Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for inviting me to attend and make comments to you. My name, as indicated, is Theresa McClenaghan. I'm the executive director of and counsel with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. We're a 43-year-old federally incorporated not-for-profit environmental NGO and an Ontario specialty legal aid clinic.
I will provide remarks in the hope that we can be of assistance in your study of the potential benefits of Canada joining the Pacific Alliance as a full member. I understand that the relatively recently formed Pacific Alliance's full members consist of Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, and Canada has been an observer since last November. I also understand there are now a number of other observers.
I have read with interest the transcripts of some of the committee's earlier studies and am somewhat familiar with the testimony you've heard.
I also searched for any information I could obtain with respect to the Pacific Alliance and its agreements to date. For example, I obtained translated text of the Lima Declaration signed by the four member countries. The Lima Declaration, which is very high level, describes a process for the designated senior ministers in the four countries to work together to develop a framework agreement toward a deep integration area.
My focus will be on issues relating to environmental protection in the event of Canada joining the Pacific Alliance as a full member. My remarks will, in general, explore potential benefits and also potential risks. My remarks are very general because it's very early in the process, and of course, there are no specific agreements, as I understand it, or proposed language to which Canada would be bound that we could consider at this time. I will be drawing largely on CELA's prior work on environment and trade matters. We've spoken to this committee in the past, in earlier Parliaments, on some of those.
My primary question is the extent to which participation in the Pacific Alliance would improve both Canada's and the current four members' situations in terms of sustainability. For example, I noted that a witness from Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade indicated that Canada is pursuing three pillars in terms of its engagement in the Americas. She outlined these as consisting of economic opportunity, strengthening security and institutions, and fostering lasting relationships.
I would strongly encourage the adoption of a fourth pillar, namely, pursuing sustainability and environmental stewardship.
Sustainability, as normally understood, includes pursuit of environmental, social, and economic goals to ensure we're not only meeting the needs of the present but also ensuring opportunities and resources for the needs of the future.
If this pillar of sustainability were explicitly added to Canada's engagement strategy for the Americas, there may be opportunities that would then be evident in further discussions. I want to be clear that l would see these opportunities as operating both in advancing and improving Canada's own pursuit of sustainability as well as in the Pacific Alliance member countries.
For example, with Canada extensively engaged in mining investment and activities in the Pacific Alliance countries, a question arises as to whether Canada's mining laws are adequate for strong protection of the environment and provision of strong labour, health, and safety rules both at home and abroad. We would want to see these areas improving wherever Canadian companies are operating.
Similar questions arise with respect to oil and gas operations. An opportunity could be created to improve Canada's reputation respecting environmental sustainability if the discussions were to provide a mechanism to develop and implement 21st century solutions whereby trade and investment are focused particularly on sustainable practices.
Those opportunities extend, for example, from research and development from academia, ENGOs, or environmental non-governmental organizations, governments, and the corporate sector, through to implementation of best practices. A necessary part of a sustainability approach is to keep track of whether the sustainability and environmental stewardship goals are being achieved versus whether negative impacts are occurring. There is a need for monitoring and enforcement. Equally important is to ensure that public participation and transparency in those frameworks are considered. I might add, I say that in the sense that those would need to be very seriously pursued. We often see the agreements talk about monitoring, enforcement, and transparency, and then when it comes to finding information, it can be quite difficult.
Examples of the types of inquiries that would need to be considered in analyzing a sustainability framework in this context are illuminated in the sustainability reports of the Inter-American Development Bank for Latin America and the Caribbean.
For instance, the bank's 2011 report outlined the challenges arising in that area from growing incomes and greater opportunities in that it becomes urgent to consider integrated approaches to energy, food, and water security—all are under pressure with those changes in their economic and social structure—and to ensure future supplies of all of these while not degrading the underlying environment on which those goods depend. Significant issues of sustainable agriculture, low carbon development, and sustainable resource extraction are just a few of the most obvious and urgent issues.
If Canada is increasing activity and investment in the regions, and if its activities are accelerating the pace of change and contributing to greater environmental stresses, then I would submit Canada is obligated to explicitly consider how to turn its actions into impacts, such as resource extraction, for example. It's imperative that this analysis be done very early in the process of considering further activity in the region. I would urge Canada to apply the lessons learned at home as well as in other areas of the world.
I noted that there had been a Pacific cooperation platform established by the members of the Pacific Alliance. This was stated to be the area where issues of environment, climate change, innovation, science, technology, social development, and educational institutions are being considered by the alliance in terms of further integration, but I haven't been able to find details on those discussions. I would suggest this would be an area for productive inquiry by the committee to ascertain the extent to which sustainability issues are already under discussion, if they are, and the extent to which Canada's full participation could advance sustainability.
Turning to the risks of participation, I will briefly mention some of those that have occurred in the various bilateral and regional trade agreements and I would urge the committee to consider them in your recommendations.
One issue of ongoing concern for us is the continued provision of investor rights in the agreements, as is the case with the currently existing bilateral agreements with all four members of the alliance countries. Our concern, as some of you may have heard me say before, is that the agreements provide the opportunity for non-domestic investors to bring claims against our governments for regulatory action. We are of the view that this is not appropriate. It's couched under the term of expropriation or indirect expropriation. In our view, if there is a claim of true expropriation as understood by our well-developed court system, then it should proceed under our domestic legal system in the way that our nationals would proceed.
Another concern is the frequent aim in the agreements to pursue harmonization of standards. This is often framed in terms of efficiency. Our concern is that we want all of our governments to be free to pursue strongly protective environmental, labour, occupational safety, and health standards. Harmonization approaches often result in the adoption of those standards that the least progressive nation will pursue.
We're also concerned to ensure that Canada consistently protects the rights of governments at all levels—municipal, provincial, national, and first nations—to own, manage, operate, and make decisions with respect to public drinking water supplies in particular. Any discussions about providing additional private investment in this area has to be cognizant of the high priority Canadians place on public drinking water control that was stressed after the Walkerton experience in the year 2000.
To conclude, there may be opportunities to pursue additional environmental and sustainability commitments in the areas of habitat protection, restoration, wildlife conservation, legacy contaminated sites restoration, and many other areas. Attention to quality of life issues is also essential in any expansion of economic activity by Canada. We would suggest that those include fair safe work, environmental health, application of the precautionary principle, reduction of use of toxic materials, and public participation in decision-making with respect to land use. Those would be just a few, but those very same areas may be worsened if the sustainability issues are not examined and explicitly pursued before economic activity by Canada is increased in these areas.
Thank you for the opportunity to make these comments. I will be pleased to answer any questions.