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House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was countries.

Topics

Nunavut Official Languages ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That this question be now put.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-24 proposes to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Peru and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Peru.

I will explain the position of the Bloc Québécois, which will oppose this bill to implement an agreement with the Republic of Peru.

I will first quote from the statement by the Canadian Labour Congress, Peruvian central labour organizations, the Coordination of Andean central labour organizations and the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, or TUCA, on the free trade agreement and the agreement on labour cooperation between Canada and Peru.

I found it interesting, because we have seen the new democratic American Congress force President Bush to review the agreement he had already negotiated with Peru—not by himself, of course, but through others—because Congress wanted that agreement to provide for greater rights, particularly for workers, and a greater social safety net. That was done.

Are these amendments enough for us to support this free trade agreement? No, and I will explain why.

Here is, first, an excerpt from the statement:

Based on their collective experience of free trade and investment agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), the Free Trade Agreement between the United States of America and Peru and the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and Peru, the above-mentioned organizations [the ones I mentioned a moment ago] state that they profoundly disapprove of this kind of agreements that put the rights of investors before human rights, labour law and the social, economic, cultural and democratic rights of the people. These agreements are designed to be entered into by nations with comparable levels of development—

That is why a free trade agreement served as a basis for the establishment of the European Union. The declaration continues:

—and therefore ignore existing disparities between the economies of nations like Peru and those of nations like the United States of America and Canada, whose development is a hundred times greater than that of nations like Peru.

Clearly, those who made this statement also disagree with the signing of the United States-Peru agreement.

The Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement and the Canada-Peru Agreement on Labour Cooperation were negotiated in record time, and no civil society or labour organizations were consulted, nor were any analyses conducted on the effect they would have on the sectors of production, employment, human and labour rights, and the environment of both countries.

These agreements were negotiated in record time, without any consultations or analyses of the consequences.

Experience has shown that these types of agreements compromise the democratic process by giving more power to companies than to citizens and governments. They make the creation of an unregulated free market easier and more widespread, and encourage the adoption of economic, social and labour policies that make the job situation more precarious. That increases poverty, social exclusion and negative impact on the environment, particularly in Peru. Since we are experiencing a global economic crisis, this is not an appropriate time to be signing this type of agreement.

As indicated in Labour's Platform for the Americas, which was adopted by labour organizations of the entire western hemisphere, in order to be considered acceptable, all international trade agreements must have a primary objective of creating decent jobs and sustainable development. The agreement must protect the fundamental labour standards that can be implemented in the signatory countries.

Experience suggests that it is unlikely that the labour provisions [which I spoke of earlier] in trade agreements, whether they are side deals or the main agreements, will lead to concrete improvements to the situation of workers. Trade agreements like NAFTA are not intended to improve labour standards, and there is no indication that they can become a means to ensure labour rights.

We urge the Parliament of Canada to refuse to ratify the Canada-Peru FTA until there has been a full assessment of the economic and social impacts it will likely have on capital mobility, wages, employment stability, working conditions and the environment in both countries and steps have been taken to make up for any deficiency.

The Bloc Québécois is opposed to implementing this free trade agreement not only on these grounds, but also because the Bloc Québécois is against the government's strategy of making piecemeal trade agreements. The Bloc Québécois prefers the multilateral approach. Multilateral is a word that may seem complicated, because it is not used on a daily basis, but Latin scholars will know that it means a strategy that includes all the parties, on different sides.

The current economic crisis clearly shows that a market economy can work properly only if it is regulated and stabilized through an institutional, political and ethical framework. Canada should work within the International Labour Organization to ensure that the rules governing international trade are the same for everyone.

The Bloc Québécois believes that trade can contribute to the prosperity of nations. That does not mean that trade and trade agreements automatically profit everyone. It is important to see whom these trade agreements benefit. However, ordinary people can benefit only if these trade agreements include measures that will ensure sustainable development and that will promote the development of the populations involved.

However, I must point out that the Canada-Peru free trade agreement includes a clause to protect investments that is patterned on NAFTA's chapter 11 and that will allow businesses to sue governments. I will talk about this later, but I want to say that the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, which has been in force for a number of years, has promoted development in Canada and the United States. That free trade agreement included an investment clause, but it was nothing like the clause in NAFTA. It was mainly because of that investment clause that the Bloc Québécois campaigned hard against the free trade agreement of the Americas.

In fact, the presence of a chapter to protect investments such as one patterned on chapter 11 might interfere with Peru’s social and economic development rather than helping it to develop, as is hoped.

Peru is a minor trading partner for Quebec. Quebec’s exports to Peru represent only 0.14% of total exports from Quebec. It is therefore a small partner and Quebec does not stand to lose.

It must be added that Canada’s main business activity in Peru is in the mining sector. Unfortunately, Peru’s track record on worker protection in that sector is hardly a glowing one. So the agreement does not contain any real policy to hold Canadian mining companies accountable. We talk about it here and there, and the government commissioned a substantial report on the need to impose constraints on mining companies that are created in Canada and everywhere in the world.

Ratifying this agreement will enable mining companies to expand their activities without being liable to any consequences for their actions when they pollute or when they flout human rights.

In Peru, this agreement will not help the situation of people in need, and it will especially not help the Peruvians most desperate to defend their rights, the indigenous people. There are about 600,000 indigenous people in Peru, in the Amazon region, who are subject to enormous inequality, and yet they are the ones most affected by this agreement between Canada and Peru, from what I understand. The mines and the extraction companies that operate facilities in the tropical forest or in areas where the indigenous people live will destroy their habitat without offering any compensation and without consideration, as is generally the case. The indigenous people, for whom it is already difficult to defend their rights, will find themselves in an even worse situation.

Is that our business? Yes. We cannot tell the Peruvians to look after the indigenous people there. Quite the contrary. We know that various products like oil are extracted there. Other products are extracted from mines by various companies. There are also the forestry companies.

Those companies certainly do not come bearing gifts for the indigenous people; quite the contrary. The agreement, which provides for there to be a significant increase in investments, cannot help but please the government, regardless of its feelings about the people there otherwise. I do not want to meddle in this, but I simply want to point out that Canadians have a responsibility in negotiating this kind of agreement, which will enable extraction companies to displace populations who have no means to defend themselves.

To provide an idea of the situation they are in, I thought I would tell the House about some of the documentation I have seen.

There was a study, for example, on inequalities in infant mortality rates. Infants born near the national capital of Peru have first year survival rates that are more than two times higher than the national average. These are children born near the capital. Children born in the forest or the Sierra region, especially in the south, have rates that are almost two times lower than the national average. These inequalities in the infant mortality rates are the result of social inequality, which itself reflects the different rates of inclusion in the social system. This study was a few years old, but there is nothing to indicate it cannot be used today to understand the plight of the indigenous peoples.

The government and Peru's Indian communities are meeting this week in Lima, the capital, against a backdrop of mounting tensions in the northeast, where a state of emergency was decreed pursuant to indigenous demonstrations against the oil concessions granted to the Franco-British multinational, Perenco.

The president of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, Mr. Pizango, described this decree as an act of aggression. Pizango and a number of Indian leaders are going to meet with Prime Minister Simon today, but without any apparent hope of making progress. “The government, and not just the government, has always treated us like second-class citizens”, Pizango said. His organization represents 65 different ethnic groups living in 1,350 communities with a total population of 600,000 located in the east Amazon part of Peru.

There have been blockades for a month now of roads, rivers and airports in the north to get the decrees I mentioned rescinded. According to the indigenous communities, the controls over mining, petroleum, forest and water development on their ancestral lands are being weakened. Between three and ten demonstrators were hurt on Sunday. On Monday, the International Federation of Human Rights supported the demands of the indigenous peoples and called for the withdrawal of these decrees as well.

One of the reasons I have been fighting the free trade agreement is that it allows all Canadian investors—who may be fine individuals—to pursue and to step up the exploitation of sub-surface resources in these sensitive regions, which need to be protected, along with the people who live there.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member whether she is aware of the geopolitical drivers or events that have driven the agenda in favour of this agreement at this time. It seems that the government is very eager to get this agreement signed. In her mind, what is driving this whole agenda?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting question. I cannot say that I have an exact answer. However, the logical answer is important, since it is the American policy that seems to be driving this. It is clear that the Prime Minister wanted to negotiate a free trade agreement on the heels of the American agreement. Now the conditions have changed and I hope that Canada will revise its policy. The Bloc Québécois does not want this agreement to be ratified.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île had to say.

I would like to ask her if I am right or wrong. We just discussed a free trade agreement with Colombia and now Peru. It seems to me that the negotiations were not open or transparent enough to believe that these agreements are in the best interest of the people of Colombia, Peru or Canada. I am left with the impression that only the resources matter. It is as though we are seeing a new colonialism and returning to imperialism, which is a form of colonialism. That is my impression. Does the hon. member feel the same? Can she comment on that?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an interesting question. As I have often said, as the Bloc has often said, and as others have no doubt written, free trade agreements are negotiated between countries and among groups of countries that are more or less similar economically and socially. They are not negotiated between a rich country and a poor one. If they were, it is likely that the country benefiting would not be the one that ought to in terms of social justice.

Upon closer examination of the two agreements in question, what stands out is the fact that we are committing to increasing mining investment. One might think that would help develop the country, but we have looked at a number of cases and it is clear that groups of people are often displaced and forced to give up their traditional livelihoods, after which they cannot find new ways to make a living. Either there are no provisions restricting investors' actions or there are none protecting workers and allowing them to unionize. Even if there were, it is extremely difficult to make sure that the rules are being followed when we are so far away.

My colleague used some strong language, but he was right. This situation is a kind of new colonialism.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île raised the question of who benefits from this agreement. Is it ordinary people?

I have in my hand a copy of a press release from some critics of the America-Peru free trade agreement. These critics are ordinary people. They are workers.

They point out some of the problems with the U.S.-Peru agreement. They list that foreign investors based in Peru would have the right to question domestic laws and get compensation if those laws undermine corporate profits. They cite that nothing would change for the 33,000 slave labourers cutting down the Amazon rainforest. They cite that subsistence farmers would be forced off their land because cheap U.S. food produced by agribusiness would undercut their prices. They say that this is what happened with NAFTA and it resulted in millions of poor Mexicans leaving their farms.

That is the example in the U.S. Does the member see any hope for things being different if we do have a Canada-Peru free trade agreement?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I see no reason why things would be any different. Canada wants this agreement because of the provisions that favour investors. I did not discuss chapter 11 of NAFTA, which we fought, but which is basically copied in this agreement. It is hard to understand why a developing country would sign such an agreement, and that is not just our opinion.

If a company is harmed by any law seeking to improve working conditions or social laws and can calculate the impact on its bottom line, it can sue the government. It does not have to wait for one government to take up the matter with the other. No, the company itself can go to court to have its case heard. That has happened a number of times. Not only does that lead to the consequences I mentioned earlier, but it interferes with the government's ability to improve workers' living conditions and other social conditions.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would quickly like to add something in order to give my colleague the opportunity to reply since there is little time remaining.

I would like to know if she has some concerns with regard to workers, and especially children? We know that children are often forced to work in absolutely horrible conditions. I would like her to comment on that. It is important, the country's future is at stake.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I spoke earlier about children born in the forest compared to those born in urban areas. The situation has perhaps improved somewhat. However, the situation of children in these work areas, in general, is totally unacceptable. The problems caused by the use of chemical products, the fact that they are thrown out onto the streets, the fact that their parents cannot work and earn a living in healthy and safe conditions—all of this affects them. Children are the ones who suffer the most.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-24.

Bill C-24 is an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru. There are two side agreements, the agreement on the environment between Canada and the Republic of Peru, as well as the agreement on labour cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Peru.

If we start with a bit of background, a little of the history of how we got to debate this bill, it is actually the implementation legislation for the Canada-Peru free trade agreement. Canada is following the United States, which completed an FTA with Peru under the Bush administration in December 2007. This was in spite of strong opposition from trade unions, from civil society and from democrats who viewed this bill as an expansion of NAFTA.

Free trade negotiations with Peru date back to 2002, when the Chrétien Liberals first held discussions with the Andean community. The Andean community is Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

On June 7, 2007, then minister David Emerson announced the formal launch of free trade negotiations with Peru, and this government signed the bilateral agreement in May 2008.

The NDP opposes NAFTA-style treaties that put big business interests before workers and the environment at all costs and that have increased inequality and decreased quality of life for the majority of working families.

In the case of Canada-Peru, our concern is that a larger and much more economically developed country would take advantage of a country from the global south and that large corporate interests would end up shaping the so-called free trade architecture to serve their needs and not the interests of the public or the interests of the two trading nations.

My colleagues from the NDP and from the Bloc have spoken to some of the problems with this bill. They have spoken to the problems from the labour perspective, the problems with the impact on the environment and the problems regarding human rights. I think they have spoken the truth. Their words have been eloquent, as well as compelling.

I would like to speak to a possible solution. New Democrats are not anti-trade. Trade is good, but the trade we want to see is fair trade.

In question period, I have heard the stock answers from the ministers and the Prime Minister to our questions. The Prime Minister as of late has been answering so many questions with the response that it used to be that the NDP stood for something and now it is clear that the NDP stands for nothing. If I only had a nickel for every time I have heard that answer to a question that deserves a real answer.

We do stand for something. We stand for trade that is fair, that takes into account workers and farmers, that takes into account the environment, communities, wildlife. It is fairly easy for me to talk about what fair trade would look like and not as some pie in the sky theory or some untested utopia; it is something that is real, and it is something that works.

I have an example of fair trade right in my backyard in Nova Scotia. Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op is Canada's first fair trade coffee roaster. It is located in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. It is not in my riding, but it is not too far away.

Actually, it is in the riding of the Liberal member for Kings—Hants. I strongly encourage this member, who happens to be the Liberal international trade critic, to go there, in his riding, to meet with the folks from Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op, because they will be able to present him with a different view on international trade, one that is innovative and one that works.

Just Us! has a very firm belief in people and planet before profits. That is its motto. It is a fair trade coffee roaster.

What does fair trade mean? It is an innovative model for international trade. It offers not only a fair price to the workers but respect and empowerment for global south producers.

This little coffee co-op is a great example for us to look at. It has coffee, tea, sugar and chocolate. All of its products are grown naturally, without chemicals, and they are grown to enhance the well-being of farmers, communities, the environment and wildlife.

Imagine a world where governments signed fair trade agreements that kept to these principles. Imagine a North American fair trade agreement. Imagine a Canada-Colombia fair trade agreement.

Fair trade is a trading partnership. It is based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and it seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers, especially in the global south.

Fair trade organizations, which are backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers. They are engaged actively in awareness-raising and in campaigning for change in the rules and practices of conventional international trade.

The strategic intent of fair trade is threefold: first, to deliberately work with marginalized producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to one of security and economic self-sufficiency; second, to empower producers and workers as stakeholders in their own organizations; and third, to actively play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.

To put it more simply, fair trade is an alliance between producers and consumers that cuts through the middlemen. In the process it empowers producers, it gives them greater dignity, and a fairer price for their product. It provides consumers with high quality products they know are sustainable from a social and ecological point of view.

I commend Just Us! for leading by example. It was the first. We are really proud that it is a Nova Scotian company. It is interesting to note that when I go around Nova Scotia, I can go to the smallest coffee shop or the biggest chain and they are all serving Just Us! coffee. I invite members to room 519 of the Confederation Building, my office, where it is always stocked with Just Us! coffee. I am very proud to support its work in ensuring fair trade for our coffee growers.

This operation is located just off the highway in Wolfville, which is outside my riding. I am in the Annapolis Valley fairly often and I always try to stop by. There is actually a fair trade museum in the shop. It is quite something to see because it tells a story of fair trade from the perspective of farmers, women, the elderly and children. It is a really innovative way of looking at history and the museum tells a wonderful story. Congratulations to Just Us! for leading by example and also for trying to educate us, for trying to make us conscious consumers, and for trying to make us conscious and conscientious trade negotiators.

Let me go back to the agreement.

The Canada-Peru agreement is a somewhat improved copy of the outdated Bush-style approach to trade. It still puts big business before people. There is no effective human rights or enforcement of human rights. It pays lip service to environmental protection without any real tough measures or dispute resolution mechanisms.

These types of NAFTA copycat agreements are meant for trade between highly industrialized and highly developed countries, but Peru is a developing nation. We do not like to use that word, but Peru is still working on industrialization and still developing economically.

This trade deal will not help Peru grow sustainably. It will not help increase the standard of living for its citizens. Instead, it is going to open up the country to exploitation by multinational corporations like, sadly, Canadian gold companies. Canadian corporations are very active and large investors in the natural resource sector in Peru.

The fact that this trade deal will not help Peru grow sustainably and increase its standard of living implicates us. We are complicit. Not only are we not helping Peru, but we are making sure that it does not grow sustainably, that it does not advance economically.

I am sure if we talked to Canadians on the street and asked, “What do you think about free trade?” Many people are probably going to say, “Yes, trade is a good thing. I'm all for it”, but if we took the time to actually explain what the implications of these trade deals are, I am sure we would get a different answer. Canadians are compassionate to each other and they are compassionate with their international friends and partners. I am pretty sure that Canadians would support fair trade over free trade given the option.

This free trade regime is strongly opposed by civil society groups, trade unions, environmental groups, and citizens from both Canada and Peru. This trade deal was negotiated in record time without any consultations with trade unions, environmental groups, civil society or citizens.

Another issue with this free trade agreement is the structure of it. It actually is in three parts. This is a bill about all these different parts of a free trade agreement. Why are things not all in one package? Why do we have these separate parts?

There is the main text of the FTA. Then there is a labour side agreement and an environmental protection side agreement. Labour and environment I would think would be fundamental issues to any trade agreement, yet they are put in these side agreements. They are on the side. They are not central to what is happening.

The CPFTA does not include tough labour standards. The labour provisions are in the side agreement. They are outside of the main text and they are without any vigorous enforcement mechanism. Trade unions in Peru have expressed concern because Peruvian labour law and arguably human rights law is deficient in several areas.

If we look at environmental protection by addressing the environment in a side agreement there is no effective enforcement mechanism to force Canada or Peru to respect environmental rights.

The Canada-Peru agreement on the environment commits both countries to pursuing environmental co-operation which sounds nice and to work to improve their environmental laws and policies which sounds nice, but it can only ask their parties to enforce their own domestic law. Pretty please, will ya? If they do not, there is not necessarily a consequence. Therefore, it is hard to imagine how this actually is going to be effective.

We can look at the situation in the U.S. and learn from it. Sometimes we learn from the successes, sometimes we learn from the failures, and I would argue that this time we should be looking to the failures to try to learn.

I have a great article by a woman named Mary Tharin. She is a research associate from the Council on Hemispheric Relations. She wrote an article in October 2008 entitled “Can Free Trade be Fair? Lessons from the Peru-U.S. Free Trade Agreement”.

I would encourage members to have a look at this article because it really does take the U.S. experience and draw out the lessons on this agreement. She notes that the United States has been complicit in Peru's legal and economic deterioration. That is a fact that needs to be taken into account before any further FTAs can be signed. She said in her article:

The Peruvian government is beginning to unravel as corruption charges and scandals threaten to completely discredit the already unpopular leadership of President Alan Garcia.

She talks in this article about how Garcia's minister of mines and energy as well as other top energy and state oil folks were fired in response to allegations of favouring a foreign energy company in exchange for bribes. Garcia also has a history of putting economic growth before the welfare of the population in Peru, before the welfare of the people. For years the Garcia administration has been manipulating Peruvian law in an attempt to draw foreign investment while at the same time completely failing to alleviate domestic poverty and therefore sacrificing the government's legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Peru.

However, Ms. Tharin argues that the United States, instead of taking a stand against Garcia's mishandling of the economy--because it could do that, it could stand up and say, “No, this is not the way we conduct business and we don't want to do business with a country that behaves this way”--has actually contributed to the problem by signing trade agreements with this unpopular government.

An approval of this FTA in the U.S. had been delayed in both the senate and the house, due to concerns mostly on the part of congressional Democrats about how Peru's environmental and labour protections would be affected by the agreement. Those are just a few of the problems with this agreement.

In closing, I think it would be incumbent upon all of us in this House to vote against this bill, considering the human rights violations that have been spoken about by my colleagues, the labour issues that have been spoken about and the environmental issues. We should be looking to what has happened in the U.S. and taking our cue from the failures there with this agreement. We should be looking to the successes that we can see with fair trade right here in Canada, right there in my home province of Nova Scotia.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not help but notice that when the member for Halifax was speaking, she seemed to be emotionally charged, and that she needed to go to her water from time to time. It struck me that when people from so many countries in the 20th century came to Canada to get away from human rights violations, pier 21 in Halifax would have been one of the very first places they would have seen. This member represents the very area where that pier is located and where we have memorialized those trips. Today we are debating human rights and labour rights, and the violations that have gone on in Peru and the situation there today. Seeing that passion is very touching.

However, the reality is that when we talk about labour rights, there is a tendency, to which I am to some degree guilty of because I came from the labour movement of Hamilton, with such a proud history, to focus and frame many arguments from the perspective of organized labour and the people who have been fortunate enough to have a union. What does the member see as the situation for non-union workers in Peru?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, as far as this agreement goes, there has been a lot of criticism and a lot of outspokenness, which is amazing, from organized labour, whether it is organized labour in Peru or organized labour in Canada, and rightly so. They have problems with this agreement. The problems that labour has with this agreement are significant.

However, there is a much larger problem, I think, that plagues the majority of Peru's population. I actually have an excerpt from a 2007 human rights report and I believe in that human rights report it was found that only 9% of Peru's population actually is unionized. So, we have to think about that. If there are problems with labour law, if there are human rights violations of workers, how will these workers be able to collectively protest?

If they are just scattershot, and probably many of them are working in the underground economy, they do not really have the ability to collectively protest when labour laws are changed. Even more than that, this human rights report that I was looking at says that more than 70% of Peru's workforce is in the informal sector. That means that any regulations about minimum wage or working conditions are not even going to cover them, so concerns over labour law almost seem to be a moot point when we consider these folks who are working in the informal sector.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciated the comments made by the member for Halifax about the matter of fair trade versus free trade. She did mention a particular coffee trading company in Halifax. I am curious. Can she explain why, under the former Liberal government, when the member for Kings—Hants was attempting to secure $300,000 for Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, her party, the NDP, would not support the application for funding?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was not around when that was happening so, unfortunately, I do not have an answer, but I will look into it.

Whether a company gets money secured from ACOA or any other funding body is one thing, but what we are not doing here is looking to the model that works. How it started is irrelevant. What really matters at this point is that it is working. It is working and yet we have this public discourse and this discourse in the House that if people question free trade, they are off their rocker and cannot possibly be supportive of business, development or economic progress, which is completely not the case. This is a very successful company that is run as a co-operative. It took these values that we hold core to us as Canadians and turned it into a successful business model.

Despite having these successes right here in front of us, we are still going back to these old models and we are fear-mongering saying that if people speak out against this free trade then they must be against Canada developing and becoming economically secure. However, that is not the case at all and the examples are right here in our backyard.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Halifax a question.

We have had free trade agreements with other countries, such as the U.S.A. and Mexico, and we have seen what has happened to our auto industries and jobs moving to Mexico for cheaper labour. We have seen what has happened with our forest industry where trees have been cut and put on ships to be shipped overseas. We saw what happened to John Deere, a very profitable company in southern Ontario that moved to Mexico. In my riding we have seen Vale Inco transfer profitable and well-paying jobs from Sudbury to Brazil.

Could the hon. member tell me how many Canadian workers will lose their jobs if this agreement is signed?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, if I had a crystal ball and could see into the future I am sure that whatever the number is it would be pretty grim.

Earlier today, one of our colleagues spoke about how a company in Winnipeg and a company in Quebec lost the contract for building buses to Germany over the fact that they were underbid by $60,000, something that our colleague argued would be about the price of a set of tires for these buses. It just makes no sense.

We need to keep jobs here in Canada. Our workers need to be paid fairly. We have human rights standards, labour codes and minimum wages and we need to keep a lot of those jobs here.

Some people have said that the Canada-Peru labour standards agreement that is tacked onto the side, which I was talking about, is actually an improvement on NAFTA, so, hurray, we have won.

NAFTA just focused on the enforcement of labour standards, while each trading partner retained full regulatory control to establish or modify its labour and employment standards. This agreement is more substantive because it seeks to prohibit violating core international labour standards. It is trying to say that we do not approve of this, that we need to stick with international labour standards. It is making the attempt but there is absolutely no empirical evidence that this kind of enforcement mechanism even works.

It is great that we a little bit more language in there but where is the proof that this will do anything? Where is the proof that this will help workers in Canada and in Peru? There is no empirical evidence at all.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering how the member would better approach this whole area with Peru than the government has. Does she think there are any amendments that could make this agreement a little more palatable, because at the end of the day the Liberals will be voting with the government and this will go through, with only the Bloc and the NDP opposed?

Does she consider any possible amendments that could make this agreement a little more palatable given the circumstances that we find ourselves in right now?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. Is this amendable? I think we have a duty to consider amendments that take into account labour standards and environmental clauses. However, the best thing to do at this point is to hoof it out and actually have people engage with the agreement process. What about the workers? What about environmental advocates? What about women? What about seniors? Why are we not talking to the people who will be affected rather than just the gold mining companies that will reap great profits?

We should be looking at amendments but in a perfect world we would start from scratch.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Foreign Affairs; the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Science and Technology; the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are at the second reading stage of Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Peru and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Peru. That is the bill now before the House of Commons.

I would start by saying that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the implementation of these three agreements. The reasons why we refuse to support these bilateral agreements are as follows.

First, the Bloc Québécois disagrees with the bilateral aspect of the agreement. We prefer that multilateral agreements be entered into, for several reasons. Second, there is the fact that there are no measures to guarantee sustainable development and to ensure that the peoples affected are able to thrive. And third, the presence of an investment protection clause will enable Canadian businesses that believe their rights have been violated to sue the government of Peru, and this could plainly interfere with Peru’s social and economic development. The Bloc places greater weight on Peru’s social and economic development, and calls for constraints to be placed on businesses with economic involvement in that country.

So there is no policy to hold mining companies accountable. This is in fact Canada’s main business activity in Peru. People from various ridings have sent us postcards telling us about working conditions in the mining companies, of which there are many in Peru. That is its main economic activity.

Today, I would like to expand on two points, the first being the bilateral aspect of these agreements, as opposed to negotiating and implementing multilateral agreements. These bilateral agreements make it possible to negotiate piecemeal treaties that generally do not guarantee respect for certain fundamental rights.

I would also like to address the question of holding Canadian companies abroad accountable, and more specifically mining companies, as I said earlier.

When bilateral agreements or treaties are signed, it clearly shows that multilateralism is being abandoned in favour of bilateralism. It is much easier to achieve a bilateral agreement, because there are only two parties involved. When a country gives preference to bilateral agreements over multilateral agreements, it is easy for it to sign piecemeal agreements, based on what works to its benefit. This tactic is widely used by the United States. If you are unable to reach agreement with all of the other countries in relation to treaties and negotiations, you negotiate with each of them individually, hoping that this will enable you to derive as many benefits as possible from the agreement and make the fewest possible concessions.

Clearly, the Prime Minister's government has also decided to drop the multilateral approach in trade and is tempted to do the same in foreign affairs. The proof is that it is currently negotiating with 22 countries individually to conclude free trade agreements. Negotiating with a country individually means that agreements can be concluded piecemeal, that is, outside the institutional and international trade framework. While this type of agreement permits freer trade, it does not usually include rules to civilize that trade. And this is where the Bloc disagrees with bilateral agreements, because they do not set standards for certain companies developing business in certain countries. Often, certain environmental and human rights constraints are ignored. So, this sort of agreement, like the one before us today and the one negotiated with Colombia, totally disregards environmental, human rights and labour rights standards

The Bloc cannot accept this sort of trade, which lowers the standards for rights and the environment.

I think people can understand that. In Quebec, we are very attuned to human rights, and many environmental groups have told us about their fears over this agreement between Peru and Canada.

In addition, the violation of labour rights and human rights in these countries strikes us as a form of unfair practice. Other countries have worked hard to control certain business practices. For example, child labour and forced labour, combined with the denial of such fundamental rights as the freedom of association, make it more advantageous economically for our businesses to set up in these countries, as the labour costs are lower.

Businesses operate in other countries because they do not have all these constraints—such as freedom of association—and thus benefit from worker isolation and the fact that workers cannot defend their rights.

The member for Halifax was saying earlier that a report on labour in Peru indicated that 7% or 9% of Peruvian workers were unionized. That shows that a lot of employees are left on their own and work for companies without protection.

How can they get ahead when they are mistreated with long hours of work and certain work practices that used to be found in Quebec and Canada in the days when companies ignored human rights? Here again, these businesses, rather than operate in Quebec and Canada, head elsewhere, and Peru is not the only destination chosen by a number of Quebec and Canadian companies.

If this government were sensitive to the local population, it would first work within the WTO, the international trade structure, to ensure that the same regulations governing international trade applied to everyone according to what is commercially desirable for the two countries and not adopted piecemeal. This is why the Bloc cannot support this bill. It is just piecemeal and fails to take into account the rules governing international trade according to what is commercially desirable for both countries.

At the very least, if the government were also serious about respecting the environment and the rights of local populations, it would include clauses in its bilateral trade negotiations requiring compliance with international environmental, human rights and labour law standards. This was not done, though, in the agreement we have in this bill. The bill just implements the agreement. It therefore totally disregards these protections, which were not included in the agreement.

In order to provide a concrete example of the latitude there is in negotiating bilateral agreements and to show how important it is for certain standards on the environment, workers’ rights and human rights to be included in the treaty, I want to address a more specific aspect of the trade between Canada and Peru. It will show that these kinds of bilateral agreements do not necessarily include standards or do not include any at all.

As I mentioned earlier, the mining industry is Canada’s main commercial interest in Peru, where it exploits natural resources. Canadian investment in the Peruvian mining sector is around $5 billion, which makes Canada the largest investor in mine exploration in Peru. More than 80 Canadian companies are involved. That is an awful lot of Canadian companies active in Peru.

The Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement is far from equitable: it tends to give more protection to the Canadian companies that invest in the mining sector, to the detriment of local populations, workers and the environment. There is an obvious danger that the measures to protect investors will be disproportionately in their favour.

Environmental and human rights organizations are very worried.

I think they have reasons to be worried about this treaty, and they are not the only ones. Hundreds of people all over Quebec and in my riding among others have written to their member to voice their concern that Canadian mining companies are not being held responsible abroad, especially in Peru.

Most of them referred to a report tabled in 2007 as a result of the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive industry in Developing Countries. Civil society, the government and industry were all represented.

Although concerns were expressed about the extent to which mining companies respect human rights and the environment, a number of recommendations were also made, especially in order to create more transparent mechanisms for handling allegations of rights violations. Canada chose to ignore them. It is disgraceful that the elected government of Canada is not more sensitive to working conditions and the environment.

In fact, this is obvious here, when the government answers questions on employment insurance and on environmental issues, for example. The government's attitude is very clear. It shows complete disregard for certain consequences on the environment, or on the living conditions of many workers who are losing their jobs, who do not qualify for employment insurance, and who will have to go on welfare. As we know, the number of unemployed people is increasing. In a period of economic crisis, the government should be much more sensitive to these two realities.

As was mentioned in a document written by students from UQAM's international clinic for the defence of human rights, Canada refuses to incorporate clauses that would protect workers' rights and human rights in bilateral free trade agreements. It is not just us who are debating this issue. Civil society is also worried. It is aware of this issue. When we see the government's attitude regarding this issue, we cannot support this agreement. Canada also states that it is up to the host country, the one in which mining companies operate, to ensure that human rights are respected.

How can we leave the protection of human rights to the host country, when we know that some countries cannot provide that protection? Canada should be a leader, it should show the way to other countries, and it should not condone such practices.

This attitude and this transfer of responsibility to the host country create a problem, because in countries where violations of human rights are likely to occur, the justice system is often questionable. In the case of Peru specifically, we fear that this state may very well not have the resources or the infrastructure required to ensure the proper monitoring of mining companies operating on its territory.

Since we can obviously not presume to know how efficiently the justice system is going to work in the host country, Canada should take measures to ensure that mining companies act responsibly. We are not against mining companies doing business abroad. The problem is their behaviour. The Bloc Québécois has always been in favour of mandatory standards and accountability measures for these companies.

Even here, we often have a hard time making companies, and even the government, assume certain responsibilities. Some may act irresponsibly towards the environment, for example by dumping contaminants in lakes. The Department of National Defence itself is targeted, because of what is now considered far from acceptable behaviour, namely the contamination of water by dumping TCE into the groundwater.

This contaminated the well water in Shannon. I will come back to this issue later on this week.

With respect to the recommendations from the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries that I referred to earlier, the Bloc Québécois believes that Canada must first form an all-party committee made up of representatives from the extractive industry and others, who would advise the federal government on creating and implementing a Canadian corporate social responsibility framework for mining companies. There would be three measures.

The first measure would be mandatory corporate social responsibility standards that Canadian mining companies would have to respect when working abroad. The second would be punitive measures for offending companies. For example, they could be no longer entitled to tax breaks, loan guarantees or other forms of government aid. This would be one way to bring certain companies into line, if they are not good citizens abroad. The third measure would be an independent ombudsman who would conduct impartial investigations to determine whether or not complaints are founded.

The demands of civil society, which are the same as ours, are clear. Bilateral agreements like the one we are debating today must guarantee that these standards will be adhered to. But instead of living up to our international reputation as a defender and advocate of human rights, this government decided to make the responsibility standards for Canadian mining companies working abroad voluntary and not compulsory.

Members know what happens when we count on people to act of their own free will. A company is attracted to profits. It wants to work quickly, wants to give people a lot of work and use certain people, even children, who work cheaply. We cannot count on companies to do things voluntarily. We must make these standards compulsory and not expect that these industries will toe the line if the profit is attractive.

We have also been told that a committee has been set up, an Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, created last March. But it is far from independent, since it reports to the minister and its capacity to investigate is extremely limited. It can investigate the complaints it receives only if the mining company agrees to such an investigation. Here again, it is clear that this will not work. Do you think that a mining corporation that flouts all of its civic obligations will want an investigation into its own case of straying from the path of responsibility? Under such conditions, the mining company will not agree to an investigation into its own wrongdoing. Given this masquerade of measures, it is clear how little this government wants to make mining companies abroad accountable, and clear how it is jettisoning its responsibility to adopt instruments and standards on the subject. Hence, it is not surprising to see that such standards do not figure in this treaty.

On this point the Bloc Québécois is categorical. In the absence of a genuine policy on mining company accountability, the ratification of this agreement will allow these corporations to extend their operations without being subject to any rule or consequences when they pollute or flout human rights.

I know I will not have time to deal with this, but I also know that with chapter 11, the companies are still being given a certain amount of latitude. They will have the right to challenge a government that has the audacity to bar their road through programs or policies, whether on the environment or other areas. A company could feel wronged by a government that does not give it the opportunity to make enough profits, or does not respect its development, out of possible concern for the fate of its population. This makes no sense. It is in chapter 11. This would permit such companies to prosecute the government. There have been many cases where governments—including the Canadian government—have been prosecuted, and been obliged to pay millions of dollars in damages to companies that felt persecuted—poor little companies— by governments that were a little bolder than the companies themselves.

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we know the legislation will probably pass the House with the support of the Liberals and the government, with the Bloc and NDP voting against it. Does the member think there are any amendments that possibly could be introduced to make the legislation more palatable? We would like to adopt a different approach.

I am sure the Bloc and NDP would have a totally different approach to a free trade agreement, but on this specific legislation, are there any amendments that she thinks could be made to make this more palatable?

Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, measures are needed to ensure sustainable development and the development of local populations. They have to abolish the clause to protect investments that would allow Canadian businesses to sue the Peruvian government if they believe their rights have been violated. What is needed is a policy to hold mining companies accountable, since that is the main canadian business activity in Peru. The entire bill is problematic.

This government favours concluding bilateral agreements that do not take into account certain protective measures that are included in multilateral treaties. Everything involved in concluding multilateral treaties must be taken into account. A great deal of effort will be needed to change the attitude of the Liberals and the Conservatives, who can be lumped together in the same category, and want to protect companies working abroad. However, we must have a social conscience, first and foremost.