That this house reiterate the 1989 commitment to eliminating child poverty by the year 2000, urge the government to act, and strike an all-party special parliamentary committee with the main objective of considering Canadian parliamentarians' ability to narrow the gap between rich and poor in the new context created by the globalization of markets, because of the following facts:
(1) despite the economic growth of recent years, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen;
(2) the globalization of markets greatly affects governments' ability to develop their countries' economies in accordance with their priorities; and
(3) globalization and the international agreements that frame it, particularly the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) as now written, may limit some of governments' powers and consequently those of the representatives elected to this House.
Mr. Speaker, first I should inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean.
Today, the agreement on multilateral investment is being negotiated in Paris. Today is the deadline. Fortunately, and it is indeed fortunate, it looks like there will not be an agreement, but we all know that negotiations will eventually resume one way or another.
To debate this agreement, the MAI, is to raise the whole question of a global economy. On two or three occasions, the Bloc Quebecois has asked the government to hold a special debate on this issue. Each time, the government has refused.
Last week, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean dragged out the topic again, so to speak. But his action highlighted a fundamental issue, because a discussion of the MAI, of globalization of the economy, raises the issue of the gap between rich and poor.
The number of low income earners in Canada jumped from 14.2% of the population in 1975 to 17.9% in 1996, twenty years later. On a global scale, the share of total revenue earned by the top 20%, i.e. the planet's richest individuals, increased from 70% to 85% between 1960 and 1991, while the share of the bottom 20%, i.e. the planet's poorest inhabitants, dropped from 2.3% to 1.4%. There is a very private club of 358 billionaires—not millionaires, but billionaires, as in 1,000 times one million—who control an amount equal to 45% of the entire world's revenue, while poverty continues to grow.
There are two possible attitudes to this alarming situation. One would be to sit back, give up, say nothing or, worse still, even contribute to the problem. The other would be to roll up one's sleeves and try to do something about the widening gap between rich and poor. In raising this issue and including it in its platform, the Bloc Quebecois has opted for the second course of action. The action taken by the member for Lac-Saint-Jean has shown where he stands; this is the issue he raised. This struggle is one that concerns me as well, and has always concerned me since my earliest involvement in social and political affairs.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the present Liberal government. Its recent EI reform has plunged more of our fellow citizens into poverty. Promises, supposedly made for the purpose of eliminating child poverty, have never been more than base ploys, election slogans, calculated to bring in votes. Yet the Liberals have substantial play in the budget, with a surplus of $21 billion above and beyond the 1997 estimates, an amount that once again was not forecast.
The Minister of Finance is not good with figures. The government has an extra $4.4 billion and he did not forecast any surplus this year. But, instead of using this money to reduce the gap between rich and poor, the government is squandering $750 million on submarines and interfering in provincial areas of jurisdiction, in particular by investing $2.5 billion on millennium scholarships.
We will see it this afternoon. In spite of all the statements made by Liberal members, who claim they want to protect hepatitis C victims, the government refuses to allocate money for this issue, but it is discussing with professional sports tycoons to reach a tax deal with teams whose players make millions of dollars. How nice.
The concept of globalization is not just theory and ideology. There are concrete numbers associated with it, and these figures are telling. In 1997, world exports totalled US$5,295 billion, while commercial services totalled US$1,295 billion. It is a daily reality.
Does this mean that we oppose the globalization of economies? Definitely not. However, discussing globalization does not mean talking strictly about money. We must also talk about establishing fair and just rules for every country, for the people of each of these countries. We must talk about social and human rights. These are the issues that we must talk about when discussing globalization.
The MAI is the latest attempt to put together, in an international agreement, multilateral regulations in the three key foreign investment sectors, namely the protection of investments, the liberalization of investments and the dispute resolution mechanism.
The MAI is a good example of the lack of powers of democratic institutions, because the federal government opted to negotiate behind closed doors, instead of holding an open debate in this Parliament and involving the Canadian people. It could have held this controversial debate in public.
This is what we are condemning. We are asking the government to stop ignoring the public's will, to listen to the various groups, particularly the poor, and to listen to parliamentarians from all parties. It is with this in mind that we are making this demand, and that we will oppose the signing by Canada of any treaty dealing with multilateral agreements on investment, of any treaty that would not include provisions on social and labour laws, the environment and cultural exemptions.
We do not want a standardized, Americanized world, in which the only culture would be the American culture, and in which Dallas and its imitations would be the only television series available. This is not what they want in Quebec or in Canada, I have no doubt.
We are also opposed to the provision in this agreement that protects investments for 20 years. Today the elected president of Burma, who is in exile, is visiting Ottawa. That country without any democratic rule, dominated by a military junta, could sign despicable agreements with major companies that would be protected for 20 years. Should democracy return some day to Burma, and I am sure it will, the government elected by and for the people will be forced to honour these agreements. That is not acceptable.
When we talk of the danger of parliamentarians and democratic institutions losing political power this is what we are talking about. We will also oppose having such agreements signed within the OECD, the club of the well-to-do. We cannot let the rich determine the living conditions of all peoples in all countries in the world. Such agreements must include all countries and be discussed within the World Trade Organization. This is the place for such discussion.
Some will say that globalization leaves no room for the small countries. The opposite is true. We see economic borders dissolving and a number of countries emerging each year.
In this new context, Quebec's sovereignty expresses nothing more than the political, economic and legal ability of the people of Quebec to decide the conditions of their interdependence with other peoples. If it is true that small countries are impotent against globalization, how do we explain the fact that countries with populations of between 4 and 15 million inhabitants, such as Austria, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, outperform Canada in socio-economic terms.
These are eloquent examples of how, in these times of rampant globalization, small countries can make different choices according to their needs, the needs of their population, how they can have an important public sector, progressive social policies, and yet have lower unemployment than Canada and a higher gross domestic product. That is part of reality.
The question is not, therefore, one of being against globalization, but rather of defining a framework which will forge links that will unite the countries of this planet in a fair and just manner. The question for all peoples of the world is to determine how they can participate fully in major economic entities.
Speaking of the European Economic Community, and France of course, according to François Mitterrand, to be part of a whole one must first and foremost be oneself. That is what the sovereignists want. That is what the Quebec sovereignist project is all about and that is how the sovereignists address the question of globalization.