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.