Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join the debate and to put my feelings on the record.
At the outset, all the bad things that have been said are bad, but it is disheartening to think about Canada going down this road. I hearken back to my time in the Ontario Legislature, where I watched the Mike Harris government, over the course of eight years, destroy so much of what made me so proud to be a Hamiltonian, and particularly the things that were built over decades and generations before. It will take another decade or so to catch up to where we were in many of those areas.
I raise that because not only is the agenda similar, but the players are similar. The chief of staff to the Prime Minister is the former chief of staff to Mike Harris. The finance minister is the same finance minister I watched in the Ontario Legislature. It is the same with the transport minister and a couple of other players on that side of the House. As disheartening as that was to watch as a member of the provincial legislature, cherished programs and important legacies destroyed, I now see the same thing at the national level. Much of what makes us proud to be Canadians is on the line in terms of the government's action, and in particular, this bill.
Why is there so much opposition? The previous speaker said that he was not standing to oppose for the sake of opposing. Certainly, we are not. We are the party that is keeping Parliament alive. We are standing opposed to this because it is wrong. It is wrong for Colombians, but it is wrong for Canadians. It is wrong for Canadians to enter into an agreement that gives the impression that everything is okay in Colombia, that it is just business as usual. Well, it is not.
Just today there was a news conference reported in the Latin American Herald Tribune. It says in part:
Representatives of the Colombian Coalition against Torture held a press conference in Geneva to discuss the report the group is presenting this week before a U.N. rights panel here.
Torture continues to be generalized and systemic in Colombia. It is perpetrated by the Public Force, by the paramilitaries and by the guerillas, but the party principally responsible for these acts is the state”, said Isabelle Heyer, a member of the Colombian Jurist Commission....
She said sexual violence againstwomen and girls is one of the most pervasive modes of torture, calling it “an habitual, systemic and invisible practice, which enjoys impunity in the majority of cases and whose principal perpetrators are soldiers and police”.
Is it not the same government that uses girls going to school in Afghanistan as their one reason for continuing with the mission in the format that it is? Yet we see what is going on with women and girls in Colombia, but somehow that does not count.
We have seen a lot of Canadian trade unionists getting involved in this issue. Do members think they have nothing else to concern themselves with? They stand for more than just collective bargaining and taking care of their members. They know when they build a stronger Canada, they are taking care of their members.
I was meeting earlier in my office on the Hill with some ACTRA representatives, as many members are. They are lobbying on some very important issues regarding Canadian culture and the importance of maintaining and reflecting that culture and ensuring there is regulations that it happens in our airwaves. It is an important matter. I happened to mention in passing that I would be getting up later to speak to the Colombian free trade agreement in the House, and members should have seen their reaction. They knew about it. They knew what was happening. That was not why they were there to see me. They were horrified by the prospect of Canada entering into such an agreement.
We met on the Hill with Colombian citizens, Colombian trade union leaders whose family members, friends and colleagues have been murdered. It is a narco-state. What the heck are we doing? Whose bidding are we taking care of by doing this? I have heard some nonsense from the official opposition that it is all about human rights. Give me a break.
Norway was all set to enter into a free trade agreement. It has pulled back. Why? It wants to see some improvement in human rights. Norway has taken our place as the leading nation in the world being seen as fair-minded, fighting for human rights, building a society that helps all its people. That is where we were. That is what Norway has done.
Britain was providing some military assistance. My understanding is it has pulled back on that also. Why? It cannot bear the thought that the actions it would take would lend credibility to what goes on in Colombia.
The United States of America, under George Bush, was gung-ho for this agreement. It had a slight change there. That slight change has brought this to a screeching halt. In fact, the chairman of the House trade working group and representative Phil Hare have attached themselves to the following quote:
If we had been born in Colombia, we would probably be dead. That's right. As members of our respective labour unions, the fight for higher wages, better working conditions, and a secure pension could have cost us our lives.
I am a trade unionist. My brother is a trade unionist. That applies to all of us.
Colombian Senator Robledo stated:
You can be sure of the fact that should this free trade agreement be ratified, Canada will become extremely unpopular and disliked by the people of Colombia.
Let us get a sense of this. The people who are known to be on the forefront of fighting for human rights in Canada and around the world, the trade union movement in Canada, are opposed to this. Trade union leaders, human rights activists and citizens and elected senators in Colombia do not want this to happen. The U.K. has pulled back from supporting Colombia. Norway has pulled back from its free trade agreement with Colombia because of human rights violations. The United States has stopped, at least for now. We do not know what the future holds, but for now it cannot get past the Democrats in Congress because of human rights violations.
Therefore, why are we doing this? It is hard not to think that, given the fact that the labour and environmental protections, and I use the word “protection” loosely, are in these side agreements. We know from our own experience in NAFTA that a side agreement does not have the same impact as being in the main agreement. That would be why we put it in a side agreement.
Again, I come back to this question. Who wants this? Who benefits? It would seem that there are a lot of multinational corporations, many of them Canadian-based. We lead in resource extraction. Over the next few decades, they stand to make an awful lot of money if they can get into Colombia and start getting at those resources, at best looking past the human rights violations, looking past the fact that narcotics is the key component of its economy. That is at best.
It would seem that the Conservatives are prepared to do their bidding. I do not see a whole lot of Canadians filling these chambers, demanding that the government proceed with this and that we stop opposing it. It is quite the contrary. A lot of Hamiltonians have told me how proud they are that we have stood up, delayed and done everything we can to stop this bill from being law, to stop this free trade agreement from taking effect.
It is wrong for the Colombians. It is wrong for Canadians. It is wrong for the government to continue pushing this through. We on this side of the House, representing the majority of Canadians, will continue to do everything we can to kill it completely.