That this House condemn the government for: (1) failing to explain why it is negotiating the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (the MAI); (2) failing to explain what benefits and costs it foresees for the Canadian people; and (3) failing to take part in public discussion on the Agreement.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to lead off this debate today. A number of my colleagues will be speaking as well because this is a very big concern in their ridings. Some of them will be speaking from their critic area, such as fisheries, culture and other areas where there are some concerns.
It is important to point out at the outset that the multilateral agreement on investment which is being negotiated is a Liberal government initiative to make Canada a part of the negotiations at the OECD in Paris. Our negotiators have been there since 1995.
It was interesting that during the election campaign in June there was hardly any mention of the multilateral agreement on investment. In fact some Liberal members when contacted denied that negotiations were going on. People who heard about the negotiations were concerned and they raised the issue during the election campaign.
When we in the Reform Party were asked what our stand would be we said that we did not know much about the negotiations, but that we were in favour of free trade in principle and free trade in investment. We supported the free trade agreement and also the NAFTA, both of which have substantial investment sections. In principle we are in favour of the MAI, but we want to know a lot more of the details.
By way of background, the government had to name a new cabinet after the election. In September when the government returned, a new minister was appointed to the international trade portfolio. We thought that he would explain what the MAI meant to Canadians. In fact we asked the minister if we could meet with the chief negotiator, Mr. Dymond, to explain it to us because we wanted to be up to speed on the negotiations.
Mr. Dymond told us that the directions from the new minister were to be a lot more open and to tell people what the deal was about. The minister himself when he came to committee assured us that the government would be much more active in explaining the deal to Canadians. As a result of that we gave the new minister the benefit of the doubt. We expected that he and the chief negotiator would be addressing the concerns being raised across the country. However we were surprised when that did not happen.
The minister's answer in mid-November was to ask the Sub-Committee on International Trade, Trade Disputes and Investment to do a study. We were told that we had a very short time to do that study. The government wanted the report before the House rose in the middle of December. By the time we factored in a week to put the report together, it only gave the subcommittee three weeks to hear witnesses. It did not give us time to travel across the country to places like British Columbia where the concern seemed to be the greatest.
It is important to note whose job it is to inform the public. I would submit that it is the government's job. It is the Liberal government's job to inform the public of what the benefits are and what the downside may be in negotiating a multilateral agreement on investment. It is the government's job to take it to Canadians.
Why are we condemning the government for its failure to explain why it is negotiating the multilateral agreement on investment? Why is it failing to explain the benefits and costs to the Canadian people? Why is it failing to take part in public discussion on the agreement? We will endeavour to smoke out the government today and try to engage it in this debate.
Canada has been negotiating the agreement for two years at the OECD. Largely the negotiations have been secret. There was no mention during the election campaign, except for some groups that came that were getting wind of it like the Council of Canadians. The NDP started to raise it as an election issue. Some Liberal members, even cabinet ministers, were in denial. They said that Canada would not be doing that.
As I said, we were in favour in principle of an agreement depending on how it came out. We recognized that investment leads to trade and trade leads to jobs but we wanted to see what was being negotiated.
It is really ironic. There was no mention of distrust back in 1993 in red book No. 1 or in red book No. 2 for that matter. There was no mention in the throne speech. These were all areas where the government had a chance to outline what its initiatives were going to be for the upcoming mandate. There was no mention of it. Why not? It is difficult for us to understand why it would not be trying to inform the public.
As a result there was growing interest in what the MAI really meant. Many of our members, and I am sure government members, must be getting a flood of mail in their offices. There are a lot of people out there who are spreading what I think is false information, but nonetheless information and accusations that have to be met head on by this government in answers to things such as Canada is going to lose its health care, Canada is going to lose sovereignty as a result of this, government will no longer be able to make laws and so on.
The MAI is a major initiative yet requires support building from this government. That simply is not happening. As a result the public is only getting one side of this issue. Those from the flat earth society would have us believe that the free trade agreement with the United States, which contained an investment chapter, expanded to NAFTA in 1992 were bad for us and it would roll that back. The same group seemed to be lined up on the side of the MAI debate saying no, do not go ahead with it.
Where is the minister in all this debate? Is he out doing talk shows? Is he doing radio presentations to Canadians? Television? Where is he? He is nowhere at all. No town halls. I should not say that. He actually gave a presentation last week to a bunch of business executives at the Chateau Laurier hotel. That is important but it is vitally important that the minister explain this deal to Canadians and he is simply missing in action.
The minister points to the subcommittee and says he gave it to the subcommittee on international trade to study. That is true. He did. He gave us a very short time frame, but he did. Three weeks. What did we hear from witnesses at the subcommittee? Let me just read a few of the quotes.
Elizabeth Smythe from Concordia College in Edmonton said “More public consultation on negotiations should take place.” We heard all kinds of comments like that from almost every witness at committee. Elizabeth Smythe also said “It is not enough for citizens to get a chance to vote for a government once every four years if the kind of trade-offs and choices on important international investment rules are never outlined during an election campaign”. Absolutely.
We heard all kinds of that. What was the government's response? Let me read it. The committee of which I see a couple of members here wrote a report as a result of the three weeks of hearings.
The first recommendation was that the government should stay engaged at the OECD and try to achieve an agreement. The number two recommendation of the committee, an all-party committee, was the government should continue to increase its efforts to inform Canadians of the merits of negotiating an MAI while addressing the concerns brought forward by this committee in public hearings. Exactly what I am saying.
Of the few people that had a chance to come to the committee, the 75 groups or whatever, many of them raised concerns. They said that they were not hearing enough about it, that they did not know exactly what the government was intending to do. The committee recognized that and made the recommendation that the government should explain this deal to Canadians.
In fact the Reform Party, while in general agreement with the thrust of trying to negotiate an agreement said in the second paragraph of its dissenting opinion “While we believe a good agreement will be in Canada's best interest, we acknowledge the apprehension felt by many Canadians in our country. Given the amount of genuine concern around the MAI, we are perplexed that the Liberal government has not put a concerted effort into an information campaign”.
Many witnesses before the subcommittee commented on the need for much wider public consultation. At least the three weeks of hearings by the subcommittee should have been extended to include a week or more of hearings in the west. It simply did not happen.
It even got worse. That committee report came down in December. Where was the minister after that? As I said, at one appearance at the Chateau Laurier for breakfast. He expects people from Victoria, Kamloops and Grande Prairie to come to the Chateau Laurier for breakfast with him. What kind of consultation is that?
What did Liberal members say when they were in opposition? What did they say about this kind of approach to big government? They said that in the red book that the Liberal government would govern with integrity and that open government would be the watchword of the Liberal government. What does open government mean?
They also went on to say that the most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable. There is evidence today of considerable dissatisfaction with government. They talk about the Mulroney government and a steady erosion of confidence in the people and the institutions of the public sector. This erosion of confidence seems to have many causes. Some have to do with the behaviour of certain elected politicians but others have to do with an arrogant style of political leadership.
The people are irritated with governments that do not consult them or that disregard their views or that try to conduct key parts of public business behind closed doors. Is that not deja vu? Why have they not learned their lesson? They said they would consult with people.
We have to briefly review where we have been in terms of investment in Canada in the last 30 years. We had a Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau that actually tried to discourage foreign investment with the Foreign Investment Review Agency. It had the effect he wanted. It discouraged investment. Then Brian Mulroney came in, in 1984, and changed the style. The Conservatives said we needed investment in Canada, that investment was good for us. They instituted Investment Canada and tried to encourage investment. Then we went as far as signing the free trade agreement with the United States in 1988. A big section, chapter 11, dealt with investment and the rules needed for investment. We expanded that in the NAFTA in 1992 to include Mexico.
At the same time we were negotiating at the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We were trying to get an investment section there, but there was something like 130 member countries, not all of whom were interested in investment. Their economies were simply too small. The Ivory Coast and many countries in the third world have economies that are simply not ready for investment.
It failed, but there was still a need to have a common set of rules for investment in the same way as we have rules for trade in goods and services. They tried again and the initiative went to the OECD in 1995. It was all great; there was no problem with it. The only problem I see is that we had a Liberal government that did not want to explain it to Canadians.
What is at stake in this multilateral agreement on investment? We need to know. There is growing interest. Other people want to know what is at stake and there is concern. It is entirely possible the entire deal may fall through. Countries like the United States have said that there is not enough in the agreement for them to sign it.
The NDP would love that. We saw what happened in British Columbia when the NDP government was in power from 1991. Investment dropped off every year the NDP was in government in B.C. All of a sudden I see big ads in the Globe and Mail and other places advertising for investments. I guess the NDP government now recognizes it is important.
This deal may fall through because too many countries are saying they need broad exemptions for this and broad exemptions for that. Exemptions are fine if they are in our national interest, but let us define them as closely as we need to, to protect that interest, not take a broad brush and try to paint it so we essentially have a shell deal here.
Another benefit is that Canadian investors are investing abroad in increasing numbers. We had $170 billion of Canadian investment outside our country last year. That was almost equal to what our investment is in Canada. They need the rules that some kind of international agreement would provide, rules that say we have to treat foreign companies in the same way as we treat domestic companies. We can still make regulations and rules, but we have to treat them in the same way. In the event of an expropriation it would be done in a just and timely manner.
I will read a couple of quotes of people who appeared before the committee. First is a quote by Steven Stinson of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, a pretty big employer in Canada:
—evidence of increasing trade and investment flows among the three signatory countries suggests (NAFTA) has been of broad benefit.
George Miller of the Mining Association of Canada said:
Trade follows investments. Because of the expertise gained in Canada and the entrée provided by Canadian mining investment—our suppliers of mining equipment and services are welcomed to Latin American countries and other parts of the developing world.
He also said:
Investment is the lifeblood of economic development.
We know there is something like $7 billion of Canadian mining investment now in countries like Chile. Alan Rugman of the University of Toronto, said:
It would logically seem to me—that if we can get an MAI—that has the same rules as in NAFTA, we will have better access for the outward investment in which Canadian firms engage.
Mike Percy, dean of business at the University of Alberta, said:
We live and die by competing in international markets. Our standard of living depends on our ability to be competitive.
He also said:
One of the remarkable things that has happened in western Canada...is the tremendous expansion in tradable services...—business services, environmental services, oilfield services—(that) have been directed not only to the U.S. market but worldwide.
Canadians are gaining confidence in investing outside our country, Canadians like Canadian Fracmaster in Calgary where there are people I know personally working in places like Russia and China and bringing paycheques and dividends home.
What is the Reform position in terms of investment? We recognize the linkage between investment and trade. We recognize the linkage between trade and jobs. It has been very good for us to be part of a NAFTA type arrangement.
We recognize that Canadian companies need a physical presence abroad. To make trade work they have to make some kind of an investment in another country usually before trade can take place. We support free trade in principle. We believe in the protection of private property. We supported the free trade agreement and NAFTA which both have investment rules. We also supported GATT and the Uruguay round. By the way, GATT has been in place since 1947.
Therefore we support a NAFTA style expanded investment agreement, but we want to know that it is a NAFTA style investment agreement. We want to know what we are dealing with.
In terms of an investment agreement we want to see these principles: transparency and openness in multilateral negotiations, and there is no reason why this should not take place; a national treatment, investment protection and effective dispute settlement mechanism; the elimination of performance requirements; the freedom to transfer payments and after tax profits; free movement of key personnel and minimum sectoral exemptions. If we need exemptions, let us define them as clearly as we can.
Sometimes I wonder why the Liberal government is not trying to sell this deal. I am not sure what it is afraid of. We know it was very much opposed to the free trade agreement. It fought the free trade agreement and NAFTA. In fact the present trade minister was one of the biggest proponents of not signing.
I want to read a couple of quotes from what he said in the past. I wonder if that is why the Liberals are so lukewarm to the agreement. In 1992 he said:
I commend (the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca) for suggesting that this House condemn the government for its failure to be completely open with Canadians about its principal goals and objectives in the current North American free trade negotiations.
With all due respect, it is a shame that we have to rely on our newspapers to begin to enlighten not only Canadians but elected Canadians who are supposed to deal with issues on behalf of the 26 million shareholders of this company called Canada.
Why is the House of Commons not debating the parameters of what it is that Canada should be pushing for or what Canada should not be encouraging?
Yet back home, on an issue that is fundamental to the livelihoods of all Canadians, there is silence and ignorance.
I challenge the government. Why is it not involved? The present Minister for International Trade said all those things in 1992. These were very good questions. Why were there not open negotiations? Does the same thing apply in 1998 on the multilateral agreement on investment?
The Liberals do not really believe in free trade. It is either that or an awful lot of arrogance on the part of the government we are facing across the way, the Liberal government.
It is the same kind of deal we had with the Kyoto summit. There were no negotiations with the provinces until the last minute. In fact we had that again with the MAI. The minister did not meet with the provincial counterparts until last week. Does that not sound familiar?
Arrogance, that is what I believe it is. It is shameful. I challenge the government to get off its butt and get out there to explain to Canadians why this deal may be good for them, or at least meet the challenges head on of what people like Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians are saying.
If they cannot meet those, if they cannot dispel stories that these are very bad for Canada, maybe it is not a good deal for us. I think it is, but the Liberal government has to take up the challenge.
Protection for Canadian companies is at stake, Canadian companies that have increased the amount of foreign investment outside our country by 50% in the last 10 years. That will continue, but we need some rules.
It is clear that investment leads to trade and trade leads to jobs. Mike Percy of the University of Alberta business school said about three months ago in response to the expansion of the oil sands, the tar sands in northern Alberta and the big pulp and paper projects that were under way in the forestry industry that Alberta would require $20 billion of new investment money over the next 10 years.
We need to encourage investment in the country but we need to know the rules and we need to know that Canadian sovereignty is not at stake. If there are areas where we have sensitive industries that need protection, let us protect them but let us define it as narrowly and clearly as we can so that we do not scuttle a deal in the process.
In conclusion, the government has not shown leadership. It must take up the challenge and deal with Canadians, go out and tell Canadians what this deal is all about and why the government is negotiating it on their behalf.