Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you and the other members again. Now, the question is how much longer we will be together here for this session. Because of the Conservative government's insensitivity towards the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry industries, which we will debate during the late show this evening, as you said, Quebeckers are becoming more and more outraged with this government. Obviously, when the time comes to make important decisions, we will be here to defend the interests of Quebec, as we always have.
The Bloc Québécois supports passing Bill C-9. Passing this bill will finally enable Canada to ratify the convention on the settlement of investment disputes between states and nationals of other states, and also to become a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, or ICSID.
Bill C-9 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. ICSID is responsible for arbitrating disputes between States and foreign investors. There may be two types of disputes: disputes related to compliance with bilateral foreign investment protection agreements and disputes related to agreements between governments and foreign investors. The Government of Quebec regularly signs the latter type of agreement when eliciting foreign investment with the promise, for example, 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. 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 a tribunal. The problem is not the tribunal or membership in the tribunal. The NDP member asked earlier how the Bloc Québécois could support Bill C-9. Fifty-six countries are now part of that agreement. That is not the problem. Rather, the problem lies in the poor investment protection treaties that Canada concludes and continues to conclude despite the bad examples we have seen, particularly—and I will come back to this later in my speech—concerning chapter 11 of NAFTA.
The Bloc Québécois 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 most cases, investors themselves can submit disputes to an international tribunal, but only once they have obtained the state's consent. However, in the investment protection agreements they have signed, only two countries, Canada and—guess which other country—our friend, the United States, systematically give investors the right to apply directly to the international tribunals. That is a problem, I would even call it 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 or states.
The agreements that Canada signs contain a number of similar deviations that give multinationals rights they should not have and that limit the power of the state to legislate and take action for the common good. I was speaking about chapter 11 of NAFTA, which unfortunately is now well known. This chapter of NAFTA on investments provides that a dispute can go to ICSID. That chapter is a bad agreement in several respects. I will give you some examples.
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 its profits from its investment. Take, for example, the plan to implement the Kyoto accord, which would heavily penalize big polluters and oil companies and could be challenged under chapter 11 and result in the government paying compensation. The Alberta oil companies are in fact mainly owned by American interests. Chapter 11 opens the door to the most abusive proceedings.
Furthermore, the definition of investor is itself so broad that it includes any shareholder.
Therefore anyone could take the state to court and attempt to obtain compensation for a government measure that allegedly reduced a company's profits.
As for the definition of investment, it too is so broad that it even includes the future profits that an investor hopes to earn, even though this is only a projection. In the case of expropriation, not only does the state find itself forced to pay fair market value, but it must also include revenues that the investor expects to earn in future. It would no longer be possible to nationalize electricity, as Quebec did in the 1960s.
We can look at situations that have occurred over the years. For example, SunBelt, a corporation with a Canadian shareholder and a Californian shareholder, closed its doors when the Government of British Columbia withdrew the right it had granted for the bulk export of water. The Canadian shareholder, based on Canadian laws, received compensation equivalent to the value of his investment, or $300,000. The American shareholder, based on NAFTA chapter 11, included potential future revenue from the sale of water in its claim: $100 million. We do not know the full story, because the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, but we can see just where abuse can lead.
As an aside, that is what prompted the Bloc Québécois to present a motion to ensure that, in light of NAFTA, water is not considered a commodity and that it cannot be sold in bulk, as the Americans would like. We do not want to lose this great wealth of Quebec and we do not want this to become a shameless object of trade.
Given the amounts of money at issue, chapter 11 discourages any governmental measure, when it comes to the environment in particular, that would decrease the profits of a foreign owned company.
The dispute settlement mechanism currently allows companies to turn directly to international tribunals to seek compensation without the need for the state's consent. I was talking about that earlier. This is a serious problem. A multinational could, on its own authority, be behind a trade dispute between two countries. That could happen the way things stand now. It is that type of absurd situation that chapter 11 of NAFTA on investment allows.
The government must enter quickly into discussions with its U.S. and Mexican counterparts to amend chapter 11 of NAFTA. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for that for a very long time now. We have seen the abuses that have resulted from this. Instead, the government is adding more agreements and, in those agreements, we find a carbon copy of chapter 11 of NAFTA.
In addition to chapter 11 of NAFTA and despite the fact that everyone has criticized its abusive nature, the government has concluded no less than 16 other bilateral foreign investment protection agreements that, as I was saying, are carbon copies of chapter 11 of NAFTA. All these foreign investment protection agreements are bad and should be renegotiated.
The Bloc Québécois is calling for more transparency, more democracy. The government must submit to the House all international treaties and agreements before ratifying them. That is another problem that should be discussed more broadly here, in this House. We must also ensure that the public realizes that many international agreements can be concluded in secret.
For example, earlier this year, the government announced in a news release that it had signed a new investment protection agreement with Peru. That was how we found out about the agreement. Parliamentarians and the general public knew nothing about the agreement until they read the news release. Moreover, not many members of the media gave this story a very high profile. Parliament was never informed, nor did Parliament approve it. This is totally undemocratic. The strange thing is that we have before us a government that boasts about keeping its promises. It says that it follows through on the promises it makes. I would like to remind members of this House, the general public, and especially the government that that is not true. The government does not always do as it says it will. It does not always keep its promises. The Conservatives' election platform during the last campaign was very clear. The Conservatives promised to submit for approval all international treaties and agreements before signing them. That is not what has been happening. Since the Conservatives came to power, Canada has signed no fewer than 24 international treaties.
With the exception of one single amendment to the NATO treaty that was the subject of a last-minute debate and vote here, none of these treaties were brought before the House. So much for that promise, which the government casually dismissed.
These days, international agreements can have as great an impact on our lives as laws. Nothing can possibly justify the secretive, unilateral ratification of these agreements by this government or any government without the participation of the representatives of the people.
People do not send us here for nothing. We often have to explain what the federal government is up to, a government that, it must be said, seems more remote than municipal governments or the National Assembly and other provincial governments. We explain what we do, the bills we pass and so on.
People understand that international trade and foreign affairs fall largely under the jurisdiction of the federal government. It is our job to take care of such things here. Yet, as I just explained, the government has been signing most of its international agreements without giving us a chance to vote on them.
As usual, we Bloc Québécois members are taking action. Some claim that we merely talk, but the fact is that we also act. We have introduced bills to restore democracy and ensure the respect of Quebec and provincial jurisdictions in international treaties. I will get back to this later on. We presented a bill on this issue on three different occasions.
Today, we can see that the Conservatives' word is not worth much. It is not worth anything, particularly in this area. This is why the Bloc Québécois will raise this issue again and will bring forward proposals to restore democracy in the conclusion of international treaties.
We want the government to be required to present to the House all international treaties and agreements it has signed, before ratifying them; to publish all international agreements by which it is bound; to allow the House to vote on and approve such agreements, following an analysis by a special committee tasked with examining international agreements and major treaties, before the government may ratify them; and, of course, to respect Quebec and provincial jurisdictions in the entire process of concluding treaties, that is at the negotiation, signing and ratification stages.
While the provinces are usually informed of negotiations relating to trade agreements, in reality they have little say in the process, except on rare occasions; they are completely excluded from the decision-making process.
Now, democracy is totally absent when it comes to international treaties. There is no complete list of treaties. The government releases them sporadically. We do not know when it will release them, or even if it will release all of them, because it is not bound to do so. Even the Department of Foreign Affairs' treaty branch does not have a list or report that we could consult to find out with whom, when and why the government signed this or that treaty.
Nor is the government required to table these documents in the House. In fact, it is not even required to inform the House or the public when it signs or ratifies treaties.
The House does not approve them. As we mentioned earlier, the government can sign and ratify treaties, it can do anything it wants without consulting the public's representatives. At best, if ratification of a treaty requires changes to the legislation, Parliament will be asked to vote on such legislation. Incidentally, since 2002, in Quebec, the National Assembly must vote on these measures.
Since the House is in no way involved in the process for concluding treaties, it cannot consult the public. This is really pushing the denial of democracy, especially since, as some colleagues mentioned, these types of treaties affect everyone in their everyday lives.
The government is not required to consult the provinces either. The government prevents the provinces from acting internationally by controlling their international relations and not permitting them to conclude agreements that are considered treaties.
This is what is going on now. What is ironic is that Canada is less democratic than it was in the 1920s. In fact, in June 1926, Prime Minister King moved a motion, which was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons, which stated:
—before Her Majesty's Canadian ministers recommend ratification of a treaty or convention involving Canada...Canada's approval must be obtained—
That was 1926. This is 2008.
In 1941, Mackenzie King reiterated his commitment to this formula. To quote him once again:
With the exception of treaties of lesser importance or in cases of extreme urgency, the Senate and the House of Commons are invited to approve treaties, conventions and formal agreements before ratification by or on behalf of Canada—
Over the years, we have resorted less and less to approval by resolution. For example, during the cold war, the practice of obtaining Parliament's approval for signing treaties or for military intervention abroad was definitely abandoned. We even stopped tabling treaties in Parliament, with the exception of the Kyoto accord, which is more recent. No treaty has been approved by resolution since the 1966 Auto Pact, more than 40 years ago.
In the case of Kyoto, the government is refusing to respect what was voted in Parliament. I am laughing and sometimes we laugh about things that are not funny. That is the case here. It is the irony of the situation. Once again we could call this a denial of democracy.
In addition, if we compare ourselves to other countries, Canada is less democratic than the rest of the industrialized world. Parliamentarians in most of the other major industrialized democracies participate more fully in the approval of treaties. I will give a few examples: France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and even the United States are required, by their constitutions, to obtain legislative approval for at least certain types of international agreements before they are ratified. We still have a fair amount of work to do to establish a democracy that can deal properly with international agreements.
I referred earlier to bills introduced by the Bloc Québécois on three different occasions. And we will do it again. We have introduced a bill on treaties to modernize the whole process of entering into international treaties. The Bloc Québécois' bill on treaties was designed to enhance transparency and democracy when international treaties are negotiated and signed. Given that such treaties occupy an increasingly important place in the lives of our fellow citizens, a change in established practices was more important than ever.
In addition, the bill ensured that the legislative jurisdiction of the provinces was respected by the federal government. Understandably, we feel very strongly about that. The bill included five changes: the systematic tabling of treaties before the House of Commons, seeking the approval of the House for important treaties, consultation of civil society by a parliamentary committee before Parliament makes a decision on an important treaty, the publication of treaties in the Canada Gazette and on the Internet site of the Department of Foreign Affairs and, finally, the compulsory consultation of the provinces before any treaty on matters within provincial jurisdiction can be negotiated.
The bill on treaties made it to a vote only once, on September 28, 2005, but all federalist parties voted against it. Why? I will get to that. Never short of contradictions, the Conservatives made two promises with respect to international treaties in the last campaign. They promised to put international treaties to a vote in the House before ratifying them and to involve the provinces in the treaty process whenever treaties affected their jurisdictions. Both of these promises have been broken. Since they were elected, the Conservatives have amended NAFTA, signed two investment protection agreements modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA, one of which was ratified, and entered into a military cooperation agreement allowing British soldiers to train in Canada. They have also signed cooperation agreements in the area of higher education, even though Ottawa does not have jurisdiction over higher education, entered into an agreement to facilitate technological transfers from Canada to China and amended the free trade agreement with Chile. With the exception of the amendment of the NATO treaty, on which we had a mini-debate and a vote at the last minute, none of these international treaties were submitted to this House.
I was saying earlier that the federalist parties had rejected the Bloc Québécois bill because of two clauses in particular, including clause 4, which established a mechanism for consulting the provinces. It would appear that when one belongs to a federalist party, even if they claim to be full of good intentions and that they want to remain open, and even if this is presented in an election campaign to the provinces and, more particularly, to Quebec, they seem to forget it all very quickly when the time comes to take action and to vote. Furthermore, clause 6 did not suit them. That clause recognized the validity of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine.
In closing, the federalist parties rejected more than just a Bloc Québécois bill; they rejected a piece of Quebec legislation. In fact, section 22.1 of the Act respecting the Ministère des Relations internationales requires the Government of Quebec's consent, both at the signing and the ratification or adhesion of the Government of Canada, before the latter may act on the international scene in relation to any agreement that has to do with areas of Quebec jurisdiction accorded under the Constitution.
It should therefore come as no surprise that, with the federalist parties' rejection of this bill, more and more Quebeckers are becoming sovereignists and that we would tackle this issue again by presenting this kind of bill, which, unfortunately, clearly demonstrates to everyone that those parties are not at all open to Quebec.