Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill today.
It is of utmost importance not only to Canadian workers and Canadian society but obviously to Peruvian workers and Peruvian society as well.
Quite often the government, as well as their new coalition partners, the Liberals, is really fond of talking about rules-based agreements. When one thinks of those terms, it sounds rather magnanimous, we are going to have rules. The first thing that comes to mind is that somehow the rules will be even-handed, because most of us grew up playing games that had rules in them that were about fairness, equity and making sure that those who were not as gifted as others when it came to the games we were going to play could be included. So we developed rules for that.
Here we have this agreement that is based on rules, but we have to ask the fundamental question, “Who set the rules and for whom were they set?” When we look at this particular agreement, the rules are set but clearly they are set for one group to dominate another. We did not learn anything from NAFTA's chapter 11. We might have learned to do it a little bit better in the sense of making sure that those who could take advantage could take advantage even more.
What we have inside this agreement is indeed still that style of chapter investor protection that we all have come to recognize does not work well. If it does not work well and the rules are not working for Canadians and for other trading partners who sign on to those agreements, then why indeed would we continue to make them part of the rules, why would we not amend them or change them drastically to make sure that they are not in there.
In fact, we can see in other more modern agreements, and my colleagues in this House quite often tend to use the term fair trade, that they still use fair trade with chapter 11-type agreements. Whereas a fairer trade would actually eliminate those types of provisions and deal on a more even-handed basis with all participants in trade, including workers, the environment, civil society and communities as a whole. However, that gets lost in this agreement.
One may well ask, “Well, who sets the rules?” In this particular case, the government of this country bargained this agreement with the government of Peru. Did it have ability to do that? Yes. Does it have the moral authority to do that? Well, in Peru, I would suggest the Peruvian government does not. President Garcia's most recent poll ratings are 19%. One can say, “Well, a poll is a poll”. That gages public sentiment at least. And the public sentiment clearly shows that less than one in five Peruvians agree with the leadership of that government.
If the Peruvian government is about to set the rules for Peru in the labour movement, for workers and general society, and four out of five or 80% of the population is not in agreement with that government, is it going to be setting rules that really are about fairness for all of those citizens of that country? I think that when one does the arithmetic, one would have to come to the conclusion that no, that is not the case.
Here we have a rules-based agreement being set up by a group, in this particular case the Peruvian government, that really has no moral authority to do so. Consequently, how do we know what the Peruvian government is saying to us is really representative of what Peruvians are saying to their government? I think we have to doubt, very much, what exactly it is saying to us.
We need to look no further than what the Peruvian authorities do in their actions inside their own government, inside the country, for us to take a look to see if indeed we should believe the things they are telling us they will do, when indeed inside the country itself they are doing the opposite of what they are telling us they will do.
As my colleagues pointed out earlier, there is this question of how the Peruvian government treats trade unions, especially in the public sector, where basically it is taking away the right of collective bargaining; however, one of the rules in the rules-based agreement is to protect collective bargaining.
The Garcia government says “We are going to protect that type of right. We are going to enshrine it as a piece off to the side of the agreement”, and I will get back to talking about why it should be in rather than outside the agreement, but yet by its deeds it is actually taking rights away from collective bargaining and from workers in general.
So, here we have the government of Peru saying one thing, and some folks would use the old acronym “talk is cheap” when it is saying one thing, but when it gets to doing the walk and doing the deed, we can see the dastardly deed it does when it takes rights away from workers, takes collective bargaining away from workers, and it puts processes in place that would affect those workers, the very workers that it is supposed to represent. This is a government that is supposed to protect its workers, as we should be protecting ours. But then again that is a debate of probably another bill for another day as to how well the current government and the preceding one actually protected workers in our international trade agreements. One could argue, I would say, very successfully that that did not happen in this country either.
So, when we look at that sense of where workers are in Peru and the fact that only 9% are really covered by unions and that minimum wages cover a certain portion of the population, we would say that does not seem so bad, that it looks like it is going to up. In fact, I believe the statistics state it went up to $176 a month. I know that is a very paltry sum in this country, but that is a different society. But then again, if we delve much deeper and we actually look at what is the minimum wage and who does it cover, we find by the very deed that it in fact covers very few people at all because the vast majority of folks work in what is called an informal economy.
Here we might have called that under the table or the grey market, which usually is a market where people go out and work to subsidize an already established income. They have a job but maybe they work on the side. Dare I say it, the grey economy is usually to avoid taxes in this country.
However, the informal economy in Peru is the majority of the economy, where wages are not the paltry $176 a month but are $20 to $30 a month, which is not quite 15% of the minimum wage.
We all know that minimum wage is really established as the floor. But really what we have is folks not living on the floor but living underneath it. The vast majority of them, indeed, are living underneath it. And here we have this agreement, entered into by the current government and the government of Peru, to somehow do something to help folks who are below the floor when we see the government is not enacting legislation to help them rise up even though it says in the agreement that it will definitely do that.
So when one looks at what is said in agreements and the words that are written there, it is the deeds that are done by government that actually tell us whether the words will true or they will ring hollow.
In the case of the Garcia government, clearly they ring hollow, and the echo is deafening. They do not protect the workers in Peru nor civil society in Peru. Large tracks of the indigenous population in Peru are saying they do not want this agreement, that it is not good for the Peruvians.
I would argue it is not necessarily good for Canadians either, in certain aspects, because it did not get rid of the chapter 11 situation. It did not get rid of that whole sense of investor rights. I would call it investor privilege because the labour organizations and workers in this country do not get treated on an equal footing. If we cannot equate the two and we cannot make them equal, then we cannot have fair trade. It will always be free trade for some and an obligatory trade for others, those of us who have to live under the rules and those who get to write the rules. That will never make agreements fair for all of us who participate in them.
So, when we look at this agreement, and there are a number of folks who have, and we are looking at the implementation of this agreement, not the debate of the agreement, obviously, but simply the implementation of it, we ask, “Is this in the best interests of those who are there?”
My colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood has a private member's bill before the House that talks about mining companies and talks about how they should behave in a manner that is fair and equitable, similar to what they do in this country, when they are in South America, and places like Peru.
In my riding office, I have received literally thousands of signature cards from young people, their parents, grandparents, and in some cases their great grandparents who are saying that until the government can make sure that workers in Peru and other parts of the hemisphere are treated fairly and the same way they are treated in Canada for the same corporations, then we shouldn't enter into these agreements. By signing these cards, they are saying they do not agree with this agreement. They do not agree that this agreement is actually a good model for Peruvian workers in Peruvian society.
When there is an outpouring of support which was not generated by me as the MP but by civil society in my riding and there is a private member's bill that talks about that, and is supported by literally tens of thousands across this country, that should tell us something about what people feel and intrinsically know is not a good deal, and so should we.
As parliamentarians we should know it is not a good deal. We should know that we should have labour and environmental standards. Why are we any different than the U.S. when it actually signed a deal, albeit flawed? The U.S. signed a deal and enshrined the labour and environmental standards in the body of the collective agreement. I call it a collective agreement because it is bargained between two countries.
Normally, in collective bargaining, when something is intrinsically important to the parties, it is put in the body of the agreement because that it is how it is defined and enshrined as being that important. It is not put in as a side piece or an addendum. It is not added on at the back. It is not referred to in a chart. It is put in the body of the agreement because that is the weight given to it.
When we look at this agreement, what do we find in the body of it? We find the usual platitudes of the back and forth between two governments and, of course, investors' rights enshrined in the heart of the agreement. We do not find that as an addendum or a chart. We do not find it stapled to the back of the agreement. Yet, when it comes to the fundamental situation of labour and workers' rights, it is tacked on at the back.
Let us look at the environment, the very place in which we live. We have all heard the horror stories about environmental degradation throughout the entire world and Peru is not immune to that. It is, indeed, in the same situation as other countries where environmental degradation has taken place against their best interests and wishes in a lot of cases. Why would we not have enshrined that in the heart of the agreement? We tacked that one on the back as well.
When the question is raised as to why it is not in the body of the agreement, the answer is, “Trust us, we have your best interests at heart”. Again, those are words and the words “trust us” from the Peruvian government are not matched by the very deeds it talks about when indigenous people are being forced off their lands. There was an attempt by the Garcia government to change the constitution so there would be a different voting structure to remove people, which was eventually lost in a constitutional challenge.
Good for those who challenged it through the Peruvian constitution and said the president of the country could not do that. Unfortunately for them, the constitutional courts upheld it and said no, the government would have to enshrine and secure all of the pieces, which takes two-thirds of a vote to remove people who would give up land willingly.
If we left it to Garcia to do, he would have removed indigenous people in favour of mining corporations. In fact, he was quoted one time as telling a mining company not to worry, he would take care of it, the company would get its land claim and be able to set up its mine. He forgot to ask the folks who actually owned and lived on the land if that is what they wanted. Until this particular point, they said no. That mine has not established itself yet and good for the indigenous folks who live and farm there.
From the NDP's perspective, when it comes to Canadian agriculture, we did not get the same deal that the Americans got. If we were to look at some of the pieces that may be of benefit to Canadian agriculture, there were certainly some issues around the grains and pulse sectors.
When it comes to the red meat sector, we did not get the same access that Americans did. Why would we sign a deal that is inferior to the Americans? On one side, we are unable to get the open access to the markets, which the government says it wants, yet it is willing to sign a deal that does not open the market the way it wants it to.
There is the old adage that half a loaf is better than none, but I would argue half a loaf that has gone bad is probably worse than none. At least if we start at the beginning, we have an opportunity to craft something that makes sense and that is a positive benefit for all the parties. In this case, it seems the bill will not do that.
We did not get the open markets. The Peruvian government says that it will do certain things and then it restricts things when it comes to workers. It agrees to a settlement process that states a fine might have to be paid, yet it turns a blind eye. It reminds me of one of the old Monty Python skits of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. It has become one of things that is between the mining corporations and those who will benefit directly from this agreement. It has become the nudge, nudge, wink, wink of an agreement.
The government pretends it has this agreement, that it will include a piece about labour and environmental standards in the agreement and that we should not worry because we it will not have to walk the walk. It then will be able to tell its friends and international labour organizations that it has this as part of the agreement, but that is not the case. It is simply an add-on.
The Americans did not do that because the agreement would be held up in the U.S. Congress. They enshrined the labour and environmental pieces inside the agreement to ensure it would pass through the House of Representatives. It is still flawed because those provisions about the same penalties still apply and no one is certain how that penalty will be exacted and enforced because there are no teeth when it comes to those pieces.
That is the problem. The investor piece gets an arbitration panel, gets to make charges before it. Yet with the labour and environment pieces, there may be a fine. Again, this is a flawed agreement that is weighted on one side and not on the other.
One has to wonder if this is the future for us. Will we continue down this path of constantly opening up free markets and free agreements that are not fair or balanced? It would seem that is the case. It seems we have not learned anything from the previous ones. We have learned to perhaps placate those of us who say those are wrong-headed agreements, but we have never learned to fundamentally change the direction so we develop fair trade agreements.
If we are not going to do that, why would we sign flawed agreements? That is a fundamental question that all members should ask themselves. If we know the agreements are flawed, and I have heard many members say that it is not exactly what we want, or not quite what they would like to see, why sign it? Why not take it back and start again? Why not listen to those parties who have said that it is flawed and have given suggestions how to fix it? It is not just a question of opposing for opposition's sake. It is saying that it is flawed and here are some fixes.
The Peruvian population is saying the same. There are things we need to do to fix it and we are willing to come forward to give the governments the opportunity to fix it. The agreement could have a number of propositions that will enhance the bill and make it fair for both countries so we can trade.
It should never be confused that somehow those who oppose free trade agreements, especially those that have chapter 11 enshrined in them, are opposed to trade. It is not the case. We all understand that trade takes place on this globe and it is one of the things we have done for centuries. We will always continue to do that. However, we should not allow ourselves to sign flawed agreements that will either not benefit Canadians or those of our reciprocal trade partners. We should never stoop to taking advantage of those who find themselves in precarious situations. It should be about even-handedness and ultimately about fairness.
That fairness will drive equality for both partners and ultimately then, and only then, will we have trade agreements that all of us, I believe, unanimously could stand up and support. We should strive to be there because that would be equitable and fair for all the parties and for the world.