Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-24, which is the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru.
First of all, I want to thank all of my NDP colleagues who have spoken so forcefully in the House over the last few days on this bill. I think the concerns we have raised in the House about this agreement very much reflect what we have heard right across the country.
I have to say that often when we debate legislation in this House, the various bills before us, sometimes there is a sense that not many people are watching what is going on, that things just go through and nobody is paying attention. On this particular issue of the trade agreement between Canada and Peru, as well as the one that is to come back to the House which is the Canada-Colombia trade agreement, there is a huge constituency out there watching what happens to this bill.
There are people who are organized both in the labour movement and in civil society, people who work on human rights, who work with NGOs in Peru, Latin America and elsewhere who are very concerned that this trade agreement is going to go through.
I would like to make that point first of all. I am very proud of the fact that the NDP caucus has stood so strongly against this bill because we understand that this trade bill, like so many other trade bills that we have seen over the years, of the so-called free trade agreements, are agreements that basically put the vested interests of multinational corporations ahead of public interest, ahead of the interests of labour rights, and ahead of the interests of strong environmental standards.
Even though we are now at the final stage, we are happy that our colleagues in the Bloc are also standing together with us to try to stop this bill. We think it is very important that we do due diligence, that we expose the flaws of this bill, and that we alert more Canadians to the fact that our government conducts these kinds of negotiations basically in secret, behind closed doors, and comes out with these free trade agreements with various other nation states that really, in the bigger picture, are not in the public interest.
I find it ironic that on the one hand we often find that these trade agreements are based on the premise that these multinational corporations want governments to have as little to do as possible with regulating and overseeing what should be done in terms of trade or labour standards or the environment or social standards, and that the underpinning of this agreement, and so many like them, whether it is the North America free trade agreement, the agreement that we had in the House a few years ago dealing with the FTA that was the subject of many demonstrations in Quebec City, is to basically transfer power from democratically elected governments to corporations.
When we see things like chapter 11, which is contained in NAFTA, being mirrored in this agreement, and of course will be included in the Canada-Colombia trade agreement, that confers nation state rights to multinational corporations, we are looking at a fundamental violation of the democratic principles of a democratically elected government.
I think that is why so many people take issue with these trade agreements. I find it ironic that while on the one hand there is so much pressure from these private interests globally, as well as here within our own country, to adopt these agreements, on the other hand we see huge corporations, like General Motors just yesterday expecting to have massive bailouts of over $10 billion Canadian. We see the Canadian government coming forward and saying “Oh, yes, of course, no question that is going to happen”.
It seems to me that there is a huge contradiction here, that on the one hand we have had this globalized regime that has been a race to the bottom, where we have seen these trade agreements undermine very basic human rights of workers and of people generally, and on the other hand those corporations want a hands-off kind of approach from government.
However, when they are in trouble, they are the first in the line-up to say that they want the government to be there with these massive line-ups. That kind of point is not lost on us.
As one of my colleagues said, it is the old adage that the former leader of the NDP, David Lewis, pointed out of the corporate welfare bums. Those kinds of contradictions exist and we are very mindful of that when we debate these trade agreements.
It is important to us in the NDP to advocate for fair trade agreements and trade agreements that do not put labour standards and environmental standards in some kind of side agreement. It used to be that they were not even mentioned at all. I can remember attending many demonstrations and forums where a huge amount of organizing was done by the Canadian Labour Congress, federations of labour across the country and by NGOs to bring forward this issue of the need to ensure that trade agreements place on par the question of labour rights, environmental rights and social rights.
Historically, those rights were not even part of the agenda. Now we are beginning to see, particularly in this one with Peru, that there are side agreements. However, when we examine this agreement that is before us, we believe that to have a side agreement is completely inadequate. There should be strong labour standards and environmental standards contained within the agreement.
I think this really speaks to the heart of the matter. We certainly support and understand that trade needs to take place between nations but the rules by which that happens and what it is that we consider to be the priorities have been completely negated and missed in the agreement that is before us.
I would also point out that the actual bill before us is enabling legislation. If we had the ability to amend the agreement, if we could send it to committee and if we could deconstruct it and make the amendments that are needed, maybe we would be looking at a different situation.
Unfortunately, with the bill that we are now debating, Bill C-24, because it is enabling legislation, it is basically a take it or leave it proposition. Therefore, we have no recourse but to say that this agreement, as it was negotiated by the Canadian government, should not be approved by Parliament.
We are glad that it has come forward and that we actually have the opportunity to vote on the agreement but, in our opinion, the agreement is very flawed. It is basically a copycat agreement of NAFTA. We feel that this mirrors the outdated George Bush style approach to trade. As the situation financially changes, as we see the global crisis in capitalism, such as the situation with General Motors, then, surely to God, what we are doing with these trade agreements should also be changing. We should be recognizing that these agreements, as they have been negotiated in the past, are not even serving the corporate interests any more. Even those corporate interests are now in trouble, but they are certainly not serving the interest of average people.
When it comes to the situation in Peru, a lot of evidence shows how workers have been disaffected and how they have minimal rights. Therefore, we are insistent that this trade agreement should put at the top of the agenda the inclusion of those labour rights. We care about workers, whether it is here in Canada, Peru or in any other country, but to have this race to the bottom where workers pay the price and Canadians lose their jobs is a situation that we find intolerable.
We are against this bill. We believe there is very strong public support to defeat this agreement, to go back to the table and to renegotiate something that is based on fair labour standards, on protection for the environment and on protection for social conditions.