Madam Speaker, like my colleague from the NDP, I too am pleased to speak today on Bill S-21.
This is an act respecting the corruption of foreign public officials and the implementation of the convention on combating bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions, and to make related amendments to other acts.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this bill because it addresses the problem of corruption in international business transactions involving governments and government projects. It follows on the signature by Canada and 28 other countries of the convention on combating bribery which was signed last year.
This agreement required five of the ten greatest OECD trading partners to ratify the convention by the end of 1998.
Four have already either done so or stated their intention of doing so by the end of December, the United States, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. Canada's ratification, therefore, would allow the convention to come into effect.
Here we are at five minutes to midnight, and the government is just waking up, only a few days before the end of these sittings, and asking us to turn our work topsy-turvy in order to get this convention put through. Obviously, we support it, but some questions could be asked about the process leading to its adoption.
I will describe the convention. By signing it, the countries commit to enact legislation which will make it illegal for companies to bribe representatives of foreign governments. They also promised to develop a mechanism for overseeing the implementation of the law.
Under this convention, the parties must ensure that intentionally offering or agreeing to give or offer an unfair pecuniary or other advantage to a foreign public official to obtain or retain a contract or any other unfair advantage in international trade constitutes a criminal offence. The convention also applies to kickbacks paid to persons holding public office, that is lawmakers and officials of public organizations. In addition, this convention deals with facilitation payments and requires that the parties implement rules to prevent misleading accounting practices and the use of forgeries for the purpose of bribing or covering up bribery.
The purpose of this bill, whose main thrust is found in clause 3, is to implement this convention. From now on, all OECD countries will be subject to the same rules. Bribery and kickbacks will no longer be tolerated and will in fact be considered criminal offences.
This convention will ensure that businesses in Quebec and Canada have access to a more level playing field on which to compete internationally. Of course, the Bloc Quebecois joins the business community of Quebec and Canada in supporting this bill. But perhaps we could go further.
There are now 28 member countries in the OECD. We all know that we also trade extensively with developing countries, APEC countries and other countries around the world. So, as far as we in the Bloc Quebecois are concerned, this convention negotiated with 28 OECD countries should be placed as quickly as possible under the aegis of the WTO.
I must say I am bitterly disappointed with the Liberals' attitude. The Conservatives have spoken of threats. Here we have another example of the lack of respect of Liberal members and an example of the way they perpetuate the bad reputation politicians have in the community as a whole.
When members speak in this House in a debate that is not totally conflictual and are continually being interrupted by sarcasm, jokes or private conversations, they may well wonder what happened to courtesy. Perhaps there is none in that party, it is found only among the opposition. That would be one more thing they do not have that the opposition does.
They have a whip that occasionally tightens the screws. Will they understand? Perhaps the whip should move and sit there to get them to understand common sense. When they are not busy accusing or threatening the Conservatives, they are preventing other members of this House from speaking by holding their Christmas party in the House at 3.50 p.m. on a Monday. It is rather disgraceful.
We might also ask ourselves, as the minister and the government are acting in good faith and accelerating the passage and the process of the convention on corruption, why this same government does not take as much interest in other actions that could be taken internationally, through national leadership, in order to improve international trade, which is increasingly a part of our activities.
My colleague from Frontenac—Mégantic has just tabled a fairly thick petition calling for abolition of the Senate. But the Senate, perhaps in a moment of brilliance, recently tabled a report. In it, they ask the government to issue a code of ethics for business, stronger and more restrictive than the current voluntary code established by Canadian business.
I myself asked the Minister for International Trade whether he intended to implement the code of ethics recommended in the Senate report. The minister told me that a simple “yes” or “no” would not suffice with respect to such a recommendation and that further study was required. We are all for that.
When we asked the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Subcommittee on International Trade to examine the idea of a code of ethics for Canadian businesses so that Quebec and Canadian values would apply in other countries, we were turned down by the Liberal government. The committee is refusing to examine this proposal at the very time that the Canadian government is prepared to rush through in one day a code of ethics for businesses operating abroad.
The same Senate report says that any Canadian assistance—whether through the Export Development Corporation, CIDA, or other government agencies—to Canadian or Quebec based businesses for the purpose of conducting trade abroad should be tied to observance of minimal standards.
But no recommendation is made regarding the obvious need for a code of ethics, to ensure Canadian businesses will not, in order to save a few dollars or cents per hour, exploit women and children by making them work in dreadful conditions, in countries where working conditions are much worse than they are here.
Also, the government helps businesses through subsidies, financial assistance, or payments following the export of goods or services. We are asking, and the Senate committee is recommending, that such assistance be tied to compliance with minimal standards on Canadian exports. But again, the government has turned a deaf ear.
We are pleased that the Canadian government moved quickly to implement the convention on combating bribery in international business transactions, thus becoming the fifth OECD member to do so. However, we must question the government about its true intentions, as we wonder whether it is not making a small concession to hide a more serious problem, that is the absolutely dreadful working conditions imposed on children, men and women in some parts of the world. The Canadian government could not care less, because “we must not adversely affect our companies' competitiveness”. In order to make money, increase their sale figures and preserve their competitiveness, some Canadian companies go to countries where human rights are not respected.
The Senate made two very realistic recommendations: the establishment of a code of ethics for businesses that is more strict than the voluntary one, and a requirement to comply with minimal standards to be eligible for government assistance regarding international activities. But these two issues will remained unanswered for a very long time, because while it looks like the government is quick to take action, it is slower in providing concrete help.
I will conclude on this point, and we will see the government in action.