Mr. Speaker, in a few moments I will get into the substance, thin as it is, of the questions from the member for Windsor West, but the record will clearly show that he did not answer my question, which asked him to clarify his statement where he says another government is allowing wholesale slaughter and murders. He did not address that.
He has responded to a question about a report from his colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster, who is always using the most horrifically misleading information related to this particular agreement. The report that was quoted in fact was denounced by the very people who commissioned it in the last decade, so not only is he totally out of date, he does not have the foggiest idea of the absolute unqualified nature of that support.
Canada is as prosperous as it is because we have always been a trading nation. We have realized since our very beginning that we can produce more than we can consume, so we trade with other nations. It is one of the reasons we are as prosperous as we are.
In any nation with whom we have entered a trading agreement, the results have been a corresponding increase in industry, jobs, GDP and trade back and forth between those two nations. I am not saying freedom of trade is the answer or the panacea to every single problem we face. It clearly is not, but in every case where a free trade agreement has been struck, the standard of living goes up, jobs increase, and trade increases in every situation.
We believe in the World Trade Organization, the WTO. We are a partner to that. There are over 150 countries in that particular organization. So as members can well imagine, completing a round of negotiations is difficult at the best of times, and the present Doha round is emblematic of that. We are committed, though, to seeing ongoing changes at the WTO. We think we can see those, and we are committed to that organization.
Meanwhile, because we realize that sometimes that organization can move slowly just because of its sheer size, we also engage in a positive way with other countries in bilateral agreements, sometimes multilateral within a particular region or an organization. So it is that we have been engaging with Colombia, as our record also shows.
I will be speaking tonight at a reception at the Peruvian embassy, where we will be celebrating the fact that we have completed a free trade agreement with Peru. We have one with Costa Rica. We can list quite a significant number of agreements.
I was in Jordan at the end of June and early July and signed a free trade agreement there. The Prime Minister signed off on the final negotiations on a free trade agreement with Panama. Of course, we have a free trade agreement as well with the United States and Mexico, and on and on it goes.
Therefore, following that pathway of prosperity, we continue to want to see a conclusion here in Parliament of the discussions and a ratification of the trade deal with Colombia.
It is important when we are looking at countries with whom we deal that we do not take a snapshot in time, one that is maybe 20 years old, which the NDP seems to dwell on with its old black-and-white Polaroids, drawing out relics from the past. We need to ask, in which direction is a government moving; in which direction is the country moving?
I would just reflect on some data. This is not our data. This is data that is internationally confirmed in terms of a number of indicators in Colombia that would speak to us about whether that country is seeing improvement or movement in the right direction at all.
Between 2002 and 2008, kidnappings decreased by 87%. Do they still happen? Yes, they do. They still happen in Canada, too.
Homicide rates have dropped by 44%. Are people still being murdered in that country? Yes, they are. They are still being murdered in Canada also, not at the same rate, thankfully, but the rates are dropping because of the vigorous pursuit and the prosecution of people involved in those murders.
The median poverty line has fallen from 55% to 45%. Colombia has attained coverage of 94% in basic education and 31% in higher education.
Right now, 90.4% of the population enjoys some form of health care. Is it as high a percentage as in Canada? No, but some form of health care is available to 90.4% of the population. The goal that Colombia seems about to reach is universal health coverage by 2010—and just to inform the NDP, which is still hopelessly trapped in its past rhetoric, the year is 2009.
More than 350,000 internally displaced persons have now received comprehensive protection and access to basic social services.
Training programs for more than 12,000 civil servants have taken place on the new Colombian law on children and adolescents.
There has been a reintegration of 80,000 children and adolescents into the community through education and community-based services. These 80,000 children are among those who were frightfully exposed to a country that was for too long devastated by the effects of the narcotics trade and severe revolutionary actions, some of the left-wing revolutionary movement, that devastated so much of that country. Many of these situations have been improved on, resulting in the reintegration, thankfully, of some 80,000 children. There is more to do, but Colombia is moving in the right direction.
More than 900 community justice officials have now been trained in terms of how to resolve conflicts at the local level. They have a record of some 45,000 of those conflicts having been resolved at the local community level.
Aid has supported environmentally sustainable agriculture products for more than 4,500 farmers, giving them alternatives to illicit crops. They were previously at the mercy of the narcotics dealers and revolutionary groups, and now they have alternatives. That has benefited more than 30,000 people.
Our own labour projects have provided technical assistance in Colombia, including $400,000 for the modernization of labour administration and $644,000 for the enforcement of labour rights.
Is it perfect in Colombia? No, but it is certainly moving in the right direction.
We have seen news releases as recently as today from labour organizations in Canada that say we are moving precipitously. They say we are rushing into this particular agreement and ask why we are doing that. I would like to quote some timelines that are important.
It was over seven years ago that the former federal Liberal government began to enter into informal discussions with the Andean community. Formal negotiations began June 7, 2007, with the government itself, in a formal way.
The Standing Committee on International Trade completed its study on the Canada-Colombia FTA in June 2008. That committee brought in many witnesses from all sides of the equation.
I have met with leaders of civil society groups in Colombia, including those who, at great risk to themselves, staged marches and protests in that country about the things that matter most to them. These people are very much concerned about the people they represent.
The FTA itself and the side agreements were signed on November 21, 2008. We are well into 2009 and approaching 2010. Since 2008, the full text has been available on the Internet and at the request of any individual. Yet, with all of this, the NDP and a few labour leaders are saying this is being rushed into.
We have taken a very prudent path in pursuing this particular agreement. It is something that is totally dismissed, time and again, by the NDP and certain others who are ideologically opposed. We should be clear about that. They are plainly and simply ideologically opposed to the notion of free and fair trade with other countries. They might make notions or motions in another direction, but I understand it is an ideological problem they have.
With the recent difficult times we are having with the United States on the buy-American provisions, what has been the NDP response? Those members want us to build walls around the country. They want us to build walls so that we just sell stuff to each other. That has been the NDP response, and historically, of course, that has proven to be devastating not just to economies but to workers.
So here we are with this free trade agreement that has been signed but quite rightly needs to be ratified.
I would ask that the NDP consider something here. I wonder why its members were mute, why they were silent while Colombia signed free trade agreements with European countries that do not even have the high-grade labour and environmental provisions that we have in our agreement. The NDP was silent on that. There was no opposition. Why are its members silent today when just last Friday the United States indicated that it is going to release the funding that goes before it moves toward ratification of a free trade agreement? The U.S. has been withholding certain funding based on its concerns about the situation in Colombia, has done a thorough review of that situation, has now attested also to the improvements it has seen, and has released important funding that it has been holding back until now. I wonder why the NDP did not comment on that.
It is very disturbing to me that the NDP has no problem at all with Canadian farmers, workers, producers now being at an economic disadvantage when it comes to dealing with Colombia because Colombia has signed deals with European countries. I say congratulations to them for that and well done to the countries that have signed agreements with them. However, in these cases, now Canadian producers, Canadian workers who want to sell their product into Colombia are at a serious disadvantage because the tariffs on those products, which our workers face, have been removed by European countries, and, I would dare say, at some point soon if we do not get moving on this, we will also be at a disadvantage with the United States. However, it does not seem to be of any concern to the NDP that our Canadian workers are at a disadvantage because of free trade deals Colombia has signed with European countries, which the NDP did not protest against at all, and here we are with a labour side accord and environmental accords which the European agreements with the Colombians do not even contain.
We are committed, and now, by signing, Colombia is committed, to the declarations of the International Labour Organization, declarations that cover everything from child labour laws to occupational health and safety laws, and that have to do with minimum wage, the workday itself and hours of work. Colombia is committed to the same guidelines Canada faces in terms of environmental protection.
I would submit that this is the highest-grade free trade agreement between Colombia and any other country.
The NDP members continue to say they are embarrassed about Canada. We hear that at regular intervals and, frankly, it is disheartening to hear that, but they regularly say how embarrassed they are about Canada.
I am proud of this free trade agreement.
They will not be able to produce a higher-grade free trade agreement than the one we have with Colombia right now. However, they are content to see our workers lose jobs because our produce and our products and the innovation of our hard-working labourers here in Canada are at a distinct disadvantage. When we sign this, if we get this through, 84% of all the tariffs on agricultural goods, which our producers face right now, will be removed and it will open up more doors of opportunity for workers in Colombia.
Not every problem in Colombia has been settled. Nor has every social problem in Canada been settled. However, this agreement would hold not just the current government in Colombia but any future government to account with guidelines that are transparent, that are provable and that have sanctions, such as fines of up to $15 million for violations of either the labour or environmental designations in this particular free trade agreement.
I ask the NDP members to address these questions directly, and I would ask them to stick to the facts.
We still have not had an apology from the member of Parliament for Burnaby—New Westminster who, on a number of occasions, has stood and said that the new trade agreement in Canada -- and usually it is said that in debate it is folly even to repeat the ridiculous comments that are made which would be camouflaged as true debate by our opposition, but I have to expose the ludicrous nature and the panicked state into which the NDP has fallen. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster continues to say that someone who commits murder in Colombia is subject to a fine, and that is a result of the free trade agreement. My respect for him will increase marginally the day he apologizes for using utterly false information.
It would be far better for NDP members to stand and say they are ideologically opposed to this and most free trade agreements, and that they do not like it, and to maintain that position. I respect that, but then they should allow the vote to take place, because members have looked at this now for years. They have heard from their constituents. They have heard a variety of things. They have heard that some constituents are for it and some are against it. There probably are not too many more members whose minds will be changed on this, so I would ask members of the NDP to at least allow the democratic thing to happen now on something that has been discussed as far back as 2002, to allow the vote to come to the House of Commons. Do not hold back the working people in Colombia who want to see this move ahead. Do not hold back Canadian workers who have products and services to sell that are the best and most competitive in the world and that are being held back because of this. NDP members should stand and say they do not like the deal, that they think it is bad, and continue on with their misleading rhetoric if they want. But I would ask that they do the democratic thing and allow it to come to a vote .
When I was in Colombia a number of years ago I was standing in a tourist area marketplace. I was trying to exchange my money at a cash machine and it was not working. Two young women who were probably in their twenties told me that the machines in the tourist area did not work but there was one in the commercial area a few blocks away which they offered to take me to. I have to say there was a tinge of suspicion. I thought maybe they would want a tip for their work, and that I would be leaving that particular area and going into the commercial area. However, they looked trustworthy and they took me a few blocks away to a local bank and showed me the machine and helped with the instructions which of course were not in English. They stood back while I put my card in so they could not read my PIN number. I got my cash. I offered them some money for their help and they refused but asked if I could find my way back to the area I had just left. I said I thought I could. They said that I was probably wondering why they did this. I said to be honest I thought they would want some money for giving me directions and I would have been pleased to give them that. They asked if I was from the United States. I said that actually I was from Canada. They said that probably did not make any difference. They said that I had probably heard about all of the narcotics and the devastating revolutionary activity in Colombia. I said that of course I had. They wanted me to know that most Colombians are decent, hard-working people who just want a chance to prove themselves and move ahead, and that is the message they left with me.
I do not know who those two university students are. I did not get their names, but I would say they are two ambassadors for Colombia who did a very effective job. I would ask the NDP and others to simply let the majority of decent, hard-working people who live in Colombia have a chance to move ahead. That is what we are asking for today.