House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-48.


Extension of Sitting PeriodGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The hon. member has one minute.

Extension of Sitting PeriodGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Do I not have 20 minutes, Mr. Speaker? One minute? Okay. I want to look at temporary resident permits. There were 72 of 74 granted to Liberal MPs in the last weeks of the campaign. What is that?

Chantal Hébert said:

Having listened to [the Minister of Health's] overtures to [the member for Newton--North Delta], would anyone vouch that the health minister is made of more principled material than Alfonso Gagliano? Or that he and his colleagues are operating under a stricter moral code than members of past cabinets? Having heard [the Prime Minister's]chief-of-staff Tim Murphy nod and wink and dress up the Liberal window with future government considerations, can anyone doubt that this is an administration that is just as likely to live and die by the rule that the end justifies the means?

That is the problem with the government. That is the problem with where we are going. There should not be closure on debate when something so fundamental as whether or not the moral fibre of this nation should be changed by a bill that will probably be subject to, and suffer, closure as well. We are living in a democratic country. Our system intends members to speak and debate, and make their point of view known and to represent their constituents and not to be short changed on that.

How is it that the government was prepared to filibuster its own legislation, put material that was irrelevant before the House to prevent a confidence motion, and waste days and days on end in May and now says we cannot debate a motion past 8 o'clock today? How can that be in this country? How can that be that we are prevented from debating in this House? I fail to understand that.

Extension of Sitting PeriodGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I wish to advise the hon. member that when we resume at 6:30 he will enjoy a period of 10 minutes for questions and comments, if he is in the House.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 18 consideration of the motion 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.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

June 23rd, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak to Bill C-260, which, as you know, is a bill the Bloc Québécois has been bringing back to this House for many years.

This bill was first introduced by our colleague at the National Assembly, Daniel Turp, the member for Mercier. It was then re-introduced by the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who as you know is our foreign affairs critic. Now the torch has been passed on not only to the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, but also the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia. I want to commend him on this private members' bill.

Bill C-260 requires major treaties signed by the Government of Canada to be discussed by MPs and not just the executive branch of the government. In that sense, it is a bill that reflects the major advances of modern democracy. People will no longer accept treaties being negotiated, ratified and signed in secret behind closed doors. We are living in an age when, in addition to conventional treaties, a great number of trade and environmental treaties are being signed, for example, the convention on cultural diversity and other treaties related to culture.

It is to be hoped that in future, the international community will also be more effective at adopting rules having to do with social issues and labour standards than what we see today.

This is therefore a bill that really looks to the future. At the same time, though, it is rooted in the great battles that democrats have waged the world over and that the Bloc Québécois wages in this House. Once again, I would like to congratulate the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia on this initiative.

As I was saying, the purpose of the bill is to submit major international treaties to a vote of the House before ratification by the existing government. When we say major treaties, we mean treaties requiring legislative changes. I will return to this in a moment.

This would make it possible, first, to have greater transparency. As you know, Canada is bound by nearly 3,000 bilateral and multilateral treaties. Unfortunately, most of these treaties are tabled sporadically or sometimes not at all. What this bill proposes is that treaties signed by the Canadian government, by Canada, should be tabled and published regularly.

This is also a bill that institutes not only transparency but also a democratic process that should be automatic. The members of the House should consider major treaties and, after a debate, there should be a vote on these treaties. I just mentioned how these treaties could be defined. This would also make it possible to use the consultation mechanisms we have in Parliament. For example, the parliamentary committees concerned by the treaty in question would not only study the treaty but could also be asked to contribute during the negotiations. I think that is extremely important.

For example, we are currently discussing an international policy statement tabled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am giving the example of one committee, but it could pertain to others as well. Several experts told us that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade does not play an important enough role, with the result that Canada's foreign policy is a party policy. At the present time, it is the Liberal Party of Canada that is in power—for a few weeks still, a few months at most—and it is therefore this party that decides on policy. After their upcoming defeat, the new government will have another foreign policy that could be the exact opposite of what we have now.

If the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade were allowed to play a greater advisory role—in both the negotiation and the ratification of treaties—foreign policy would be much less partisan than it is. It would be shared by all of the parties in this House and all members, thus ensuring not only consistency but continuity in foreign affairs. I give this as an example, but it is true as well in the case of the environment, fisheries, culture and so on.

By giving the parliamentary committee and members of this House not only the privilege but the obligation to examine treaties in detail, debate them and pass them, or not, the government would vastly improve democratic life in this House and in all of Canadian and Quebec society.

It would mesh perfectly with what the current Prime Minister promised when he was running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and when he was campaigning in the 2004 election, namely to reduce the democratic deficit.

Everyone can see that the fact that the executive alone has the privilege of negotiating and ratifying treaties creates huge problems in terms of transparency and democracy.

You will say, Mr. Speaker—and you will be right—that, in the case of Kyoto, the House voted. That is a fact, because the Prime Minister agreed to have the House debate this treaty. So, the House does not have a right. In fact, depending on how the Prime Minister sees things at the time, he can permit or refuse debate of a treaty in this House.

Take, for instance, the war in Iraq. We would have liked to have seen a vote here but there never was one, because this government did not want one. Fortunately, the decision reached was in keeping with the opinion of the majority of the people of Canada and Quebec. At least it was in line with the position of the Bloc Québécois.

If Bill C-260 were passed, that would also make it possible to respect provincial jurisdictions, which is extremely important. When the Canadian government, Canada, negotiates on services or agriculture with the World Trade Organization, it is negotiating in areas under either joint jurisdiction or solely provincial jurisdiction. Thus the commitments by the Government of Canada on behalf of Canadians and Quebeckers commit the provinces.

This is so much the case that, in the new GATT agreement signed in 1994, the so-called superior level of government—which term, we all agree, has no connection with reality—is obliged to use the means available to it to ensure that the local, or inferior levels comply with the agreements signed by the central government. So what we were told is no longer true.

It is correct as far as NAFTA is concerned. A province that is unwilling to apply certain of the measures in NAFTA within areas under its jurisdiction is entitled to do this, since there are provisions for this in the agreement. However, with GATT, now the World Trade Organization, and the new agreement signed in 1994 there is a responsibility.

In fact, it may very well happen that, at the end of the day, the Government of Canada could sign a treaty and one of the provinces or Quebec might not respect it because it fell under their jurisdiction.

Taking the WTO as an example, there might be repercussions from other countries. They would tell us, “Come on now, you people have signed a treaty and now you are not able to get your so-called inferior governments to comply with it.” That terminology does not, of course, reflect in any way the realities of our respective governments.

It would therefore be advisable for the provinces to be involved in the negotiating process, so as not to end up with inconsistencies like the examples I have given.

Consider this in terms of the negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, when that was going on. It is going nowhere now, but at the time, there was an education committee. The Canadian government represented Canada, although the provinces have exclusive jurisdiction in this area. It was a bit strange to see the Canadian government sitting at the table and negotiating with the governments of 34 other countries in the Americas—well, 33 other countries, because Cuba was not party to the negotiations—when education is outside its jurisdiction.

This bill would allow us to adapt current practices of ratifying treaties to the modern day reality in the rest of the world.

Some people say that the executive branch's privilege is tied to British tradition. This is probably true. However, even Great Britain has changed its approach. Now, in the case of many treaties, the British Parliament has the duty to engage in debate and then vote.

There should be a consensus in the House on Bill C-260, and the bill should be adopted as rapidly as possible so that we can further improve our democratic life.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-260.

Further to the intervention from the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, I would like to ask the following questions of colleagues in the House.

Is Canada's mechanism to conclude treaties as flawed as has been suggested?

Does that process need to be radically overhauled, as is being proposed?

Does the current practice prevent us from playing a role in defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene?

I think the answer to each of those questions is no.

Our current practice, with its flexibility and capacity to respond to change, already enables us to meet foreign policy objectives while recognizing the essential role of Parliament and the provinces in implementing treaty obligations in accordance with the distribution of powers established by our Constitution.

Bill C-260 affects constitutional order in a number of ways and raises serious concerns.

The careful balance which has been in place for decades would be altered should Parliament accept the proposal in the bill to give it the right to approve treaties prior to their ratification. This could seriously impact our ability to conclude treaties and ensure binding international commitments. This would be detrimental to Canada's foreign policy, a policy which first and foremost serves all Canadians.

As many people have already noted, Bill C-260 ignores the current role of Parliament, essential in the treaty process. Not only is Parliament actively involved now in the implementation of treaties, but consultations on many important treaties now take place before parliamentary committees prior to the government taking binding action.

The provisions of Bill C-260 also suggest that the respective roles of the federal and provincial governments in the area of treaty making require clarification and that negotiated agreements providing for federal-provincial consultations in matters related to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties are required to improve Canadian practice.

This suggestion, I believe, is erroneous on both counts and does not reflect the reality of Canadian success in international affairs.

Bill C-260 would require the Government of Canada to negotiate within six months of the coming into force of the act an agreement with each provincial government concerning the manner in which that province would be consulted in the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in the areas of provincial or shared jurisdiction.

Is this bill needed to guarantee consultations with the provinces on treaties and areas of provincial jurisdiction?

The answer to the question has to be no.

Such consultations have taken place since 1937 and the Government of Canada takes these consultations seriously. Consultations usually take place throughout the negotiation of a treaty and sometimes last for years. The consultations have to take place and they do take place. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Bill C-260 creates nothing new in this area, but it imposes, arguably, a straightjacket on the federal government for consulting its provincial partners.

The obligation on the federal government to negotiate individual agreements with each province under the pressure of an artificial deadline is not only unnecessary but could be dauntingly expensive and could have unpredictable results. Potentially, it could mean replacing what is an effective system for something less responsive, creating uncertainty where now none exists.

Bill C-260 raises another major constitutional concern, and that is that the bill's provisions would limit the treaty making power of Canada in the absence of consultations with the provinces to areas within exclusive federal jurisdiction.

It is recognized in Canadian constitutional law that the power to negotiate and conclude treaties rests exclusively with the federal executive. This power is fundamental to Canada's ability to speak with one voice internationally.

Beyond this, among the proposals put forward by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia in Bill C-260 is one that refers to a so-called royal prerogative in right of a province with respect to negotiation and conclusion of treaties in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

It must be emphasized that no such provincial prerogative exists.

As I have already noted, the prerogative with respect to the negotiation and signing of any international treaty lies exclusively with the Canadian federal executive. In this respect, Bill C-260 would violate the constitutionally determined division of powers. It bears repeating that the power of the provinces to negotiate and conclude treaties simply does not exist.

A change of this scale to the Canadian constitutional model requires far more than merely a debate in this House and one simple statutory change: it implies important, lasting, fundamental changes to our Constitution. Canada's current treaty making system, with its proven adaptability and its respect for constitutional order, best meets the interests of Canadians, so I cannot support Bill C-260.

One aspect of the bill involves a resolution of a longstanding issue, that is, it is an invitation for Parliament to involve itself as a ratifier of treaties before the treaties take effect. This proposed process, as contained in this bill, would allow or even force or require the House to be the final rubber stamp in a ratification process.

In other forms of governments, in other constitutions around the world, there may in fact be legislative ratification processes. In Canada and in other constitutional democracies, the normal procedure, one that exists now and has served us awfully well for the last many years, is that the executive of the government negotiates and enters into treaties, with or without consultations beforehand. In most cases where consultations are needed, they are entered into, in particular in Canada with the provinces.

Where there is follow-up legislation needed to implement the treaty, Parliament is involved in that. Where Parliament has a role in consultations prior to entering into the treaty, the executive of government, through its ministers, consults with Parliament.

Adding into the system now a parliamentary based ratification process would seriously undermine the current integrity of the Canadian treaty making process and undermine the credibility that Canada now has abroad.

When our government, our executive, whatever political stripe it happens to be, enters into a treaty, the international community knows that Canada is good in its negotiations and is not going to do a bait and switch game, which some countries do. In that game, the executive will negotiate a treaty, then go back home and have the legislature in that country pull back from ratification. That is a kind of two-handed, sleight of hand, bait and switch way of doing international business.

Canada does not negotiate treaties that way. When they are negotiated, we do it with total sincerity. When we sign on the line, when the government is ready to make that treaty, the treaty is entered into.

Of course, underlying all of that, and it is very important for Canadians to know that, the government that negotiates a treaty, the executive that enters into that treaty, must continue to have the full authority and support of the House. Our governments always must have that. To the extent they do not, those governments go down. That is certainly an issue around here these days in a minority Parliament.

In any event I will close on that by saying that the current system appears to serve Canadians very well. Coming from the sovereignist perspective, this particular bill, if it were to be adopted, would not serve Canadians, Canada, Parliament or our Constitution well.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to make a few comments this evening on the private member's bill that is before us, Bill C-260, an act respecting the negotiation, approval, tabling and publication of treaties.

While my colleagues and I have some difficulties with some provisions of the bill, I want to say at the outset that I very much applaud the intention behind the bill. I think there are some solid intentions here, which we need to figure out how to address.

As I understand it, this is the third time over a period of five or six years that the Bloc has introduced such a bill; they have not been identical but I think they were very similar. In the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia introducing this bill, I think he is reflecting a certain frustration that is felt by a lot of Canadians, and not just within Quebec either.

I think a lot of Canadians across the country are frustrated at the realization that there is very limited input, and in fact no requirement necessarily that there be any input, from this Parliament, let alone more broadly from Canadians, in relation to the signing by this government or any other government of international treaties.

I think that it is incumbent upon us to recognize that this bill is at least in part inspired by this, although I guess only the member who introduced it can really account for the inspiration. It seems to me that it is reasonable that the aspiration, and not necessarily the inspiration, for such legislation does have to do with wanting the treaty process to be somewhat more transparent, for there to be some democratic process surrounding the signing on to international treaties and that in the process there be greater accountability.

Let me say that I think the first of the stated purposes of the bill is something we ought to be considering. I want to make it clear at the beginning that my colleagues and I have some major reservations and recognize that there could in fact be some quite severe problems created if this bill were ever to be adopted unamended in its current form.

The first of the purposes stated I think does accurately reflect a feeling that the signing on to international treaties is a very important thing and that there is a concern about the fact that in many ways our ability to really act in the national interest can in fact be compromised by some of the treaties to which we become signatories.

On the other hand, I think the second stated purpose of the bill is one about which we have to be extremely careful and extremely concerned. At the end of the day, we have to be sure that we have preserved the ability of the federal government, the Parliament of Canada, to act in the national interest. If we create a process of consultation with provincial governments that is cumbersome and impractical and that in fact can make it almost impossible for the government to act in the national interest, then we have not created a solution. We have created yet another problem.

I do think that there is reason to pursue this topic. For that reason, I am inclined to suggest that we should pass this bill on second reading, with reservation, so that it can become the subject matter of a real discussion at committee about how we find a way to ensure both that there is a requirement for consultation to take place and that we recognize Canadians are concerned about the erosion of democratic accountability that can happen if there is not even a requirement. I think I am correct in saying that at the moment there is not even the requirement that a treaty be tabled in the House of Commons.

Canadians are concerned about the issue of democratic accountability. The Prime Minister went out on the campaign trail running for the leadership and presented himself as the man who would solve the democratic deficit. He said that there are excessive powers in the executive branch and in the hands of the prime minister and that we need to find some ways to put in some checks and balances.

We have to recognize that we are not doing a very good job in solving that problem. It would not hurt one bit to acknowledge that there are some serious shortcomings. There could be some very dangerous problems created in making it impossible for the government to act in the national interest with the bill in its current form. The subject matter needs to be discussed. We need to find some ways to ensure that there is a consultative process and a way to involve not just parliamentarians, but Canadians to provide input into the treaty making process.

If we do not do that, we are going to see the democratic deficit rise. When there is intense opposition to treaties into which Canada has entered without adequate consultation, we are going to see a great deal of disillusionment and that is not in the interests of a more democratic, accountable and transparent federal government.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in today's debate on Bill C-260. After listening to the speech by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, I have the following question. Is the Canadian practice with respect to treaties as bad as the hon. member suggests? Of course not. Does it necessitate the radical overhaul he is proposing? Not at all. Does our current practice prevent us from playing our role and defending the interests of Canadians on the international scene? Absolutely not.

I am having a hard time understanding the purpose of this bill. I am not one to advocate sovereignty, like the member opposite who calls himself a separatist. If Quebec were indeed to separate one day, are we to assume that within this sovereign or separate Quebec, international responsibilities would be shared with the municipalities, or with a sub-national state? Get real. We know full well that is not how it works.

What the hon. member is saying is not even something he would want for himself in his goal of separating, something I do not subscribe to in any way. So, I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want a bill like this.

Of course, I hope it would never happen, but the day could come when, through bad luck, someone pointed to his bill and asked him if that was what he still wanted. The answer would probably be no.

Current practice here, because of its flexibility and adaptability, already allows Canada to meet its international policy objectives while still recognizing the vital role of Parliament and the provinces in implementing treaty obligations according to the division of powers set out in the Constitution of Canada.

There too, a second look is needed. Once again, the same members tell us from time to time—they are rarely right—that the Government of Canada tends to take over certain provincial powers. If this is a bad thing, as they claim, how is it that the opposite is good? They say we must honour the Constitution, but it is a one way street.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It is true, they say it all the time. Mr. Speaker, you who are totally objective, neutral and non partisan, you have heard these stories from the Bloc members in this House just as often as I have. They say the government is not respecting jurisdictions and refuse to give up anything they consider to be a provincial matter. They say so, from time to time, rarely correctly, but they say so just the same.

In this case, however, the matter is entirely within the jurisdiction of the Government of Canada, as determined by the Supreme Court in 1937. It can be redefined, if necessary. What do the Bloc members have to say? They say it changes nothing. Even if it is a federal matter, they want it to be provincial, even if it contravenes the Constitution.

“Do as I say, not as I do”. That is what the Bloc members are saying today.

As many have already noted as well, Bill C-260 ignores the role currently played by Parliament, a fundamental role in treaty practices. Not only is Parliament actively involved in treaty implementation, but consultations are currently taking place in committee on a number of our major treaties, before the government acts. Of course, the government, not Parliament, takes binding action. Nevertheless, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade plays a very active and important role.

We saw proof of that this week when various bills gave rise to controversy.

The bill was put on the back burner, we might say, and the committee will discuss the subject or issue. This proves that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is fulfilling the role I just described in this instance, since this falls under the legislative branch.

However, this does not mean we can go beyond the constitutional authority, which belongs to the governor in council—the government—and allow the provinces to act in its stead.

The provisions of Bill C-260 suggest that the roles of each of the federal and provincial governments in treaty ratification need to be clarified and that negotiated agreements providing for federal-provincial consultation on treaty negotiation and ratification are required in order to improve Canadian practice. This suggestion is clearly erroneous on both levels. It fails to consider the reality of our success in international affairs.

We need to take a moment to point out the important international role that Canada plays and the great respect that other countries have for us.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

An hon. member

That is true.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It is very true. The parliamentary secretary just supported what I said, making it all the more true, if I may say so.

Consequently the role we played, for instance at the Ottawa conference on landmines—I made a personal commitment to get that through the House at the time I was House leader—is a major initiative for the whole world. Then there is Canada's longstanding role in all the peacekeeping missions and the important role it played by choosing to take a different position on the war in Iraq than our immediate, and extremely powerful, neighbour, the United States. I could go on and on with examples of how Canada has distinguished itself internationally.

There is, of course, an executive role in all these treaties. They sometimes include legislative measures required for implementation. But this is not the same, in fact it is quite different. When it comes to implementation measures, this involves a bill in this House, generally a government bill, since treaties are signed by the government. Moreover, often these are measures requiring royal recommendation. Consequently, the role of the government is not just desirable, but necessary, when royal recommendations are involved.

I have some serious concerns of a constitutional nature. The bill's provisions would limit the government's power to conclude treaties in areas of federal jurisdiction without consultation with the provinces. Canadian constitutional law has provided for over 60 years that the power to negotiate and conclude treaties lies exclusively with the federal executive, to the governor in council. This power is essential to Canada's speaking with a single voice internationally, as it must.

Moreover, among the things the hon. member proposes in this bill is one relating to the royal prerogative of the provincial governments when it comes to negotiating and concluding treaties in areas under provincial authority.

For all those reasons, and a few more I could add, I do not intend to support the bill introduced by the hon. member opposite.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-260 sponsored by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

It is a source of great pride for Canadians that Canada plays an important role on the international stage. Canada's initiatives in such diverse fields as human security, peacekeeping, international development and other areas are too numerous to mention and have earned this country a reputation that is second to none. For example, in recent years Canada played a leading role in the negotiation and ratification of the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court.

A key factor in Canada's ability to play this important role is the effectiveness of Canada's national government's treaty-making practices. The negotiation and conclusion of treaties, both multilateral and bilateral, lie at the heart of international cooperation and conduct of foreign affairs. We Canadians are proud of the role that the federal government has played in these multilateral and bilateral agreements that have helped many countries in the developing world.

The modern era of international relations is marked by the ongoing effort to create legal frameworks in the form of treaties that bind states and provide a structure for the international legal order.

In this context, a good treaty-making system is essential if Canada is to conduct its foreign policy effectively to the benefit of all Canadians. When one reads Bill C-260, one is led to believe that there is some doubt about Canadian practices with regard to the conclusion of treaties, but this is not the case. Our current practices, with their flexibility and capacity to respond to change, already enable us to meet our objectives while recognizing the essential role of Parliament in implementing treaty obligations.

While Canadian constitutional law clearly establishes that the negotiation of a treaty and signatory of a treaty are strictly in the purview of the federal executive, it is essential to remember that the legislative branch plays a considerable role in our treaty process. Indeed, only Parliament can change the current laws or enact new ones which allow for implementation of treaties.

In the absence of such participation, Canada would not be able to meet its international obligations. Not only is Parliament actively involved in the implementation of treaties but consultation on our most important treaties now takes place before committees and prior to the government taking binding action.

In fact, our current practices strike a careful balance between the constitutional power of the executive to make treaties and the crucial role of Parliament in implementing them. Our practice provides for flexibility and efficiency. As a general rule, the federal government would not be in a position to ratify a treaty if it were not reasonably sure that the obligations imposed by the treaty would be implemented by Canada.

For this reason, when Canada wants to ratify a treaty involving obligations within provincial jurisdictions, the federal executive consults the provinces and territories. It should be underlined that the federal government has been consulting provinces for almost 70 years on treaties.

Moreover, it should also be noted that the representatives of provinces and territories often join Canadian delegations participating in negotiations on treaties involving matters within provincial and territorial jurisdictions to reflect provincial and territorial views and interests.

In today's challenging international environment Canada must have a treaty-making process that allows it to achieve its foreign policy objectives and to deal quickly with changing and urgent situations. Canada's current practices in this area, with their flexibility that I referred to earlier, meet these imperatives.

Apart from its other flaws, Bill C-260 provides for an overly complex and inefficient procedure for federal-provincial consultations to replace a treaty-making process that for many years has served Canada and all Canadians well.

Canada's effectiveness on the international stage offers ample proof that the current constitutional balance in treaty-making measures and treaty implementation, and the well established practices are best suited to the needs of Canada and work to the benefit of all Canadians. Hence, I would not support Bill C-260.

Treaties ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to wade into the debate on treaties and the jurisdiction associated with entering into them. I have been listening to the debate and feel that I understand the motivation of the member who put the bill forward.

Many of us have said openly and clearly that we wish as parliamentarians that we had more input into the treaty-making process, the executive right to enter into bilateral treaties, not only in the ratification process but the development stages as well. Many of us feel that the most influential treaties of our time would have benefited greatly had there been more parliamentary oversight and more input prior to putting pen on paper.

I am mindful of the fact that there are complications dealing with federal-provincial jurisdictions. There are sensitive areas associated with this particular bill which we should be very cautious about. In our interest in having more input and more say as parliamentarians, we do not welcome opening the door to interfering with the rights and the authorities of the federal government to act in the public interest. We do not want self-interest to get in the way of the common interest of the nation state of Canada.

We understand that treaties are international relationships. One that has been top of mind for me in recent years has been the Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States. It is one of the earliest treaties on record between our two countries and one of the most necessary.

We are all aware that throughout history downstream water rights have been fundamental and critically important in developing and maintaining the relationship between Canada and the United States. As long ago in history as the Magna Carta there was reference to downstream water rights. It is critical. Good neighbours have to be mindful of the rights and the interests of those downstream.

We have seen treaties develop. We have seen trade agreements develop in more recent years without very much input from parliamentarians. Even with the ratification process, many people feel that we would benefit from more involvement and more input of elected officials and not just the executive branch of government.

It is incumbent on the nation state of Canada to ensure that its provinces are in compliance with international treaties. It is as critical that the United States keep a tight rein on its individual states so they stay in compliance with the treaty relationship.

With respect to the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, we are seeing one rogue state, North Dakota, threatening to violate it by diverting water from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River into the Red River, and ultimately into Lake Winnipeg. That is not only contrary to the laws of nature in that the interbasin transfer of water is surely a violation of the normal scheme of things and a dangerous precedent, but it is also a violation of our national sovereignty.

This interference with our downstream water rights is devastating to our well-being. It is also a violation of Mother Nature. It is a catastrophic environmental idea because of the invasive species and biota that may be introduced into a whole other ecosystem, an ecosystem that has been separated since the last ice age, where unique individual species have developed in these two watersheds.

I cannot overstate how catastrophic this could be. Aggressive, invasive species, once they are into Lake Winnipeg and the watershed that flows into Hudson Bay, could also work their way back across Saskatchewan, across Alberta, because this watershed, this basin is one of the largest in the world.

The catchment area that flows into all of the Hudson Bay region could be affected by the biota, by the parasites that we know to exist in Devils Lake that exist nowhere else. They are parasites that sucker themselves onto the gills of fish. They are parasites that could wipe out the largest freshwater fishery in all of North America. The largest freshwater fishery in North America is in Lake Winnipeg. It is at risk. There are real environmental consequences and real economic consequences for the province of Manitoba should this Boundary Waters Treaty be violated.

No one province should have too much control over a national treaty. This is where I find fault with the bill we are debating. There are good reasons that no one rogue province and no one rogue state should be able to unilaterally alter or compromise international treaties that exist between nation-states. There is only one nation-state that we are dealing with in the Parliament of Canada. It is the nation-state of Canada. That is all there is. I do not want to encourage or lend succour or support in any way to anyone who envisions some other nation-state within these hallowed chambers.

When we contemplate treaties, we contemplate treaties between the nation-state of Canada and the nation-state, in the case of the Boundary Waters Treaty, of the United States. Perhaps the best graphic illustration of why there should not be provincial jurisdiction over national treaties is what is happening in North Dakota today.

Here is an example. This is happening to us because one rogue state is not listening to its nation-state in the United States. In the state of North Dakota, the governor is stubbornly refusing to comply with a treaty that his national government, that he should respect, entered into in 1909.

The issue of treaties is all about respect in the truest sense. If we respect our neighbours, we make treaty with them. This is how aboriginal people talk about it, making treaty. A treaty is not just a piece of paper; making treaty is a compact. It goes beyond the written word.

The physical manifestation of the treaty is the least of the treaty. It is the smallest part of the treaty. The real component of a treaty is the trust relationship that one is entering into that goes beyond. It is up to the federal government to enter into that treaty on behalf of all of its component parts, the individual provinces. It is up to the nation of the United States on behalf of all of its component elements in a federal state.

That is why federal states are the most difficult to hold together. I suppose there is good reason that there are less than 20 federal states, federal countries in the world. Federalism is difficult at the best of times. There are diverse views being cobbled together with a loosely knit coalition. That is what federalism is.

In recent memory, of those 20 federalist states, three have blown themselves apart: Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and Canada has come very, very close. Federations are precious entities. They are the realization of a collective will to build something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a precious thing for which we should all have respect. Treaties should be respected nation to nation and not be allowed to be diminished or undermined by any one rogue province or rogue state.

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6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The mover of the motion now has the floor for five minutes to reply and end the debate.

The hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

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6:25 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot to say since I am truly under the impression that the members of the government and some of the members of the New Democratic Party did not read the bill. I just want to read clause 3 of Bill C-260, which completely contradicts the position of the governing party and the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre when he praises the federal government:

The Government of Canada may, without consulting the government of each province—

I repeat:

The Government of Canada may, without consulting the government of each province, negotiate and enter into a treaty in a sector within the exclusive legislative authority of Parliament that does not affect an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.

We have never claimed in this bill, contrary to what I have been hearing for the past hour, that we want to prevent the federal government from negotiating and entering into treaties under its authority. What we are saying is that when it is a question of an exclusive authority of a province under the Constitution—note, under the Constitution—that province or those provinces should get a say in the matter.

I will give a very clear example. Let us talk about education. Who is responsible for education under the Constitution and who is responsible for culture under the Constitution, if not the provinces?

The provinces are asked to give the federal government the power to negotiate treaties on education, culture, health and other areas under provincial jurisdiction. It is obvious that this bill has been completely misunderstood. Therefore, I am asking everyone to re-read the bill in an intelligent and non partisan manner. That way, we will be able to see, in the text of the bill itself, what I have just said and quoted.

We have no pretensions of preventing the federal government from signing treaties in areas under its authority. What we want are public consultations and real democracy. I do not know what planet some MPs live on but they have to face the fact that, in this world today, it is impossible to negotiate treaties in secret and without consulting the public.

I can give some recent examples. The Maastricht Treaty and the recent events in France in relation to the EU Constitution are two. Was the public consulted? Yes, it was. The No vote in France and the Netherlands is only justice and democracy. That is what it is.

Since I have only five minutes, I want to conclude with this. Everything I have heard from opposition members—I mean, government members, since obviously I am a member of the opposition.

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6:25 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

The future members of the opposition.

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6:25 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Yes, the future members of the opposition, I should say. I thank my colleague from Joliette.

So all I have heard from the government members is that democracy is too onerous; that it is very difficult to consult and, in good Québécois, that it could interfere with the federal government's culture of secrecy. That is what I have heard. However, is this not a democracy? Does the public not have the right to be consulted? Would it not be reasonable, in matters of health, education and public interest that they be consulted? It seems to me that that is what democracy is about and that is what the bill before us calls on us to do. It seems to me that—

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6:25 p.m.

An hon. member

It is an absolute monarchy.

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6:25 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Indeed, it resembles an absolute monarchy. It is secrecy. The executive decides, negotiates and, in the end, imposes its decision on everyone.

I will give you another example in the minute I have left. In the 1980s, I remind members opposite, the Conservative government signed a free trade agreement. An election was held on this agreement. Was that not popular consultation? It was indeed.

Today, I am not hoping that we have election campaigns on the treaties to be signed, but at least consultation or even a referendum when the treaties involve the public as a whole.

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6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time allocated for debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


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6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members