moved that Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address Bill C-260 this evening. It concerns international treaties to be adopted.
I remind this House that this is the third time the Bloc Québécois has presented such a bill in order to democratize treaty and international relations practices.
I recall that, in 1999, my former colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry, Daniel Turp, now a Parti Québécois MNA, presented Bill C-214, on which this bill is based to a large extent. The bill reached second reading, but, obviously, the Liberals opposed it.
In 2001, my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who supports my bill, also presented a similar bill. Her bill, C-313, used the wording of Mr. Turp's bill, but added a section providing for hearings to be held in committee with respect to treaties.
Bill C-313 harmonized how treaties are considered with how the House considers bills, meaning that treaties are treated—pardon the play on words—the same way bills are. We demanded that treaties be considered in committee. Unfortunately, the bill introduced by my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île never reached second reading.
Bill C-260 is identical to Bill C-313. What are the objectives of this bill? First of all, there is transparency. Our aim, by introducing this bill, is to ensure that treaties are tabled in the House and published so that this process is transparent.
Second, we want to make the process more democratic, by having the House of Commons vote to approve important treaties and by introducing a process of committee consultations similar to that for approving bills.
We also want to respect provincial jurisdiction because, currently, the federal government alone signs treaties and the provinces are not consulted, as we would like. In fact, consultations with the provinces would mean that the federal government could not use its authority to negotiate international treaties to give itself a role in jurisdictions other than its own.
The free trade agreement is a perfect example. Obviously, many areas are affected by the free trade agreement. Many provincial areas of jurisdiction are also affected. Culture is one example of an area we had to defend and which, fortunately, has not yet been affected by the free trade agreement.
For example, a new free trade agreement might be negotiated in the near future, and our partners might ask us to include education, culture, universities and so forth, although these are provincial responsibilities. So the provinces must be able to have their say, oppose such inclusions and have the right to veto, if necessary.
The fourth objective, is to adapt current practices of ratifying treaties to the modern day. We are aware that there are many many treaties now that influence our lives but are negotiated in secret. These impact on our lives daily. I am referring to all of the international trade treaties, as well as to the free trade agreement. If there is one thing that really impacts on people's day to day lives, it is a free trade agreement between several countries, in this instance Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
If that agreement were expanded, it would have a very definite impact on people's daily lives. People must be aware, and well informed, of the impact of these treaties on their lives.
I should perhaps point out that, where international treaties are concerned, democracy is totally absent. There is no complete compilation of such treaties. Governments release them when and if they see fit, and people cannot be sure they are all being disclosed. There may be secret treaties we know nothing about.
At present, the treaty section at the Department of Foreign Affairs does not even have a list of signed treaties that could be made available to the public and the House of Commons, to at least know what they are about.
At present, the government is not required to table treaties in the House of Commons. This, in my view, denies the elected representatives of the people an extremely important power, the power to vote on these treaties and to relay to the government the message the people want to send through their representatives.
As I said earlier, the House does not even get to approve treaties. The government can sign and ratify any treaty it wants without consulting the representatives of the people. At the very most, treaties requiring legislative changes are brought before Parliament before ratification.
In Quebec, since 2002, a vote by the National Assembly is required. This means that only when the federal government has to amend its legislation does the House of Commons get to vote. It does so, however, only on ad hoc matters. We want to correct this approach, which we feel is totally undemocratic.
Being in no way involved in the negotiation of treaties, the House of Commons cannot consult the public. That is why we would like a process similar to the one for passing bills to be used. Obviously, a parliamentary committee can consult the public and those stakeholders who are directly or indirectly concerned by how a treaty signed by the federal government could change their lives.
It is therefore not surprising to see people increasingly expressing their opposition in the streets. In fact, there is no other place for them to be heard. This has become more pronounced in the past few years at world summits like the one held in Quebec City or others throughout the world. Many demonstrations are held at such events, especially on the issue of globalization. People revolt and demonstrate, sometimes quite aggressively, precisely because they are not informed of the content of the treaties and do not know what is happening during the negotiation process.
Obviously, when you do not have the information, and especially when it is being hidden from you, it is easy to assume that the outcome will not necessarily be positive. That is what provokes many demonstrations. People are opposed to globalization, among other things, because they know very little about the content of international treaties or the consequences, since they have not been explained.
The Bloc Québécois hopes that Parliament will give the public the chance to know about the treaties and to be consulted. This would not take any power away from the government. On the contrary, in my opinion this would only enhance it. If this power is based, as it should be in a democratic system, on public opinion, on citizen involvement in the process, then this strengthens democracy and our democratic system of governing.
Allow me to summarize the situation and the bill. The government is not required to consult the provinces. Earlier I gave the example of culture. If, in the future, our U.S., Mexican or other partners wanted to include culture, for example, in an international treaty, Quebec would be in a difficult position since the provinces are not consulted. The francophone population of Quebec, which is a francophone island in North America, could be threatened if culture were included in a treaty such as the free trade agreement.
We think it is absolutely vital, so long as Quebec remains a part of Canada—and I hope it will be a little longer—that we be consulted as is our right, as francophones and Quebeckers. It would be a way to protect our rights, in education, culture or any other area uniquely ours that is distinct from those of other provinces. We could talk about health care and privatization, which were issues at one point.
There is also university education. Reference has been made to the desire of certain American universities to establish campuses here. The public has to be consulted. People have to be able to object if they wish to these sorts of processes and requests from our partners.
Obviously, we want all treaties to be put before the House of Commons, approved by the House and put to civil society by a parliamentary committee before Parliament decides on important treaties.
I may have failed to mention one point. Important treaties are treaties that require the passage of federal legislation, that change government powers, that generate significant financial commitment, such as Kyoto, for example, that change a border, which could obviously happen, or that impose sanctions or the transfer of jurisdictions to international institutions.
In Europe, for example, this type of transfer occurs, given the creation of the European Economic Community, as defined. A new constitution is to be voted on, and certain powers are transferred. In my opinion, this is the best known and perhaps the most obvious example at the moment of transfers of jurisdictions to international institutions. We should therefore be entitled to vote on them. Important treaties are treaties of this kind or treaties that involve government jurisdiction or international trade.
We also want, as I mentioned—and these are the objects of the bill—any treaty to be published in the Canada Gazette and on the Internet site of the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is one way to democratize the process, one way to give to citizens access to the texts that are submitted, so that they can consult them. The bill also provides for a mandatory consultation process with the provinces, before negotiating a treaty the content of which comes under their jurisdictions. Earlier, I mentioned education. I cannot think of a more striking example.
Currently, in Canada, Parliament and parliamentarians only play a minimal role in the negotiation and ratification of international treaties. We keep making requests in the House of Commons, but we are constantly turned down. We also asked to vote on certain treaties, but that too was rejected. Yet, it is precisely the role of Parliament to convey the public's wishes to the government's executive branch. In reality, it is the executive branch of the federal government, namely cabinet, which controls all the stages in the treaty ratification process.
This control also applies to the content of negotiations which, as I mentioned earlier, are often secret. In fact, this secrecy is an important tool in the federal government's negotiating strategy. Nothing, or hardly anything, is made public before the parties have reached an agreement in principle on the content, or even on the wording of a treaty.
A few years ago, we got our hands on treaties that were being negotiated at the World Trade Organization, and that might have jeopardized our agricultural sector and supply management system. When farmers managed to get their hands on these documents, they literally rebelled. This was a top secret negotiation process. Of course, when people found out about it, the government had to back off.
Unfortunately, I only have one minute left and I have barely touched on this issue. However, I know that when the hon. member takes the floor later on, she will be able to say more on this topic.