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House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario

Liberal

John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second hour debate of Bill C-214. At the outset I would like to clear up two points raised by the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry in the first hour of this debate last December 1.

The hon. member stated that “We are still waiting for the treaties signed in 1993, 1994, 1997 and 1998 to be tabled”.

The 1994 treaties were tabled June 9, 1999. The 1993 treaties were tabled June 10, 1999. The 1997 treaties were tabled April 13, 1999. Currently there are no treaties outstanding to be tabled under the current practice.

With regard to the 1998 treaties, departmental officials are now in the process of preparing 47 treaties for tabling. There is a normal lag of at least one year with respect to multilateral treaties. This period enables the depositories of these treaties, often the UN, to advise states of their entry into force and prepare the certified copies which are then tabled.

For example, the depository of Protocol II, annexed to the Convention on the Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, intended to bring mines into the disarmament regime created by the main convention, advised Canada on July 7, 1999 that this convention had entered into force on December 3, 1998 and provided the certified copies.

Such time lags are normal practices among depositories such as the UN which manages hundreds of multilateral treaties and must calculate the exact date of entry into force of the convention based on the number of acceptances received and then prepare the certified copies.

The hon. member also suggested on December 1 that this bill would correct an obvious deficiency, allowing ordinary citizens as well as parliamentarians access to international treaties. This bill does no such thing.

The government already provides Canadians, including MPs, wide access to treaties. They are published in a Canadian treaty series and distributed to numerous libraries throughout Canada. In addition, they can be purchased from the government publishing centre on a cost recovery basis.

I remind all MPs in the House that they have access to treaties tabled since 1990 in CD-ROM format through the Library of Parliament.

This bill deals with the Canadian practice with regard to the conclusion of treaties, an important element of the Government of Canada's prerogative.

This bill seriously affects the division of powers in Canada and calls into question the ability of Canada to pursue major foreign policy objectives. It purports to democratize the treaty process by providing parliament with a greater role. Parliament already has a considerable role in our treaty process.

Canadian constitutional law clearly establishes that the negotiation and signature of a treaty are strictly in the purview of the federal executive. However, the legislative branch is still responsible for implementing the ensuing applications.

If a treaty results in changes to current laws, or enactment of new ones, the legislative branch alone can take such action. Depending on the jurisdiction, implementing legislation must be passed by parliament or provincial legislatures. As the hon. member knows, this role is essential because in the absence of any participation from the legislative branch, the international commitments made by Canada could not be met for lack of domestic enactments.

Because of this implementation power, parliament is regularly required to study and discuss treaties.

On December 1 the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry stated that:

Neither the Free Trade agreement between the U.S. and Canada, nor NAFTA nor the recent treaties on Landmines and disarmament were approved by this House before the government expressed its consent to be bound by them.

This statement once again ignores parliament's crucial role in treaty matters. All of these treaties were subject to intensive study and scrutiny by the House when it considered the legislation to implement them. It was up to parliament to decide if it wished to enact this legislation and, if it were not passed, the government simply could not have ratified these treaties. Canada's most important treaties are already, and have always been, subject to this legislative process.

The role of parliament in treaty making continues to evolve. Not only is parliament involved in the implementation of treaties but consultation on our most important treaties now takes place before committees and prior to the government taking binding action.

The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and its subcommittee examined exhaustively and made recommendations to the government on the multilateral agreement on investment, on the WTO and the FTAA negotiations. They did so prior to the conclusion of these agreements by the federal executive. Let me be clear. Our current practice strikes a careful balance between the constitutional power of the executive to make treaties and the crucial role of parliament in implementing them, providing for the flexibility and efficiency which Canada needs to pursue its foreign policy objectives.

As another example, last spring parliament debated Bill S-22, the implementing legislation of an agreement with the U.S.A. on customs preclearance, prior to the conclusion of the agreement in order to give parliament greater latitude in determining what powers Canada would provide U.S. customs officers in Canadian airports.

In addition, Bill C-214, with its proposal to provide for the approval of treaties by the House of Commons prior to ratification, would adversely affect the development of Canadian foreign policy and would emulate the legislative approval system in the United States. Crises throughout the world must not be used for partisan purposes on the national political scene. The Government of Canada, which is accountable to parliament, is responsible for the country's foreign affairs. In order to be heard and to be perceived as a leader, it must have a single voice on the international scene.

The decision of the U.S. Senate not to sign the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty stunned Canada and the entire international community, dimmed the hopes for peace and international stability generated by the treaty, and dealt a serious blow to the United States' reputation, even though the administration supported ratification. This is a clear illustration of what happens when sterile party politics find their way into the conduct of a country's foreign affairs. Canada does not wish to undergo such a drastic change in the conduct of its foreign affairs.

The bill raises major constitutional concerns. Bill C-214 refers to the royal prerogative of the crown in right of a province with respect to the negotiation and signing of treaties. No such provincial prerogative exists. The prerogative with respect to the negotiation and signing of any international treaty lies exclusively with the Canadian federal executive. Therefore, Bill C-214 violates the constitutionally determined division of powers.

The bill would require the government to negotiate consultation agreements with provincial governments in areas of provincial or shared jurisdiction. Canadian constitutional law already requires that the Government of Canada secure the support of provinces before ratifying an international treaty requiring implementation through provincial legislation. It is done because it has to be done.

For example, the federal government is engaged in extensive consultations with provincial governments developing a national implementation strategy to allow Canada to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to the Climate Change Convention and there are extensive consultations to develop positions and policy to allow implementation of crucial agreements in the trade area. Provincial representatives are sometimes part of Canadian delegations when treaties concerning provincial matters are negotiated.

Bill C-214 creates nothing new in this area but it imposes a straitjacket on the Government of Canada for consulting its provincial partners.

Moreover, Bill C-214 with its requirement that treaties be tabled 21 sitting days prior to their ratification, would preclude Canada from playing a key role on global issues, as it has done in recent years. Our current treaty-making practices enabled Canada to be the first to ratify the Ottawa Convention on Landmines on December 3, 1997 when the international community came to Ottawa to sign the convention. Had Bill C-214 been law, Canada would never have managed this feat.

Bill C-214 could also seriously affect our ability to enter quickly into agreements on emergency food supply or peacekeeping forces deployment in times of humanitarian crises. It would fetter our ability to enter into ad hoc extradition agreements to extradite criminals seeking refuge in Canada and damage our commercial interests when time is of the essence to give an advantage to Canadian businesses.

Canada must have a treaty-making process that allows it to achieve its foreign policy objectives and to deal quickly and effectively with changing and urgent situations. Our current practice meets these imperatives.

There is already a major role for parliament with respect to the implementation of treaties and parliament has been consulted on our most important treaties prior to their conclusion. It is my strong view that Bill C-214 provides for an overly complex and inefficient procedure to replace a treaty-making process that so far has well served Canadians, parliamentarians and Canada.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am aware that I do not have much time to speak to this bill, which I think is a very good one, introduced by the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

I am very interested in issues of globalization. In a world where areas of activity that were formerly more the concern of the United Nations are now making their way onto the world stage, we will be increasingly called upon to make decisions on an international scale and to ratify treaties.

One question comes to me right off the bat and it is this: What is the role of parliamentarians in this regard? Should we always rely on governments to negotiate treaties? I think that one of the most flagrant examples we have seen is the multilateral agreement on investment. People will recall that, for two years, this agreement was being secretly negotiated by the OECD, an organization of the 29 richest countries in the world. Nobody in the world, except of course the negotiators, knew this was in the works. We parliamentarians were not in the picture. It took a leak by one of the negotiators on the Internet before pockets of resistance began to spring up around the world.

I think that this was an historic event because, for the first time, we saw civil society join forces internationally, we saw young people the world over ready to be mowed down rather than see this agreement signed. I am thinking in particular of the young people of salAMI in Montreal, who resorted to civil disobedience.

I may not approve of such methods. I am only pointing them out.

An international agreement was being negotiated behind closed doors. When people saw what was in the agreement, they said “This does not make sense. It should be discussed”. This is what democracy is all about. It is about debating issues. It is about wondering where treaties like this will lead us.

Unfortunately, this is all the time I have for today, but I was pleased to—

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I can assure the member for Lac-Saint-Jean that when the bill next comes up for consideration before the House he will have eight minutes remaining in his remarks.

The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Treaties ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have money freely flowing from the Human Resources Development Canada offices to individuals and businesses without being properly accounted for. But for our farmers, they basically have to walk through fire to receive money from another government managed program.

The internal audit of HRDC exposed severe mismanagement of 459 job creation programs worth almost $1 billion. Some of the major problems were 80% of grant recipients showed no evidence of financial monitoring, 72% had no cash flow forecast, 87% showed no proof of supervision and 11% had no budget proposal or description of expected results. In one instance, seven people listed as unknown on the applications received $11 million. This is hard to believe.

The money flows out of the human resources development department without proper checks or balances. However, another program, the agriculture income disaster program, or AIDA as it is known, is the exact opposite. Farmers fill out, or in most cases pay their accountants to fill out, complicated forms and then submit their applications to an AIDA office. Months later the farmer finds out if he qualifies.

One producer in my riding told me his application was submitted in May 1999, but it took until March 2000 to be processed. That is almost a year. How long does it take for a human resources grant to be approved and distributed?

The AIDA applications are also heavily scrutinized. The forms go through a number of government staff and each one looks for ways to limit the payout to the farmer. In one case a farmer in my riding found out that his AIDA application had been worked on six times. By the time it had gone through bureaucrats, his payout was a fraction of what he had expected.

Does this type of scrutinizing take place at the human resources development offices when they are looking at grant applications? Is it true that the officials in charge of AIDA have been told to reduce payouts and limit benefits because it is agriculture and not HRD? There appears to be a deliberate scheme to not support farmers but to shovel taxpayers' dollars to patrons of HRD.

Should I be telling farmers in my riding to skip the AIDA procedure and go to the human resources development office for assistance?

A recent Globe and Mail article discovered 49 of Canada's top 100 most profitable companies have received grants in the past three years totalling $4.2 million from the HRDC office. Each of these companies has made a profit of at least $70 million. Do we have to show a profit of $70 million and contribute to the Liberals before qualifying for grants from the federal government?

We have farmers who are struggling to stay afloat and one of the main reasons for their problems is that the government taxes them to death and does not defend them at the international bargaining table. The government is taking dollars out of farmers' pockets and funnelling them to rich corporations.

If the government does not want to give farmers their money back, why does it not just reduce taxes? Taxes kill jobs. The grants at HRD use tax dollars which come directly from the farmer. In fact, farmers pay huge amounts of tax on the inputs they buy to grow their product. Fertilizer, fuel, chemicals and machinery all have a hidden tax component.

The grants at HRD are shovelled out through what is called a job creation fund. Let us rename this the job destruction fund. It is driving farmers off the land and many other Canadians do not have jobs because of the high taxes needed to support the Liberals' jobs destruction grants program.

It should not be easy to access public funds, but there is an obvious double standard taking place when we look at the HRDC programs and compare them to the AIDA program. I would like to know how the human resources development minister can justify handing out a billion dollars in grants with no accountability while our farmers continue to struggle and cannot access funds set aside to help them.

Treaties ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Oakville Ontario

Liberal

Bonnie Brown LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to respond to my good friend across the way.

I really cannot comment on the AIDA program because that was not suggested in his earlier question to which I was preparing to respond. However, I can respond to some of the allegations made against HRDC. For example, he said that money was freely flowing from HRDC in these grants and contributions. He should realize that the section of grants and contributions that was audited, and which had a very serious result that all of us took seriously, the audit covered an audit universe that represents less than 1% of the Government of Canada's budget.

We have now had months of allegations being hurled across the floor from the opposition at us based upon 1% of the government's budget. I want to assure the member that there is a strict process for approval of these grants.

As far as his allegations about us working with big companies, yes we do. We work with both the private sector and the non-profit sector. In the private sector we work with both big companies and small companies because we respect all businesses and they all have a right to apply for assistance when they need it.

As far as cutting taxes, as he is suggesting we should be doing instead of creating economic activity, we have begun to cut taxes now that we have eliminated the deficit and can afford to cut taxes. There was a big plan announced in the last budget to that effect.

How would the hon. member replace the $3 billion in economic activity that we have managed to start through our investment, for example, of $300 million in the Canada jobs fund? That leveraged $2.7 billion from the private sector and the non-profit sector and resulted in $3 billion of economic activity, which we would not have otherwise had in the country, and in the creation of approximately 28,000 new jobs.

Treaties ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been carried. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.46 p.m.)