Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak on Bill C-32, an act to amend the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
A number of my colleagues have addressed it over the past few days. On December 12, 2003, behind closed doors, the Governor General in Council decreed that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade would be split. We are talking about an administrative decision that went almost completely unnoticed. Let me remind hon. members that December 12, 2003, was no less than the day the Prime Minister was sworn in. Now, this decision must be endorsed here in Parliament.
With the tabling earlier this week of Bill C-31, an act to establish the Department of International Trade, and the tabling of Bill C-32 today, many of my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois have set the tone of the debate by denouncing this unintelligible decision. Today I am, of course adding my voice to theirs.
For more than three years, I had the pleasure of working with the member for Joliette, the Bloc Québécois critic for international trade and globalization. Today, among other things, I am deputy critic for globalization. Therefore, I can say in all modesty that we know a bit about international trade and globalization. Over the years, we had the opportunity to discuss with all major organizations and to follow all the debates held in the House of Commons.
I can assure you that I agree with my learned colleague from Joliette, who stood this week and today to denounce what he called a totally absurd measure. Absurd indeed, because the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself, speaking before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on November 29, 2004, was unable to explain clearly why it was necessary to create two separate departments.
But what we understood from his testimony is that it was likely the Prime Minister himself who made the decision, against the advice of various people he had consulted. Now, who did he consult and when? It remains a mystery.
The same foreign affairs minister said that the Prime Minister, after having supposedly discussed the issue with various people, “made a different decision”. I am quoting here what the foreign affairs minister said on November 29. In other words, the Prime Minister went against the tide. It is true that he is a shipowner and knows something about boats. But the captain is going off course in this case. As we know, it is unfortunately not the first time this happens.
Today, we are faced with a fait accompli. Fortunately, we still have the possibility of voting against this bill and I take this opportunity to invite all my colleagues from other parties to seriously consider this issue. Others have done so, for example, the members of the Retired Heads of Missions Association. This association is made up of nearly 300 former ambassadors, consuls and high commissioners, who wrote to the chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, last December, to tell him that they are against those two bills.
I quote from the letter.
[...] we were forced to conclude that our foreign service is on the verge of being dismantled. [...] we believe that the decision to split the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in to is a regrettable one and it is a step backward.
For the past 30 years, foreign affairs and international trade have gone hand in hand; indeed, the latter has become a tool to promote the former.
The Liberal government now wants to ditch all of that, while we, members of the Bloc Québécois, have been advocating for a long time a globalization with a human face, a notion we will apply when Quebec becomes a country. The Liberals are creating a two-headed hydra: each head will be ignorant of that the other does.
The Department of International Trade will deal exclusively with foreign investment in Canada, investment abroad, and the development of trade. When issues relating to human rights, the environment or labour law will be at stake, we will wash our hands of it.
On the other hand, the Department of Foreign Affairs will make international commitments on behalf of Canada without holding the reins of international economic relations. Everybody will pass the buck with regard to human rights, labour law or the environment when Canada invests abroad, for example.
We all know Export Development Canada, one of the tools used by the government to enable exporters and investors to gain access to about 200 markets in the world, including about 100 in developing countries.
If the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is split in two, we wonder how the Minister of International Trade will ensure that EDC respects democratic rights and that Canadian projects in those developing countries are in compliance with, for instance, the International Labour Organization conventions and those relating to the environment.
The minister's response will be to put the ball in the foreign affairs minister's court. This minister will then toss it back to the international trade minister, saying that henceforth he will not address international economic relations issues.
Bill C-32 clearly takes the coordination of international economic relations away from the foreign affairs department. This is clearly spelled out in paragraph 7(2) of the bill.
This situation will be all the more catastrophic since EDC already has a special status. At times, we wonder whether it is not a secret organization. It is not subject to the Access to Information Act or the Environmental Assessment Act, and it is not regulated by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions .
It will be even more difficult to keep tabs on EDC. We will not know if our values and priorities are going to be respected in projects financed by the crown corporation in foreign countries. With Bills C-32 and C-31, of course, the government strips its foreign policy of its economic and trade leverage. But, as I said, the two are completely indissociable, no matter what the Liberals think. The Liberals should remember, however, that their own leader, the Prime Minister of Canada, went to China recently. Every time our head of state goes to China, what do journalists ask him? Two things: essentially, if he discussed human rights issues with Chinese leaders and, obviously, if he signed any trade deals. These are the questions that our leaders are always asked when they visit, in particular, developing countries and countries were human rights are partially or totally abused
China is frequently mentioned because of all the economic problems it might cause. Obviously, there are not just problems. It is good to do business with countries such as China. This is a very compelling example. China is a country with which we are developing trade ties. Despite the harm it has done to our clothing, textile and furniture industries, to name just a few, we must obviously draw maximum advantage of this huge market, which is now open.
Okay for trade, but what about that country's human rights record? No one here is unaware of the human rights abuses and medieval working conditions in China. With the creation of two separate departments, the fear is that trade will take precedence over humanitarian issues.
Tying trade to human rights has been standard practice for over 30 years. Today, more than ever, a country's foreign policy is closely linked to its trade policy. How can we better the lives of Chinese workers—I am using China as an example, but it could just as easily be another country, such as Bangladesh—if human rights are no longer part of discussions on trade? I would really like the government to explain this secret decision to us, which it has yet to do, as was said earlier. In any event, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has not satisfied us that he himself was convinced of the merits of the decision.
There are two major problems with Bills C-31 and C-32. With respect to the first, as I said, trade is an essential tool for countries in determining foreign policy. With respect to the second, human resources are currently managed consistently at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, since all employees posted abroad answer to the same administrative unit. Separating the two entities would only lead to inconsistent management of human resources.
By creating two separate departments, how can the government now integrate its concerns and, naturally, the concerns of Quebeckers and Canadians about respect for human rights and the resolution of conflicts, for example, into its trade policy or selection the criteria established by Export Development Canada?
We are still waiting for the foreign policy review. Even before the results of this review become available, and without holding public consultations, considering Parliament's contribution or seeking the public's opinion, the government has decided that it should separate Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
We are naturally very anxious to see the changes made, because the present situation at Foreign Affairs is not ideal. I have myself had a highly negative experience, but nothing compared to what three people from my riding had to go through. They were in Thailand and got hit by the infamous tsunami. They managed to get to the Canadian embassy there, hurt, in great distress and without passports or money. They were treated terribly. The reception was cold to say the least, and one of them had to create a scene in order to even be allowed in. He could not go to a hotel because he had no money. He could not go anywhere except the Canadian embassy, which is considered Canadian territory and supposed to be a place that welcomes refugees and people from Canada who are in difficulty. That was anything but the case.
The department is definitely at fault here. Its policy in the case of disasters must be reviewed. Embassies are not there just to organize nice little cocktail parties and receive VIPs. They are also there to help people in distress. Fortunately, these things happen very rarely but, when they do, our embassies have a duty to treat Canadian citizens with all the respect that is their due.
We have also witnessed the minister's shilly-shallying about the missile defence shield, and the contradictions of his colleague at National Defence.
Then there is international aid. This, of course, has not yet reached the 0.7% of GDP mark, despite the promises made to Bono. Speaking of Bono, one wonders if he is not behind the PM's idea to split the department in two. I think not, because this is a man greatly concerned with humanitarian interests, so I do not think he would take such a position.
Those are my feelings about Bill C-32, and I encourage my colleagues to oppose both C-31 and C-32.