Mr. Speaker, later on in my speech I will explain to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade why I was so surprised when he said that the government was producing a measured response. I would like to elaborate on this aspect later on, because I think the expression "measured response" means one thing to our party and another thing to theirs.
The government has tabled five minor changes, five minor amendments to Bill C-54, which was tabled in two stages, seven months later. My they are quick, those Liberals! The American government acted seven months ago by imposing extraterritorial measures, and now, seven months later, we are discussing an amendment before we adopt our own legislation.
The five amendments proposed by the Liberal Party are minor amendments, and as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade pointed out earlier, the Bloc Quebecois will support those amendments as, I assume, will our Reform Party colleagues.
However, since these five amendments have been divided in two blocks, the first two amendments made us wonder about this direct reference to the Helms-Burton act, or should I say its formal name, in Bill C-54.
Had the government given this more thought or taken a more practical approach, had it said the following in amendments 1 and 2: "bills extraterritorial in nature, pursuant to schedule 1", as it appears in the bill, there would have been no need to open Bill C-54 if in the future-and we should adopt legislation with the future in mind-other countries implement extraterritorial measures.
By introducing these first two amendments to Bill C-54, the Liberal Party is, as it were, painting itself into a corner. In other words, if there is more legislation of this kind, we will have to come back to the House, reopen Bill C-54, which will be law by that time, to add these extraterritorial bills to the schedule and amend these two amendments.
We tried to influence the Liberal Party somewhat by making this suggestion. We got these amendments, be it somewhat late. We in the Bloc Quebecois understand that it is very important to protect Quebec and Canadian businesses. That is why we will go along with the case by case approach, as described, and we will agree-let us hope it will not be necessary-to reopen the act if we are faced with further extraterritorial bills.
I repeat, the amendments tabled by the government are really technical amendments. That is why we cannot object, but we cannot improve on them, because these amendments are intended to make Bill C-54 refer specifically to the Helms-Burton act. They said it was a mirror of the Helms-Burton bill.
The changes proposed in the amendments do not alter the substance of the bill, but rather help clarify it. Anyway, as I said in my first speech on Bill C-54, at second reading, we will vote for the bill since its thrust is to protect Canadian and Quebec companies doing business in Cuba.
However, as I said before, we are wondering why the Canadian government has waited seven month to take action. We know that first it trails behind the US foreign policy, second there is the American presidential campaign, and third international foreign policy.
Just when, to all intents and purposes, dangers have disappeared from the political map, the Canadian government says: "the American president has decided to postpone the implementation of title III of the Helms-Burton act, which could penalize Canadian and Quebec companies; since it does not cause too much harm, we might consider doing something about it". This is the kind of rigour, or vigour, the Minister of International Trade and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are showing here.
However, even with the five amendments introduced this morning by the government, title IV, under which relatives or descendants of employees of Canadian or Quebec firms may be banned from entering the United States-as is currently the case of the Sherritt corporation-is still in force.
There is no mention of title IV in these amendments. Earlier, the parliamentary secretary said that we did not want to do like the Americans who, under the Helms-Burton act, are trying rather clumsily to block Canadians doing business in Cuba from entering their country. We do not want to do the same thing.
Then why did the government call Bill C-54 a mirror image of the Helms-Burton act if it does not want to do the same thing? The parliamentary secretary said: "As much as possible, we oppose-". I will respectfully mention that, talking about what is possible, his government and himself could have appealed to a NAFTA panel since July.
Everybody agrees, the Helms-Burton act contravenes NAFTA. Everyone is now in agreement with that. Since July, the Liberal government could have appealed to a panel to have the Helms-Burton act declared invalid. The Canadian government knows that, since Bill C-54 cannot be amended to defeat title IV, the only way to do that is to ask a panel to declare the Hems-Burton law invalid.
The Canadian government has had this bargaining chip in its hands since July. It is clear it will not use it before the next elections in the United States. Meanwhile, we see what is happening to Canadian companies like Sherritt and others. Are we going to wait for other business managers, and even their families, to be denied entry in the United States before we contravene title IV?
In conclusion, we will support these five amendments to Bill C-54 because we want to protect Canadian companies and Quebec companies doing business in Cuba. However, we also want to reiterate, to restate our dissatisfaction with the federal government, which acted first too late and then, too quickly.