Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to note that we have heard the positions of all the parties on this bill and our party has taken the view that this bill is not up to speed on where Canadians are at and on how to protect Canadians in terms of investments, institutionally speaking.
I would concur with those who say it is not the end of the world if this treaty goes through, that other countries have passed it and therefore it is just something we can go ahead and agree to, no problem, thanks very much. I would agree that it would not be the end of Canada as we know it. It would not wreck or destroy our economy.
Let me start off with those measured comments, but we need to be very vigilant on what we are actually deciding and what potential pitfalls there are. If we look at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, we will see that it is one of those groups within the World Bank that is not very well known. If we were to ask our constituents about it, or if I went out here on Bank Street and asked people if they were aware of the ICSID, most of them might look at you quizzically.
There is a reason for that. It is an investor dispute mechanism that provides multinational corporations with powers to sue governments when they impose domestic laws or regulations that have a significant detrimental effect on corporate profit-making. In other words, what is critical here is to understand why this is in place. Who does it benefit? Then it comes back to us as legislators. What does it do for everyday people?
I would submit that this is something that benefits multinational corporations and large investors, but I cannot make the argument that this benefits everyday Canadians. In fact, it has the potential to see us give up our sovereignty. I say that because this arrangement agreement has been around, as has been mentioned already, for more than 40 years, but it seems we now have a rush to sign on to this.
I find that a little strange. It is of concern to me when we see a major sell-off of resources, particularly here in Canada, a major sell-off of our resources, of companies that have been Canadian from the beginning, we might say, and certainly companies that have been around for more than 20 or 30 years, and we note that there is not a problem in terms of foreign investment in Canada.
The dilemma we have is in making sure that we have some hold on the economic reins, that we in fact get to determine our financial pathway, that we are able to have an economy that is a mixed economy for sure, a pluralistic economy absolutely, but one in which there is a balance.
When we take a look at this agreement, we see that what this agreement will do is allow multinational corporations powers to sue governments when they believe they have been wronged. We have already heard some examples from my colleague from Timmins about the perils of that.
We know that the World Bank organized the international body in 1966. Historically, capital-exporting countries have used a variety of these kinds of carrots and sticks to protect the economic interests of their major corporations abroad. They use these as a vehicle, as a tool, so to speak. If they cannot get what they want in a forum that is agreed upon between states, they use this forum.
While many might say it is fine, that if we look at some of the decisions we can see that they were amicable and there were no problems, we also have to take a look at the potential for this to be a negative situation for Canadians and, for that matter, for Canadian investors.
For instance, the United States has a long history of using these kinds of tools to its benefit, so we have to take a look at how the mechanism works. What we find is that in the way the tribunal is set up, we have what I think is really an imbalance in the structure. We know that the way the panellists are chosen and put forward is that they are agreed upon by members of the treaty. That sounds fine until we get to the point of asking this question: what if there is a problem with a decision that has been made by the tribunal?
We know there is no satisfactory appeal process, not in my opinion. The decisions are pretty final once they are made, once we have entered into the process. If someone thinks that a decision was not fair or that not all the evidence was brought forward, unless it can be proven there was corruption or unless there is a smoking gun, an appeal is not permitted.
In fact, let us look at article 52. To be clear, the appeal process is actually an annulment. It says to get rid of the whole decision. That is really not an appeal in my books. Article 52 lays out the annulment. It kind of reminds me of how the Catholic church dealt with marriages at one time, when a divorce would not be recognized but there would be an annulment, meaning the marriage did not happen.
However, the annulment may be permitted only if the following criteria are met. One is that “the Tribunal was not properly constituted”, but one agrees to the tribunal from the get-go so one would have to prove that somehow one did not agree. Another is that “the Tribunal has manifestly exceeded its powers”, but if one agrees to the agreement, one agrees to the powers and the decision-making. That one would be hard to prove.
Another is that “there was corruption” on the tribunal. My colleague from Timmins pointed out the problems the World Bank has had in that area. I am not sure that the tribunal would have a very non-jaundiced view of its own operations and it is the tribunal that would determine this. Another is that there was a breach in the rules of procedure. That would be when one filed and what time periods were involved.
The final criteria is that the award “has failed to state the reasons on which it is based”. We are talking about agreements that are in the millions and tens of millions of dollars. It would be very unusual to have an award that would not state the reasons on which it was based. Both sides have lawyers, if not teams of lawyers, who certainly would have provided the reasons why they were in the dispute.
Therefore, what we have here in article 52 is a train to nowhere. It is not an appeal process. It is an annulment process. It does not allow a window on the decision-making and therefore I think is a flaw. It is very difficult for anyone to be able to challenge things. We know that about four countries now are trying to get out of this agreement, but it is very difficult.
I will mention one of the reasons why it is difficult. If I may turn to article 71, in terms of being able to get out of this agreement it sounds good, in that one gives notice and gets out of the agreement. The problem is that we can have companies and corporations that have in fact signed on to these agreements and will tell their respective governments that if they pull out of an agreement it will harm them and there will probably be some legal action from those corporations against their very own governments. Sometimes this can mean corporations that are not centred in their respective countries but have business in those countries.
What does that mean? It means that notwithstanding the fact that article 71 allows a nation-state to withdraw from the agreement, it is much more difficult than that. This is not unusual. We know that with some of the trade agreements we have signed on to it is one thing to see there is an escape clause to get out of an agreement that we do not believe is in our best interests, which is easily stated in an agreement, but it is another thing to actually do.
Why? Simply put, when we get into these trade agreements, they become intertwined. Corporations do their business based on those agreements. If they feel they will lose out, it is their right to take their respective governments to court. It is important to note that and to note as well that there are nation-states right now that are trying to withdraw from this treaty and are encountering challenges and difficulties.
It is important to note that this is not in isolation. Recently the government built on the work that was done by the previous government on the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I am not suggesting that this treaty will be the end of our country or that we will be giving up all of our sovereignty, but--and I underline “but”--it is one of the threads that is undoing the fabric that we have to be a sovereign state, to decide how investment is done and certainly how to challenge when unfair investment is taking place.
I would say the same with the security and prosperity partnership. It was really interesting when the previous government brought forward the security and prosperity partnership. The Liberals said it was something they had to do to streamline procedures and processes and we should not worry. They said we should just trust them because it was something that would be good for Canadians.
Most recently we have seen that partnership extended when the SPP talks were held not far from here with Mexico, the United States and Canada. What is disturbing about that agreement and also this particular treaty is that most Canadians are unaware of what the consequences will be for them.
When people talk about the security and prosperity partnership, they always say that it is a very dense kind of document, the little bit that is available, and they ask why it is something they should be concerned about. I simply ask them if they are concerned about what is on their table. Who decides the regulations around pesticide residue? Who decides the degree to which additives are put into our food supply and what kinds? Who decides what kinds of security arrangements we have at our border? If we are concerned about those things, we should be concerned about the security and prosperity partnership.
The Liberals said they just wanted to streamline procedures and regulations. This government says the same thing. Why would they be concerned about bringing these changes in procedure to this place, to Parliament, to allow Canadians, through their members of Parliament, to understand what they are?
It is a matter of how we think government should work. Is this something that governments should have a role in? Should they decide, in an open forum, how food quality and security arrangement procedures are done? Should that be done in the full light of day or should it be done behind closed doors? If we believe the previous government and this government, they have said that we elected them to do that, that we should just trust them and just not worry about it.
When we look at this particular treaty and some of its pitfalls and at the security and prosperity partnership and the lack of transparency there, we come to the conclusion that our governments simply do not want to share this information with Canadians. As I mentioned, in this particular treaty there are problems in article 52. There are also problems in article 71.
We also have to evaluate what it is that Canadians are going to receive from this. When I asked at committee what benefits would accrue to Canadians, even those who were supportive of the treaty said it was something that would actually help business. That is fine. That is good. We want to have a healthy business sector, as I mentioned before, and a mixed economy, one that creates investment opportunities. However, I asked one of the witnesses if this is something we are lacking right now, as a result of which we are not receiving investments, and the answer was clearly no. It is not something we need to have in any way, shape or form to entice people to invest in Canada.
People have probably noted, by looking at the business pages of late, two things. One is the manufacturing jobs, which have been the foundation of many of our communities, are falling apart. They are basically bankrupt or are going down the highway. The other thing people will note is that the businesses doing well are the ones that are taking our resources, be it bitumen and the oil sands or natural resources on the west coast, forestry, et cetera, but not having that value added.
We are not getting the kind of investment that would help those in our cities, town and villages to build a better life and a better community. Why? I think it is because the government is more focused on standing up for corporations and streamlining things for them. Let us be honest about it, the government is not really concerned about the investments that go to help in the communities, villages, towns and cities across the country.
I give the forestry sector as an example. This will not help the forestry sector in any way, shape or form. The $14 billion in tax cuts, the great tax cut swindle this past fall, will not guarantee key investments in the forestry sector or in the auto sector. In fact, we are waiting on the government to give some sense that it is there to help everyday Canadians, but it has said only if we pass its budget.
These kinds of treaties, the SPP kind of process, are a clear indication to Canadians of where the present government, the previous government and opposition parties stand on this bill. The government is more concerned about making sure things are nice and streamlined, thanks very much, for multinational corporations. However, when it comes to the person who gets up every morning, goes to work, does his or her best, contributes and builds through the individual's community, the government says sorry that is does not have much for them.
Ask people who have been laid off in the forestry and manufacturing industries. There is nothing there for them. All they have been given is a cent off the GST. That is great. I am sure they are very thankful of their government for that.
When we look at the cost benefits of the bill and what the government has done for working families and everyday Canadians, one has to say not much. By changing the dynamics and how we settle investment disputes through the international tribunal process on lawsuits by foreign investors against governments over alleged violations and protections, Canadians understand whose side the government is on, and I guess we can now say the Bloc and the Liberals, and who is on the side of Canadians.
I think most Canadians would want their government to say that in the area of investment dispute settlement what should matter is how it benefits citizens. I can guarantee that by passing the bill, we will be telling corporations that they now have a nice, streamlined procedure so if they need to sue someone, it is no problem, not to worry, to be happy. They will be happy. We heard it in committee.
What I have not heard from government or opposition members is that old adage of what is in it for us, the “us” meaning Canadians. I can say there is not a lot. What seems to be there for everyday Canadians is essentially taking our accountability mechanisms and outsourcing them, in this case to the World Bank.
I will end where I began. This is not the end of our country and giving up all our sovereignty, but it is a very disturbing thread that we have seen from the present government and the previous government. When we add it up with the SPP and some of these trade agreements, what it tells Canadians is that the government is on the side of multinational corporations, that it is there for them. We saw it with the government's budget and we see it with this bill.