Mr. Speaker, this bill on the Export Development Corporation—let us call it that for the last time—which was known by the French acronym SEE and the English EDC, stems from a series of consultations in which I participated as a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
We have put a lot of work into the Export Development Corporation, and I regret now to have to announce that we will be voting against this bill at third reading. We did, as I said, try to get it amended.
For our audience, it is important to know that the mandate of the Export Development Corporation is to support Quebec's and Canada's exporters, as well as those who wish to do business in Canada. It therefore also has a function to develop trade with other countries.
It was established in 1944 as the Export Credits Insurance Corporation. In 1969, it became a crown corporation and acquired the additional powers of being able—and this was something new—to make direct loans to foreign borrowers, and to borrow against the government's credit to finance its activities.
In 1993, a final change enabled it to invest in capital stock, to lease assets to users outside Canada, to constitute subsidiaries, as well as to take part in joint ventures.
In a way, the EDC is self-funding, in that it receives no parliamentary votes for its activities. It is a very important corporation.
Hon. members need to know that it estimates that it has supported experts and foreign investments to the tune of some $45 billion last year. It is a very important corporation. Despite its financial self-sufficiency, it is still a crown corporation, because a private company wishing to do the same could never compete with it. It is, therefore, a crown corporation which, thanks to a series of privileges, benefits both potential investors in Quebec and Canada and potential exporters from Quebec and Canada.
It is not subject to the Access to Information Act. It is not subject to the Environmental Assessment Act. It is not regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, as is the case for the private sector. It does not pay income tax. It does not have to pay dividends. It can borrow at favourable rates, thanks to the credit extended to the Government of Canada.
Those are some of what might be termed the privileges enjoyed by the EDC.
It is easy to see its importance but it is also easy to see why parliamentarians have repeatedly studied its role in Quebec, in Canada and abroad. It is not subject to the Access to Information Act, nor environmental assessment, and it has developed a policy of extreme secrecy. For all these reasons, there have been numerous recommendations made regarding the EDC.
The first amendment to Bill C-31 is to change the name of the EDC. I think that few parliamentarians noticed this. However, since I have been here, I have seen many legislative texts that begin by modifying the name.
The EDC, the Export Development Corporation, is well known. This bill changes the name to Export Development Canada.
The names of so many crown corporations have been changed to contain the “Canada” trademark, all I can do is to comment that this is also the case with the name of the EDC.
For the benefit of those listening, I would like to point out that the most outrageous change, in my opinion, was that made to the former Federal Office of Regional Development-Quebec, the regional section of the Department of Industry, the former Canadian regional development department, which dealt solely with development investment in Quebec. That was why it was called the Federal Office of Regional Development-Quebec.
Shortly after we arrived here in 1993, a bill was adopted which stipulated that this office, for the region of Quebec, would be called Economic Development Canada. What is peculiar is that, in the budget or votes, the names of offices with a similar mandate in the other provinces—for example, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Western Diversification Office—remained unchanged.
Yet in Quebec, it is now called Export Development Canada. Of course, this is all part of the great propaganda campaign to rename things. So, in French, it is goodbye to the SEE and hello to Exportation et développement Canada.
In 1998-99, the EDC was the object of a first review that had been decided in 1993. For the purpose of that exercise, the firm of Gowlings was asked to make recommendations. Gowlings conducts studies and audits. It is one of these large Canadian accounting, and surely now financial firms.
Gowlings, which is very much a private firm, made recommendations that differed significantly from the practices in use at the EDC as regards, among other things, transparency, the environment, sustainable development and also human rights.
Indeed, this is from the firm of Gowlings, a well known firm of lawyers, accountants and other experts. Its recommendations were not revolutionary, but provided that:
The EDC should regularly publish information on the operations that it funds. This information could include, for example, the name of the borrower, the country, the exporter—
The firm added the following:
Canada must work to achieve an international consensus on guidelines and environmental procedures that must be complied with by organizations similar to the EDC in other countries.
Immediately after, it goes on to say:
The EDC should submit its environmental framework to a public consultation process and ensure that the resulting policy is largely supported by exporters and non-governmental organizations.
This was in 1998-99. The firm then recommended:
—That the EDC act be amended to subject the EDC to the general requirement of establishing environmental assessment procedures in line with its commercial objectives and allow its board of directors to authorize or deny financial support by the corporation, based on the benefits or consequences of the projects or operations for the environment. The corporation should develop and publish a policy regarding its obligation to inform the public of the results of its environmental assessments—
I will not read everything. Finally, on the issue of human rights, the firm said:
EDC should implement a policy whereby when applying for EDC financial or insurance services, Canadian exporters are asked to indicate on a voluntary basis whether they have adopted their own codes of conduct that ensure respect for human rights, ethical business conduct and fair labour standards in their international activities.
The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade studied the Gowlings report at some length, after hearing from many witnesses. The committee made several recommendations. These recommendations dealt with public disclosure, with its risk assessments, which could be useful to Canadian financial institutions and to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.
The committee, with the support of Liberal members—we know, of course, how things work in committee—opted for the principle of improving mandatory disclosure of useful information in the interest of public accountability, in line with the Gowlings report's recommendation, provided that confidential trade information was protected.
It also suggested that:
--a provision be added enjoining EDC to give due regard to the commitments and obligations undertaken by Canada under international agreements—
The committee then proposed, and this is interesting:
—EDC could further enhance its public credibility by conducting a formal consultation with stakeholders on the framework's performance after its first year of operation—
Generally speaking, the recommendations did not find a taker in the report. However, not only the Bloc Quebecois but many NGOs who came to testify found that even the committee's report did not go far enough.
There is one basic principle. This corporation is a crown corporation. As such, can it afford to fund and support in various ways companies which do not respect the environmental assessment framework? Can it refuse to provide information which is provided in other countries by equivalent corporations?
Can it circumvent international agreements that Canada signs in the area of human rights? Can the corporation, which acts on Canada's behalf, do everything contrary to what Canada signs?
This basically is what the Bloc is opposed to. I will not say that there should be no concern over competition and trade secrets. That said, however, there remains a significant margin where, while remaining competitive—the American and Australian corporations are—the corporations must honour the bases of the major international conventions.
Without compatibility, we could be contributing to the confusion and anger of many countries and people living in developing countries, who see countries like Canada with international commitments respecting the environment and human rights and a degree of transparency and practices at home that contravene these very rules.
Bill C-31, which has created a lot of expectations among many people, contains some improvements. They are so timid that they will prevent us, even if we wanted to, from voting in favour of its content.
I have no doubt my colleague from Rosemont will use all his time to speak to the environmental aspect, because what is there is totally inadequate. I will read the only thing sought, and we will see it makes no sense.
Clause 10.1 provides, and I quote:
10.1(1) Before entering, in the exercise of its powers under subsection 10(1.1), into a transaction that is related to a project—
So before it knows if it will support a project,
the Corporation must determine—
(a) whether the project is likely to have adverse environmental effects despite the implementation of mitigation measures; and
(b) if such is the case, whether the Corporation is justified in entering into the transaction.
The problem lies in the fact that the auditor general has said that the frames of reference were inadequate even to evaluate it, and that of the 25 projects she evaluated, 23 did not conform.
In terms of the environment, transparency, public disclosure of information or compliance with international conventions on human rights, Bill C-31 is a long way from attaining the minimum objectives we might have expected.
It is therefore with regret that we will vote against the bill.