Mr. Speaker, I rise to debate Bill C-88, a bill to implement the internal trade agreement signed last July by the various participants.
Last July the Prime Minister and the premiers came together in Ottawa to announce an agreement had been reached to break down the barriers of internal trade between provinces.
Canadians were hopeful that at last barriers would come down and they would have free access to goods and services, jobs and the competitive marketplace because the trade barriers between provinces would be broken down.
The agreement reached was said to be an important part of the Liberal promise to build an innovative economy within which all Canadians would benefit. It was touted as a vision for the future and it reflected well on the premiers and the Prime Minister. Canadians were happy.
Today, almost a year later, the euphoria has died and Canadians are questioning the vision they saw one year ago. Last July the premiers and the Prime Minister held up the internal trade agreement as a reflection of unity but Quebecers did not see it that way. They responded by electing a PQ government in their province. The premiers and the Prime Minister held up the agreement saying: "This is what we can do for one another". The then premier of Quebec was defeated in the subsequent election.
They said the agreement was a reflection of growth, but the inadequacy inherent in maintaining the status quo saw little job creation. Within the last five months job creation has dwindled to practically nothing.
Last July the premiers and the Prime Minister held up the internal trade agreement as a reflection of stability, but months later Moody's bond rating service put Canada on the alert then downgraded our credit rating because our debtload remained too high.
Today this House is being asked to ignore those undercurrents and put that internal trade agreement into practice by passing Bill C-88. The Reform Party of Canada cannot do this. We cannot support an agreement that so blatantly ignores the necessity to pull this country away from the edge of permanent economic instability. We came to Ottawa to prevent that. We came to champion the right of Canadians to a balanced budget, to deficit reduction, to more effective government, to a productive and stable economy and to national unity.
Despite the rhetoric that flies across this room every day, we have made every effort to keep that promise. By challenging this bill we remain true to that mandate given to us by our constituents who have asked again and again for freedom from internal trade barriers.
By not supporting this bill we know we run the risk of being accused of not supporting free trade in Canada. I ask Canadians to recognize that kind of accusation is a political move and not the truth.
Let us make it absolutely clear this afternoon that the Reform Party of Canada is committed to the removal of interprovincial barriers to trade through agreements among the provinces but we will not support any so-called agreement under the guise of freer internal trade when that agreement does not achieve this.
The Reform Party cannot support any internal trade agreement that does not once and for all recognize that the barriers to internal trade in this country are killing our marketplace. Higher taxes, a higher cost of living and an uncompetitive marketplace create a heavy and unnecessary burden on Canadians and guarantee the deterioration of our economy.
Bill C-88 I subdmit is a disguise for a non-agreement which purports to improve internal trade in Canada and improve our economic stability but does neither.
The Liberal government won an election on a promise to build a better Canada, to get Canadians employed and to ensure a stabilized economy. If this government truly seeks revitalization then it must admit that this agreement fails to keep that promise because it fails to eliminate internal trade barriers in this country.
I would like to believe that the government is committed to the future of this country but I cannot as long as politically motivated agreements like this one are held up as agreements. Canadians are looking for strong leadership, not the kind of leadership that is acted out every night on television, but real leadership, the kind that works hard behind the scenes at achieving what is best for our country. For months we were led to believe that this was happening and last July we had hoped to see the effects, but it did not materialize. What we witnessed was a photo opportunity and nothing more.
Canadians did not see progress. The government did not realize our goals. It did not put our economy on a better footing and Canadians continue to pay the price.
Some may think it is easy for me to stand or to sit on this side of the House and criticize the government for failing to produce an effective agreement. I am well aware of the difficulties involved in negotiating with many different parties. I know it is important to ensure fairness and the democratic process and that these be observed and to avoid dictating what is best. However when the stakes are high, when the best interests of the nation lie at the mercy of the government leaders, then I know that the time has come and the place has been arranged for strong and courageous leadership.
If I have one criticism this afternoon it is that the Liberal government failed to provide the necessary leadership. In an effort to avoid creating enemies it opened up a nothing lost, nothing gained, be happy approach. What we got was nothing gained and almost everything lost.
This country is threatening to break apart. Canadians no longer have that sense of unity they should have. Now more than ever we need leadership that will bring us together at every possible opportunity. Failure to bring about a good internal trade agreement only serves to enforce our differences, create more barriers and reveal a lack of confidence in ourselves.
The internal trade agreement was a failure. The blame must lie squarely and we must lay it squarely on the federal government. I believe the government failed in its mandate to first and foremost preserve the country. The government not only had an obligation to the future of the country to see that this happened, it had a vision to carry out, a vision that was created many years ago when the nation was first born.
In 1867 Canadian leaders saw fit to entrench within the Constitution these wise words: "All articles of the growth, produce or manufacture of any one of the provinces shall, from and after the union, be admitted free into each of the other provinces". That is section 121 of the Constitution Act. In that section there was an agreement that was a true reflection of unity and a commitment to growth and stability.
Perhaps in those days it was easier to recognize the danger. In those days, in our bid to resist American pressures and maintain a distinct culture, we could see that strengthening our internal economic ties would be the foundation of our identity and our unity. In the Constitution was laid the reflection of courage and co-operation, of government doing what was right and fair for the Canadian people and an example of strong leadership.
Today we face a greater danger. It is a danger because we failed to recognize it ourselves. We are spurred on by protectionist attitudes that really serve no one. We have reached a critical point and it is time for strong leadership to prevail.
We are a big country, a beautiful country. We have a small population. We are a wealthy country. However we are not an economic power in the world. We are a vast land of people with different orientations. That is our identity. However we have lost sight of the common ground: our economic alliance, one with another.
In 1867 the leaders of the day recognized the need for leadership and an economic alliance. They added section 91, which declared that the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to the regulation of trade and commerce, the very essence of what we are talking about in Bill C-88 and the internal trade agreement.
The Constitution recognizes that government leadership must begin by assuring economic stability to ensure the survival and unity of our country. That is why the Reform Party of Canada has made it the foundation of its mandate and why every day in the
House we fight for economic stability. It is why we debate the bill and why we cannot support it, because the government has failed to see the urgency in removing internal trade barriers for the good of the economy and has failed to reaffirm the objectives of section 121 of the Constitution, the free flow of articles of growth, produce and manufacture.
By ignoring the precedent of section 121 of the Constitution the successive governments of the country have assured an atmosphere of protectionism, disunity and almost certainly economic vulnerability. That is why this agreement and this bill fall short.
My colleagues have stood during this debate and pointed out a number of deficiencies inherent in the agreement and in the bill. One emotion that has prevailed throughout is frustration. Their frustration comes from not being able to say Canada is a nation of free trade. Many are embarrassed to acknowledge that there is freer trade north and south between Canada and the United States than there is east and west among the provinces and territories of Canada. They are frustrated, as are all Canadians, because they can see the way toward economic rejuvenation being thwarted. They can see the opportunities that exist for them in their ridings and in their home industries if those barriers are removed, as local industries are given a fair and competitive chance to become national industries. They are frustrated because they must answer the difficult questions of constituents who want to know why their industries are not doing better and why those industries are laying off people in times when the government purports that jobs are being created.
If this nation would commit to breaking down internal trade barriers Canadian industries would flourish. Entrepreneurs would find a reason to create innovation. Investors would find a reason to support the innovation and innovation would build the economy.
Once we have created an innovative economy internally we will be poised to enter into the global marketplace and we will succeed there. In the process, we will have obtained many things: a strong economy and more importantly pride in ourselves and confidence in our abilities.
Canada has the potential to be more than just a collection of small protected markets, but governments must implement the means that will change what currently exists. I believe Canadians deserve that chance. Canadians deserve the rewards of an open market, job mobility and economic stability, not the provincial protectionism that creates high taxes, low productivity and unemployment. This agreement will not provide those rewards and this bill will not implement an agreement that will provide them.
It is time to stop hiding behind regional development schemes, equalization payments and cost sharing agreements. It is time the inefficient government policies were thrown away rather than contributing to the financial burden on Canadian taxpayers. It is time the provinces stopped working on the false premise that exclusivity will protect their own markets. It is time the inherently weak marketplace created by protectionist policies gave way to vital marketplaces, strong, self-sufficient industries and real job creation.
The bond markets have made it clear that we can no longer continue the premise of borrowing more and more and creating a perpetual debt. The demise of our economy will not come some day, it will come soon because we have failed to act as a nation and correct the wrongs that pull us down. It is time to revive our nationality so we can say we have our wealth in common not our debt.
It is time for strong leadership to set in motion the process of eliminating internal trade barriers. The strong leadership we want will pull together the commitment of governments at all levels, business, labour and taxpayers, all the contributors. Together we can build a common market, establish compatible standards of licensing, certification, education and create the mobility and open markets that will become the fertile ground for new industries and generate innovation.
It is time to shut out the protectionists, the naysayers and weak leadership, the businesses built on protectionism provided by internal trade barriers and the governments with poor, ineffective policies which cost the taxpayers. Those things should be stopped.
The plan has been laid out for us. In 1992 the committee of ministers for internal trade adopted these guiding principles, which we should note carefully: one, that governments treat people, goods, services and capital equally irrespective of where they originate in Canada; two, that governments reconcile standards and regulations to provide for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within Canada; three, that governments ensure that their administrative policies operate to provide for the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within Canada.
Those are strong, good, solid principles. These were the guiding principles necessary to ensure a successful agreement but they were not implemented. It is time for this government to show leadership that is necessary to enact these principles.
I say to the Liberal government, tear up Bill C-88, go back to the bargaining table, apply the principles of the CMIT and the spirit of the Constitution and build something meaningful, something we can support. Fashion an agreement that will build trust among the provinces and give them the courage to break down the barriers. Let us do what is right for Canadians and rebuild trust in our democratic process. Let us acknowledge Canadians' right to economic unity and their desire to declare their sovereignty.
Canadians will not be served well should this bill pass. It does not reflect the government's commitment to building an innovative economy, except for one exception which is the deletion of part III of the vehicle and transportation act. This particular section within the proposed bill is the only section that was not part of the internal agreement negotiated a year ago. It is also the only provision in this act that does in fact put into practice the provisions of sections 121 and 91 of the Constitution Act. Other
than that this bill does not reflect the process which begins on the right footing.
It does not reflect a country built on the principles of freedom, democracy and unity. In fact it goes beyond that. There is a provision within the bill which allows the governor in council under certain conditions to amend and to suspend application of any provision legal or otherwise of another province or department.
It is unpardonable to think that Parliament should be able to tell another government: "The particular law that you passed, you cannot have it any more because we are going to suspend its operation". It does not inspire a sharing of ideas, products, technologies and people. There is no structure for innovation in it and nowhere for the talents and skills of the people of the country to grow and provide stability.
We must try to do it now and not later. Canadians deserve the chance to develop into a nation of free traders before their industries are exposed to the larger global market. If we do that Canada will be ready to take advantage when the moment comes, and that moment is coming quickly.
I urge the government to go back to the bargaining table. I urge the government to show a strong leadership and not just political rhetoric. I urge the government to provide Canadians with a free interprovincial trade agreement and begin the process of economic rejuvenation.
It will symbolize to Canadians and everyone in the world, but more important to us and our young people in particular, that we are a confident people, strong and self-assured. We are an economically stable, united nation with the ability and skills required to face the challenge of a modern world.