Madam Speaker, we are now studying Bill C-31, an act to amend the Export Development Act.
Before anything else, I would remind the House what the key elements of this legislation are. The bill would enshrines in law the fact that before entering into a financing transaction the Export Development Corporation, whose name it changes incidentally, must take environmental considerations into consideration.
The bill leaves it up to the Export Development Corporation to establish its own environmental criteria and to determine the exceptions to the rules. It is rare to see a corporation be made both judge and defendant, when that corporation already does not comply with its own directives.
We will see that in detail later on. In her May 2001 report, the auditor general stated that, out of the 25 projects audited under the terms of reference determined by the corporation itself, she found 23 to be in violation of those terms of reference. I am referring to the Export Development Corporation.
The present bill adds nothing to the requirement for accountability on the part of that corporation. There is nothing in the bill about the disclosure of information or about public consultation.
As I said, the frame of reference is what the corporation assigns to itself, and there is really nothing in the bill to ensure that this framework is adequate to properly assess the environmental effects of projects submitted to it.
Moreover, the bill gives the rather strange discretionary power to the Minister of Finance and the Minister for International Trade to exempt a project from environmental assessment. The bill, in principle, gives exclusion from any of the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
I must admit that we are totally mystified by this choice. We pass environmental assessment legislation and then exempt the corporation from it, at the very time that it is being asked to put more effort into its environmental assessments.
Finally, this bill makes absolutely no mention of human rights.
As hon. members can see, this bill might appear ambitious, in light of the criticism there has been of the EDC in recent years. Once read, however, it can be seen to be a pretty lightweight piece of legislation.
I would take this opportunity to remind the House that the EDC was established in 1944, as the Export Credits Insurance Corporation, with a mandate to support and develop Canada's export trade. It was given the responsibility of providing credit insurance and guarantees to Canadian exporters. In 1969 it became a crown corporation and acquired the additional powers of being able to make direct loans to foreign borrowers, and to borrow against the government's credit to finance its activities.
The last change, made in 1993, now enables it to invest in capital stock, to lease assets to users outside Canada, to constitute subsidiaries, and to take part in joint ventures.
It is noteworthy that the EDC is self-funding, in that it receives no parliamentary votes for its activities. It derives its operating revenue from fees, premiums and loan interest.
In the year 2000, for instance, it reported net profits of $194 million, a 9.7% return on shareholder assets. Its assets would therefore be some $2.8 billion. That same year, hon. members will recall, the corporation estimated that it had supported exports and foreign investments to the tune of some $45 billion.
Finally, let us not forget that this crown corporation enjoys special status. 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 all private enterprises. It does not pay income tax. It does not have to pay dividends. It can borrow money at favourable rates, thanks to the credit extended to the Government of Canada.
I think it must also be said that the Export Development Corporation has a highly developed secrecy policy: it hardly gives out any information about its activities.
In the evidence we heard at the Standing Committee on External Affairs and International Trade, most of the groups that appeared before the committee, particularly the international co-operation groups, reminded us of the difficulty they had in getting information.
For example, Warren Allmand, a former Liberal member and minister, who is now president of Rights and Democracy, presented a document that was obtained by his organization through the Access to Information Act. The document was completely blank. This shows that a secrecy policy, a lack of transparency, seems to be a feature of this corporation.
Coming back specifically to the environmental issue, since it is the only new element in this bill, we see that the corporation will set up an environmental framework to apply environmental criteria to its financing decisions.
As I already mentioned, in response to many criticisms, the auditor general was asked to assess the appropriateness of the Export Development Corporation's environmental review framework. She concluded that the framework contains, and I quote “most elements of a suitably designed environmental review process”. However, it would appear that the framework has never been properly applied.
As I mentioned at the outset, and I think the Canadian and Quebec public have to know it, out of the 25 projects she studied, 23 had not been properly reviewed for environmental risks, or not reviewed at all, in accordance with the framework the corporation had defined.
Of course, this was not the only thing she criticized. I will repeat some of her criticisms, as set out in her May 2001 report.
The auditor general pointed out that there are major shortcomings in terms of public consultation and disclosure at the Export Development Corporation, there are significant differences between the environmental review framework's design and its operation, the framework's statement of objectives is not clear, the framework's environmental standards are not specified, there are flaws at each stage of the environmental review process, screening tools are not applied adequately to identify potential environmental risk, and there is no methodology to determine if adverse environmental risks can justify a decision or not.
It is not the only report we can refer to in order to have an idea of the major shortcomings in the current management approach taken by the Export Development Corporation. Members will recall that in 1999, the Gowlings report pointed out much the same shortcomings with regard to transparency, environmental review and human rights. In December 1999, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade tabled its report, in which we find basically the same criticisms.
So we are dealing with a corporation that has gotten some pretty bad press from most groups, including parliamentarians. In my opinion, this should have elicited a much stronger response from the federal government than that which was given with Bill C-31.
In December 1999, the Bloc Quebecois published a dissenting opinion to the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade; it was already clear to us then that there was disagreement that could be boiled down to three elements: transparency, human rights and the environment.
I will recap the main elements that we highlighted in December 1999. Regarding transparency, we noted that there was an obvious and marked lack of transparency in the Export Development Corporation's operations; that access to information was sorely lacking; and that given the context of a lack of transparency, it was highly likely that the Export Development Corporation's activities could be used for inappropriate purposes, which might even conflict with the purposes outlined in the statute.
Therefore, it seemed essential to us at that time that the Export Development Corporation be subject to the Access to Information Act.
As for human rights, the Bloc Quebecois expressed serious concern regarding the Export Development Corporation when it comes to respecting human rights. Among the risks that the corporation assumes, there are political factors. It provides political risk insurance. However, the Export Development Corporation does not take into consideration the human rights situation when it assesses political risks. When it comes to political risks, obviously there is a serious risk of political upheaval in the case of regimes that abuse human rights and do not respect fundamental labour law.
Before providing support for a business, the corporation should at the very least—this is what we thought then, and still think now—ensure that the company in question subscribes to the code of conduct established by the OECD, when it comes to human rights. Bill C-31 makes no mention of this fact, as I stated earlier.
As for environmental standards, they are briefly mentioned in Bill C-31. The Bloc Quebecois was and is still of the opinion that the committee's recommendations concerning the environmental responsibility of the Export Development Corporation—we refer here to the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade—were nothing but a wish list. It was not enough to ensure that, in fact, the environment will now be included in the corporation's studies prior to any decision making process.
The Export Development Corporation's environmental responsibility must be more firmly anchored in order to better reflect the corporation's duty as regards environment, respect for the environment, and sustainable development.
In this regard, the Bloc Quebecois would have expected the Export Development Corporation to draw more from the operating framework of the World Bank or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where for each reasonable project there is an environmental impact assessment, public hearings, and above all full transparency.
We cannot accept that the Export Development Corporation, even under its new name, should use public moneys to fund projects that could end up destroying the environment or violating human rights, and do so with impunity, as secrecy is one of the corporation's characteristics.
As I indicated, there were three very harsh reports. The May 2001 report of the auditor general, the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, complete with the Bloc Quebecois dissenting report, and the Gowlings report were all extremely critical.
In a way, Bill C-31 was presented as a response to this criticism, since that the Export Development Corporation had obviously not succeeded in regulating itself. One would have expected Bill C-31 to address this weakness, but there is nothing in this bill to do so.
The bill is too weak from an environmental point of view. It provides no guarantee for an effective environmental assessment and gives the EDC too much leeway in establishing the criteria. It is silent on disclosure. The bill does not include any punitive provisions should the EDC not respect its own environmental framework.
We have seen in the auditor general report that in 23 of the 25 projects examined, the framework had not been respected. In this regard, I shall point out that Quebec imposes fines and even jail terms on officials who are found guilty of negligence in environmental matters.
On the other hand, the bill is watering down environmental standards by not assuring Canadians that projects comply with more than just the standards of host countries, and that they respect the environmental review framework. This bill also excludes any possibility of making the EDC subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Since the corporation has no credibility whatsoever, this bill does not represent a response to the criticisms made repeatedly over the last three years.
Finally, Bill C-31 completely sidesteps the issue of fundamental rights, human rights, labour rights, and this is totally unacceptable. For example, we know of this gold mine in Tanzania that belongs to a Canadian company which was granted a political risk insurance by the Export Development Corporation.
The mine was apparently put at the disposal of the Canadian company following a massive eviction of artisanal miners. There are even allegations by Tanzanian lawyers which were made public here in Canada to the effect that, as part of this massive eviction operation--and we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people--there were artisanal miners who were buried alive in their mine. These are allegations.
I take this opportunity to mention that the NDP leader asked a question in this House concerning this extremely disturbing case. In his reply, the Minister for International Trade referred to the fact that Amnesty International had investigated the matter, but had not found evidence supporting the allegations made by human rights lawyers, particularly Tanzanian lawyers.
However, in its annual report for the year 2000, Amnesty International says that, based on the documents provided to it by the Tanzanian police, it was not able to come to a conclusion regarding this issue, and it is asking for an independent, international investigation to shed light on these events.
Contrary to what the minister told us, probably in good faith, not only did Amnesty International not come to a conclusion regarding these extremely disturbing and dramatic facts, but it is also asking--as we are--for an independent, international investigation to shed light on all these events.
Be that as it may, the Export Development Corporation continues to proceed as if it were business as usual.
In order to correct this situation, I proposed a number of amendments in committee, which I will mention.
These amendments basically deal with clause 10.(1) and seek to correct a number of flaws relating to this clause and to make appropriate related changes. I will discuss clause 10.1
For example, absolutely no reference is made to the EDC's responsibility to take into account not only environmental effects, but also social effects and, more globally, human and other rights provided for in international agreements.
I therefore proposed that, to this clause, be added a point that would clarify the mandate of Export Development Corporation. The amendment read as follows:
The Corporation is established for the purposes of supporting and developing, directly or indirectly, Canada's export trade and Canadian capacity to engage in that trade and to respond to international business opportunities in keeping with Canada's international commitments.
It strikes me as perfectly normal that a crown corporation would honour commitments made by the government internationally, especially in the area of human rights and basic labour rights.
Believe it or not, the Liberal members of the committee rejected this amendment. It is difficult to understand how the federal government makes commitments on Canada's and Canadians' behalf, and indirectly still on behalf of Quebecers, and then does not want to require its own corporations to honour these commitments. We are indeed talking about international commitments, that is conventions, treaties and charters ratified by the Canadian government.
I have to say I was quite disillusioned about the scope of the work Canada can do internationally, if it is not prepared to have its crown corporations honour the commitments it itself makes. How is it going to get private firms and multinationals based in Canada to honour these commitments?
So my first disappointment was at the rejection of such an obvious amendment, which was later reformulated by the member for Burnaby--Douglas, in fact. Twice, we have tried to get this element, a simple matter of common sense, passed, and twice the Liberal members have rejected it. That was the first great disappointment.
As I said in my presentation, the environmental frame of reference that the Export Development Corporation has set for itself is inadequate. It fails to honour this environmental framework it set for itself. It is therefore incapable of self-regulation.
Paragraph (2) of the famous clause 10 reads as follows:
The Board shall issue a directive respecting the determination referred to in subsection (1)--
That is the assessment of environmental effects.
--, which directive may
(a) define the words and expressions that the Board considers necessary for the application of that subsection, including the words and expressions “transaction”, “project”, “adverse environmental effects” and “mitigation measures”;
(b) establish the criteria that the Corporation must apply in making the determination:
(c) establish exceptions specifically or by any class, as defined by the Board, to the Corporation's obligation to make the determination.
It is therefore not an obligation. The Export Development Corporation can define its own terms of reference. It beats me how there can be environmental terms of reference without some sort of minimal definition of words such as transaction, project, adverse environmental effects and mitigation measures.
I therefore proposed an amendment to Bill C-31 to define these various terms. People must know what they are talking about when they refer to impact on the environment. Without reading the amendment in its entirety, I will convey the gist of it by reading what strikes me as the most important term, environmental effects, because this has to do with a framework for assessing environmental effects. I suggested this definition to the committee:
environmental effects means any change that the project may cause in the environment, including any effect of any such change on health and socio-economic conditions--
It is very clear to me that when one refers to environmental effects, one is also referring to socio-economic effects:
on the current use of lands and resources by local communities, on any structure, site or thing that is of historical, archaeological...importance--
As the House can see, it is a very straightforward definition. The definitions are borrowed from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. We therefore did not rebuild the wheel; we used what was already available. I also borrowed the definition of environment, environmental assessment, mitigation and project.
Here again, I was astonished, because it is only common sense that if a crown corporation adopts environmental terms of reference, there should at least be agreement on the terminology used to make an assessment.
Once again, the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade rejected this amendment. I am still wondering what logic they could have used, unless it was a form of anti-opposition sectarianism.
A second amendment was therefore rejected. Its purpose was merely to define the terms on which we must work and agree on so that when the auditor general and parliamentarians are called upon to assess the work of this crown corporation, they will know where we are coming from.
As I said, I believe definitions are necessary, but we ought to have at least been able to expect to find the bill stating that the corporation “must” define a certain number of criteria, and make these definitions public in order to open them up to public debate. It seems, however, that the government side of this House prefers to lend to this bill the same secrecy as reigns within this crown corporation, the EDC, at the present time.
As I said earlier, not only are definitions lacking, but the frame of reference for assessments is flawed as well.
All that is stated in clause 10.1 is the following:
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, the Corporation must determine, in accordance with the directive referred to in subsection (2),
(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.
Hon. members can see that this is far too weak a directive from the legislator. I therefore took the liberty of submitting to the committee a far clearer, and far more complete, environmental assessment procedure.
In connection with the first element of this procedure, what I proposed--not just what is stated here about looking to see whether there are likely to be adverse environmental effects--what I proposed was for the corporation to be required to carry out an environmental assessment before exercising its power to assess a project against a series of criteria, such as environmental assessment, or the development and implementation of a program for follow up. Then the environmental effects must be determined, along with the extent of these effects. Comments from the local population must be obtained. And are the mitigation measures technically and economically feasible?
Furthermore, the rationale behind the bill is important. There are the alternative solutions and the requirement for a follow up program. Those are all self-evident criteria for the evaluation of any project.
The corporation carries out the environmental assessment, prepares a report and sends it to the Minister for International Trade. On the basis of that report, the corporation takes one of the following measures, depending on the environmental assessment: it decides either to go ahead with the project or not to support the project because its environmental impact would be negative. In that case,however, what is EDC to do? It is not really clear; there is a grey area? Can the corporation be judge and defendant? I do not think so. It seems to me that in such a case the Minister for International Trade has a responsibility and a role to play.
I was suggesting that, whenever it is unclear whether the adverse environmental effects outweigh the value of a project, the corporation should ask the Minister for International Trade to decide. If the corporation considers that even after the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures, the project might have serious adverse environmental effects, it should refer the matter to the minister.
If a project is likely to have major adverse environmental effects despite the implementation of mitigation measures and if the previous clause does not apply, the EDC refers to the minister, provided the concerns of local populations justify such a measure.
This is an environmental frame of reference that leaves a lot of leeway to the Export Development Corporation, while defining rules that everyone would know and understand.
Under Bill C-31, the corporation will set for itself the rules that it wants. It will decide whether or not it will comply with these rules.
Finally, in the same amendment, I proposed including two small provisions whereby the corporation would have to disclose, in the 45 days prior to the conclusion of an agreement, information on the projects in which it is involved. This information was to include the name of the borrower, the host country of the project, the environmental and social concerns of local populations, the value of the project and the conditions relating to financial support.
If we want Canadians and Quebecers, international solidarity organizations and any interested party to be able to express their own views on the evaluations to be made before supporting a project, the public must be informed of the existence of the project.
Finally, we proposed that no provision in the Privacy Act or the Access to Information Act should have the effect of preventing or restricting the disclosure of the information mentioned in the previous paragraphs, to which I just referred. This is a fundamental flaw in Bill C-31. Nothing is done to give Canadians and Quebecers access to information on the management of the Export Development Corporation.
It will obviously be no surprise to anyone if I say that the Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade voted against this amendment, which, as I mentioned, was drawn from internationally known rules. More specifically, I drew on the rules of the World Bank. We were not starting a revolution in committee by proposing such amendments, but it was rejected. Once again, I have a hard time understanding the reasons.
Finally, in light of the criticism raised about the governance of the Export Development Corporation, I cited three or four damning reports, but the evidence of representatives of NGOs, groups and individuals before the standing committee should have been heard. They raised questions of considerable concern.
I think that, to wait until the auditor general looks into the EDC's operations every five years, is to give the corporation far too much latitude, especially with what is contained in the rest of Bill C-31. There is practically nothing there to really structure the work of this crown corporation. If an audit is done only every five years, the Export Development Corporation will have time to do a lot of damage.
Some guideline must be set in terms of time so that in the next two years, the auditor general will be able to report on management methods subsequent to the passage of this bill on the Export Development Corporation.
Did it make the changes the Canadian and Quebec public were expecting? Did it support projects consistent with our laws and concepts of sustainable development in environmental terms? Did it support projects that promoted fundamental rights or, conversely, did it help to further destroy our planet and further erode the rights of workers and people in countries in the southern hemisphere?
In my opinion, five years is too long a time. I therefore proposed an amendment to enable the auditor general to examine the governance of the Export Development Corporation.
Once again, no one will be surprised to hear me say that the Liberal members voted against this amendment, which makes good sense.
The legislation is therefore still hollow. Bill C-31 does not address any of the concerns repeatedly mentioned by committees, groups, individuals, and Canadians and Quebecers. The bill is nothing more than a surface attempt to give the impression that the federal government has listened to the criticisms and made the necessary changes.
It has not. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to go through the whole bill but as soon as the surface is scratched, the bill's hollowness becomes apparent.
I think the criticisms of the Export Development Corporation in recent years will not end, even with a name change. On the contrary, they will increase. Why? Because for a few months, or weeks, now, the public, not just in Canada and Quebec, but in the entire western world, has understood that trade is not the only thing that matters when it comes to assessing support for corporations such as the Export Development Corporation, or for agreements and international treaties.
Human and environmental considerations, as well as considerations of democratic rights, are now vital. And this is not the first time. It was the same with the debate on the Canada--Costa Rica free trade agreement. The Canadian government had no suggestions to make regarding human rights, environmental rights or democratic rights.
Frankly, Bill C-31 is just like Bill C-32. The government is plowing ahead as though there had been no change in public opinion in Canada and Quebec, as though the economy is more important than the values of Canadians and Quebecers.
I was also surprised that the bill contained no proposal to create a position of ombudsman, although this was repeatedly recommended, both by government committees and by parliamentary committees.
There is therefore nothing in this bill that meets the expectations of the Bloc Quebecois or of Canadians or Quebecers. We will therefore have no choice but to vote against Bill C-31.