Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this morning's debate, which was initiated by the hon. member for Joliette, whom I congratulate, by the way, on his excellent work in connection with the whole FTAA issue.
I will begin by saying that I have some questions regarding the NDP member's criticism of all forms of free trade.
I have trouble understanding how the NDP, which claims to be progressive and to want to improve the general lot of the peoples of the three Americas, can object for even one instant to our being able to sign a co-operation agreement, a free trade agreement which, along with the appropriate mechanisms, social clauses, and policies for redistributing resources among the less fortunate countries, could improve people's living conditions.
I have never understood why the NDP was so opposed to the idea of free trade and misrepresented what Quebecers and Canadians really thought.
We are in favour of free trade but not under just any conditions. We are opposed to free trade, for example, if it is going to favour only major transnational companies. We are in favour of free trade because we are convinced that, at the end of the day, if the job is done well, if the government is able to show some openness, transparency and intelligence in its negotiations, everyone stands to gain.
So far, however, we have remained dissatisfied. Why so? Because we do not know what is going on with these negotiations. That is the purpose of the motion by my hon. colleague from Joliette.
The government must give us parliamentarians access. We are not elected without a purpose. If we are, it ought to shut down. Let it shut down parliament. If we are serving no purpose as parliamentarians, as representatives of the people, let it shut down this parliament. It is no longer appropriate, perhaps, in the context of globalization and the requirement for supranational forums.
Until we have proof to the contrary, however, parliamentarians are necessary. They are the representatives of the people. We cannot allow negotiations to be held on free trade agreements or the WTO multilateral plan without the public being brought into the process, without it being consulted, and without the elected representatives of the public being brought into the process to analyze the draft agreements and to authorize ratification by the government at the end of these negotiations.
I would like to return to a point raised by my colleague from Joliette on investments, on chapter 11. Of course, this is something one could hardly be against. Yesterday, I heard the Minister for International Trade say “We stood up for investors, in order to protect investments”. We never said we opposed protecting investments, but there must be conditions for protecting investments.
Chapter 11 in NAFTA could well be recycled in the agreement on the free trade area of the three Americas. It is a very dangerous business, given the governments' capacity to intervene in certain sectors. It is very dangerous as well because complaints could be lodged with the governments of the 34 countries when the free trade area of the three Americas is established, by major corporations. Under chapter 11 of NAFTA and their narrow interpretation of it, they could find a way to obtain compensation in the government's coffers, paid out of the taxes of the people of Quebec, Canada and the United States, as well. They find a way to get compensation for the potential profits they say they would have enjoyed had the government not been present in the market they wished to operate in.
It is serious enough to have raised some doubt in the mind of the Minister for International Trade, of the chief negotiator and of most experts who considered the question. So great is the concern that, not too long ago, the Minister for International Trade said that he would not sign an FTAA agreement if it contained provisions similar to those in NAFTA's chapter 11, which is already causing problems for the Canadian government. The problems are not insubstantial and I will come back to this in the final minutes of my speech.
Seventeen companies have already filed complaints under the environmental protection laws and are jointly claiming several billions of dollars in compensation from the Canadian government, based on a very broad interpretation of chapter 11 in connection with expropriation and unrealized potential profits.
On December 13 of last year, not ten years, but a few months ago, the Minister for International Trade said:
I will not sign a deal if it includes a chapter 11 equivalent. That is my position. I am very preoccupied with this.
He said he would not sign an FTAA agreement containing provisions equivalent to those in chapter 11.
The day before yesterday, at the end of the summit of the Americas, the Prime Minister said that he had no problem with chapter 11, despite the fact that 17 large corporations have filed suits against the Canadian government for compensation on the basis of a narrow interpretation of chapter 11. The Prime Minister did not see a problem. As we know only too well, this is not his money; it is taxpayers' money. The government is currently being sued for several billions of dollars. It is not concerned about how chapter 11 is being interpreted.
Yesterday, the Minister for International Trade gave us another interpretation. He said there was no problem with the wording, but that there could be some problems with the implementation.
We do not know where the government stands. In fact, there is a fourth position within the Canadian government. That position is stated on the Internet site and reads as follows:
Canada is not advocating the replication of NAFTA investor-state rules in the FTAA and has not supported the proposals made so far by other FTAA countries to include such a type of dispute settlement mechanism.
This is from the government's Internet site. Therefore I will repeat my question to the government. There are four government positions on chapter 11 on investment. Which is the right one?
Is it that of the Minister for International Trade, who said that he would not sign any free trade agreement involving the three Americas if it includes provisions similar to those found in chapter 11?
Is it the Prime Minister's position, who says there is no problem with chapter 11? According to him, there is no problem with that chapter but taxpayers could run into problems. Also the governments' ability to get involved in economic, social and cultural sectors, and even in health, could be compromised because of chapter 11. However the Prime Minister says there is no problem.
Is it the position stated on the Internet site? Is that the government's position, or is it the latest find of the Minister for International Trade? It is important to know that. This is why we need transparency. This is why we need to know.
For example, could the narrow definition found in chapter 11, which could be replicated in the FTAA, allow an American investor who is currently investing in health, because the private sector plays a significant role in health in the United States, to demand that governments withdraw from health, or that he be compensated, given that the profits which he could potentially make would be jeopardized because of a provision such as the one in chapter 11?
The free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico has only been in effect for three years and 17 complaints have already been filed. Seventeen court actions have been taken by major companies against the federal government, and this could end up costing Quebec and Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars.
Is this going to be extended to all 34 countries in the free trade area of the Americas? Is that what they have in mind? With an agreement covering three countries there have already been 17 suits by Canadian businesses against the federal government. When there are 34 countries, the potential number of businesses that could be launching suits against the state coffers, which could demand compensation, will be multiplied with such a limited definition.
Will the government presence in certain sectors also be at risk? Just taking the example of the Caisse de dépôt et de placement, could the Chase Manhattan Bank come along some day and say that the Caisse de dépôt et de placement, a semi-governmental body governed by Government of Quebec regulations and a statute, is preventing the bank from making a profit in the Canadian market? It could go as far as that.
Certain companies are involved in suits. For example, Ethyl is suing the Canadian government for $250 million, Metalclad, for $150 million. In all, when all the companies are combined, the figure is $17 billion.
We must question the capacity of the government to provide us with real information, to take a real position on fundamental questions, if only on this single issue which lays open to question the integrity of governmental tax bases and their ability to fund such areas as health. The lack of transparency must be challenged. This transparency must be demanded.
I propose an amendment to my colleague's motion:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “consulted” and substituting the following thereof: “before official ratification by the government, authorized by Parliament”.
I hope all my colleagues will support this motion which is so important for democracy, the future of parliamentarians and the well-being of civil society.