Mr. Chairman, this motion reads as follows:
That the Committee:
recommend that the Government of Canada negotiate an agreement with the Government of Panama that would provide for financial penalties of up to $50 million per violation of the Agreement on the Environment contained in Bill C-24;
report this to the House of Commons; and
notwithstanding the Order adopted by the Committee on Thursday, September 27, 2012, postpone its consideration of Bill C-24 until this agreement is signed.
I will give the committee the rationale behind this motion.
As we all know, and as was confirmed by our witnesses who are here with us today from the department, in the labour and environmental side agreements of the Canada-Panama trade deal there are in the labour part financial penalties of up to $15 million for any violation of the labour side agreement.
Of course, these agreements are something the opposition cares deeply about, and the government has responded that they are the types of comfort provisions Canadians can look to in ensuring that when we make an agreement with a country such as Panama, they will respect and will try to improve their labour and environmental standards, or at least not reduce them as a means of attracting trade and investment.
However, funnily enough, there is zero penalty in the environmental side agreement, which leads in our view to a perverse situation in which we've just signed an agreement under which a country such as Panama, which has some significant environmental sensitivities that I will talk about briefly in a moment, if it violates the terms of the environmental side agreement and lowers its standards to attract trade, will attract a penalty of exactly zero—not a nickel. We can talk, we can bring it up, we can complain, but there is zero penalty.
One thing I will give the government a lot of credit for is that they have presented a legislative agenda over the last five or six years that seeks to really impose responsibility on people who would break agreements and break the law, but in this case you could have a party to an agreement flagrantly and brazenly break the terms of agreement and there would be no financial penalty whatsoever.
Now, in terms of the environment, we heard testimony from MiningWatch. Whatever else can be said of the entirety of the testimony, we know that there is significant mining activity and other activity in Panama that is economically beneficial but that creates environmental concerns. We know there are extremely sensitive environmental areas in Panama, including the Meso-American biological corridor, which we have heard about; there are UN-protected sites; there are hundreds and hundreds of species at risk.
To me it would seem, if we really want to make sure that Panama and Canada live up to the environmental commitments they have made in these agreements, that we should back them up with some sort of meaningful penalty in the event that they are breached.
I certainly hope they are never breached and that the penalty would never need to be implemented, but to sign an agreement that has absolutely no enforcement teeth is wrong. I think it reflects a complete lack of concern for the environment.
If we really do say that environmental side agreements are important to us, and if we want to make sure that parties, as a result of trade and investment, improve their environmental standards and concern for the environment, then we have to demonstrate our resolve by showing that we are serious and that we will back them up with meaningful sanctions in the case that there is a violation.
Thanks, Mr. Chairman.