Madam Speaker, I want to begin by saying that I am rising as the Bloc Québécois critic for international trade.
As we have said, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-18 on the Canada-United Kingdom trade continuity agreement, but not enthusiastically so. Our position is and always has been clear. We support trade openness, which is necessary for our SMEs, and we support market diversification. Given our history, it is particularly interesting for us to see that it is possible for a country that is becoming independent or regaining its independence and trade sovereignty, like the United Kingdom is after Brexit, to quickly reproduce the agreements that were previously signed by the large bargaining group it is leaving.
Of course, the new country then has to renegotiate the agreements on a more permanent basis, but there is no black hole. There is no period of limbo when the newly independent country has no trade partners or international agreements. As Quebec separatists, we find this quite interesting, and we are taking notes. We have taken notes about this process, and we will be ready to address the issues and dispel the fears that Parliament is sure to raise next time Quebec's future is up for discussion.
We are in favour of open trade, but we will never give free trade our complacent and unconditional support if it compromises our agricultural model, harms the environment, supports the privatization of public services or makes it harder for our businesses to get contracts, nor will we support agreements that could undermine sovereignty and democracy for the benefit of profit-driven multinationals.
If we look at the Canada-United Kingdom trade continuity agreement, or CUKTCA, it looks like the worst was avoided. Supply management has not been chipped away at, thank goodness. Sadly, that job had already been done with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union, or CETA.
In the end, this agreement is not particularly bold, but it does allow us to maintain access in the short term. I say “short term” because this agreement is supposed to be transitional. Let us not forget that we must reach a permanent agreement later.
When we talk about free trade, it always sounds very abstract, but in reality, at the grass roots level, it ends up feeling quite concrete. This bill is very likely to pass in the next few hours, and there is nothing stopping us from looking ahead now.
There is something frustrating about this kind of process. It has to do with the fact that we, as parliamentarians, always end up rubber stamping an agreement as it is presented to us. The text is there, here it is, there is nothing more to say. We are never consulted beforehand, when we should be consulted before the negotiators even go to negotiate. We should be able to give them mandates. We are parliamentarians; we are here to represent the positions of our constituents. We should be consulted far more often. We should be given reports at different stages of the negotiations. Unfortunately, we do not get any of that.
That is why one of the first things we need to do right now is demand more transparency. The provinces and parliamentarians need to be more involved in future discussions. The elected members of the House of Commons are responsible for protecting the interests and values of their constituents. They are not just here to rubber-stamp agreements that have been negotiated in secret. We are not just puppets.
Between 2000 and 2004, the Bloc Québécois introduced a number of bills on this matter in the House. With the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, our colleagues in the Liberal Party and the NDP came to an agreement on sharing more information with elected members. The Deputy Prime Minister made a commitment at the time. Unfortunately, although this seemed like a step in the right direction, the government asked us before Christmas to study the agreement with the United Kingdom without letting us see the agreement itself. We heard from witnesses like the Minister of International Trade, but we could not read the agreement.
That was when we needed it. Can members imagine how ludicrous and absurd this was? The Standing Committee on International Trade had to study this agreement without having a copy of the text. I do not think members realize the absurdity of it all.
As parliamentarians, we must be kept informed at every step of the process, even before the negotiator steps on a plane or prepares for the virtual meeting. This would prevent parliamentarians from having to speak to an agreement without having the information needed to make a well-thought-out decision. The negotiations would be more transparent.
With regard to the provinces, members will recall that during the negotiations with Europe, which led to the ratification of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in 2017, Quebec was able to send a representative when talks were held. However, Quebec was not invited to attend by Canada, but rather it was invited by Europe, as the European Union had to go through the parliaments of its member states and therefore requested that the Canadian provinces be present.
The Canada-United Kingdom trade continuity agreement contains elements that the Quebec representative fought for. As a result, under the grandfather clause, the Société de transport de Montréal has a local content requirement of 25% in the procurement of rail cars, buses and so on.
That is a step backward from what we had before the agreement with Europe, but we can still say that we managed to salvage something in this new agreement with the United Kingdom. That did not happen because Canada fought for it, but because it was copied and pasted from CETA. That will be obvious when there is a permanent agreement, which is one more reason why the provinces and parliamentarians should come to an agreement before the negotiations in order to be able to give the negotiators clear mandates.
Quebec and the provinces can officially refuse to apply an agreement on their territory. We are taking a strong stand on extending Quebec's jurisdictions beyond its borders, something that the Privy Council in London acknowledged decades ago in a decision that led to the adoption of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine, which is very important in Quebec.
In the end, independence is the only way we will be able to advocate for ourselves on the world stage. The Canadian negotiator will always be predisposed to protect Canada's interests at the expense of Quebec's. Until then, we have to do whatever we can to have our voice heard.
It is time for Parliament to look at procedures to give elected members more control over agreements. We have no choice. The minister responsible for ratifying an agreement should be required to table in Parliament an explanatory memorandum and provide a reasonable timeframe for obtaining the approval of parliamentarians before any ratification. This should be the bare minimum in the Parliament of a so-called democratic country. This should go without saying.
Let us also talk about what we might anticipate. I gave the example of awarding contracts and there has been much talk of buying local since the beginning of this pandemic. Fortunately, supply management currently remains protected, but we know that the United Kingdom would like to export more cheese. We dodged a bullet for now, but the permanent agreement could be worse and cause us problems in the future. I would say that is why we must adopt Bill C-216, which protects supply management and our agriculture model in its entirety. It would spare us from any new bad surprises. Our dairy, poultry and egg farmers have given enough. Enough is enough.
Another very important element, and this is one of the reasons we support the bill, is the infamous investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, which will not apply for at least another two years. In fact, it may not come into effect in two years if there is no agreement within the EU.
Let us imagine a political fiction scenario. Imagine those two years have gone by and there is an agreement with the European countries, that kind of mechanism is in place, and there is no further discussion about a permanent agreement. The parties would have to use something such as an exchange of letters for it to apply. Furthermore, this cannot be part of any future agreement. Most fortunately, the Canada-U.S.-Mexico agreement eliminated that possibility.
This is a very serious issue. Chapter 11 of the 1994 NAFTA included protection of foreign investors in a given state and enabled those investors, if expropriated, or the victims of what is known as the equivalent of an expropriation, to sue the state in an arbitration tribunal created for this purpose.
On paper, this seems to make sense. When a company invests money somewhere, it obviously does not want to fall victim to the policies of the local government. However, when we look at what it means in concrete terms, we realize that what is in there is extremely serious. There is a real risk of applying the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism to all rules or laws of an economic nature that could be detrimental to private profit. Could this open the door to the potential dismantling of national policies? It is certainly becoming increasingly difficult for governments to legislate on issues related to social justice, the environment, working conditions and public health, for example. If a given transnational corporation believes it has been hampered in its ability to make a profit, it will have recourse. My colleagues may be wondering exactly what that means. First of all, I would point out that trade litigation generally take a long time and is therefore extremely lucrative for law firms. A document from two non-governmental organizations has already demonstrated how eager large firms specializing in trade law are to engage in complex litigation.
Over the past few years, fewer multilateral agreements have been signed, but this does not change the fact that there are more than 3,000 bilateral investment protection treaties in the world. I will give one example and I will again be asked what this means in concrete terms. I will give a list of the trade actions against states resulting from these mechanisms. It is chilling.
In 1997, Canada decided to restrict the import and distribution of MMT, a fuel additive, which was believed to be toxic. Ethyl Corporation filed a suit against the Canadian government for an apology and $201 million.
In 1998, S.D. Myers Inc. filed a complaint against Canada concerning the ban on exporting waste containing PCBs between 1995 and 1997. PCBs are synthetic chemical products that are extremely toxic and used in electrical equipment. Canada lost before the tribunal established under NAFTA.
In 2004, under NAFTA, Cargill, a producer of carbonated soft drinks, won $90.7 million U.S. from Mexico, which was convicted of creating a tax on certain soft drinks that caused a serious obesity epidemic in the country.
In 2008, Dow AgroSciences filed a complaint after Quebec took steps to prohibit the sale and use of certain pesticides on lawns. The case was settled amicably once Quebec, which wanted to put an end to the challenge, agreed to acknowledge that the products posed no risk as long as users read the label.
There are many other examples. In 2009, the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation sued El Salvador for the loss of potential profits. El Salvador had refused to issue a permit for a gold mine because the company was not complying with national standards. El Salvador finally won the case in 2016. At least the government won, but the plaintiff only paid two-thirds of the defence's legal fees. El Salvador is obviously not rolling in money. The $4 million U.S. that this struggling country lost could have gone towards social programs.
In 2010, AbitibiBowater closed some of its facilities in Newfoundland and laid off hundreds of employees. The provincial government responded by taking over its hydroelectric assets. AbitibiBowater did not accept that and filed suit. To avoid a lengthy legal battle, Ottawa offered the company $130 million. There was an amicable agreement with a cheque on the way out.
In AbitibiBowater there is the name Abitibi. Abitibi is in Quebec, which unfortunately is still part of Canada. Considering that its headquarters are in Montreal, how is it a foreign investor?
This goes to show all the schemes that are at play. The company is registered in Delaware, a tax haven, in order to present itself as a foreign investor.
Let us look at other examples. In 2010, Tampa Electric got $25 million from Guatemala, which passed legislation to put a cap on electricity rates. The complaint, which dated to the previous year, was made under the Central America free trade agreement. In 2012, the Veolia group went after Egypt because of that country's decision to increase the minimum wage.
There are many other examples, but it would take a long time to list them all. The most recent case dates back to 2013, when Lone Pine Resources announced its intention to sue Ottawa because of Quebec's moratorium on drilling in the St. Lawrence.
It all goes to show that the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism allows democracy to be hijacked by powerful multinationals whose only goal is to make a profit.
As I was saying earlier, it is important to note that many companies were suing their own country, when there was a way to register or incorporate elsewhere. Fortunately, the transnational corporations did not always win these cases, but they continue to multiply. States must provide the financial and technical resources to defend themselves. This mechanism is one-sided. The government is always the defendant, while the multinational corporation is always the plaintiff.
According to a 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 42% of the cases were decided in favour of the state and 31% in favour of the business. The rest were settled out of court. That means that the plaintiffs were able to fully or partially rebuff the states' political and democratic will in 60% of cases.
These numbers are enormous, but they do not reveal an unquantifiable factor: the permanent pressure of this mechanism on states. Public policy-makers are censoring themselves. Behind departmental doors, they are deciding not to apply such and such a policy because they do not want to be sued. This pressure and self-censorship is real. A 2014 report by the Directorate-General for External Policies of the European Union said this clearly served a a deterrent during policy decision-making.
I will give an example. In 2012, Australia imposed plain packaging for cigarette packs, banning the use of logos. The tobacco company Philip Morris International, which had also sued Uruguay in 2010 for its tobacco policies, sued the Australian government based on a treaty between Hong Kong and Australia. As that was going on, New Zealand decided to suspend the coming into force of its plain packaging policy, and the United Kingdom decided to postpone the debate that was supposed to begin on the matter. As we can see, there is an atmosphere of self-censorship. France waited three years before implementing this policy within its borders.
Multinational corporations are sometimes more powerful than governments, and if the will of the people, or even their safety, might affect profits, they are pushed aside. This is extremely serious. Especially in these pandemic times, we do not need this mechanism in future agreements. If it does not apply in the short term in the agreement with the United Kingdom, that is even better. We will do everything we can to ensure that it never applies. We demand that Canada oppose it in future negotiations with the United Kingdom for the permanent agreement.