Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.
I would first like to say that the charge by the Minister for International Trade disappoints me. I was fairly happy with the work he had done on transparency, work we had strongly encouraged him to do, we in the Bloc Quebecois, and all the participants in the civil society. I am prepared to acknowledge what he has done, except when he defends, as he has just done, his change in position on chapter 11. That disappoints me.
Let him explain it. Let him say that the United States would not listen, but let him say what he himself has always said. What he has just said today, unfortunately, is not supported by the facts, and by the repeated quotes we can show him. This concerns me, and I think the public too.
I have been told several times by various sources that the negotiators who worked out the NAFTA agreement and the famous chapter 11 never thought it would be interpreted the way it has been by the rather special and secret courts, which evaluate complaints lodged under chapter 11.
Even the negotiators did not think businesses would be so low minded, as some colleagues would put it, as to complain, with the astronomical figures they put forward, because they negotiated in little closed private clubs. Had they asked certain union people what they thought the businesses were capable of doing, they would have been enlightened. They would have made no mistake as to the possibility of expanding these texts in a direction contrary to public interest.
The problem is that, whatever the intention of those negotiators, now, chapter 11, with a number of cases pending—and we can be sure many cases will arise in the future—is tending to limit the ability of governments, at all levels, to make laws that defend public interest.
There are a number of fairly simple cases. For example, Metalclad Corporation, is a waste treatment company from California. It settled in Mexico and asked for a federal permit. The problem is that while it was building its plants, the public was totally opposed to such activities. The governor of the state had no choice but to order Metalclad to shut down its operations. Metalclad turned around, sued under chapter 11 and won. The whole thing cost $16 million to Mexico, which decided to appeal the ruling, and the appeal was heard in Vancouver.
This ruling is disturbing in a number of ways. I am mentioning one, but there are several. In that example, the federal government of Mexico had given its authorization, but the municipality had the authority to legislate, just like the state. By using its powers, the company had the right to sue.
If the government cannot see cases that could occur here, it is because it definitely does not want to see the obvious.
They are now defending chapter 11 without any reservations, when the Minister for International Trade himself had the common sense to say that he would not ratify it again, in its present form. The minister heard many people who also displayed common sense, including Pierre-Marc Johnson, the former Premier of Quebec, who is not a hothead and who told the committee that Canada should not use chapter 11 again, at the risk of experiencing very serious environmental problems. And we know how concerned people are about the environment.
What is extremely disturbing is that Canada, which has held various positions, just boasted about signing an agreement with Costa Rica. In an agreement with Costa Rica, Canada is the one calling the shots. This is not the United States, which is a strong country, with Canada trying to manage. With Costa Rica, it is Canada that has the upper hand.
In a agreement with Costa Rica, Canada is not in a weak position. It is not like in a agreement with the almighty United States, where Canada has to find a way to manage. With Costa Rica, Canada has the upper hand. Yet, the provision of chapter 11 can be found in the agreement with Costa Rica. Canada's position boils down to what is stipulated in chapter 11 of NAFTA.
The House will soon realize that opposition members are against this. Before going any further, we need to reconsider what we are about to do. Because we are about to give more power to companies and foreign corporations. Foreign corporations can file suits for discrimination, something local companies are unable to do. But let us not forget that, abroad, Canadian companies are foreign companies, and that we promote international exports not only for the big corporations, but also for smaller businesses.
At the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, important business people for whom exports have no secrets told us “It is not a market for small companies, because you stand to lose your shirt again and again”.
This is a very serious issue, and I want to thank the NDP for raising it, as we did previously, so that we could hold this debate. The important thing is for parliamentarians to be able to express their views before the agreement is signed. It is crucial.
I am going to introduce a private member's bill of which I am very proud, which was introduced earlier by the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry. This bill must become law. I am sure that there are government members who share our view, but whose hands are tied right now and who will be able to do nothing but talk among themselves and look sad, hoping that things are not as bad as some are saying.
What is really being decided right now is the future, not just of Quebecers and Canadians, but also, and even more so, of the citizens of Mexico and of Central and South America.