Mr. Speaker, from the beginning the Bloc Québécois has supported Bill C-53. Passing this bill will enable Canada to ratify the convention on the settlement of investment disputes between states and nationals of other states, and to become a member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, better known by its acronym, ICSID.
Bill C-53 integrates the requirements of the international convention in the laws of a country, in particular to ensure that arbitral awards are respected and to provide for the immunities required by the centre and its staff. As my colleague opposite said, ICSID was created by the World Bank by the Washington Treaty in 1965. There are currently 156 member countries. ICSID is responsible for settling disputes between a state and a foreign investor. There may be two types of conflicts. The first type are disputes over bilateral foreign investment protection treaties. The second are disputes over treaties between governments and foreign investors, for example the type that the Government of Quebec concludes regularly by eliciting foreign investments with the promise of providing electricity at an agreed price.
Canada’s membership will not have any impact on the provinces, except that they too may have recourse to the ICSID when they conclude agreements with investors. As for bilateral treaties binding the federal government to other countries, they already provide for recourse to ICSID arbitration, but not through the regular mechanism, since Canada has not ratified the convention. In fact the only thing that Canada’s membership in the centre will change is that Canada will be able to intervene in negotiations to amend the convention or the rules of the centre and it will enjoy the assurance of being able to join in the appointment of arbitration tribunals.
Ultimately the ICSID is only a tribunal. I could have said so at the beginning, but I am saying it at the end. Where there are settlement difficulties, however, the problem is not usually the tribunal, but rather the poor investment protection treaties concluded by Canada.
The Bloc Québécois, of course, supports the conclusion of investment protection agreements, as long as they are good agreements. It is completely natural for investors, before making an investment, to try and make sure they will not be divested of their property or that they will not become victims of discrimination. This is the sort of situation that foreign investment protection agreements are meant to cover. In fact this is not a new phenomenon. Agreements to protect investments have been signed by France and the United States since 1788. Today there are over 2,400 bilateral investment protection agreements around the world.
The Bloc is in favour of concluding such agreements and recognizes that they promote investment and growth. However—and it is important to say so—almost all these agreements rest on the same principles: respect for property rights regardless of the owner’s nationality; no nationalization without fair and prompt financial compensation; prohibition against treating property located on one’s territory differently depending on its owner’s origins; free movement of capital arising from the operation and the disposal of the investment.
In all cases, if there is non-compliance, states can submit a dispute respecting compliance with the agreement to an international arbitration tribunal. In most cases, investors themselves can submit disputes to an international tribunal, but only once they have got the state’s consent, and this is something to be noted. In many cases, the international arbitration provided for under the agreement takes place before the ICSID. Belonging to it, as is provided for under Bill C-53, also means belonging to the international order in the area of investments.
In the investment protection agreements they have signed, only two countries, Canada and the United States, systematically give investors the right to apply directly to the international tribunals, and we have repeatedly spoken out against this.
This is a deviation from the norm. By allowing a company to operate outside government control, it is being given the status of a subject of international law, a status that ordinarily belongs only to governments.
The agreements that Canada signs with other countries contain a number of similar deviations, giving multinational corporations rights that they should not have and limiting the power of states to legislate and take action for the common good.
We said no—and we still say no—to chapter 11 of NAFTA. That chapter of NAFTA, the trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico, deals with investments and provides that a dispute can be taken to ICSID. That chapter is a bad agreement in three respects.
The definition of expropriation is so vague that the slightest government action—other than a general tax provision—can be challenged by a foreign investor if it reduces the profits from its investment. For instance, a plan to implement the Kyoto accord that forced the oil companies, the big polluters, to pay large sums could be challenged under chapter 11 and result in the government paying them compensation.
Let us remember that the Alberta oil companies are mainly owned by American interests. Chapter 11 could open the door wide to the most abusive proceedings.
Second, the definition of investor is so broad that it includes any shareholder. This means that virtually anyone can bring proceedings against the state and seek compensation in relation to a government action that allegedly reduced a company’s profits.
Third, the definition of investment is so broad that it even includes the profits an investor hopes to earn from its property in future. In expropriation cases, not only is the state then forced to pay the fair market value, but it must add the amount of the income that the investor anticipated earning in future. In that case, it would no longer be possible to nationalize electricity as was done in Quebec in the 1960s.
The dispute resolution mechanism allows corporations to apply directly to the international tribunals to seek compensation, without even getting the consent of the state—if they do, without going through the dispute resolution mechanism under the agreements signed in NAFTA.
How is it conceivable that a multinational corporation could, on its own authority, create a trade dispute between two countries? And yet this is the absurd situation that the investment chapter of NAFTA, chapter 11, permits.
Because of these flaws, chapter 11 of NAFTA reduces the state’s capacity to take action for the common good, to legislate about the environment, and is a sword of Damocles that could come fall at any moment on any legislative or regulatory measure that might reduce corporate profits.
In 2005, the United States changed some of the provisions in their model investment protection agreement. In 2006, Canada followed suit, thus agreeing that they were extreme.
Since both countries have now acknowledged the harmful nature of chapter 11 of NAFTA, the time is ripe for the government to move quickly to initiate discussions with its American and Mexican partners to amend chapter 11 of NAFTA. It is important to bring this up now. Obviously, therefore, we are saying no to bad investment protection agreements.
In addition to chapter 11 of NAFTA, and although its extreme nature has been widely decried, the government has entered into 16 other bilateral foreign investment protection agreements, and all are identical. All those foreign investment protection agreements—sometimes called FIPAs—are bad and should be renegotiated.
In 2006, the government more or less acknowledged that these agreements were bad. It copied the changes made by the Bush administration the previous year.
Indeed, the Conservative government made some amendments to its FIPA program to correct the most glaring weaknesses. For example, they clarified the concept of expropriation by specifying that a non-discriminatory government measure that seeks to protect health and the environment or promote a legitimate government objective should not be considered as expropriation and should not automatically generate compensation. It is too early to evaluate the final effect of that clarification, but at first glance, it seems to be an improvement and we salute that.
It also restricted the concept of investment by specifying that the value of a good is equal to its fair market value. That put an end to the folly that added together all the potential profits that an investor hoped to earn from an investment. As for the rest, the model investment protection agreement continues to be based on Chapter 11 of NAFTA.
In our opinion, the government must continue to improve this model agreement, especially in terms of dispute settlement mechanisms. Multinational corporations must be brought under the authority of the state, like any other citizen.
Before ending my remarks, I want to emphasize that the government must submit treaties and international agreements to the House of Commons before ratifying them. At the beginning of the year, the government issued a news release to announce that it had just ratified a new foreign investment protection agreement with Peru. It was only by reading that news release that parliamentarians and the public became aware of this agreement. Parliament was never informed and never approved it. That is completely anti-democratic.
During the last election, however, the Conservative election platform was clear: the Conservatives made a commitment to submit all treaties and international agreements for approval before ratifying them. Since the Conservatives came to power, Canada has ratified 24 international treaties.
Apart from the amendments to the NATO treaty, which were the subject of a brief, last-minute debate and vote, none of these international treaties were submitted to the House. Today, international agreements have an effect of our lives that is comparable to the impact that the law can have on the lives of the citizens of all the countries with which Canada has signed bilateral agreements. There is no way to justify these treaties being concluded unilaterally and stealthily by the government, going over the heads of the representatives of the people.
The Bloc Québécois has introduced bills in the past to restore democracy and ensure the respect of Quebec and provincial jurisdictions in the conclusion of international treaties. Since the government promised to do this, we did not bring the issue up again at the time.
We are now seeing that the word of the Conservatives is not worth very much. The Bloc Québécois will raise this issue again and will bring forward proposals to restore democracy in the conclusion of international treaties. Such proposals will include requiring the government to present to the House all international treaties and agreements it has signed before ratifying them, requiring the government to publish all international agreements by which it is bound, requiring the vote and approval of the House following an analysis by a special committee tasked with examining international agreements and major treaties before the government may ratify them, and calling on the government to respect Quebec and provincial jurisdictions in the entire process of concluding treaties, that is, all stages of negotiation, signing and ratification.
I repeat, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill C-53, which will open the door to signatory countries and foreign investors with which agreements have been signed. However, ICSID is a tribunal that simply hands down decisions regarding agreements. I would like to emphasize that, based on the principles of Chapter 11 of NAFTA, the 16 bilateral agreements signed by Canada are all bad agreements and that, unfortunately, even direct access to the ICSID tribunal could not replace the agreements that would be good for the countries with which we are signing them.