Mr. Speaker, first, I want to pay tribute to André d'Allemagne who was not only a friend, but a colleague of mine. We both taught at the Collège Maisonneuve for over eight years.
He recently passed away at the age of 71. He was a pioneer of the sovereignty movement and an educator, not only in his capacity as a teacher but also at the political level. Quebec has lost a first class citizen to whom I wanted to pay tribute today.
This being my maiden speech in the House, I would also like to thank the people of the riding of Joliette for the trust they put in me last November 27. I can assure them today, as I did during the election campaign, that I will defend the interests of Quebec and of my fellow citizens of Joliette.
Introducing this motion today offers me the first opportunity to ensure that their interests are defended. The motion reads as follows:
That this House demand that the government bring any draft agreement on the Free Trade Zone of the Americas before the House so that it may be debated and put to a vote before ratification by the Government of Canada.
From April 20 to 22, the 34 heads of state and of government of the Americas, with the exception of Cuba, will be holding the third summit of the Americas in Quebec City. This will be an extremely important event as far as the process of creating a free trade area of the Americas is concerned. The related agreement is slated for around 2005. Creation of a free trade area of the Americas is both an extraordinary challenge for all the states and peoples of the Americas and an extraordinary opportunity. It can, however, involve considerable risk.
Creation of a free trade area is far from being a guarantee, a cure-all, for all our woes, whether economic or social. This we have seen, moreover, with the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA area encompassing Canada, Quebec, the United States and Mexico. For example, its creation did not prevent the crisis of the peso and the widening of the social gap. In our societies—and this applies to Canada, the United States and Mexico— more and more people are living not only in poverty but in abject poverty. We must therefore be extremely vigilant in negotiating or creating these free trade areas, while still remaining open to the process.
This process must be the result of democratic debate. That is why the Bloc Quebecois, through me, is today introducing this motion, because we have concerns. We are concerned for Quebec's rights first, because obviously it is always troubling to see the federal government negotiate on behalf of Quebecers on the economic, social and cultural front. But we are also concerned for all Canadians and Quebecers as far as respect of social and environmental rights is concerned.
In the past our governments, and this is true for the federal government, but also for the U.S. and Mexican governments, were not vigilant or, I would say, were not overly concerned about the social, environmental, political and cultural consequences of these trade agreements.
As an unionist, I was able to follow these debates from the start, in the mid-eighties. I recall very well that in 1989—and the federal Liberals were by the way in agreement with us on that— we were not taking into account the fact that the negotiation of free trade agreements with the United States was going to have social and environmental implications. We can now see that. For example, Bill C-2 on employment insurance is a direct consequence, and this is not the only reason, of the free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico. We now know that our employment insurance plan reflects more or less what exists in most of the states in the U.S.
In 1989, during the negotiation of the free trade agreement with the United States, we did not want to recognize that there were social, environmental and cultural implications. In 1994, because of public pressure in Canada, Quebec, the United States and Mexico, governments were forced to adopt, at the same time as the North American Free Trade Agreement, side accords on environmental and labour standards. These accords were signed because of public pressure and pressure from parliamentarians, particularly in the United States.
Recently, in 2001, the Prime Minister made a speech in which he alluded to the possibility of introducing social clauses in the agreement. This is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. However, we must not give up. The public and parliamentarians must continue to exert pressure to ensure that the free trade agreement of the Americas will include clauses that protect our social and environmental rights and also Quebec's interests.
Canada and Quebec have open economies. We have a vested interest in trade liberalization. These agreements are also extraordinary opportunities for co-operation with countries from the south and even within our societies. However, this integration of the economies and of the markets must be controlled by introducing social clauses, particularly to protect labour rights.
Let us be clear. When we talk about protecting labour rights, we are not talking about standards. We are talking about fundamental rights that are recognized by the International Labour Organization, rights such as the banning of child labour, forced labour and discrimination, and the recognition of the freedom of association and of the right to collective bargaining.
How will each country in the Americas implement these rights? It will be up to them, based on their respective histories and cultures. I often give the example—and I will do it again here in the House—that in Canada, the United States and Quebec we recognize the freedom of association through very specific forms of union certification. In Mexico and in Latin American countries, this may be done in a different way. It is also done differently in Europe. The important thing is for governments to pledge to respect those fundamental rights in the way that will better suit these societies.
Likewise, the approach that we favour is not a punitive one. In this respect, Latin-American countries need not fear the emergence of a new form of social protectionism. It is rather by co-operation that we want to help those countries, as well as our own North-American countries, respect those rights. Let us not forget that we are in no position to lecture anyone. We sometimes have things to learn from others.
It is therefore a co-operative approach that we favour, not one of sanctions. The same applies for the environment. We have to ensure that the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas will clearly indicate the common desire of all the populations of the Americas to promote a sound and sustainable environment.
To that end, civil societies and parliamentarians have to play an active role in the negotiation process. The texts on which negotiations are based should be made available so that Quebecers and Canadians, as well as the members of the House, will be able to evaluate the validity and accuracy of the Canadian government's positions regarding what is being done in the free trade area of the Americas negotiation process.
It seems to me that we should have learned from what happened with the multilateral agreement on investment that was secretly negotiated for two years at the OECD. Sooner or later the basic texts will be made public. A citizen group is sure to release them. This will give rise to a negative reaction against the whole process, even though the process could have been well defined.
Transparency is therefore very important. So there is reason for concern, particularly with statements like the one made by the Minister for International Trade in the House on February 1.
As for the negotiating documents, obviously there are 34 parties to it. It is not up to Canada to share it if other countries do not want to share it. Canada would support sharing it at this stage. However our partners do not wish that. We will respect them.
We are extremely concerned that, even though we are only at the negotiating stage, already the Canadian government is not assuming a leadership role with respect to this minimum requirement of transparency. As for contradictory statements, we could add this one by Mr. Lortie, the Prime Minister's personal representative throughout the preparations for the summit of the Americas: “Too much transparency would be chaotic at this stage in the preparations”.
Is it possible to be too transparent? Is it possible to be too democratic? I do not think so. Parliamentarians must be able to debate these issues. That is why the Bloc Quebecois tabled this motion. We must ensure that the free trade area of the Americas agreement is discussed in the House. I urge the members of all political parties to ensure that we have some way of being able to evaluate the negotiations that will take place.
Recently, Mr. Chrétien stated—