Debates of Oct. 30th, 2001
House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was edc.
- Yukon Northern Affairs Program Devolution Transfer Agreement
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- Prostate Cancer
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- Export Development Act
- Business of the House
- Export Development Act
- Committees of the House
- Hepatitis C
- Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
- Export Development Act
Export Development Act
Some hon. members
Export Development Act
Some hon. members
Export Development Act
John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC
Madam Speaker, we are a small country population-wise and a large country geographically, obviously. We are very dependent on our exports.
We have a major dispute on lumber. We have steel disputes. We have some agricultural disputes going on. We are reliant on WTO in the long run supporting the fact that we are fair traders and free traders. All of this, under the guise of some financing from the Export Development Corporation under the Canada account which I am calling a Liberal minister slush fund, is actually hurting us. It goes to the very core of what is important for us as a national strategy. We simply cannot play both ends on this kind of arrangement.
I am very critical of the Canada account. We do not need it. It is undermining WTO. It is also undermining EDC. EDC needs to focus on depoliticized finance arrangements, not on something like this. This has been foisted on it and it does not have the ability to fend it off unfortunately. It is a very unfortunate trend. I hope we can sort that out internally without waiting for WTO or someone else to embarrass us to the point where we have no choice but to remove it. We should be much more proactive than that.
There are two further statements from the EDC website which I will make reference to. The first one states:
As a crown corporation, we operate at arm's length from government and according to commercial principles.
I would put that in the category of a wish list. That is not actually what happens, as I have just described. The second statement is:
Governance policies and practices are determined by our board of directors. The board has 15 directors, drawn mainly from the private sector.
We know that is a wish list too, from the standpoint that the board of directors does not entirely make all the decisions on practices. Increasingly we are finding that the directors may be drawn from political appointments as opposed to from the private sector.
In summary, the EDC needs to be independent of government and it is not. I have given some rationale as to why, for example, political appointments and the Canada account. The Canada account is a Liberal minister slush fund. Mixed messages from the Minister of Industry and the Minister for International Trade are hurting us at the WTO and in the international community.
We are major beneficiaries of rules based trade and we cannot have it both ways. In other words, we cannot be free traders when it is convenient and protectionists when it is convenient. We have to have a level of consistency on the free trade ledger.
We have to keep this clean. It is too important for Canada to do it any other way. Today for example we are expecting the anti-dumping ruling from the protectionist side and instincts of the U.S. lumber lobby as exhibited by the U.S. department of commerce on Canadian imports of lumber. In order to keep the lumber file clean, we have to keep our other files clean. Softwood lumber is a huge issue for us.
A portion of the EDC mandate is politicized. These amendments do not clean that up. As a consequence, Canadian interests are not fully served, nor are the interests of the Export Development Corporation fully served.
Export Development Act
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
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.
Export Development Act
Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Madam Speaker, first off I would like to thank the hon. member for Joliette and Bloc Quebecois critic for international trade for his comments. I would like to say, on behalf of my New Democratic colleagues, that we will also oppose Bill C-31. We will do so for the reasons expressed very eloquently by the member for Joliette, which I will try to explain in the few minutes of comment allowed me in connection with third reading of this bill.
As I said, we are opposing the bill at third reading. I want to make it clear how profoundly disturbing and disheartening the process was in committee with respect to the bill.
The committee took the time to hear many witnesses from civil society, the labour movement and the NGO working group on the Export Development Corporation. We heard witnesses from a Latin American human rights group, a researcher for KAIROS, witnesses from Développement et Paix and many others from the business community.
Following extensive hearings on the bill, when it came time to reflecting the concerns and the hopes of those witnesses in the legislation with respect to amendments, not a single amendment was accepted by the government members on the committee. Not a comma changed in the bill from its original presentation. Frankly this was contemptuous of the very thoughtful concerns that were expressed by the members of the committee and by the witnesses who appeared before the committee on its hearings.
I mentioned the NGO working group on the Export Development Corporation, the so-called Halifax initiative. I want to read out the names of the members of that initiative to give some sense to the House and to those Canadians who are watching this debate of the broad diversity of groups that made up this initiative and who were calling for significant changes to the legislation.
The Halifax initiative working group was made up of: the United Auto Workers Union, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, the Canadian Friends of Burma, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Lawyers Association for International Human Rights, Democracy Watch, Development and Peace, East Timor Alert Network, the Falls Brook Centre, Rights and Democracy, Mining Watch Canada, Project Ploughshares, Results Canada, Sierra Club Nuclear Campaign, the Social Justice Commission of Montreal, the Steel Workers' Humanity Fund and the West Coast Environmental Law Association. This is a very impressive group of organizations from across the land that appeared before the committee and put together a comprehensive brief asking for some significant changes in the legislation.
In response to those suggestions, on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party, I proposed a number of amendments and each and every one was rejected.
My colleague from the Bloc Quebecois also tried to respond to the concerns and priorities of these witnesses. His amendments were also totally rejected by the committee.
I will now summarize the key areas of concern that were raised in the committee with respect to Bill C-31. First is the issue of disclosure and transparency.
The recommendations made to the committee were that the act be amended to require the disclosure of project related information in a timely and regular manner and that pre-approval disclosure of environmental and social information for projects with known or potential significant adverse impacts should have been included in Bill C-31.
The review made by Gowlings in June 1999 of the Export Development Act, by the foreign affairs committee in December 1999 and by the minister, all recommended that the EDC be required to disclose information related to transactions. When we look at Bill C-31 there is not a word about disclosure. There is not a single word about greater transparency.
In tabling the legislation and in refusing to implement the amendments and recommendations of witnesses, the government is ignoring not only the Gowlings report and the foreign affairs committee but the commitments that were made previously by the minister himself.
The EDC says that it has a disclosure policy that was implemented on October 1 of this year. It says that it has an internal compliance officer. The fact of the matter is there is nothing at all in the bill that requires the EDC to disclose any information whatsoever. Historically, back in the mid-1980s, the EDC actually decided that it would stop releasing any project related information to the public. It could do that tomorrow under the provisions of the legislation.
It is particularly important as well that the EDC be required to adopt pre-approval disclosure of environmental and social information for projects that may have a significant adverse environmental or social impact. If there is going to be any efficient environmental impact assessment process there has to be pre-approval disclosure. This is already part of the process under other international financial institutions such as the IFC and the European bank for reconstruction and development. In fact, the export credit agencies in the United States and Australia release such information 45 to 60 days prior to approval.
This is just good practice and it is a principle of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. If we look at Bill C-31 there is absolutely no requirement whatsoever for any kind of prior disclosure or pre-approval disclosure of environmental and social information for projects that could have very serious impacts on the environment. Although it was not possible to introduce an amendment to this effect because it was ruled to be beyond the scope of the bill, I would urge the government to bring in legislation to ensure the Export Development Corporation is fully subject to the Access to Information Act.
The Business Development Bank, which is another crown corporation in Canada, is already subject to the Access to Information Act. Both of the American export credit agencies are subject to similar United States legislation. It is totally unacceptable that a crucial question such as transparency should simply be left up to the entire discretion of the corporation. It should come under the umbrella of the access to information legislation.
With respect to the issue of environmental protection, clause 10.1 in Bill C-31 is a new clause that deals with environmental effects but it is full of loopholes. It gives the Export Development Corporation board total arbitrary discretion. I will read now from the section itself. It states:
(c) establish exceptions specifically or by any class, as defined by the Board, to the Corporation's obligation to make the determination.
That determination is with respect to adverse environmental impacts. It could exempt an entire category without any oversight whatsoever. This makes a mockery of any meaningful environmental assessment under the legislation.
Instead, we proposed, along with the many NGOs that appeared before the committee, that environmental criteria, including standards and processes, should have been included in the legislation and that a regulation on the environmental assessment process for the EDC should have been developed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Once again, in December 1999, the foreign affairs committee made a similar recommendation that made it very clear that there should be far more openness to environmental criteria being included in the legislation. No such thing was done. There is not a single word about it in Bill C-31.
Even if the Export Development Corporation finds that a project does have, in the words of the section, adverse environmental effects despite the implementation of mitigation measures, the board can approve funding for the project in any event. Even if it accepts that there will be a significant adverse impact on the environment, it can fund a project despite that.
When we look at some of the projects that have been funded, such as some of the Candu reactor projects, including the Cernavoda project in Romania and in China, we have very serious concerns about those, just as we have concerns about the Three Gorges dam project in China and a number of other projects that the EDC has seen fit to fund despite very destructive environmental and social impacts. That is why we proposed those amendments.
I would note as well that the auditor general's report released in May was a damning indictment of the EDC's failure to implement its own environmental framework. It had an existing environmental framework in place but according to the auditor general's report it correctly implemented its own internal environmental framework in only 2 out of the 26 projects that were reviewed. That is why we as New Democrats have called for the Export Development Corporation to be placed under the framework of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. There is litigation currently underway challenging the decisions with respect to the Three Gorges dam. I for one hope that the litigation ultimately will be successful.
The final area of concern is with respect to human rights and core labour standards. We recommended in the committee, supported by the Bloc Quebecois which made a similar recommendation, that the purpose of the EDC be changed to include a requirement that it respond to international business opportunities in a manner consistent with Canada's international obligations.
Is it really such a revolutionary thing to ask that the Export Development Corporation, which is accountable to Canadian taxpayers and owned by the people of Canada, respect and honour the international commitments that Canada has undertaken, whether it be the international covenant on civil and political rights; the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights; our international environmental commitments; or our ILO commitments on core labour standards?
When Warren Allmand, the director of rights and democracy, appeared before the committee, he pointed out the same thing and made the same recommendation, that we should be honouring and EDC should be required to honour in its operations those international obligations.
Here again was a recommendation of the foreign affairs committee, the same committee that studied the bill and recommended in its December 1999 report, of which I have a copy here, that we explicitly make reference in the legislation to our international commitments to human rights, core labour standards and other key areas, including the environment.
I have a copy of the press release that was issued by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on December 16, 1999. The committee stated the following:
The Committee recommends, as an overarching provision, adding to the Export Development Act clear Parliamentary guidelines for EDC supported activities and transactions so as to ensure that these both deliver benefits to Canadians and meet Canada’s international commitments and obligations, including those related to environmentally sustainable development and human rights.
What happened between December 1999 and October 2001? The same committee rejected an amendment proposé par le Bloc québécois, proposé par moi pour le NPD.
They rejected an amendment in the identical wording that we had accepted and unanimously recommended in December 1999. I say shame on the Liberal members of that committee for not being prepared to stand up for the original recommendation that was made by their own committee.
Once again the bill is profoundly flawed in that respect as well. There is no commitment whatsoever to honour those international obligations and no commitment whatsoever with respect to the important issue of establishing an ombudsperson within the EDC. For those reasons my colleagues and I oppose the legislation.
We want to raise a broader question today. What the EDC has said is that it is prepared to protect commercial interests. We have heard this same argument with respect to trade deals. We know that under NAFTA corporate interests are protected by chapter 11, the investor state provision. We know that under the WTO the interests of patent holders and multinational pharmaceutical companies are accepted under the so-called TRIPS agreement, even when that has an obvious detrimental and in some cases devastating impact on the availability of affordable drugs to fight HIV-AIDS and malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, India and elsewhere.
Why is it that the Liberal government and its allies in the Canadian Alliance on this issue are prepared to defend the rights of multinational pharmaceutical drug companies but are not prepared to defend the basic rights of workers around the world? They are not prepared to defend the environment, to defend indigenous peoples, to defend human rights. Why the double standard?
I might just say parenthetically that many in developing countries are asking why the double standard with respect to patent rights. We have seen the spectacle of the Minister of Health recently being prepared to override patent rights of the Bayer corporation in a minute because of a possible threat of anthrax in Canada. Frankly we as New Democrats welcome that decision.
People in developing countries are asking if this is the same government that is prepared to defend the multinational pharmaceutical companies under the TRIPS agreement when they try to say they need the right to protect their patents on drugs to fight HIV and AIDS. What hypocrisy. What a double standard with respect to multinational pharmaceutical companies. If it is good enough for Canada, it is good enough for the poor in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, India and around the world.
In closing I want to point to one very real, powerful, human example as to why there has to be fundamental changes in the workings of the EDC and why Bill C-31 falls far short of what is acceptable.
In 1999 an indigenous Embera Katio leader from Colombia, Kimy Pernia, appeared before the foreign affairs committee. I was there when he gave evidence. At that time he provided testimony about the impact of the EDC supported Urra hydroelectric dam in northern Colombia. Kimy testified eloquently before a committee about how Embera land and crops were being flooded by the dam. Fish stocks upriver from the dam were eliminated, robbing the Embera of the mainstay of their diet. Vast areas of stagnant water were created, bringing mosquitoes and epidemics of malaria and dengue to Embera communities.
Kimy testified that this dam was built without ever consulting any of the indigenous communities living in the area that would be affected. This was a violation at the time of both the Colombian constitution and international human rights agreements. The EDC financed a portion of this dam. There was no consultation whatsoever with the indigenous peoples that were most directly affected.
Kimy also told our committee that day that speaking out about these things would put his life in danger in Colombia and that four other Embera leaders had already been killed by paramilitary forces for challenging the negative impacts of that dam.
Tragically Kimy's prediction proved to be accurate. On June 2 of this year Kimy Pernia was abducted by paramilitary gunman in Colombia. Since then we have no way of knowing where he is. There has been absolutely no news about his whereabouts. Since he has disappeared there have been other killings and continued threats against Embera communities.
It is clear that the dam, a project the EDC chose to invest in despite the opposition of the local indigenous communities, has exacerbated the violence that already existed there.
That is another reason we wanted to see included in the legislation a requirement that the EDC operate in a manner which would be consistent with our international obligations in areas such as the universal declaration of human rights, the UN covenants I mentioned, and the ILO declarations on core labour standards.
If that kind of assessment had been done in Colombia perhaps that terrible project would not have been funded. We oppose Bill C-31. We believe that in the key areas of transparency, environmental protection and respect for human rights core labour standards the bill falls far short. For that reason we will be voting against the bill at third reading.
Export Development Act
Antoine Dubé Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC
Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas for his speech. His concerns for human rights date back many years. He addressed a number of points in his speech.
Before asking my question, I would like to make some comments. I represent the riding of Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, a riding in which is located a company called Davie Industries. Despite a bankruptcy last Wednesday, there is an economic recovery project under way.
When the Minister for International Trade is questioned about projects submitted to the EDC, he or his assistants always reply “We cannot speak of them, because that is a crown corporation”. They are, when it comes down to it, merely required to table an annual report in the House. There is always the aspect of confidentiality. When the hon. member refers to the access to information aspect, I find it vital to democracy for people to be kept informed.
In closing, let us recall that Davie did eventually obtain something from the EDC, the famous Spirit of Columbus platform, after two years, when the work on it was completely done. Examination of the project took two years. I assumed that they were probably busy looking at the human rights aspect, and if it respected the environment, and the like.
Finally, I realized that was not the case. It is even worse with the changes. The corporation is not even subject to the international treaties Canada has signed. This is inconceivable. There is nothing in writing. The amendment proposed by the hon. member for Joliette was refused. So there is still the matter of transparency, environmental problems and the like.
I would ask the hon. member, with his lengthy parliamentary experience, he who says he does not understand how the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade could have changed its mind in its report, what in his opinion are the possible responses he has in mind that would cast some light on it for me, with my lesser experience in foreign trade. In my opinion, it is inconceivable. The government will not give us a reply on this.
What, according to him, are the reasons the government side is behaving in this way, doing such an about turn in its position?
In the space of only a few months, the committee members changed their position, surely under someone's influence. I would like to hear some hypotheses from him on this.
Export Development Act
Svend Robinson Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Madam Speaker, unfortunately I cannot answer the hon. member's question. It is an excellent question but it should be put to the Liberal members who sit on the committee and who completely changed their position between December 1999 and today.
I do not know and I do not understand why they are not prepared to accept the same recommendation. It is not revolutionary. It provides that the EDC must comply with its international obligations regarding the environment and human rights.
When I read the recommendations made by other witnesses, I can only assume that major Canadian companies said that they did not want to be forced to accept these obligations. Perhaps this is what explains the Liberals change of attitude, since they are funded by these same companies. As to whether the Liberals yielded to the pressure exerted by these corporations, I do not know. Is there another answer? The question should be put to the Liberals.
Export Development Act
Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-31, an act to amend the Export Development Act. It makes a number of other amendments which I will go through.
The Minister for International Trade tabled amendments to the Export Development Act. There are a number of them, including changing the name of the corporation to Export Development Canada. There is nothing too substantive in that regard, but I should like to talk about some of the more substantive changes. I should also like to spend some time at the end talking about the Canada account.
First I will go to some of the proposed changes. One amendment would enable the board of directors to delegate its powers and duties to committees that it may establish other than the executive committee. Right now 13 of the 15 board members are currently appointed by the Minister for International Trade. The remaining two, the chairman and the president, are appointed by the Prime Minister.
These appointments, all very partisan political appointments, are the people responsible for formulating the current practices of the EDC. We have political appointments. There is the patronage we have seen in the past and now an unelected board wants to delegate its powers and duties to one level down. I think it is incredibly questionable. Instead I would suggest that the board should come before a parliamentary committee and be held accountable instead of further divesting its responsibilities and powers to another partisan appointed committee.
The 15 member board is appointed by the Prime Minister and the Minister for International Trade, which I think is wrong. They should be looking at its focus. Recently Patrick Lavelle, chairman of the EDC, called for more independence for crown corporations and agencies such as the EDC, stating the objective of naming directors should be to “get the best people, no matter where they come from”.
Mr. Lavelle has suggested the EDC move toward privatization, noting that there is a culture of secrecy in the government bureaucracies, “an inherent believability in federal crowns that information is power and increasing its release will just generate unwarranted criticism”.
We are dealing with taxpayer money. This is all about accountability. Yes, one in four jobs in Canada is a direct result of our exports. Some 43% of our GDP solely depends on exports. However the funding that goes out from EDC has to be fully accountable. It has to be transparent.
When we have the chairman of the EDC saying that the power of the federal crowns in releasing information will only generate unwarranted criticism, we have to question where these types of things should be addressed. Of course they have not been in this legislation.
Furthermore he is recommending that the Prime Minister create a cabinet post that would make one minister responsible for overseeing all crown corporations, with a parliamentary committee established to provide oversight. On another note he mentions that crown directors should perhaps face the same liability as private sector directors.
Of course this is coming from somebody who has worked very closely with the EDC as the chairman and has seen this firsthand, probably better than most. These are the types of suggestions that he has come forward with. Yet there is no mention of any of them in the legislation. It does not address any of these issues.
In light of Mr. Lavelle's words, the latest addition to this haven for patronage appointment is former Senator Bernie Boudreau who was named by the PMO last month to a plumb post as a director of the EDC. It is just another flagrant example of patronage on the part of the government.
There has to be more accountability with crown corporations, something which is evidently lacking at present.
The present government agrees that EDC should “publicly demonstrate its accountability by reflecting the full range of public policy concerns in its activities and should introduce appropriate transparency measures concerning its activities”.
The Export Development Corporation is immune from access to information because it is not covered under the act. We are dealing with billions of dollars of taxpayer money and it is immune from any type of access to information request to make sure that we have more accountability.
I was going to call quorum, Madam Speaker, because I did not see any government members. However I apologize because I see one now. I thought I was speaking to an empty House.
Export Development Act
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)
I am sure the hon. member, being in his third term, knows that we do not mention the absence or presence of any members on any side of the House. If he would like to have a quorum call, that is his right under the rules of the House.
Export Development Act
Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Madam Speaker, this is about accountability and transparency. One suggestion proposed by the auditor general was that the design and implementation of a directive be established by the board at least once every five years. I know there will be measures in the legislation for these type of reviews, but once every five years is not good enough. These reviews should be more often than that, whether it is every year or two years.
We are dealing with billions of dollars of taxpayer money. There has to be accountability. The members board controlling the funds are politically appointed. I am not suggesting that they are not doing a good job in a lot of their work, but there has to be accountability.
I find it completely unacceptable that Export Development Canada, or Export Development Corporation as it is now known, is immune from the Access to Information Act. Nonetheless a study prepared for the federal government found that crown corporations, including the EDC, should be subject to access to information since access laws encourage organizations to be “demonstrably worthy of public trust”.
The study notes that the reasons for crown corporations, such as EDC, to be excluded from the laws are unclear and suggests that an agency should be subject to the law if the government appoints more than half of its governing body. As I pointed out earlier, the 50 member board is appointed by the Minister for International Trade and the Prime Minister.
We are looking for is greater accountability and transparency. What has the government done with its legislation? It is now giving powers to a politically appointed board to appoint further committees of its choice. The committees would not be appointed by parliament nor would they be accountable to parliament. The board would divest its responsibilities to further the committees, and I find that completely unacceptable.
Another amendment would require the EDC to determine whether projects would have adverse environmental affects. I acknowledge this is important, although I question whether this is the place for that. It has an environmental review process now, and we have to be committed to ensuring that we protect the environment for future generations.
The mandate of the EDC is to assist Canadian corporations with exports and access to other markets. In light of the recent events of September 11, with an economy that is beyond fragile and that is in serious decline, there has probably never been a more important time for EDC to ensure it fulfills its mandate where needed.
Canada's trade with the United States is $1.4 billion U.S. a day. I have been told that exports between Canada and the United States are off some $200 million to $300 million a day since September 11. We are talking 10% to 15% out of our economies, which is a huge amount. Again, if there has ever been a time for EDC to fulfill its mandate, it is now. I see nothing in the legislation that strengthens this area.
In May this year the report of the auditor general gave failing grades to 24 of 26 projects backed by the Export Development Corporation. To add insult to injury, the EDC decided it would not make public details of three of the projects judged to have been improperly assessed under the corporation's environmental review process.
The new environmental changes, and I understand they are voluntary, are very questionable.
However, it is even more telling when it comes to accountability and transparency. The EDC unilaterally decided not to release the details of three of these projects for “good, legitimate reasons”. That was what we are told without know what the reasons were. We will never know any of the details of these three projects.
Again, EDC has argued that these are business transactions and businesses have to be protected for patent reasons or whatever the case may be.
I would argue that these businesses are approaching a crown corporation, in essence the taxpayer, for financial assistance for these projects. That being the case, that changes the circumstances completely. If they need taxpayer dollars and assistance, then they have to be accountable and more transparent. They should be open to access to information requests. If they have business practices or information that could hurt future business opportunities and they does not want to divulge whatever that information may be, maybe they should rethink asking for taxpayer money.
The crown corporation is supposedly striving to rid itself of this secretive image. Yet it is well known for its lack of transparency and willingness to fund projects of which other agencies stay clear.
I want to come back to the Canada account. So people understand, there are two accounts with Export Development Corporation, or Export Development Canada as it will now known. There is the corporate account to which businesses apply under the general rules. They have to have proper credit ratings to meet those practices.
Then there is the Canada account, also known as the political account. This is for companies that would not qualify under the corporate account. If they do not have the right credit risk, the right business plans or whatever it may be to access funds from the corporate account, they go to the Canada account. The Canada account is basically a cabinet account where the Government of Canada interferes and advises the EDC that it would like something approved.
There have been some examples. Again, the most obvious one, and the public is aware of it because it has been in the press, is the recent Bombardier transactions to the tune of $3.7 billion in loan guarantees. In fairness to the government, they were not actual subsidies but loan guarantees.
Admittedly, Bombardier was facing unfair business practices. It was at risk of losing to Embraer, which was engaging in unfair trade practices. It was important to Canada and our economy that we maintain these jobs in Canada and that Bombardier continue to be a world leader in the manufacture of regional aircraft. As a result of September 11, there is even a greater market for smaller regional aircraft.
The point I am making is that there are many other industries that face unfair trade practices. Probably right now no other industry has more problems than the softwood lumber industry. It is facing unfair trade practices, not unlike Bombardier did with Embraer. Trade tariffs of 19.3% are being imposed on the industry by the U.S. administration. The case has been to various international trade tribunals on three separate occasions. Canada has won every single time. However, through U.S. domestic legislative, these tariffs have been imposed on the softwood industry in Canada.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that 45% of that industry is in British Columbia or over $10 billion a year. When we add that kind of tariff, we are talking over $1 billion a year out of the British Columbia economy alone.
Tomorrow we will be hit with the anti-dumping tariff. Canada has one industry that is getting loan guarantees under the EDC Canada account and I understand why. However tens of thousands of jobs, and the number is probably in the area of 40,000 to 50,000, in the softwood lumber industry right across Canada have been lost. Those people are getting absolutely no assistance from the government.
The government granted the $2.1 billion loan guarantee under the Canada account for the Air Wisconsin deal. In January I asked the minister if this was a new policy of the government. When an industry in Canada is faced with unfair trade practices, I asked him if the government would start providing subsidies or loan guarantees or match the unfair trade practices. Using the words of the government, I was told that all it was going to do was match the unfair trade practices of Brazil. That begs the question, does that become the policy of the government? I do not think that is the best policy.
Right now the forest industry in Canada is facing horrific job losses. We are told that tomorrow it is going to be faced with an anti-dumping suit anywhere from 5% to 15% on top of the 19.3%. The forest industry is facing somewhere between a 25% and 35% tariff. This issue has been through international trade tribunals and Canada has won every time. We have heard the minister say time and time again that officials are meeting with our American friends to the south on the issue. The reality is that this process could take two or three years and there will be no forest industry left in British Columbia or elsewhere in Canada for that matter. The industry will be struggling to stay alive.
I stress that the Canada account is very political. In summary we will not be supporting this legislation primarily because it does absolutely nothing to deal with the issue of accountability and transparency. This crown corporation spends billions of taxpayers' dollars. It has a budget in the billions of dollars and has control over where the money goes. It is immune from access to information. That needs to change. The government thought it more important to change the name rather than bring about accountability and transparency. We believe that is wrong and we will be voting against it.
Export Development Act
John Williams St. Albert, AB
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on Bill C-31.
The bill deals with changes to the Export Development Act and the Export Development Corporation and the way we help our exporters participate in the global economy we now find ourselves in. Unfortunately as we all know the economy of the country and the economy of the world have been taking a bit of a knock on the head since September 11 and perhaps even before that.
Any time September 11 is mentioned we think of those who suffered and died in New York and Washington. We should never make light of what happened there. However it does have some ongoing effects on our economy and these are things we have to discuss.
The Minister of Finance is going to have to bring down a budget soon. He is trying to stay away from that awful D word, the deficit. Perhaps it will be looming large again in our vocabulary but we certainly hope not.
The Export Development Corporation's role is to help small, medium and large exporters obtain sales abroad for Canadian goods and Canadian services. To ensure that our Canadian suppliers get paid, they can obtain insurance through the Export Development Corporation to guarantee that they will get payment. On a normal transaction that is not a bad thing. We ensure many different things these days. We wonder why it has to be a crown corporation that does that and not the private sector.
It used to be that mortgages had to be insured by the government and then the private sector took over that. Why can we not think about allowing the private sector to do it in the export market as well? That of course would bring to bear what is called the Canada account.
The member who spoke previously talked about the Canada account which is a political account. Team Canada sometimes likes to slide all those great big sales that it announces to justify its trips around the world through the Export Development Corporation. In the final analysis sometimes Canadian taxpayers end up picking up the tab not only for the trip around the world but also for those great sales promotions that team Canada said it had achieved but it did not quite work out that way.
I would like to think that we would get away from these politically motivated deals. The governor in council, the cabinet, can dictate to the corporation saying it has signed a deal to sell a Candu reactor to some rather nefarious country it would rather not deal with but it is good for Canadian jobs. It tells the corporation to sign the deal and guarantees the deal. Lo and behold if sometime later something goes wrong and we do not get paid, the Canadian taxpayer gets to pick up the tab.
It works in much the same way as the Canadian Wheat Board which sells wheat and grain around the world all guaranteed by the Government of Canada. When we look at the financial statements of the Canadian Wheat Board, it has never had a bad debt since it started. The Government of Canada pays every bad debt that it incurs. We never know exactly how much that is costing us. The wonderful statements made by the wheat board say, “Don't worry. We get paid”. It is the Canadian taxpayer who quite often pays for the wheat that we presumably sell elsewhere.
Part of the bill deals with trying to require the Export Development Corporation to build in some environmental criteria. We recognize that the environmental laws are different in different parts of the world. To apply a Canadian standard and say that we are not going to finance a project in country x unless it meets a Canadian environmental standard may be totally inappropriate. The environmental standards would be different in that country and there would be a total mismatch of rules and regulations and the whole thing would fall apart. It is going to require the Export Development Corporation to try to develop some criteria to ensure that not only the country involved but all the inhabitants of the world benefit and that the environment does not suffer too dramatically because of the project that is being anticipated.
The auditor general's report produced in May 2001, just a few months ago, reports on the Export Development Corporation and its environmental review framework. That is what the bill talks about in some degree.
On page 5 the report talks about the important gaps in public consultation and disclosure. We are talking about a crown corporation. A crown corporation is owned by the taxpayers and has to report to the taxpayers. On the first page of part 1 the auditor general says there are important gaps in public consultation and disclosure. That is right at the front.
That is typical of the government. Every time we turn around there is something it is trying to hide, be it the shawinigate papers we could not get our hands on, or just yesterday I was reading in the newspaper how the privacy commissioner is trying to get a hold of the Prime Minister's agenda, not the contents of what he discussed, but whom he met with. Even that is a state secret. It is little wonder that the Export Development Corporation is saying that it wants to be part of the same mould.
The auditor general is right in saying that the elite of the corporation will have to act quickly to address issues of transparency and that there is lack of policies and procedures at the project level to govern public consultation and disclosure of environmental information. These are serious allegations. The auditor general, our officer of parliament, is saying it is time for EDC to wake up and start being more open and transparent and tell us what it is actually doing because we the taxpayers are the shareholders.
In paragraph 10 on page 6 under the heading “Is the framework operating effectively?” the auditor general says:
In most cases we found significant differences between the framework design and its operation. In those cases, employees seem to have viewed the framework more as a guidance, to be interpreted according to the circumstances of each project, than as an important risk management tool that they were expected to apply.
Who is minding the store? If there is no openness and transparency, the institution of parliament which is supposed to be holding it to account does not have the information. Therefore we cannot do our job properly and it gets away with anything it wants to get away with.
Paragraph 22 on page 8 states:
Unlike federal departments and agencies, the Export Development Corporation is not subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act or to the Access to Information Act. Unlike private sector financial institutions, it is not subject to regulation by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, does not pay income tax, is not required to pay dividends, and can borrow at favourable rates on the credit of the Government of Canada.
If it can do all those things, we would think the least it could do is tell us what it is up to so we could keep an eye on what the organization is doing. But we all know that transparency is not the watch word of the government.
Paragraph 27 on transparency, public disclosure and accountability states:
The government acknowledged that the information the corporation currently discloses provides few details.
What are we really trying to do here? Are we a dictatorship or are we an open democracy? I thought we were an open democracy. It goes on to state:
It noted, however, that the corporation was making significant strides toward making more information on its activities available to the public.
Well, we are still waiting. The litany continues on. In paragraph 34 which deals with developing a framework for risk management it states:
To provide the public with a better understanding of the corporation's environmental practices. Although the corporation had been assessing environmental risks of projects for some time, it had not kept the public informed on the nature or extent of its analysis.
We are right back to square one. Whatever it wants to do it does behind closed doors. It does it incompetently or not at all. As long as the taxpayer is kept in the dark it thinks it is home free.
That is not the way it should be. Given that it relied on the environmental information provided by project proponents for its risk assessments, the corporation needed to communicate to participants what information it required and how it would be used.
Going through the report, there are many instances of problems in the organization. In paragraph 56 at page 14 the auditor general points out that there are important gaps in public consultation and disclosure. It states:
The key gaps in the design of the Corporation's Framework are in transparency--
Through the entire report transparency or the lack thereof is the key. The organization needs serious review to open itself up to the public. It needs reform.
Export Development Act
The hon. member for St. Albert has great prescience. He will have, however, nine minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks when the debate on this matter is resumed.
Statements By Members
Peter Adams Peterborough, ON
Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge the federal government, especially Health Canada, to continue its fight against tobacco. In particular we must prevent young people from becoming addicted. All the evidence shows that those who try tobacco when young are likely to be addicted for life. Addicted young people will live shortened lives. Forty-five thousand premature deaths occur each year from the smoking of tobacco.
Canada's new tobacco labelling regulations have been widely praised by the international community. The products information labelling regulations passed by the House are the strongest in the world.
Let us fully implement this new health warning system and help all those working to reduce tobacco use in communities across Canada including Peterborough.
Statements By Members
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, today is PSA day on the Hill so there are bowls of walnuts in the opposition and government lobbies, a reminder to male MPs, senators, staff and the media that they can go to room 200 in the West Block until 4 p.m. today for a PSA blood test which can detect prostate cancer.
I remind the front benches on both sides of the House that ministers, critics and leaders of the opposition parties, including the Bloc Quebecois, are not immune to prostate cancer. This cancer which affects one man in eight does not care which party we belong to or where we are in the pecking order.
Thanks to Abbott Diagnostics which is supplying the staff and materials for the PSA testing, and to internationally recognized prostate cancer researcher Dr. Yves Fradet who gave today's seminar, we have had a unique opportunity to become better informed about this life threatening disease.
Mr. Speaker, do not let me find out tomorrow that you did not go for your test today. It is in room 200 in the West Block until 4 p.m.
Communities in Bloom
Statements By Members
October 30th, 2001 / 2 p.m.
Shawn Murphy Hillsborough, PE
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take this opportunity to congratulate the city of Charlottetown for placing first in the national Communities in Bloom competition.
Prince Edward Island's capital city, the birthplace of Confederation, was recently awarded this prize in recognition of the city's effort to improve civic pride, environmental responsibility and beautification through the participation of both the residential and business communities.
The Communities in Bloom program, run by a not for profit organization, has Canadian municipalities compete with similar size cities in improving such areas as heritage conservation, environmental effort, community involvement, and landscaping and floral arrangement.
Judges of the Communities in Bloom program indicated they were most impressed with the involvement at all levels within the community and Charlottetown's efforts to maintain history through various heritage initiatives. As a result of the efforts of all residents Charlottetown is now recognized as one of the most beautiful and clean municipalities in Canada and has been given the prestigious Five Blooms designation.
City staff and citizens of both the business and residential districts should be proud that their dedication and hard work have earned Canada's birthplace of Confederation the national first place Communities in Bloom title.