Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-53.
Although the bill is extremely technical, it does not change much for Canada. However, it still offers an opportunity to ask ourselves about the nature of the investment agreements that have been signed by the Canadian government, and more specifically the bilateral agreements, and about the content of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The problem lies not so much in Bill C-53 as in the agreements that we are signing, that are arbitrated under that convention.
I would note that if this bill is enacted, it will make it possible for Canada to ratify the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States, and will also make it possible for Canada to become a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.
As we can see, this means incorporating the requirements of the ICSID Convention into domestic law, to ensure that arbitral awards can be enforced and to provide the necessary immunities for the centre and its personnel.
The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes was created, we should remember, by the World Bank, under a treaty referred to as the Washington Convention of 1965. As of today, 156 countries have ratified the convention and are members of ICSID. The purpose of the convention and the centre is to arbitrate disputes between a state and a foreign investor.
There are two possible kinds of disputes between a state and a foreign investor. There are disputes relating to compliance with bilateral foreign investment protection agreements. For example, and I believe this was mentioned earlier, we recently signed an agreement with Peru. However, hardly anyone in the government alerted us to the signing of a new bilateral investment agreement. That agreement was very quietly signed between Canada and Peru. If it results in challenges, they can be arbitrated under this convention, and by this centre.
There is a second possible type of dispute. Disputes arise regarding agreements signed by governments with foreign investors. The government of Quebec regularly signs these kinds of agreement to generate foreign investment, for example by promising to supply electricity at an agreed price.
One can think of a number of major projects carried out on the North Shore. Discussions were held and commitments were made concerning electricity rates for the aluminum sector in exchange for commitments from the companies with respect to economic benefits from second and third processing, or future investments.
As I said, Canada's membership will not have any impact on the provinces. Only the federal level will be affected, although the provinces also will have the possibility of including in agreements they might enter into with investors provisions providing for the use of the centre and the convention.
Quebec has negotiated in the past, and could do so again in the future, agreements with foreign companies involved in the exploitation or processing of natural resources for competitive electricity rates under certain conditions. In such cases, it will be necessary to ensure that the endeavours of the Government of Quebec, whose good faith I never doubt, meet all the criteria in the agreement.
I have mentioned the bilateral treaty between the federal government and Peru. This treaty already provides for the use of arbitration or the ICSID process. Canada not being a member of the ICSID, it does not have access to the regular process because it has not ratified the convention. Additional facility arbitration rules apply under such circumstances.
As we can see, nothing much will change, except that we will be able to use the regular process.
In fact, Canada's adherence to the centre and the convention will enable it to take part in negotiations to amend the convention or the centre's rules, and ensure its ability to participate in appointments to arbitration tribunals.
I believe that this is important, because we know that this centre and this sort of convention will be increasingly important not only to the economic future, but to the overall future of trading nations such as Canada and Quebec.
In the final analysis, the centre is just a tribunal, and in that respect, we do not have a problem with Bill C-53. What we have a problem with is not the tribunal, but the poor treaties Canada has signed to protect investments. In our view, it is only natural that there should be investment protection agreements, provided that those agreements protect certain rights, especially the sovereign rights of the states involved, whether the agreements are between states or between states and companies.
It is only natural for investors to try and make sure that they will not be divested of their property and that they will not become victims of discrimination. This is the sort of situation that foreign investment protection agreements are meant to cover. They are not a new phenomenon, but have been around for more than two centuries now. In 1788, France and the United States signed an agreement to protect foreign investments. Today, there are 2,400 bilateral investment protection agreements in the world. If we add tax treaties covering the tax treatment of foreign investments and foreign source income, there are roughly 5,000 bilateral treaties relating to foreign investments.
I spoke yesterday about Bill C-33 on foreign trusts, and I will come back to that.