Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.


Stockwell Day  Conservative


Second reading (House), as of Nov. 17, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment implements the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreements on the environment and labour cooperation entered into between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and signed at Lima, Peru on November 21, 2008.

The general provisions of the enactment specify that no recourse may be taken on the basis of the provisions of Part 1 of the enactment or any order made under that Part, or the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement or the related agreements themselves, without the consent of the Attorney General of Canada.

Part 1 of the enactment approves the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreements and provides for the payment by Canada of its share of the expenditures associated with the operation of the institutional aspects of the Free Trade Agreement and the power of the Governor in Council to make orders for carrying out the provisions of the enactment.

Part 2 of the enactment amends existing laws in order to bring them into conformity with Canada’s obligations under the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreement on labour cooperation.


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.


Oct. 7, 2009 Failed That the amendment be amended by adding after the word “matter” the following: “, including having heard vocal opposition to the accord from human rights organizations”.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
See context


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to speak to Bill C-2.

I want to speak to the point that my friend from Windsor West raised in terms of trade. We need to make it very clear. Canada already does trade with Colombia. There is some $1.3 billion in two-way trade right now, with $602 million in Canadian exports and $734 million in imports.

It is important to understand that the purpose of the free trade agreement is to institute some rules-based trading. To say that there is no trading going on right now would be disingenuous and quite frankly misleading. There is trade right now. We are trying to make sure it is rules based so that we can move forward on a stronger footing.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to talk about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement because it is an important agreement for Canada. It has been the subject of extensive debate and study by the House and the Standing Committee on International Trade.

At the standing committee alone there has been over 35 hours of witness testimony on the free trade agreement. In the House, opposition members have spoken 99 times to Bill C-23 which was in a previous Parliament, as well as Bill C-2.

The New Democratic Party members have made it clear that they are opposed to free trade. As a matter of fact, they have never met a free trade deal they did not oppose. They have spoken 40 times to these bills despite only having 36 members. We can do the math on that one.

The committee has heard from over 90 witnesses who have shared their knowledge and views on this agreement. Some organizations have appeared more than once. This is in addition to the visit by the standing committee to Colombia to study Canada's commercial relationship with Colombia. During this visit alone, members of Parliament were able to meet with over 50 Colombian stakeholders.

What have members of the House and members of the committee heard time and time again during their discussions on the free trade agreement? They have heard that this is a strong commercial agreement for Canada and for Colombia.

Certainly no one is saying that Colombia is a country that has fixed all its problems. While we were in Colombia listening to testimony, people talked openly. The government talked openly of the struggles the country has had in terms of civil unrest and civil war over the years. We would be hard pressed to find anyone with the government or civil society who has not said that conditions have improved.

That is one of the things we are talking about here today. As we heard from SNC-Lavalin when it appeared before committee, more and more engagement of Canadian companies and good Canadian values are more likely to help the situation than to make it worse.

We must move forward now with the passage of this free trade agreement. Canadian business is looking to Parliament to do everything we can to open doors for Canadians, to create new commercial opportunities around the world and to work with our partners to help our citizens succeed.

To allow this to happen, Canadian companies need improved access to markets in order to compete. That is why this free trade agreement is such an important accomplishment. Trade between our countries is significant.

In 2009, as I mentioned when I started my speech, our two-way trade in merchandise totalled $1.3 billion. Key Canadian products such as pulse crops, paper, wheat, barley, machinery and motor vehicles are exported to Colombia. Canadian companies and producers of these products are counting on the passage of the free trade agreement. Colombia is a vibrant and dynamic market for Canadian exporters and foreign investors. It is a growing market of 48 million people.

As soon as the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement comes into effect, exporters and investors in Canada will enjoy lower trade and investment barriers in the Colombia market.

Colombia will eliminate tariffs on nearly all current Canadian exports, including wheat, pulses and mining equipment. The competitive advantage that will be provided for Canadians with the removal of these tariffs is significant. The removal will help Canadian workers, farmers and businesses stay ahead of their global competitors.

Canadian exporters, particularly of the commodities, are already at a disadvantage compared to their U.S. counterparts due to higher transportation costs. These disadvantages could become even worse if the U.S.-Colombia agreement comes into force. As well, Colombia has been aggressively expanding its commercial relations with other countries, having recently concluded negotiations on a free trade agreement with the European Union and it is currently in negotiations with Panama and South Korea. If we wait to implement our agreement, we risk seeing Canadian exporters further disadvantaged in this important market.

Colombia maintains tariffs averaging 17% on agricultural products, with tariffs ranging from 15% to as high as 108% for some pork products, 80% for some beef products and 60% for certain beans. Indeed, agriculture was a key driver for these free trade agreement negotiations, and a successful outcome of agriculture was absolutely critical.

Tariffs on 86% of Canadian agricultural exports will be eliminated immediately when the free trade agreement comes into force. That translates into about $25 million in annual duty savings in sectors such as wheat, barley, lentils, beans and beef. Clearly, this is a significant amount and will certainly provide additional incentive for Colombian companies to buy Canadian goods.

During one of its appearances before the standing committee, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association was quite candid with its views:

I'm interested in making the lives of Canadian beef producers better. I think this agreement and other trade agreements do that.

This government echoes these remarks. We are working on trying to support Canadian farmers and to make the lives of Canadians better by creating jobs and ensuring the long-term competitiveness of this country.

The benefits of this trade agreement extend beyond agriculture. By creating new market opportunities for Canadian exporters, this agreement is also expected to have a positive impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector, growth that can be achieved in Colombia. Off-road dump trucks, auto parts and machinery are some of Canada's leading exports to Colombia. These products will benefit from increased market access through this agreement.

We need to listen to Canadian businesses and help them expand their reach into this exciting market. The time for Canada to act is now. Our trade with Colombia is complementary. Both countries have a lot to gain.

It has been mentioned by members on the opposite side that there is a number of issues facing Colombia. They talk about the paramilitary, the FARC. One of the things they forget to factor into the equation is the extensive illegal drug market in Colombia. What this deal does is it helps Colombians rely less on drugs and more on trade.

This is trying to provide opportunities for Colombians so that they do not need to rely solely on the illegal drug market that has plagued Colombia. This is about trying to create additional opportunities. When we say we will not provide opportunities or will not give them an opportunity to trade, we remove the chance for them to be able to transfer out of the illegal activities into legal activities where they could make sustainable long-term differences.

Colombia is making significant advances to ensure it becomes a stable democracy. However, one cannot have a democratic and secure nation without jobs and opportunities. Colombia is working to create opportunities for its people, and the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement will assist in those efforts.

Our businesses can compete with the best in the world. It is certainly time we listened to our Canadian companies and worked to ensure that they maintain their competitiveness in this market and have the chance to pursue new opportunities.

I would also mention the fact that during the polling that has been going on with the presidential elections coming, of all the parties that are running there is only one party that opposes free trade. Let us think about that. There is only one party out of all the parties that are running for re-election and to run the country that actually opposes free trade. Ninety-six per cent of those parties support free trade. That is what the polls show.

We talk about what is not good for Colombia. I think Colombians understand what is important for Colombia. If there was such an opposition to free trade, do members not think that would become an issue during the campaign? Do members think any political party in Colombia would be supporting free trade if they believed this was going to hurt their chances of winning? That bears out in the results of the polls which show that only one party, which actually has less than 4%, opposes free trade.

It is for this reason and the many benefits to our Colombian partners that this agreement brings that I ask all members to support the passage of this free trade agreement.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade AgreementPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

April 1st, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by numerous citizens from new Brunswick and the east coast of Canada calling on the government to carry out a human rights impact study when it comes to free trade with Colombia. They are saying to the government that we need a fair trade agreement with Colombia, not a free trade agreement.

I would impress upon all members of the House to realize that there are literally tens of thousands of people who are signing petitions when it comes to Bill C-2, the free trade bill on Colombia, formerly known as Bill C-23. Even though we have seen it stop and start again, Canadians across this land from coast to coast to coast are clearly saying no to Bill C-2.

They are saying that we need a human rights impact study carried out before we enter into any agreements. I am pleased to present this on behalf of them.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to BillC-2, even though this is the third time I have debated it in the House.

This is the bill to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, the former Bill C-23, which has come back to the House again.

We really do not understand the Conservative government’s determination to make this a priority bill. This agreement with Colombia contains a number of flaws and raises a number of serious problems. Implementing it would be a serious mistake.

The Conservative government’s motivation for signing a free trade agreement really has nothing to do with trade, it has to do with investment. The agreement contains an investment protection chapter, which would make life easier for Canadian investors who want to invest in the mining sector in Colombia in particular.

Even that is negative, and I will say why in a moment. There is nothing positive about this free trade agreement and we will gain nothing from it. It is therefore incomprehensible that they would want to sign it.

Colombia has one of the worst records in the world and probably in Latin America when it comes to human rights. Thousands of trade unionists have been killed. Since 1968, 2,690 trade unionists have been killed because of their union work, 46 of them in 2008.

Trade unionists are the target of violence, among other things. There have been many population displacements, and this is not because the people are not sedentary or like to move around. These displacements show that Colombia is a country that has no regard for fundamental rights. There are numerous examples of human rights abuses.

It is mainly small farmers and small miners who are displaced, who have to leave their land to accommodate the huge agri-food or mining corporations, probably the ones the Conservative government wants to help. There are various ways of displacing farmers and people who have a small mine.

You can make death threats against an individual or his children. Most of us would have cleared out long ago. There is also murder, which is even worse. As well, people’s land is flooded so they are no longer able to earn a living, and this forces them to leave. After that, the land is dried out so it can be used.

A fundamental principle of free trade agreements is not being respected. Normally a free trade agreement is signed by two countries with similar economies. I will not go so far as to say that nothing could be more dissimilar than the economies of Colombia and Canada, but that is pretty close to the reality.

Colombia has immense poverty: 47% of the population lives below the poverty line and 12% lives in absolute poverty. One fifth of the population lives on less than $1 a day. I did not invent this statistic; it comes from the UN.

The crime statistics also point to a very sinister side of Colombia. Before I begin quoting the Department of Foreign Affairs, I would like to say that in 2008, the crimes committed by paramilitary groups increased by 41%, in comparison with 14% the previous year.

I do not think there is a legitimate reason for signing this free trade agreement. Even this government's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is discouraging people from travelling to Colombia. On the Foreign Affairs website, the warnings and recommendations for the public advise against going. In addition, no one wants to go as part of a mining project.

The advice is very clear when it comes to those who work for or in the mines.

This government makes some general recommendations about Colombia. On one hand, it is saying that we will sign a free trade agreement with the country. On the other hand, it is saying that no one should go there:

Exercise a high degree of caution

Presidential elections will take place in Colombia on May 30, 2010... Public gatherings and areas where demonstrations may occur should be avoided.

Canadians should exercise a high degree of caution due to the unpredictable security situation. Although there is no specific information about future terrorist activities or threats against Canadian citizens in Colombia, Canadians should be vigilant and avoid any unattended packages or parcels and bring them to the attention of security personnel.

It does not seem so bad up to that point, but here is the next part.

Possible terrorist targets include military and police vehicles and installations, restaurants, underground garages, nightclubs, hotels, banks, shopping centres, public transportation vehicles, government buildings, and airports.

How can we go to Colombia and sign a free trade agreement when our government is specifically telling us not to go there because government buildings and airports are considered dangerous? It is completely incomprehensible.

Regional Warning

Avoid non-essential travel

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against non-essential travel to the city of Cali and most rural areas of Colombia, because of the constantly changing security situation and the difficulty for the Colombian authorities of securing all of the country’s territory.

Another regional warning reads:

Avoid all travel

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel...located along the border with Ecuador...The presence of armed drug traffickers, guerrilla and paramilitary organizations, including the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army), poses a major risk to travellers. These groups continue to perpetrate attacks, extortion, kidnappings, car bombings, and damage to infrastructure in these areas. Landmines are used by guerrilla groups, especially in rural areas.

How can we sign a free trade agreement with a country like that? How can we travel there to tour around and see the sights?

Civil Unrest

National parks, wildlife refuges, and city outskirts are often convenient hideouts for illegal groups and should be avoided, as armed clashes are frequent in such areas.

How can we travel in this country with which we have signed a free trade agreement?


For security reasons, it is preferable to arrive at Medellín's José Maria Córdova International Airport during the day to avoid the road from the airport to the city after dark.

It makes no sense.

Avoid going to bars alone.

Some will say this should always be avoided. In any case, it continues:

Never leave your drink or food unattended. There have been numerous incidents of drugs being used (including scopolamine) to incapacitate travellers in order to rob them. Scopolamine can be administered through aerosols, cigarettes, gum, or in powder form. Typically, travellers are approached by someone asking for directions; the drug is concealed in a piece of paper and is blown into the victim's face. Exercise extreme caution, as scopolamine can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.

And we are going to sign a free trade agreement in this context? I left one of the best excerpts for last.

Colombia has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world.

As we all know, Ingrid Betancourt was held in captivity for six years.

While kidnapping is primarily aimed at Colombians, foreigners can be targeted by guerrilla groups in all parts of the country, especially persons working for (or perceived to be working for) oil and mining companies.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
See context


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-2, which has to do with free trade with Colombia.

Needless to say, I will be voting against this bill. I would like to share some figures about Colombia. Since 1986, 2,690 union activists have been killed. In 2008 alone, murders increased 18% over the previous year, and since November 2009, 34 union activists have been killed, with no government protection. If someone kills a worker, all they face in the way of punishment is a fine from the government.

I just cannot believe that our government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement with a country like that and that the Liberals support the deal.

I was a union representative in a former life. I worked in the mines, and I know what goes on down there in terms of safety. In 1996, in the Brunswick mine in New Brunswick, six people were killed. The union worked very hard to have the law changed in Canada. The right to refuse to work began in New Brunswick.

Yet our country, which now has laws that allow workers to refuse unsafe work, is going to sign an agreement with a country where workers are hunted. It is open season on workers who disagree with the company or want to join a union.

This is totally unacceptable. Colombia deserves no praise for its human rights practices and laws.

How can our country, in good conscience, sign an agreement with a country that is not willing to give workers rights? Why sign an agreement and say that human rights will follow? If Colombia is willing to respect workers' rights, then why not include that in the agreement and in the laws as well? Why does Colombia not pass a law immediately and disclose what it contains? The agreement says that if any social changes are legislated, companies can sue the government.

This is outrageous. It is shameful and unacceptable for this government to introduce this bill to implement a free trade agreement with Colombia.

How can we rise in the House and vote for a bill on free trade with a country incapable of respecting human rights? How can we conclude an agreement with a country that does not respect workers, the men and women who get up in the morning, go to work and build a country, the same way Canada was built?

Worse yet, how can we draft a document, an agreement, when the Colombian government is turning a blind eye to this? How can we sign an agreement like this and have a conscience? This is unconscionable.

It is despicable that the Liberals are supporting this. I am asking the Liberals to change their minds, especially since this is a minority government. They know what is going on in Colombia and they think that by signing an agreement, everything will fall into place. Get real. When companies think they can make even more money they laugh all the way to the bank. That is where their money goes. It does not go toward improving working conditions. Even here in Canada, without unions, labour relations would not be what they are today. The only reason there are a number of companies out there that have good labour relations without a union is that these companies do not want to be unionized and they know that unions are always ready to move in.

Imagine Canada without unions. We see that things can happen even with unions around.

Take, for example, what is going on in Sudbury, where the strike has been going on for a record amount of time in Ontario. Foreign companies set up shop here, buy the company and want to do things the same way it is done in their own country. They say that we are the ones who need to adapt. That is what they said in Sudbury. Foreign company Vale SA purchased Inco and is now telling workers to get used to the way it does things. That is going on here, in Canada. The government supports these kinds of companies and wants to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, despite everything that is going on.

Since 1986, 2,690 unionists have been killed in Colombia because of their union involvement. That is atrocious and shameful. What is even more atrocious and shameful is that our government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement with such a country. That is completely unacceptable.

In the United States, the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States was supported by George Bush when he was in power. Now that he is no longer in power, the United States—led by Barack Obama—is trying to back out of the agreement. They do not want to sign it. This shows the similarities between the Conservatives and the former American president George Bush, who was prepared to sign an agreement with Colombia. Now that he is no longer in power, they should be proud that his replacement is saying no to an agreement with Colombia.

Canada should do the same thing. If we do not, we are saying that we do not respect workers or human rights. Colombia in no way respects workers' rights.

What do Colombians have to say? Workers are asking us not to sign this agreement. They do not want it because it will not improve their lives. People make a bigger deal about the way seals are killed than about Colombian workers. People care more about protecting seals than they do about protecting Colombian workers. That is unbelievable.

For all of these reasons, we cannot support such an agreement. Before the House was prorogued, the NDP and the Bloc fought hard against Bill C-23, which is back as Bill C-2. This is the same bill.

The government wants to listen to companies seeking to profit from free trade, but it does not care about workers. Do human beings in Colombia not get a say in this? Do people speaking on behalf of those who have lost their lives not get a say?

The Conservatives opposite think this agreement is something to smile about. Personally, I find that sad because I would not be able to sleep at night if I signed such an agreement. We know that Colombia does not respect human rights or workers' rights. The government knows that too. It should be ashamed. This agreement will do nothing to make workers' lives any better. Quite the opposite, as Colombian workers have warned us, and I agree with them.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
See context


Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the NDP member's speech, I remembered that it might be useful to do a run through of the debates we have had in the House on this bill. I am not necessarily referring to the bill before us today, because there was prorogation, but I am referring to the similar bill introduced in the previous session regarding a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

In September 2009, debates were underway in the House. The NDP member for Nanaimo—Cowichan urged the government to refuse to adopt Bill C-23—as it was called at the time—and to take into account the strong opposition of human rights organizations.

Speaking of human rights, my NDP colleague reminded me that last fall, the human rights situation was an important issue for the NDP members and for my colleagues from Sherbrooke and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, who also sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade.

The NDP's subamendment was defeated on October 7, 2009, by the Liberals and the Conservatives. We might have expected that from the Conservatives, but not from the Liberals. The Liberals, who rant and rave about how Canada has lost its lustre, that it is nothing but a pale imitation of itself on the international scene, decided to ignore the strong criticisms or concerns expressed by a number of witnesses. They decided to move forward, like a bulldozer, and to blindly follow the Conservatives.

The Bloc Québécois has taken to referring to the Conservatives and Liberals as two faces with one vision. And here is even more concrete proof.

During debate on the subamendment, the Conservative members were saying that we were shifting the debate to human rights issues when it was about a trade agreement. Today, we do not hear them say that because they are literally absent from the debate. All afternoon I have been listening to hon. members from the Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, but the Conservatives have made themselves scarce.

At the time, they were adamant that this made no sense and that we should not be shifting the focus of the debate. It is completely unacceptable for a parliamentarian to say that we should study only one aspect of a bill and not study it more globally and assess all its repercussions. According to Conservative logic, when we study a bill, we should close our eyes to some aspects, but keep them wide open for others.

In my opinion, that is not the right approach. We have to study a bill seriously and assess all its consequences before determining whether we are in favour of it or not.

In this case, we must not consider the bill before us in isolation, independently of some of our concerns or the impact it might have. In fact, it is important to get clarifications and assurances, especially when it comes to human rights issues.

These same Conservatives told us that we have to do this because the Americans, our neighbours the south, are as well, but, in fact, the Americans were also a bit reluctant to move forward with their free trade plans with Colombia. What is more, they were reluctant for the same reasons we are. Their bill will not become law until Congress receives some assurances.

I think everyone here in this House should call for such assurances so that this agreement is consistent with the values we uphold, values that Quebeckers stand for, as do, I imagine, a good number of Canadians as well.

Let me continue my chronology. After the New Democrat subamendment was defeated on October 7, 2009, we debated the bill on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement in this House and we studied an amendment introduced by the hon. member for Sherbrooke, who, at the time, sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade. He has also become an expert on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. He pointed out to members of the House that it was not at all appropriate to support the bill because the government had decided to force it down the throats of hon. members while the Standing Committee on International Trade was still in the process of studying it. The hon. member for Sherbrooke pointed out at that time that the government was doing so in contempt of our democratic institutions.

Can we be surprised that this government, in some respects, is in contempt of our democratic institutions?

I always like to remind the House that, when all opposition members vote with one voice in favour of motions or bills, the government always gives thought to its own preferences before implementing measures that have been supported by a majority of hon. members of this House. The democracy that the government practices operates on a sliding scale. If the Conservatives are in favour, things move forward; if the Conservatives are not in favour, even though the majority of hon. members of this House are, things are set aside, things are forgotten and they act as if nothing had happened and as if the democratically held vote in the House was worth nothing.

Despite that very legitimate appeal by the hon. member for Sherbrooke, nothing was done. Hon. members know, as I do, that the session was then prorogued and we were unable to continue the debate. We are resuming it today with BillC-2, a bill, let us not forget, that puts much more stock on protecting investors than on trade agreements.

For example, how can we allow companies to sue governments simply because those governments decide to implement measures designed to foster the development of their people?

That is the question I ask as I conclude my remarks.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to join in this debate, but it seems an unfortunate circumstance that again we have to engage the government and its very loyal official opposition in respect to trade deals. The bill we are speaking to today, Bill C-2, was Bill C-23 in the previous Parliament before the government undemocratically shut down the House, thereby killing its own legislation. That is an ironic way to run government. For a government that claims to be in such a hurry to open up trade deals like this, the question is whether this trade deal meets the standard of morality and ethics that most Canadians hold.

Let us quickly go through aspects of the bill. There are two central concerns.

One is if we believe the press releases from the member for Kings—Hants, the bill was first negotiated on a dance floor over a couple of rum and Cokes in Colombia with a foreign trade minister. If this story is true, and we have to take it with a grain of salt when it comes to the member for Kings--Hants and how he enters into the media, this is a strange way for the government to have trade relations with a foreign government. An opposition member goes dancing with the other country's trade minister and at the end of the night they decide why not have a trade deal together but they will not put in any uncomfortable conditions as to how to treat the environment or how to deal with human rights complaints because that would be cumbersome for trade.

When we boil this down, the question before the House and before Canadians is, will the Government of Canada finally take the evolutionary step of moving from blanket carte blanche free trade deals to fair trade deals? Will it move to deals between this country and its democratically elected representatives and foreign nations that lift up both countries and in particular address aspects of trade, such as the environment, human rights and labour codes? Clearly in Bill C-2, formerly Bill C-23, there is little or no mention of these important concerns. These are concerns that everyday Canadians have.

A second aspect is the net benefit, the true benefit to Canada. All of us were elected to this place and came here seeking to make lives better for those whom we represent. We would want any trade deal put forward by the government to enhance the quality of life not just in the other country, but also in Canada. We have seen time and time again that when regulations and the values of this country are not placed in those trade deals, they go awry.

My riding in northwestern British Columbia has been an unfortunate victim of trade deals signed by previous Liberal and Conservative governments. We know all too well what happens when a trade deal is signed. So-called foreign investment comes in, but it is simply a foreign takeover. The jobs go away. The investment is not investment; it is simply a robbing of Canadians' greatest crown jewels, and corporate entities that used to provide jobs in this country now provide them somewhere else and the interests of Canadians are no longer represented.

For members who have not spent time in Latin America this can be difficult to understand. Democratically elected governments in places like Colombia, Peru or Ecuador will institute what are called paramilitary death squads or groups that go out and simply take care of any opposition to the sitting government. This is an abhorrent practice which unfortunately is all too common in some of the countries in the south; not all and not all the time, but it exists. To ignore the existence of such practices is either naive or outright ignorant. Particularly with the Uribe government in Colombia it is well documented, and all members in this place should be concerned, that it is a government that presents itself to the world as diplomatic and democratic, yet at home treats trade union officials and groups that dare to raise dissent to the sitting government with the utmost of severe and punishing violence.

The proposals the New Democrats have put forward in order to encourage this Parliament along, in order to entice the government toward fair trade, have been rather precise and simple. A review of human rights abuses in the trading country, in the partner that we seek to sign this agreement with, should be done independently by a group not associated with the said government.

We are saying that if this trade deal were to go ahead, there should be an independent commission to look at the complaints raised against Colombia, identify them and report to both elected houses. That commission would tell us what happened in the last year, the allegations, the ones it thinks are true, and the concerns that we should be raising.

The suggestion that we have an independent human rights council, which already exists by the way, able to report to both houses of each country, seems to us to be a most reasonable suggestion, a push toward something that all Canadians would agree with. We want trade to enhance the quality of life of our trading partners. We do not want our trade to facilitate the opposite effect.

This addresses an ideology within some members of the House that trade automatically equals democratic improvement, that anywhere there has been a notion of a free trade agreement or a new, enhanced trading practice, a sweeping wave, the invisible hand of the market will step in and lift up the voices of the independents in that country, allowing people independent thought and expression in the political sphere.

Some of the strongest trading partnerships we have are with countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on. We have been trading with Saudi Arabia for 70 or 80 years. Has there been the democratic improvement that is always promised with these trade negotiations? Has the plight of women in Saudi Arabia improved because we continue to buy its oil and services?

It is not implicit. There is nothing implicit in trade that says democratic reforms will come to that place, that human rights conditions will improve. There is nothing in trading with another country that says that as soon as we start to trade with them, things will automatically get better with respect to the environment, labour laws, and the basic reforms of social democracy.

There is nothing in this agreement that enables that either. That is the concern New Democrats have put forward to the government. We have pleaded with the government and the Liberals at committee and in the House. We are not standing against the notion of trade with Colombia, but if we are going to trade with Colombia, we should do it in such a way that Canadians will be proud. We should do it in such a way that will enhance the lives of the Colombians who will be affected by our trade relationship.

Is that unreasonable? No. Yet time and time again we run into this brick wall of ideology that says to trade at all costs with no conditions. We see what the practices lead to. Undemocratic countries around the world that we have traded with for generations have not improved any of these things. Why? Because we do not ask for it. We have never asked to evolve our trade practices. We have never said let us seek to define and understand what fair trade would be like, so at the end of the day we would see those improvements. That seems reasonable to us.

I mentioned Skeena--Bulkley Valley earlier because the place that I represent has seen two distinct so-called instances of foreign investment, which the government somewhat rightly will laud whenever it has an increase in foreign investment numbers, money coming into the country, theoretically investing in Canada, to make our economy stronger.

Skeena Cellulose Inc., a multi-tiered forestry firm in northwestern British Columbia with some 3,500 employees, went through a bankruptcy. The foreign protection laws were erased by a previous Conservative government. A Chinese firm owned wholly by the Chinese government, not a subsidiary, not a subcontractor, with no record and no compunction whatsoever, came in and shut down the mill. It made promises to the people of Prince Rupert where the main mill had been situated and six years later nothing has been done. It has not opened a thing, and the 3,500 workers have had to find other work.

Rio Tinto Alcan, formerly Alcan, formerly a crown gem in Canada's industrial sector, was taken over by a firm from outside, again with no conditions from the government. In Kitimat, one of the communities where Alcan used to operate but now it is Rio Tinto, a promise of a future mill expansion has not come and it is killing the community. This is a story that unfortunately exists across this country.

All we are asking for is a reasonable trade policy. All we are asking for is a fair trade policy from the government, one that we can all stand behind and support, one that Colombians will congratulate us for, one that will truly lift up the lives of all those concerned, not one as has been presented by the government with false promises and no hope for renewal.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 11:45 a.m.
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Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am also rising for the second time to speak to this issue, which is particularly important to me.

I am responsible for status of women issues, and the last time I rose in the House to speak to this bill, which was then Bill C-23, I did not have enough time to make an eloquent speech, because all I did was read out the names of the women who worked in unions and who had been killed because they were union activists. Naming the women killed in 2008 took up all of my time.

Despite what the Minister of Labour had the audacity to say this morning, things have unfortunately not changed, and it is wrong to believe that other countries are working with Colombia and have signed free trade agreements with Colombia, fully aware of the human rights issues.

That is all very easy for us because we are far from Colombia. We are very far from the people who are suffering. We are very far from the people who are being killed. It is easy for us to say we can use human relations to improve the fate of people who have only known suffering so far and whose rights have been denied. It is very easy to say.

It is easy as well to think that a free trade agreement can improve the living conditions of Colombians. It is easy to think such a thing, but we are not that naïve. On this side of the House—at least in this party because I should not speak for the other one—we are not naïve. Our eyes are wide open.

The government is agreeing to sign an accord with a country whose government is widely known to be shot through with corruption, a country that engages in international drug trafficking, a country that still commits acts of violence and even murder on a regular basis. It is taken for granted. People there are afraid to walk down the street because they never know when they might die.

There is a very surprising fact that I would like my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to ponder. Why do they think the countries that have a common border with Colombia refrain from signing any free trade deals with it when they would be the most likely to do so, given their shared border? Have my colleagues ever wondered about that?

It is only natural that these countries do not sign any such agreements because the people there are very close to what goes on every day in Colombia. They see and hear what we in this House choose not to see and hear.

It is very sad that the government refuses to listen to all the requests we have received from unions, groups that take an interest in humanity, and all the groups that defend rights here in Quebec and Canada. All these groups are begging us not to pass this bill without ensuring it has iron-clad guarantees, because Colombia is continuing to do what it always does.

Instead of that, the government imposes constraints as easy as putting a price on someone’s heads. The head of an employee, a worker or a union member is currently worth $200,000. That is what they say. But what is $200,000 to a drug trafficker or a hired gun? That is the question they need to ask themselves.

There are fines for committing murder. Can someone tell me where are we headed? Where are we headed as human beings?

It is confusing sitting in this House when we see what goes on. Does the government over there not have anyone who thinks for themselves? Can it not make decisions without CFAC? Is that the problem? It always needs someone to tell it what to do and then it does so with blinkers and with no thought and no consideration for the consequences.

As I was saying, it is easy not to think of the consequences when one lives far away, when one is not there every day with the people who are suffering and the people who are dying. It is very easy, but for the love of heaven, at some point in time the ministers of this government will have to start talking to each other, read more and look at what is happening in the world. Rather than read L'Osservatore Romano, which only covers religious matters, let them look at what is going on in Colombia and get on with the job that should have been done long ago.

We do not ask a country to sign a free trade agreement and ignore the workers. That is not done. What the government has tried to have us believe this morning, though its Minister of Labour, is that everything was just fine in the best of worlds, that every country wants a free trade agreement with Colombia, perfect country that it is. Once we get there after concluding our free trade agreement with Colombia, it will become perfect. The government will no longer be corrupt. There will be no more murders. Employees and workers will have decent working conditions. Everyone will have a roof over their head. No one will be worried, and no one will be selling cocaine. That might upset some of them.

I think we have to be serious when we talk about people's lives. The government is refusing to bring back home people who are accused and risk getting killed in other countries, like the two young men from Montreal who had an unfortunate accident in a schoolyard in Kuwait. It refuses to bring them back home. Nothing is being done for them, but now prices are being put on the heads of union leaders in a country we know nothing about.

We were in Argentina last week. My colleagues and I had discussions with people who look after trade among South American countries. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay have agreements together and work together because it is a good thing to have free trade agreements, but these agreements take into account the needs of each as well as human rights, unlike the free trade agreement the government wants us to approve here in this House. How is it that Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, which have a lot to offer and need a lot, have not concluded a free trade agreement with Colombia?

Who are we to think that we are better than others and will succeed where others have failed? Colombia has to clean up its yard, it must clean up its human rights record, recognize its errors and implement the practices and procedures that will ensure respect for human rights and protect the lives of individuals, even if they are union workers. Let Colombia do that, and then we will reconsider. So long as this does not happen, we are not going to ask the fox to tend the henhouse. That is what we are doing at the moment.

So, we will continue to say no to this agreement, as we have done in the past. My only regret is that the Liberal Party changed its mind on this.

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March 30th, 2010 / 11:40 a.m.
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Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his constant work on this issue. He spoke a bit about the organizations that have come out against this trade deal, from many of the local unions, to our church groups, right across our great country. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a local farmer from my riding who heard my speech on this bill prior to prorogation, Bill C-23. As a farmer, he asked me why the Conservatives thought he truly want to sell his product with blood on his hands at the expense of trade unionists, at the expense of the environment. No one wants to see this and that is what the trade deal would do.

The New Democrats want to ensure we bring forward fair trade. We have been talking about fair trade. That is what we need to bring forward when we look at trade agreements with other countries.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 11 a.m.
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Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today, and I hope there will be many more members who rise after me to debate this bill and to defeat this bill, because that is what we are aiming to do.

It was very interesting to hear the Minister of Labour just a few moments ago. I guess the Conservatives are feeling a bit vulnerable with respect to this bill now, feeling they have to send in more ministers to defend their very bad position on this Bill C-2, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

I want to begin my remarks by thanking the NDP trade critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who has done such an amazing job of bringing public awareness to this agreement and how devastating it will be for the people of Colombia.

We are the fourth party in the House, but I will say that we pack a lot of punch. With our friends in the Bloc, we have been holding up this bill for more than a year, and I know this is very troubling to the Conservative government. As with everything else, the Conservatives would just like to ram this bill through. They do not have any respect for this place. In fact, they are quite contemptuous of the House and its proceedings. Should we dare to actually debate something in depth and give analysis, they consider that to be very problematic. But I am really glad we are debating this bill and are shedding the full light of day on what this agreement is all about.

It strikes me that so often these terrible trade agreements are negotiated by nameless bureaucrats and appointees and representatives in backrooms. God knows where they meet; it is all done in secret. We know, in fact, that this particular deal took over one and a half years to negotiate.

There is so little we know about the process. There is so little vested in citizen participation. In fact, there is not any citizen engagement. More and more people, not only in Canada but around the world, are rejecting the whole notion of trade taking place through secret agreements done behind closed doors. This manifestation of globalization, this delegation of power to people who are not accountable and not elected, is something more and more people are disturbed about and are rejecting.

I am really glad we are taking this on in the House and are saying we will not put up with it. We will not allow this agreement to go through and we will do everything we can to stop this free trade agreement from being ratified by the House of Commons. As the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has pointed out, the U.S. Congress and the European parliaments have taken a similar stance. It is the present Conservative government and the Liberal Party that is supporting it who are way out of step and way out of line.

I have heard a number of the speeches in the House on this agreement. I remember when it came up a year ago. It was then Bill C-23. We debated this same bill and I heard many of the arguments.

I remember some comments that the member for Elmwood—Transcona made a few days ago in debating Bill C-2. He pointed out, and rightly so, that citizens, consumers themselves, are saying they want to see fair trade. People as consumers are rejecting products and services that are based on trading practices that they know to be exploitative and based on the whole ideology of the race to the bottom and the conferring of greater and greater rights on multinational corporations. The member's comments were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of reflecting that there is a change in society and that people are no longer willing to put up with these kinds of agreements.

We are being fed a line that somehow this agreement will be good for the people of Canada and for the people of Colombia. There is really no evidence to show that. We do know, however, that it will be very good for corporations that will benefit from this trade agreement. There lies the evidence of what is going on here.

As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility and a duty to examine these agreements from the point of view of the public interest, not from the point of view of private and corporate interests. That is what we are here to do, to defend the public interest and the rights and potential and the vision of what citizens in both countries want to see in terms of their own personal development, their community and their society at large. That is only one of the reasons this agreement should be rejected.

I read some of the background information to the bill and noted that information has been provided by the Canadian Labour Congress and Human Rights Watch in the Now magazine. They have compiled a lot of information about the bill and came up with 10 reasons why it should be rejected. They call it the Colombia count. Their number one reason is that more labour leaders are killed every year in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined: 474 since 2002 and 2,865 in the last 25 years. That is truly an appalling record and very disturbing when we couple that with the fact that Colombia has labour laws that actually shut down and stifle workers' rights, that its rate of unionization is less than 5%, the lowest of any country in the western hemisphere, and that we have had these paramilitaries, these deadly groups that have been murdering people and stifling rights. In 2008 alone, 27 high-ranking army officials were accused of kidnapping and executing civilians. The litany of the horrors goes on and on.

While we heard from the labour minister today that this side agreement is somehow lifting the bar and that we should be proud of it, members of the NDP reject the whole premise that there is some kind of side agreement which is not in the main body of the text. We are calling for an independent human rights assessment. That is the least that should be done in terms of any movement on the bill. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Colombia. We owe it to the memory of all of the labour leaders and the community activists who have been murdered, harassed or imprisoned and prevented from doing the kinds of things that we would consider to be entirely legitimate and democratic here in Canada. We owe it in their memory to ensure that there is an independent human rights assessment.

I believe that if we had the courage to turn down this agreement, we would actually have support from people in Canada. In my own community in east Vancouver, we have businesses up and down Commercial Drive, which is a very well-known place in Vancouver and a wonderful place to visit. Many of the businesses are engaged in a program and a campaign to promote fair trade. We believe it is the first street in Canada to be named a fair trade street where businesses are encouraged to both sell and use products that are as a result of free trade. It is really remarkable that small, independent businesses are actually choosing to take that route. They are actually saying that they have made the choice not to buy products from suppliers, companies or corporations that have been engaged in the exploitation of workers and engaged in practices that degrade the environment.

It is a wonderful thing when we see that expression coming forward from the grassroots, the local communities. It tells us that there is another path, another vision, an alternative that is based on the notion of trade that supports the rights of people, and that is the fundamental test.

These trade agreements are about the privileges and the huge benefits that these multinational corporations get. We should completely reverse that and say that these agreements need to be about the rights of workers, of civil society, of the environment and of social standards. If we could base our agreements on that, we would see very different agreements in place. We would be prepared to look at that and negotiate those kinds of agreements.

I would like to see more people up in the House defeating Bill C-2. We do not want it to go ahead. This is a bad bill. Let the House of Commons speak for the people of Canada and say that we reject this free trade agreement because it is a bad trade agreement that will only hurt the people of Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
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Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say something intelligent but it is very hard to know where the Liberals stand these days, as the New Democratic member mentioned. The Liberals say one thing and do another.

They reversed their position on the free trade agreement and I am hardly surprised to see them changing position again on Bill C-23, which has become Bill C-2.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.
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Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, here we are again debating the bill on the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, which is now called BillC-2.

Today, just as when we dealt with it as Bill C-23, the Bloc Québécois is totally opposed to Bill C-2. The difference now is that the Liberals, like the Canadian government, will become accomplices to the many human rights violations in Colombia.

Just like their Conservative colleagues, the Liberals could not care less about all the recommendations made by the unions and human rights organizations opposed to the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia because that country has one of the worst track records in the world when it comes to human rights. We see that there are two parties and two views, but one and the same vision.

It is no secret that acts of violence and intimidation, as well as fearmongering against Colombian unionists and aboriginal and Afro-Colombian communities, are widespread in Colombia. While dozens of union activists are murdered each year and aboriginal people are evicted and expelled by force from their lands in order to attract foreign investors, Canada is preparing to sign an agreement with a government criticized for its involvement in corruption scandals.

And that is an understatement. The fact that the bill on the implementation of the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia is the first bill submitted to the House by the Conservative government confirms that party's desire to rush it through, in order to cut off debate on the agreement and to silence its opponents.

Why is the Conservative Party still insisting on implementing this agreement even before an assessment of its impacts on human rights is carried out? Such an assessment would help to measure the impact of policies, programs, projects and actions on human rights and would help to evaluate the repercussions of the legal obligations in the agreement.

The Liberals' proposed amendment to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, which the member for King's—Hants introduced last week in the House, is not enough for the Bloc Québécois to support Bill C-2. Any assessment of the agreement's human rights impact must be carried out by an independent agency. Otherwise, it will have no legitimacy.

It is vital that an independent, transparent, neutral assessment be conducted before the free trade agreement is implemented. Even the Public Service Alliance of Canada is calling for one:

—any human rights impact assessment must be carried out by credible third party, independent human rights experts, before the deal is implemented.

Recently, a delegation of 22 election observers, including four Canadians, took part in a two-week international election monitoring mission in Colombia. I would like to share some of the delegation's observations from the field. Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Ms. Pickard said this:

Our first-hand experience contradicts claims the free trade deal will strengthen Colombia's democracy. We found widespread evidence of human rights violations, corruption, resurgent paramilitary groups, and drug violence.

There's a climate of fear among the population, which makes basic democratic principles that Canadians take for granted—like open debate, freedom of political association and participation in the election process—extremely dangerous for Colombians to pursue.

The group's findings show that the free trade deal being pursued by Ottawa is not the way for Canada to be supporting democracy in Colombia. Instead, the Canadian government should be demanding an independent human rights assessment and fundamental reforms in that country before moving forward with the trade deal.

Why a free trade deal with Colombia?

The sole objective of the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia is to facilitate Canadian investment in that country, particularly in the mining sector.

The Bloc Québécois is not against treaties that relate to protecting investment. The Bloc is opposed to implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement because it contains clauses copied from chapter 11 of NAFTA. That chapter has been criticized by many people. As soon as a law, for example on environmental protection, reduces the profits of foreign investors, the national government is exposed to huge lawsuits.

The provisions of the agreement will be prejudicial to small farmers and will lead to the expulsion of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and rural communities to the benefit of the mining companies, which, on the strength of their investors’ rights, will be able to exploit the resources with no real constraint. The situation in Colombia is already unfavourable to these people. Armed groups and paramilitary groups are taking over millions of hectares and using violence to force the displacement of the local population and thus profiting from investments in the oil or mining sectors.

As was confirmed by a member of the Groupe de recherche sur les activités minières en Afrique, or GRAMA, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade, they could not find a mechanism of ensuring that a Canadian mining investment could be made with any sense of security that there was no previous violation of human rights, that the investment would not be potentially supporting people who had engaged in human rights violations, potentially encouraging them to continue that activity, and reinforcing their position, or that the land tenure of the leases, the mineral leases and so on, could be assured to be conflict-free.

This same person recommended that the free trade agreement be subject to a human rights impact assessment. The assessment would eventually lead to the establishment of mechanisms guaranteeing the right of the Colombian government to revoke an exploration concession on lands that were clearly identified as having been a place of forced displacement or massive human rights violations.

As has been mentioned, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement tends to grant greater protection to Canadian companies that invest in the mining sector and exploit its resources.

The Bloc Québécois fears that the investment protection measures provide disproportionate protection to Canadian investors to the detriment of local peoples and the environment.

The Colombian government may pass legislation governing the activities of mining companies, but the Bloc Québécois has always preferred the adoption of mandatory standards and accountability measures to govern the foreign operations of Canadian mining companies.

The Canadian government prefers to dismiss the recommendations of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive industry in Developing Countries, which included the adoption of mandatory standards on social responsibility and the creation of an independent ombudsman position. The Canadian government prefers to please the mining lobby by proposing standards for voluntary social responsibility.

The serious concerns which led the Standing Committee on International Trade to request a study of the impact of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement on human rights have not disappeared. It is for this reason that implementation of an independent, impartial and complete study of the impact of this agreement on human rights is essential.

If the Conservatives and the Liberals insist on implementing the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, they will be sending a negative message to Quebeckers and Canadians. The Canadian population will become passive witnesses to the violation of human rights in Colombia. In fact, Canada will become complicit in human rights violations in Colombia.

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March 29th, 2010 / 1:20 p.m.
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Claude Guimond Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster for his comments. I also enjoy working with him on the Standing Committee on International Trade.

Approximately two of the eight months of delay can be blamed on prorogation, which was bad for us and for Canadian democracy. This has already been thoroughly discussed.

As we all know, last fall the Conservatives tried very hard to force Bill C-23, regarding the agreement with Colombia, down our throats.

My colleague from Trois-Rivières and I will be very vigilant on the Standing Committee on International Trade regarding the issue of water and the possibility of assessing the human rights situation for this agreement and all future agreements.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 25th, 2010 / 3:15 p.m.
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John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we were debating this bill before the House was suspended for the government to recalibrate. The bill was formerly known as Bill C-23, and now we have brought it back as Bill C-2. At this second reading, I want to participate in debating the bill on behalf of my party and to add a few a comments that do not directly affect the bill itself, but deal peripherally with it as a result of some of the comments made today during debate. The minister's response was a low blow in terms of our position as Liberals and was uncalled for, if I may say.

Here we are as the official opposition standing in support of the free trade agreement with Colombia. Yes, the hon. member from the Conservative Party is acknowledging that. Maybe what he should do is tell the Minister of International Trade to be a little more polite in his response, because we are not going to allow the new Conservative Party to give us a lesson on human rights. We are noted as the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unlike that party, which had to change its name not once and not twice, because Canadians were literally scared of them. However, I am going to get to the essence of the bill.

Last week I held a round table discussion with Ms. Adriana Mejía, a senior minister from Colombia whom we were very fortunate to have visiting with us. She is the deputy minister of foreign affairs in Colombia. In light of the concerns about the human rights situation in Colombia, I thought it would be a great opportunity for us Canadians to hear what the minister had to say, to hear of some of their initiatives and, of course, to question the minister.

I am very pleased to report to the House and Canadians that we had a packed house. There were members from the government, the Liberal Party, the Bloc and there were no members from the New Democratic Party. Well, we might say that maybe they did not know about it, but they knew because I went out of my way to invite them personally. I am very disappointed they could not find one member in their caucus, especially if they were so concerned, to be there and ask questions of that visitor of ours. Nevertheless, the minister went into a very in-depth presentation. She had a deck with her that I will go through and point out certain initiatives they have undertaken to address some of the concerns that we have and other members of the international community and, of course, the UN have.

However, before I go there I want to remind members that last May, before our summer recess, I chaired the committee on international trade and our guest was President Uribe of Colombia. The gentleman was very gracious and gave us a lot of latitude. Whereas initially the Colombians had said no to having any cameras or anyone else there, the president then said, yes, invite the media and people in and let them hear, as we have nothing to hide.

Of course, there were some very constructive yet tough questions put to him. I thought the questioning by the NDP was rude, given that we had invited a head of state of a foreign country. We might agree to disagree, but Canadians are a very well mannered and refined people and in a forum like that, we should ask the tough questions, but politely, civilly and in the Canadian way, and that was not done. I just wanted to put that on the record today.

Canada signing free trade agreements is nothing new, whether by that party or our party, basically the mainstream parties, if I may say, who have governed this country. It is maybe no coincidence that the New Democratic Party has never governed and most likely will never govern. Thank God, they never governed, as there has not been one trade agreement they have supported.

What leads Canadians to believe, with all this huffing and puffing, that they would even sign this agreement? Nothing does. Sometimes the viewership out there puts more credence into what people write as opposed to what politicians say. I will quote from an article:

The MPs should also press for an independent human rights impact assessment--

--which we have--

--as the Commons trade committee has already urged.

--and we are moving forward on that--

But at the same time they should challenge critics of the deal who argue that Canada would set back the cause of human rights by signing a pact. That has yet to be shown. The pact is broadly modelled on others Canada has signed with the United States, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Costa Rica in the past 15 years.

This agreement is patterned around similar agreements that we have made with our other trading partners. I have named some of them. What leads Canadians to believe that we are going to sway from the terms that we have set in the past? Are we going to make worse deals? No, I believe we are going to make better deals because we have learned from the past.

It is not that Colombia is going to make or break our economy, on the contrary. My attitude and the attitude of the Liberal Party is that if there is any kind of business that can be had for Canadians, whether they be Conservatives, Liberals or otherwise, let us go out and get it.

I am not going to go into the details on CAFTA, the Central America free trade agreement. For whatever reason, the Americans were off the starting block much faster than we were. They ratified it by one vote. Who ended up being hurt? Canadians got hurt. The Canadian pork industry got hurt. The beef industry got hurt. Various other sectors in our economy were damaged because the Central American countries signed the agreement with the U.S. and then our leverage as a country was diminished.

I do not want to see that happen here. I am not standing up to defend the government. I am standing on behalf of my party to defend Canadians, Canadian farmers, Canadian workers, Canadian manufacturers and Canadian producers. That is what it is all about. I and other members attended a luncheon and were very impressed when the minister used a PowerPoint presentation to walk us through the concerns that some of these parties are outlining with respect to other countries.

The European Union, an organization made up of 27 countries, is signing an agreement with Colombia. We know very well that European Union has very rigid guidelines as to its trade agreements. Spain is also signing bilateral agreements with Colombia.

With respect to unions, trade union leaders and workers numbered about 800,000 in 2002. Today, the number has doubled to just over 1.5 million. Who is preventing people from forming unions or associations in Colombia? They have doubled in number. With respect to trade union leaders and workers, in 2002, there were 99 trade unions and in 2009, there were 164. That is an 80% increase. To me, these numbers do not indicate that Colombia is taking away the rights of people to form associations or unions.

I will move on to talk about homicides. In 2002, there were just under 29,000 homicides. In 2009, there were a little over 15,000. We can see the concerted effort that has been made to address the concerns that not only the outside world has, but that they have as well.

In 2002 there were 2,882 kidnappings in Colombia, and in 2009 the number was down to 213. I think that is progress. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

March 25th, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.
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Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, we would rather not be resuming this debate on Colombia. I think the only good thing that came out of the prorogation is that this bill died on the order paper. If memory serves me correctly, this bill at the time was Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

The Bloc Québécois is still somewhat surprised—and so are many Canadians and Quebeckers—to see the Conservative government's determination to negotiate a free trade agreement with Colombia, a country with which we have relatively little trade. There are other countries, other communities, the European Union for example, where Canada would do equally well to negotiate a free trade agreement or a partnership agreement, as it is doing with the European Union.

Knowing what little interest the government showed for years in opening negotiations between Canada and the European Union, we are surprised to see how determined this very same government is to implement this free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.

The first reason why the Bloc Québécois cannot support this free trade agreement is the clauses on investment protection. It is rather surprising that, in the case of the free trade agreement we just concluded with the European Free Trade Association, which the Bloc Québécois supported, we were able to get a clause on investment protection for Canada and the member countries of the association. That clause comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and is traditionally found in this type of trade agreement. It ensures that in the event of a dispute between investors, whether from Canada or one of the member countries of the association, the countries negotiate the settlement and make their representations to the relevant tribunals. It is not the companies that do so directly.

I remind you that we are not opposed to opening borders—we have supported a number of free trade agreements in the House beginning with the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA—but to these clauses. They make it so that it is not the governments that are making representations, but the companies themselves, which can go directly before the special tribunals to contest the decision of a government to establish industrial or social policies or make other choices intended to improve the welfare of its citizens.

I also note in passing that only recently, pursuant to the softwood lumber agreement with the United States, it was not the American company that took the Government of Canada before the London tribunal. It was the government of the United States, which contested a decision taken by the Government of Quebec, in this case, and it was the Government of Canada's lawyers who represented the interests of the Canadian companies before the tribunal.

NAFTA was the first free trade agreement signed by developed and industrialized countries, Canada and the United States, and a developing country, Mexico. There is some paternalistic distrust on the part of the industrialized countries, because they fear that the governments of developing countries will adopt policies that could have negative consequences, in Mexico, on Canadian or American companies and investments. NAFTA provided, for the first time, these new kinds of investment protections. Under NAFTA's chapter 11 a company may go directly before a special tribunal to challenge a government's economic, social or other policies.

We cannot accept that, especially in the case of countries such as Colombia or Costa Rica. We also opposed a free trade agreement with Costa Rica.

There is no balance of power between these countries and an industrialized country such as ours. Governments like that of Canada or the multinationals are continually imposing rules on them.

For this reason alone, the free trade agreement with Colombia is unacceptable in our opinion. The Bloc works very hard to ensure there are no abuses in the case of NAFTA's chapter 11. Up to now, we have been able to prevent them, but the threat will remain that an American company will contest a decision of the Government of Canada. It would be surprising to have a Mexican company do so.

UPS already started proceedings against Canada Post because it felt it was facing unfair competition from the Purolator branch of Canada Post. Fortunately, that hit a dead end. Multinationals want to use this sort of clause for purposes contrary to the common good.

There is already good reason to oppose the free trade agreement but there are even better reasons: human rights and trade union rights in Colombia. The government can prevaricate all it wants but the reality remains. There are constant violations in Colombia of human rights, union rights and the rights of citizens, especially aboriginals.

I will provide a few figures. The U.S. State Department and Amnesty International say that another 305,000 people were displaced in 2007. In 2008, more than 380,000 people had to flee their homes or workplaces because of the violence.

According to the Human Rights Council, there was a 25% increase in the number of population displacements in 2008. The same organization says that 2008 was the worst year since 2002 for population displacements. Since 1985, nearly 4.6 million people have been forced to leave their homes or their land. The number of displaced people is estimated to be more than 3% of the entire population. Every day, 49 new families arrive in Bogota.

Aboriginals are especially targeted. They account for about 4% of the population but about 8% of the displaced persons. Colombia is actually the second worst country, after Sudan, for the number of people who have been displaced as a result of threats, reprisals and violence.

Would the Canadian government consider negotiating a free trade agreement with Sudan? It would be extremely risky politically and harmful to our international image. So it is very unlikely. The same kind of situation exists in Colombia.

Canada already only goes through the motions of denouncing the situation in Colombia. The danger of a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia is that we would simply abdicate our international responsibilities and, even worse, subcontract immigration cases to the Colombian authorities.

I would like to take this opportunity to speak about a family that lives in my riding and reflects the situation in Colombia. A citizen and his wife had to leave Colombia because they were threatened both by FARC and the government. After quite a saga, they managed to come to Canada, where they both got refugee status.

Thirteen other members of their family are still in Colombia and witnessed the massacre of the Turbay Cote family by a former Colombian parliamentarian, Luis Fernando Almario Rojas. The family that witnessed the former parliamentarian’s massacre of another parliamentarian’s family is currently under the protection of the Colombian police.

Anyone familiar with the situation in Colombia knows that the existence of paramilitary forces and the protection of the Colombian police or of a specialized police force meant to protect witnesses involved in such cases can provide little in the way of guarantees. That kind of protection is cause for much concern because, as we all know, corruption is not unlikely, and law enforcement personnel can easily be bought.

The members of these two families, my constituent's family and his wife's, have been threatened. They went to the Canadian embassy in Bogota to ask for refugee status, but their claim was denied.

Like so many others, they went to Bogota because they wanted to get away from the people who were threatening to persecute them. They were from Caquetá. The Canadian government says right on its website that, because of political instability in certain regions, including their region, Canadians and Quebeckers are advised against travelling there. Something just does not make sense here.

I am going to read the warning because we should all be aware of the Government of Canada's own assessment of the situation in these parts of Colombia.

The presence of armed drug traffickers, guerrilla and paramilitary organizations, including the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army), poses a major risk to travellers. These groups continue to perpetrate attacks, extortion, kidnappings, car bombings, and damage to infrastructure in these areas. Landmines are used by guerrilla groups, especially in rural areas.

You are also advised against all travel to the departments of Cauca, Caquetá [the department that the citizen I mentioned, my constituent, is from], Guaviare, Valle del Cauca (excluding Calí) and Antioquia (excluding Medellín), to the southern parts of Meta department and to the city of Buenaventura, due to the presence of similar armed groups.

That is right on the government's website. How can the government warn citizens of Canada and Quebec not to visit these regions because they are full of paramilitaries, guerrillas and criminals, yet be so insensitive to what these two families are going through?

The worst part of the story, and the part that brings us back to the free trade agreement, is that the excuse given by the government's representative, the immigration officer in Bogota, was that since they are protected by the Colombian police, they have nothing to worry about. However, we know that many people in the paramilitary forces cine from the police and have direct contact with most members of the Colombian Congress.

It could be said that the government has contracted out the security these people need—through an immigration officer—instead of shouldering its international responsibilities and allowing these 13 people to rejoin their brother, son, and uncle in Quebec, in Canada, in beautiful Joliette. They would undoubtedly be safer under the watchful eye of the member for Joliette. None of the Colombian refugees here in our region are afraid. But that is not what happened. Instead, Canada's responsibilities were sub-contracted to an immigration officer and, ultimately, to the Colombian authorities.

And that is what is happening without a free trade agreement. Imagine what the situation would be like if there were a free trade agreement. This tendency to avoid seeing a realistic picture of Colombia would be even worse and even more Colombians who are in danger in their country would be rejected under false pretences.

This is not a unique case, but it is a case I will follow through on. I cannot accept an agreement that is strictly for trade reasons, for investment reasons and for protecting Canadian investors, particularly a few unsavoury Canadian mining companies. I am not in any way suggesting that is the case with the whole industry, but we must be aware of what is going on in many countries. This situation is not acceptable right now, and it could get worse with a free trade agreement that will, in a way, legitimize the Colombian authorities.

The government's reply is that there are two parallel agreements being discussed here: one on labour rights and human rights, and the other on the environment. That is interesting, because it means that what the government is currently negotiating with Colombia has nothing to do with human rights and is strictly commercial.

Having two parallel agreements that provide nothing—we can be sure of that—but that affect areas that have nothing to do with trade or even protecting investment shows that the Canadian government knows this agreement has a much broader scope than a simple trade agreement.

I remind the House that these parallel agreements first appeared in the negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement. That was rather interesting. I was not part of the negotiations, but I was part of the North American Forum on Integration, a coalition that was following these negotiations very closely. At the time, we had a Conservative government. Its leader, Brian Mulroney, was a Progressive Conservative, but the approach was the same. We were told that NAFTA would not affect the environment or rights, and that it was strictly a commercial agreement.

Unfortunately for the Canadian and Mexican governments, Bill Clinton's election in 1993 and inauguration in 1994 completely changed things. Bill Clinton was elected by claiming that the North American Free Trade Agreement would be enhanced by agreements on the environment, union rights and labour rights. Paradoxically, it was the American government that forced the Canadian government to negotiate these agreements. I remember that the government scrambled to bring us to Ottawa to give them an idea of what an agreement on labour or the environment was. In fact, I believe Montreal is the headquarters of the environmental secretariat.

We made recommendations that were not implemented because these agreements have no teeth and are not binding in the least. We have the proof—we have been living with NAFTA and its side agreements since 1994—that these produce absolutely nothing. Furthermore, the many reports by the two secretariats indicate that there has been no progress, and that the situation has even deteriorated sometimes in Canada, the United States or Mexico. Once again, we should not see this as a paternalistic attitude. Canada and the United States have taken steps backwards in many areas in recent years. I am thinking of union accreditation in the United States and even in much of Canada.

We need agreements that are an integral part of the trade agreement. I would go so far as to say that they must be a condition for obtaining the privileges set out in the free trade agreements or partnership agreements, as they are now called by Europeans. Compliance with international conventions on the environment and the major conventions of the International Labour Organization must be included.

That is the direction being taken. The Conservative government of Canada does not understand this. In the United States, President Obama is talking about a second generation of free trade agreements that will include these aspects. That is one reason why the ratification of the free trade agreement is currently blocked in the U.S. Congress.

Compliance with major international conventions can take many forms. It is not a question of imposing a model on developing countries.

In closing, I will give the example of union accreditation. In industrialized countries, democratic countries, there are countless means of accreditation. The practice differs completely from France to Canada to the United States.

However, in each country, some pressure is put to uphold the right to unionize. It is not always effective, but it does at least exist.

For example, in terms of union rights, it is important to respect the right of association. I do not believe that a free trade agreement will move Colombia in that direction.

December 1st, 2009 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Étienne Roy-Grégoire Member, Groupe de recherche sur les activités minières en Afrique

Good morning.

We are very pleased to appear before this committee today.

My name is Étienne Roy-Grégoire. I am a member of the Groupe de recherche sur les activités minières en Afrique or GRAMA at the Université du Québec at Montreal. My research looks at the role of extractive investments in countries undergoing a conflict or in a post-conflict situation.

I am accompanied by Jamie Kneen, education coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. We are pleased to bring some context to your discussions on trade relations between Canada and Colombia. However, we also hope to have the opportunity to talk in detail about Bill C-23 when it will be studied by this committee.

Our presentation concerns the results of research in 2008 recently published under the title “Lands and conflicts: resource extraction, human rights and corporate social responsibility: Canadian companies in Colombia.” This research was funded by a consortium of Canadian civil organizations and is available on the Web in English, French and Spanish. You also have copies in French and English.

In the report, which is the result of research on the ground conducted over a number of months by MiningWatch Canada, CENSAT Agua Viva—a Colombian organization—and Inter Pares, we look at four cases of Canadian investments in the extractive industry in Colombia. We will refer to the guiding principles developed by the UN special representative on human rights and transnational companies, John Ruggie.

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement concerns both trade and direct foreign investments. We have concentrated on the issues related to investment. These investments are directed mainly from Canada to Colombia and target specifically, at present, mineral exploration and the acquisition of rights in the mining and oil sectors. The hypothesis underlying the signing of the accord is that, by promoting investment, it will contribute to the development of Colombia; through that very fact, this will minimize the factors behind the conflict.

This hypothesis also seeks, ultimately, a resolution to the Colombian conflict by hoping to improve security, attracting new capital, and thereby taking part in a virtuous circle.