, as the sovereign's representative, exercises it alone and without involving Parliament.
Once the governor in council approves an agreement reached between Canada and a foreign country, no matter who negotiated the treaty, that agreement becomes an international treaty. The representatives of the people do not have a say in it because the federal government has simply inherited a royal prerogative dating back to the British Empire.
Parliament only becomes involved when the ratification of a treaty requires an enabling statute. Canadian legislation may have to be amended because of the treaty. The legislative implementation of these treaties is the only occasion when Parliament has a say in the entry into force of a treaty in Canada.
It should be pointed out that many treaties requiring the Canadian state to adopt specific standards are not presented to Parliament for the adoption of enabling legislation. In such cases, the government believes that the Canadian legislation already conforms to the international obligations adopted or that the subject of the treaty does not require the adoption of new legislative provisions.
Consequently, no amendments are made to existing laws nor is a new law adopted by Parliament. For example, Parliament did not adopt legislation to implement or approve the ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. In such cases, the treaty never goes before Parliament.
In short, Canada is less democratic today that in was in the 20's. In June 1926, Prime Minister 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, Parliament's approval must be obtained.
In 1941, Mackenzie King reiterated his commitment to this formula:
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, approval by resolution has been sought less and less. During the cold war, the government dropped the convention of seeking Parliament's approval before signing treaties or engaging in military intervention on foreign soil.
The government even stopped tabling treaties in Parliament. Except for the Kyoto protocol, not one treaty has been approved by resolution since 1966—over 40 years ago—and that was the Auto Pact. As for Kyoto, the government has refused to honour it. So much for democracy.
Furthermore, Canada is less democratic than the rest of the industrialized world. Most other major industrialized democracies support greater involvement of their parliaments in ratifying treaties. For example, the constitutions of France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and the United States require legislative approval of some types of international agreements prior to ratification.
Some countries that share constitutional traditions with Canada have tried to enshrine their parliament's role in examining treaties.
In the United Kingdom, a convention established in the 1920s, the Ponsonby Rule, requires the tabling of international agreements in both Houses of Parliament at least 21 days before they are to be ratified. This gives parliamentarians the opportunity to debate them before the government ratifies them, even though these debates are not binding. This kind of thing does not exist in Canada.
More recently, in 1996, Australia changed its procedure for concluding treaties. Under this procedure, treaties must be tabled in parliament at least 15 sitting days before any binding decision is made by the executive branch; a national interest analysis of the expected impact of the treaty obligations must be done, for each treaty, and tabled in parliament; a standing joint committee on treaties must be established to examine potential treaties and report on them. There is nothing of the sort in Canada.
As usual, Canada trails Quebec.
In Canada, the provinces pass laws in their constitutional fields of jurisdiction. As the British Privy Council ruled in 1937 in the labour conventions case, the provinces' legislative authority also extends to the implementation of international treaties.
As soon as a treaty or part of a treaty involves a provincial jurisdiction, the provisions in question can be implemented only by the provinces. Since 1964, Quebec has concluded some 550 international agreements involving many fields of jurisdiction for which it has full or partial responsibility, such as culture, economic development, drivers' licences, international adoption, the environment, science and technology, and communication.
For a major agreement to be binding, the Government of Quebec must first submit it to the Quebec National Assembly for approval. Only then will Quebec be bound by an international agreement entered into by Canada and agree to pass legislation to implement the agreement. Furthermore, under the legislation, Quebec's Department of International Relations must list and publish all of Quebec's international agreements. There is nothing of the sort in Canada.
The Bloc Québécois has introduced three bills on treaties to modernize the entire process for concluding international treaties.
The Bloc Québécois bill on treaties was designed to build transparency and democracy into the process of negotiating and concluding international treaties. Since such treaties have an increasingly large impact on our lives, it was more important than ever to make such a change. Moreover, the bill required that the federal government respect the provinces' jurisdictions.
The bill provided for five changes: all treaties were to be put before the House of Commons, the House was to approve important treaties, a parliamentary committee was to consult civil society before Parliament voted on important treaties, treaties were to be published in the Canada Gazette and on the Department of Foreign Affairs website and the government was to consult with the provinces before negotiating a treaty in an area of provincial jurisdiction.
The treaty bill came to a vote only once, on September 28, 2005. All the federalist parties voted against it.
No strangers to contradiction, the Conservatives made two promises about international treaties during the last election campaign. They promised to put international treaties before the House prior to ratification and to give the provinces a role in concluding treaties pertaining to their jurisdictions. Both these promises were broken.
Since they were elected, the Conservatives have amended NAFTA. They have signed two investment protection agreements based on NAFTA chapter 11, one of which has been ratified. They have concluded a military cooperation agreement to authorize British soldiers to train in Canada. They have signed cooperation agreements on higher education, even though education does not come under Ottawa's jurisdiction. They have concluded an agreement to facilitate technology transfers from Canada to China. And they have amended the free trade agreement with Chile.
Aside from the amended NATO treaty, which was brought before the House at the last minute for a mini-debate and vote, none of these international treaties has come before the House.
And where is the nation of Quebec in all this? The federalist parties say they rejected the Bloc Québécois bill because of two clauses, 4 and 6.
First, clause 4 provided for a mechanism for consulting with the provinces:
Canada shall not, without consulting the government of each province in accordance with the agreements entered into under section 5, negotiate or conclude a treaty
(a) in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces; or
(b) in a field affecting an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.
As for clause 6, it recognized the validity of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine:
Nothing in this Act in any manner limits or affects the royal prerogative of Her Majesty in right of a province with respect to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.
The clause on consulting Quebec and the provinces is nothing revolutionary. When the federal government discusses, in an international forum, the text of a treaty having an impact on the provinces, then it consults the provinces beforehand.
Under an agreement concluded in 1975—and still in effect—between the Trudeau government and the provinces, Ottawa consults the provinces at every stage of the negotiation of treaties involving human rights.
Every federalist party in Ottawa is more centralist than Pierre Elliott Trudeau on the issue of international relations.
It is not just a Bloc Québécois bill that the federalist parties have rejected, it is a Quebec law. Section 22.1 of the Act respecting the Ministère des Relations internationales requires the consent of the Government of Quebec with respect to the signing, ratification or adherence by the Government of Canada, before the latter acts internationally on any agreement concerning matters under Quebec's constitutional jurisdiction.
As far as the section recognizing the provinces' right to negotiate and conclude international treaties in their jurisdictions is concerned, it was simply a recognition of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine which every Government of Quebec has been following since 1965.
The Gérin-Lajoie doctrine is closely linked to Quebec's independence: the provinces are completely sovereign within their jurisdictions and they must exercise their authority over the entirety of their jurisdictions, which includes signing and ratifying international treaties.
In closing, these are some of the arguments in favour of more involvement by parliamentarians in the negotiation and ratification of international treaties for the good of democracy.