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House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the minister back in the House. I will be charitable and say he must be somewhat disoriented after being away for a few months because in his entire speech he was not able to get any facts right at all. As human rights organizations have indicated, the death rate in Colombia is going up, not going down. In fact there were 18% more murders of trade unionists last year than there were in the previous year.

My colleague from Windsor West mentioned the number of murders that have taken place this year. It is not just the number of murders that is so worrying. It is the number of false positives by the Colombian military and the number of disappearances as the murder rate has climbed and also the number of disappearances of the Colombian union leaders and teachers who simply disappear and are never found again.

The second point that is important to mention is what is actually happening around the world. The minister spoke very vaguely about some indications of perhaps some agreements happening somewhere. As minister, he should know full well that the United States Congress has refused to ratify the Colombia trade deal. It has simply said “no”. In Norway the government pulled back and said it does not want to be seen as implicitly endorsing Uribe's government. Britain has stopped providing training and support to government security forces. These governments are doing the responsible thing.

Why are the Conservatives endorsing murder by trying to push this trade deal through?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has clearly been caught in the headlights of his own glaringly ridiculous rhetoric. He is still trying to avoid the fact that he continues to say, and I quote him as saying this, that if you murder someone in Colombia, the free trade agreement says you will be fined for that. The member has not yet apologized for that. He has not yet said, “Okay, I got a little carried away. Sorry, it does not say that”. Until he does that, I will question everything he brings forward.

It is one thing to feel passionate about something, as the member does. It is one thing to vigorously debate, albeit with false information, but when the president of Colombia was here and in an unprecedented way went to that committee to answer questions, the member brought out this horrifically misleading information. President Uribe asked just one thing. He asked the member, if, simply out of respect, he would look him in the eye when he brought forward those false allegations.

The member could not even look him in the eye. Would he please look us in our collective eyes, look Canadians in the eye and say, “Hey, that thing I said about the free trade agreement having a fine for murderers was not fine for me to say.” I wish he would just say that.

Then I could possibly look at his other information as possibly having a modicum of correctness to it.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for raising those issues that are very important to Canadians.

I was in Colombia when the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster was there. We raised the issues that the minister has raised about Colombia. I can say that they have made great progress on that front, and we are looking forward to this particular treaty.

For the past many years, we have not signed a single agreement with Asia or Asia-Pacific nations. What steps are being taken by the minister to make sure that we make some progress on that front as well?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the debate on free trade agreements, my colleague has asked a pertinent question. I appreciate that.

There are tremendous opportunities throughout Asia. We are doing a number of things to pursue those opportunities. We are working hard on expanded trade agreements, for instance in China and India.

My colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, just presided over the opening of yet another trade office in India about a week ago and also represented Canada very well at WTO discussions going on there.

It is my hope, and I say that carefully because we do not know what is going to happen here in the next couple of weeks, that should I be able to be in India about two weeks from now, we will be opening yet another trade office there.

We are working on a foreign investment protection agreement with India. We are getting closer. It has gone back and forth a number of times. We are working on a nuclear cooperation agreement with China. We are also pursuing similar initiatives.

I will use one example and then I will close on this. The former minister of trade in India expressed India's concern about their agriculture which is mostly subsistence-level farming competing against an industrialized country like Canada which has a very mature and sophisticated agricultural industry. India does not want to embark on a full and formal free trade agreement. They are open to enhanced trade.

We look at the areas where we can improve, and though a free trade agreement may not be imminent we are able to expand our trade opportunities with many of these Asian countries.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for recognizing me in this discussion of the implementation of the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.

I feel that this debate is very important because we do not all agree by any means with this treaty, neither the members of the House nor the people of Canada and Colombia. The government will not change its mind as a result of this debate, but at least it will not be able to pretend it did not know what parliamentarians really think.

We are still wondering whether the government is paying any attention to what we say. Even though I was not yet in the House a year ago, I know that the international trade committee submitted a report on the free trade agreement with a number of recommendations. As a member of this committee now, I would like some assurances that the government read the report and responded to it. But that still has not been done.

It seems, unfortunately, that the Conservative government has turned a deaf ear and wants to proceed with this agreement even though there is a total lack of conditions conducive to it.

We tried in vain to find some valid reasons for signing such an agreement. There are none. The Conservatives and Liberals alike have only one argument to make: free trade brings prosperity.

No one is against prosperity, of course, but it is wrong to think it can be achieved by signing bilateral agreements without any serious criteria.

Whenever we enter bilateral trade agreements, we should familiarize ourselves with the realities of the countries with which we are dealing. We should take the time to assess the consequences of our decisions, both within Canada and within our partner, and not just from a commercial point of view.

In the case of Colombia, it turns out that the effect on trade between our two countries will be negligible in comparison with the damage that could be done to Colombia’s ability to defend the interests of its own people. Even the prosperity argument collapses if we take a close look at who will really benefit from an increase in exports.

The connection between free trade and the common weal has never proved completely true. Any positive impact of an increase in exports on the standard of living and human rights in Colombia is debatable. Some Colombian organizations tell us that their country’s auditor general stated just a few years ago that half of the arable land belonged directly to the paramilitary and drug traffickers.

We need, therefore, to be aware of the current situation in Colombia and take it into consideration. In addition to the opinions of some of my colleagues, who went personally to see the conditions there, we also have the stories of many eye witnesses, Colombian citizens, who have told us about their experiences. Their stories are very troubling and very moving. These people have to deal every day with the violence, the lack of freedom of speech, and the absence of the most basic of human rights.

As a farmer myself with a background in the farm movement, a shiver runs down my back at the thought that at this very moment, trade unionists in Colombia are being attacked and are targeted simply because they continue to assert the rights of working people. There are still people today in Colombia who pay with their lives for their determination to fight for their rights.

We must remember that armed conflicts often occur in rural areas, in more remote areas where the inhabitants are often dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. In these regions, the conflict consists of armed struggles for control over the land and the resources and its severity has led to the displacement of populations. Currently, there are four million displaced people in the country. Many people are forced to abandon their homes and land and arrive in the city without work and destined to live a precarious life.

Contrary to what some may think, free trade is not always welcomed by the agricultural sector. For small farmers in Colombia, an increase in trade also means an increase in imports. The free trade agreement with Canada, which provides for the immediate elimination of duties on wheat, peas, lentils and barley, among others, would be devastating for Colombian agriculture, which accounts for 11.4% of GDP and 22% of employment in Colombia.

Some organizations, such as the Canadian Council for International Co-operation maintain that, as a result of the free trade agreement with Canada,“12,000 livelihoods will be undermined by Canada’s industrially-produced wheat and barley exports” and that “the value of domestic wheat production in Colombia is expected to drop by 32%, leading to losses of 44% in employment levels and wages”. That is the real situation.

Another potential consequence of the competition and the progressive loss of market share is that it will favour the establishment of coca plantations because coca is becoming the only product with a strong export market which, unfortunately, remains profitable.

The sale of coca, and consequently drug trafficking, guerillas, paramilitary forces, the ties to power, corruption and so forth, this is a cycle that is difficult to break and one that victimizes the innocent. Colombia must adopt the means to break this cycle and Canada can help. However, in our opinion, a free trade agreement is not the route to go.

The agreement before us has some serious shortcomings and goes beyond a decrease in customs tariffs. This agreement reproduces the chapter on protection of investments from NAFTA. The many lawsuits that have been filed by investors against governments should have taught us that this chapter should be revised, or even withdrawn from NAFTA, or at least should not be reused in other trade agreements. But with this, various foreign investors will have a number of advantages and the state's power to legislate for the well-being of its people will suffer as a result. Thus, in the current context of systematic violations of human, labour and environmental rights, the investors will have powers that will only serve to make certain already disadvantaged groups even weaker, and will eventually eat away at democracy.

It can obviously be interesting for Canada to have this investment protection provision. In fact, Canadian businesses operating in Colombia will benefit from strong protection of their investments through this free trade agreement. This agreement will allow Canadian companies involved in mining, for instance, and whose human rights record is less than stellar to sue the Colombian government, should it ever implement legislation that affects their profits. Substantial compensation is provided for in the event of nationalization or expropriation. In other words, the power to legislate as it sees fit within its jurisdiction is taken away from the state.

In Quebec, we now have a fine example of a company abusing power that is suing the Government of Quebec, because the government decided to prohibit a type of pesticide in an effort to protect the health of Quebeckers. I think this is an inconceivable situation. In regards to the agreement with Colombia, what would Canadian mining companies do if the Colombian government decided to improve some national labour standards? Would they sue the Colombian government because the implementation of this law would cost the company money and would decrease profits? This could happen. The Canadian government has the means to better regulate the activities of Canadian companies operating abroad, but it does not do so.

Once again, it is clear that the government has chosen to ignore everyone else's recommendations. Plenty of recommendations arose from the National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries, but the government's response has fallen short of the mark. When asked to adopt mandatory social responsibility standards for Canadian mining companies abroad, the government decided to adopt voluntary standards instead. When asked to create an independent ombudsman who could conduct impartial investigations to validate complaints, the government created the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, who reports directly to the minister and investigates only if authorized by the mining company. In other words, the government chose to ignore all of the recommendations it received.

The Canadian government wasted a perfectly good opportunity to truly improve the living conditions of Colombian workers. This same government says that it can help Colombians prosper simply by selling them more goods at better prices.

Of course the Colombian government is perfectly capable of passing its own laws governing mining companies operating within its territory, but enforcing such laws is something else entirely. Enforcement requires the kind of resources, infrastructure and territorial control that Colombia does not necessarily have.

We have to bear in mind that Colombia is a developing country and that it is very hard to sign trade agreements between countries as different as Canada and Colombia.

Every time we talk to people involved in social movements in Colombia, we are amazed by the stories of brave men and women who carry on fighting despite the threat of assassination. Last February, my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I met with the coalition of Colombian social movements and organizations, which includes several human rights protection organizations operating at various levels. It took a lot of courage for members of the coalition to come to Canada, hoping to raise awareness of their plight among Quebec and Canadian MPs.

Closer to me, last week, at my constituency office, I personally met with six Colombians, including a couple who had left four of their children behind in Colombia and lost track of them. They were crying and asking what I could do to help them find out what happened to them and bring them to Canada so that they can have some kind of family life.

That is the sort of thing Colombians are going through, as I have learned firsthand in recent weeks. My meeting with these people was both absolutely amazing and incredibly depressing. I think that, as members of Parliament and parliamentarians, we have to do everything in our power to lend them a helping hand, so that humanitarians conditions in a country like Colombia can improve.

Mark my words. These people who have every interest in seeing life improve in Colombia came to us, asking that we not support that free trade agreement. Canada's stand on this issue is of great importance, not so much commercially as morally, to them who are very interested in and affected by it.

Everyone in this House should clearly understand that, with our vote for or against this bill, we will send a message to Colombia and to the rest of the world as well.

It is clear in the Bloc Québécois's mind that this message should be: we will not sign any preferential trade agreement when there is a risk of making an already precarious situation, in terms of working conditions and the environment, deteriorate further and when there is not a minimum level of respect for human rights.

That is the least Canada should require of its trading partners.

To all those who say that our approach would isolate rather than help Colombia, we say that, on the contrary, trade between these two countries will continue and that even without a free trade agreement, the flow of trade between the two countries has increased. So why is the government bound, bent and determined to make Colombia a preferred trade partner? The figures show fairly limited trade between the two countries. Quebec and Canada do business with a number of other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that would be better placed than Colombia to become a preferred partner. Why Colombia? Why stubbornly go ahead with a proposal that is causing so much controversy here and elsewhere?

The only possible answer we can see is that the Government of Canada is determined to protect its investors abroad, at the expense of the local population's well-being.

Another factor we must not overlook is the environmental impact. The environmental side agreement falls far short of the expectations of those who are concerned about meeting environmental standards. This agreement does not provide for any sanctions for non-compliance with the most minimal requirements and could ultimately cause Colombia not to go ahead with adopting new environmental protection measures. The report of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation states “The ESA not only fails to provide a credible vehicle for enhancing and enforcing environmental laws and regulations, but it also fails to mitigate the corrosive pressures the CCFTA will exert on existing environmental and conservation measures and may in fact provide a further disincentive for environmental law reform.” That is deeply concerning.

Given all this information and all these concerns about the signing of this free trade agreement, we are opposed to it.

In addition, the Conservative government's approach in negotiating with Colombia showed contempt for our democratic institutions and this Parliament. At the time when the agreement was made public, a study on the subject matter was under way at the Standing Committee on International Trade. The opinion of elected parliamentarians was never taken into consideration as part of the discussions between our two countries.

This prompted the Bloc Québécois to introduce in this House a motion asking that “ the House refuse to give second reading to Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, because the government concluded the agreement while the Standing Committee on International Trade was considering the matter, thereby demonstrating its disrespect for democratic institutions”.

Unfortunately, in spite of all the points we raised and all the evidence suggesting that this trade agreement is not a desirable one, it would seem that the Liberal members are still unable to state clearly what position they will take on the issue. Based on what we heard Liberal members of the Standing Committee on International Trade say, however, we would think that they are aware of many problems in Colombia that such an agreement might make worse. They even expressed concerns about President Uribe's plans to change the country's Constitution to secure a third mandate as president. I wonder what more they need to check before finally opposing this agreement. The facts speak for themselves. Refusing to accept them will not make them any less true.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today to speak to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

Listening to the debate there is obviously a divergence of views in the chamber. The minister made an important point that is worth repeating and which I will probably repeat a couple of times in my intervention today.

It is worth repeating that this is not a brand new agreement. It is not an agreement that was just tabled before the House and laid in front of all the members. This agreement has been in the informal stages of negotiations since 2002-03 and has been a formal agreement since 2007. It passed through the chamber. The committee actually went to Colombia and heard first-hand from Colombians in all parts of the country. Whether they were people involved in commercial businesses or government organizations, whether they were NGOs or they represented the International Labour Organization, we heard from dozens and dozens of Colombians.

We walked the streets of Bogota, Colombia which a few years ago would have been unsafe. I think Colombia has made great strides and that a good portion of that forward momentum is the direct result of increased trading links with the rest of the world.

However, for some reason or another, we have two parties in the chamber that want to condemn the Colombians for actually moving forward and advancing their own country.

This agreement is an important part of our Conservative government's strategy to make the Canadian economy stronger. In these difficult economic times, it is important to keep doors open in the region and around the world for our producers and our exporters. Our government has provided leadership internationally in encouraging free trade and open markets and discouraging protectionism. Our government knows that trade and investment agreements play a critical role in creating new opportunities for companies and helping the global economy recover.

That is why we are committed to an aggressive trade agenda in the Americas and beyond. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, along with the related agreements on the environment and labour co-operation, is an important part of this broader trade agenda.

Canada currently has long-standing free trade agreements in force with the United States and Mexico under the NAFTA agreement, as well as agreements with Israel, Chile and Costa Rica. Under this government, we have very recently implemented new free trade agreements with the European Free Trade Association and Peru on July 1 and August 1 respectively.

Earlier this year, Canada also signed a free trade agree with Jordan and, of course, this free trade agreement that we are currently debating here in the House of Commons with Colombia.

On August 11 our government successfully concluded free trade negotiations with Panama. At the announcement of the conclusion of these negotiations, the Prime Minister emphasized our government's commitment to strong trading relationships and partnerships.

We are also looking ahead to other important partners around the world. At the Canada-European Union summit in May our government launched negotiations toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement and on Friday the Minister of International Trade met with a group of trade ministers from the Caribbean communities to discuss the way forward for our trade negotiations with them.

Those are yet further examples of how hard this government is working to pursue bilateral and multilateral trading relationships that work for Canadians.

We also remain dedicated to advancing our ongoing free trade negotiations with other partners, including South Korea, Singapore, Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

Our trade agenda will continue to be ambitious. We have started exploring deeper ties with India and Morocco and are currently involved in technical discussions with Japan.

What does this very active trade agenda mean for Canada? To be more concrete, let us take a look in more detail at just some of what we have achieved so far this year.

The bottom line of what this ambitious trade agenda means is jobs, opportunity, more exports, more products for Canadians and more choice for consumers. It would not only help Canadians but it would help other nations that become our closer trading partners.

The Canada-EFTA Free Trade Agreement is a first generation agreement with an emphasis on tariff elimination. Implementing this agreement, the first free trade agreement Canada has ever completed with European countries, will open more doors for Canadian producers and exporters by increasing their access to these wealthy and sophisticated European markets.

Canada's producers and exporters will benefit immediately from the elimination of duties on all Canadian non-agriculture merchandise exports upon the coming into force of the free trade agreement. Tariffs will also be eliminated or reduced on selected Canadian agricultural exports such as durum wheat, frozen french fries, beer and crude canola oil. As well, Canadian companies will be able to access innovative technologies and other inputs from EFTA markets, including through the importation of machinery and scientific and precision instruments.

With the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement, there are also considerable benefits for Canadians. Canadian producers will benefit from Peru's immediate elimination of tariffs on 95% of current Canadian exports, with most remaining tariffs to be eliminated over a five to ten year period. Products that will receive immediate duty-free access to Peru include wheat, barley, lentils, peas and selected boneless beef cuts, a variety of paper products, and machinery and equipment.

This agreement also provides enhanced market access in service sectors that are of interest to Canada, including mining, energy and professional services. Canada's banking, insurance and security sector will also benefit from the greater access to the Peruvian marketplace.

The free trade, labour co-operation and environment agreements signed with Jordan in June of this year are not yet in force but the legislation will be forthcoming. We can still look at what the free trade agreement will offer Canadian producers once implemented.

The Canada-Jordan free trade agreement would eliminate tariffs on over 99% of recent Canadian exports by value to Jordan, directly benefiting Canadian producers and exporters. Key Canadian sectors that would benefit from this immediate duty-free access include forestry, manufacturing and agriculture and agri-food sectors in which Canadian companies are global leaders.

The free trade agreement with Jordan would improve market access for both agricultural and industrial goods and help to ensure a level playing field for Canadian exporters vis-à-vis competitors that currently benefit from preferential access to Jordan's market. The parallel labour and environmental agreements would help to ensure progress on labour rights and environmental protection.

It is simple: By bringing down barriers to trade and investment, the Conservative government will help Canada's business compete in an ever more competitive world and stimulate the Canadian economy.

A closer economic partnership with Colombia would similarly reduce tariffs for Canadian exporters. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement would also expand opportunities for Canadian investors and service providers. This agreement would also help Colombia build a more prosperous, equitable and secure democracy, a democracy that can contribute to growth and economic stability in the region.

From the start of the global economic downturn, our message has been clear. Ensuring free and open trade is vital to the international effort of strengthening the global economy. Canadians can count on their government to lead these efforts and to take every opportunity to oppose protectionism and defend free and open trade on the world stage. They can also depend upon our efforts to help Canadians through and beyond the current economic difficulties.

Protectionism is not the answer and it has never been the answer. Partnerships and reaching out in a broader trading agenda are at least part of that answer. This is why I ask for the support of all hon. members for the Colombia-Canada free trade agreement.

I have a bit of time left and there are a couple of things that have been hinted at in debate. Some of them were discussed in a little more detail, but it is important for all members of this House to take a look at the Uribe government.

When we were in Colombia with the committee, we were granted an audience with President Uribe and his entire cabinet. Those audiences seldom ever occur, even when free trade agreements are being negotiated. We had a very open, frank discussion about politics, free trade and the challenges Colombia is facing.

I would ask all members to take a look at President Uribe's cabinet and the president's own background. They face formidable obstacles and challenges in Colombia, but everything that has occurred in Colombia under President Uribe's watch has been positive. I know some will take exception to that statement, but it has been extremely positive.

The president witnessed violence first-hand as a young child. Many of his cabinet members have been kidnapped by FARC and some were held for a year and a half or three years. Others have been kidnapped by the right-wing paramilitaries. His cabinet is not made up of right-wing ideologues, which the opposition continually wants us to believe. That is far from the truth. He actually was able to reach into Colombian society and draw people from all over the political spectrum to his party and his cause. That is an accomplishment that not many people can match.

The reason is very clear and simple: Colombians wanted to get out of the dire straits they saw their country in. They wanted to have personal safety and the ability to travel throughout the country. The roads were not safe. They wanted to have some type of police presence that would avoid the continuing kidnappings; not that they do not still occur, because they do still occur, but there are markedly fewer than there were even a few years ago.

The politically motivated murders have decreased, not increased. We have seen better labour standards brought into place because of that government. We have seen a better adherence to the justice system because of that government. There are safer streets and highways and freedom of travel in Colombia that did not exist 10 years ago. It was absolutely impossible to travel between communities and cities in Colombia without jeopardizing one's life.

Why did Canada negotiate a free trade agreement with Colombia? It will open new markets and export opportunities for Canadian companies and will supply Canadian jobs. We have to do that because other countries are already ahead of us. As the minister said, we believe that the United States will be opening up its agreement very quickly to deal with the Colombians. The EFTA countries have signed an agreement with Colombia. The European Union is looking at signing an agreement with Colombia.

It should be noted that none of these agreements have the same level of labour and environmental parallel clauses that our Canadian agreement has. Ours is far superior and far more protective of labour and the environment than any free trade agreement by any other country in the world. It is important.

Even though our present level of bilateral trade with Colombia is fairly low at around $1.2 billion, that trade is growing exponentially. We have tremendous opportunity not just in Colombia but throughout South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

When our government came to power in 2006, we had a time of opportunity in this country with a very robust trading arrangement with the United States of America and Mexico in the NAFTA agreement that allowed for good times. That trading agreement is under more pressure today because of the worldwide economic downturn. That trading agreement has been threatened from all sides.

What was our government's answer? We looked beyond our immediate borders and, quite frankly, we followed the money. Canadian foreign direct investment in the Americas was already there ahead of us. Canadian companies, whether in the extractive sector, whether in agriculture, whether in manufacturing, were already in South America, Central America and the Caribbean with a tremendous amount of Canadian foreign direct investment. We followed that investment.

We are seeking not just opportunities. I do not want this to sound callous and that it is simply about Canada. It is absolutely about Canada, but there are also tremendous benefits for the countries with which we are signing these agreements.

Why would we not look at the Americas, our neighbours, those in the same hemisphere and the same time zones? Why would we not look for enhanced trading relationships in Central America?

Why would we not look at the opportunities for growth and the opportunities that our political cousins in the Americas are facing in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras? These countries have huge, growing economies. They have huge populations. They have great challenges. They have tremendous poverty. The only way for them to move forward is to trade with the rest of the world. They have to seek beneficial, comprehensive trading agreements.

The Liberal critic asked a question earlier about rules based trading. It is a very simple concept. Rules are in place that apply both to Canada and to the country being traded with for the benefit of both, for the protection of investment by both countries.

There are a number of issues and a number of them have already been spoken about. The extractive sector continually comes up in the discussion on free trade with Colombia. For a few moments I would like to talk about the Canadian extractive sector.

Our extractive sector is absolutely a world leader. Canada represents about 40% of the mining business around the world. Canadian companies operate in 148 countries. We are the preferred operator.

I was privileged to be at the WTO in India and I spoke to the minister of trade from Ecuador. The first comment was that Ecuador wants to work with Canada.

We have a big extractive sector. Canadians respect the environment, respect the rules and respect labour. We have great companies doing great work. We continually hear negative comments. We continually hear NGOs saying that none of this occurs. We should be extremely proud of the work that our companies are doing around the globe. There are companies from every province in Canada and they are doing good work.

We should be reaching out beyond our closest neighbours and outside the NAFTA agreement. We should be looking at the European Union and places like India and China and places in our own hemisphere such as South America, Central America and the Caribbean where there are tremendous opportunities for Canadian trade, for Canadian jobs, and for Canadian security. At the same time we will benefit our neighbours and our trading partners who desperately need the foreign currency and the market.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by my Conservative colleague. As always, the Conservatives—and I find this terrible and extremely dangerous—present only part of the facts to try to sell their proposal.

My colleague is singing the praise of the Uribe government in Colombia when it is clear that crimes committed by paramilitary groups increased by 41% in 2008, compared to 14% in 2007. Over 30 members of Congress are currently under arrest, and they are generally close to the president. Crimes committed by the country's security forces have increased by more than 9%. Since 1990, 2,690 trade unionists have died, including 39 in 2007 and 46 in 2008. According to the U.S. State Department, nearly 3,500 people will be displaced.

I would like my colleague to comment on those figures.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question because it is particularly important, when talking about numbers and facts, that one has all of the numbers and facts.

Without question, Colombia is still a dangerous country. It still has tremendous challenges. It takes a different point of view to see where it was 10 years ago, 5 years ago or 2 years ago. Without question, Colombia is headed in the right direction.

Between 2002 and 2008, kidnappings decreased by 87%. The 13% that are still occurring are unacceptable, but kidnappings have decreased by 87%. That country is moving in the right direction. Homicide rates have dropped by 44%.

Does Colombia still have a lot of violence in the country? Absolutely, it does. Is it diminishing? Yes, it is. Moderate poverty has fallen from 55% to 45%. All of the signals are headed in the right direction. Life and security are improving for Colombians.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's realizes what his comments sound like when he says that we should be embarking on a free trade agreement with Colombia because Colombians are killing people with less frequency, speed and rapidity than they used to.

My good friend and colleague, Dick Martin, who is no relation, was the president of the United Steelworkers Local 6166 in Thompson, Manitoba. He became the head of the Federation of Labour in Manitoba and then became the head of ORIT, which is the organization of trade unions for Central and South America.

Dick Martin went to Colombia a number of times and came back with firsthand reports of the wholesale mass assassination of trade union leaders in that country. The total figure, and I am not exaggerating, was 3,200 murders: the head of the teachers' union, the head of the carpenters' union, the head of the steelworkers' union, the head of the miners' union, and on and on. These people were shot in their driveways as they left their homes by government-sponsored hit squads. And the Conservatives want to enter into a trade agreement with that country.

Trade with Canada is not a right, it is a privilege. Colombia has to deserve the privilege to be in a free trade agreement with this country. Its behaviour, the experience and empirical evidence is such that we should be boycotting Colombia, never mind entering into a free trade agreement with that country.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, after that outburst, I am almost at a loss for words.

The first answer is quite simple. The NDP is not supporting this free trade agreement. It has never supported any free trade agreement. The NDP has no intention of ever supporting a free trade agreement. It is as simple as that.

The NDP will take whatever numbers, statistics and facts it can find along the way and twist them into some type of a warped little package to support what its members are saying. I really do take exception to that because I know exactly what I am talking about and exactly why we should be moving forward on trade with Colombia and other nations around the globe.

The member talked about labour rights. This specific agreement is accompanied by the labour co-operation agreement, which commits all parties to respect and enforce standards such as the freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and the elimination of child labour. It commits parties to provide protections for occupational safety and health, employment standards such as minimum wages, overtime pay, and non-discrimination. It goes on and on.

It is supported, by the way, by the International Labour Organization, which has an office open in Colombia today. It has a full-time presence in Colombia. It is constantly inspecting the agreement.

We have promoted labour rights and environmental rights. Is the situation in Colombia perfect? No one is saying that. No one is attempting to say that. Is the situation improving and headed in the right direction and will we end up with a better Colombia down the road because of this agreement? I truly believe we will.

It is embarrassing that the NDP cannot separate the wheat from the chaff in this agreement and agree with the good things that will come out of it.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, in June 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that legal provisions be added to the agreement to force Canadian companies working there—mining companies—to act responsibly towards local populations with respect to human rights, the environment and sustainable development.

The government's response to the national roundtable recommendations is inadequate. At present, complaints are only filed with the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor if the mining company agrees to such a request.

Could my colleague on the other side of the floor talk about this and explain how the government would proceed if there were a problem in a remote area in Colombia?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Again, Mr. Speaker, this is a totally separate debate from this discussion, but the part of the debate in which the member wants to engage is a whole question about extraterritoriality.

The Canadian government is not the sovereign government in Colombia or in any other country with which we do business, nor should it be. We deal professionally with political governments around the world. Our mining companies, as I said earlier, have some of the highest standards of corporate social responsibility of any group in the extractive sector. They are the companies that most countries want to attract, because of those standards of corporate social responsibility.

We encourage our extractive sector and Canadian business community in the development and implementation of corporate social responsibility initiatives, including involving local labour unions and local NGOs. We support the extractive industry's transparency initiative, which supports governance and transparency in developing countries through the full publication and verification of company payments and government revenues for oil, gas and mining industries.

We have put a number of checks and balances in place to make sure not only that Canadian companies quite frankly talk the talk, but that they also walk the walk, respecting the full political rights of other countries. We would not want some other country telling Canada what to do, nor do we want to be in the position of telling them what they should be doing.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, this debate should not be about ideology, it should be about people: the people of Colombia whose lives have been ripped apart and turned upside down by civil war and narcopolitics. The good, decent and proud people of Colombia deserve a better future and the kind of economic opportunities provided by legitimate trade.

Colombia has made real economic, social and security progress in recent years, but it is a fragile progress, under the constant threat of FARC terrorists, drug gangsters and hostile attacks from the Chavez regime in Venezuela.

Colombia's external trade has helped real people piece their lives back together despite these threats. These are people I met, like Valentina, who lived on her family's farm until 10 years ago when FARC murdered her brother and drove her family off the farm. Valentina now works in the flower trade and helps to provide food and a home for her family.

I met Maria who was pregnant with her first baby 14 years ago when FARC murdered her brother and mother and took their farm. Maria and her three children and husband now live in a house they own because of exports and a housing subsidy from her Colombian employer. Maria dreams of her children getting the education that war and narcoterrorism have denied her.

Carlos became a member of the paramilitary because it was the only clear economic opportunity he had as a youth. His violent life in the paramilitary fuelled by drug money was cut short when an ambush attack rendered him a paraplegic. Today, as part of the Uribe government's paramilitary demobilization efforts, Carlos is now involved in peace and reconciliation and he is getting an education.

Carlos told me he believes the FTA agreement with Canada is needed to give young Colombians legitimate economic opportunities, which he was denied, to save them from the violence of the narco-economy.

It is about people like Gerardo Sánchez, Luis Fernando, Walter Navarro, Colombian union leaders who support the FTA with Canada and believe it will be good for Canada, good for Colombia and good for their union members.

Colombia is a country with good people, tremendous natural beauty and resources. It is a good country where things have gone terribly wrong for over 40 years. It has been paralyzed and divided by a civil war that began along ideological lines, but it has more recently evolved to a narcowar with no ideological fault lines, only greed, desperation and violence.

Since 2002, there has been tremendous progress. Progress has been made particularly in terms of security. Eight years ago people were afraid to walk the streets of Bogotá and 400 municipalities were controlled by FARC.

There needs to be more progress, but the progress has been steady. The Uribe government's progress on security is one of the reasons it enjoys a 60% approval rating. Success is not where one is at, it is how far one has gone from where one started. Based on any reasonable analysis, the Uribe government has made progress.

Still, more needs to be done in Colombia, and they need our help. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, evil flourishes when good people do nothing.

If we refuse to engage a country like Colombia that is making progress, where civil society leaders, unions and government and victims of both paramilitary and FARC guerilla violence are all trying to move forward, and if we isolate Colombia in the Andean region and leave Colombia exposed and vulnerable to the unilateral and ideological attacks of Chavez's Venezuela, we will be allowing evil to flourish.

Canadians, as good people, cannot morally justify doing nothing. If any member of Parliament or any Canadian is concerned about human rights in Colombia, we have an obligation to engage Colombia more deeply.

The FTA establishes an ongoing rules-based system to monitor and help govern and improve labour rights, human rights and environmental progress in Colombia. Labour rights and labour rights issues in Colombia have occurred in the absence of a free trade agreement. There is already a commercial relationship between Canada and Colombia, but there is little in terms of a rules-based system to guide that relationship.

SNC-Lavalin just opened up an office in Bogota. Brookfield Asset Management recently established a $500 million fund to invest in Colombia. Again, this is occurring outside of a robust rules-based trade agreement.

The question we must ask ourselves as Canadians is how a new free trade agreement, with the most robust labour and environmental provisions of any trade agreement that Canada has ever signed, can do anything but strengthen our capacity to positively influence human rights and labour rights in Colombia.

In late August the member for Toronto Centre and I completed a four-day visit to Colombia. We met with civil society groups, union leaders, trade industry representatives, UN and OAS officials. We met with senators, economists, think tanks, as well as President Uribe and members of his cabinet. We visited a flower production facility and a project supported by MAPP-OAS, Mission to Support the Peace Process, an OAS organization in Medellin. We met with both supporters and opponents of the free trade agreement, and we sought out both sides of the debate.

On balance, most individuals and groups, including human rights NGOs, believe in the ratification of the free trade agreement with Canada. They do not believe this agreement would have a negative impact on economic or human rights conditions in Colombia. Many believe the agreement could in fact improve Canada's monitoring of labour and indigenous rights through its rules-based framework and the two side agreements on labour and the environment.

We saw first-hand the challenges faced by the Uribe government in its fight against drug production and trafficking, the FARC and emerging criminal gangs.

We met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights representative, Christian Salazar. We discussed with Mr. Salazar cases of false positives or extrajudicial executions. He told us how the UNHCHR is working with the ministry of defence towards establishing an independent monitoring system to help uncover other possible cases and prevent future ones. He told us how violence against trade unionists has decreased significantly over the last three years with the demobilization of paramilitary groups. In his view the Colombian government has made progress in its fight against impunity by increasing the number of cases being investigated. At the same time he cautioned us about former paramilitary members regrouping into criminal groups. He welcomes the Colombian government's recent invitation to participate in the investigation of these criminal groups.

We met with members of the second commission on international affairs of the senate. Some senators were in favour and some were against the FTA, which frankly demonstrates that Colombia has a well-functioning democracy.

We heard from Senator Pinaque. He occupies one of the senate seats reserved under the constitution for indigenous representatives, which is more than we do in Canada for indigenous peoples. He expressed concerns that he has not seen economic progress for indigenous people in Colombia. The concerns he expressed were legitimate, the same concerns we hear in Canada from aboriginal and first nations people: the need to ensure that economic progress comes with equitable distribution. These are the kinds of concerns we are dealing with in Canada as we ensure that first nations and aboriginal communities are full partners in developing resources in Canada. Frankly the challenges we face in Canada around economic engagement of our aboriginal and first nations communities are the kinds of co-operation and dialogue that could benefit both Colombia and Canada. We both face similar challenges on how to ensure that economic growth happens equitably and is shared with our first nations people.

The majority of the senators we met with expressed confidence that the FTA with Canada would help create jobs and prosperity for Colombians. The agreement would help Colombian producers who export to Canada while lowering import costs for all producers, especially the manufacturing sector.

One senator from Cúcuta on the Venezuelan border stressed the need for Colombia to diversify its trade relationships beyond Venezuela and Ecuador in order to mitigate the risk, particularly from Venezuela and the Chavez regime, of shutting its borders unilaterally and ideologically to Colombian exports. Canada faces a similar need to diversify our trade relationships, but for different reasons. We simply cannot isolate Colombia in the Andean region with the Chavez regime being as dangerous as it is.

Most of the senators felt that the FTA would improve labour conditions in Colombia through increased investment and economic engagement with Canada. They see Canada as a positive force. They believe that Canadian companies have been strong practitioners of corporate social responsibility, and they believe there has been progress in the protection of unionized workers and their leaders. Eighteen hundred union leaders are currently under special protection, full-time security provided by the Government of Colombia.

There has been progress in the disarming of paramilitary groups. There has been a reduction in violence overall and specifically violence toward trade unionists. The senators also spoke to us about the tripartite commission in Colombia that is made up of government, unions and employers. This commission, under the supervision of the ILO, is helping Colombia comply with its international labour the ILO commitments. At the 2009 annual meeting of the ILO, the ILO noted that progress is being made in Colombia.

Finally and most importantly, most senators acknowledged that a FTA with Canada would strengthen and improve living conditions in Colombia. It would help reduce poverty, prevent the resurgence of illegal armed groups, and help prevent more Colombians from entering the narco-economy.

We met with a group of Colombian economists who spoke in favour of a rules-based free trade agreement with Canada. They emphasized Colombia's need to move forward with this FTA, particularly now that countries like Chile and Peru have successfully ratified FTAs with key trading partners of Colombia including Canada. They stressed the importance for Colombia to diversify its trade relationships, again away from countries like Hugo Chavez' Venezuela. The Chavez threat to Colombia was a common theme repeated to us throughout our meetings in Colombia. We also learned that FARC guerrillas are increasingly being based in Venezuela, that they are being harboured by the Chavez regime to continue their attacks on Colombia and on companies and individuals in Colombia.

The labour movement is supported, in fact, by several private sector unions in Colombia. The labour movement in Colombia represents 6% of the workforce and the opposition to this agreement largely comes from the public sector components of that labour movement. As such, these public sector union members in Colombia have nothing to lose in pursuing an ideologically rigid anti-free trade position, but those who have the most to gain from the FTA are the workers currently in the informal economy which represents 56% of the labour force. These Colombians may be able to join the formal economy if Colombia's exports and foreign direct investment continue to grow.

There is general agreement among the economists that the security situation in Colombia has improved dramatically under the Uribe government and that the demobilization of paramilitaries is on track. During our trip to Colombia, we met with civil society groups focused on human rights. We heard concerns about former paramilitary members in Colombia now reorganizing as criminal gangs involved in the drug trade. We met with a representative from Colombia's national indigenous organization who spoke about the need for greater consultation with indigenous communities over investment and free trade, and the protection of biodiversity.

Human rights groups told us that Canada's FTA with Colombia needs to be robust in areas of labour rights. During our trip, we met with union leaders and industry representatives. We learned that much of the narco-trafficking is in large cause because in poor parts of Colombia, particularly in rural communities, there is no other opportunity but the narco-economy and that legitimate trade opportunity is required. Many Colombians feel that the FTAs will lead to work in the legal economy, that trade is the best way to move Colombia forward. They believe that FTAs will not only lead to increased protection of Canadian investment but also increase protection for Colombian workers.

We met with Canadian private sector firms regarding corporate social responsibility. They view the FTA with Colombia as not just protecting Canadian investment but in improving their capacity to effect positive change as Canadian practitioners of corporate social responsibility in Colombia. Our mining and extraction companies in Colombia are guided by strong principles of corporate social responsibility. Canadian companies like Enbridge have won labour safety awards. Enbridge has been recognized for human rights training that is has provided to security personnel which are required to protect its investments and its workers against FARC.

During our trip, we heard repeatedly how the involvement of Canadian corporations in the Colombian economy has raised corporate social responsibility standards in Colombia. Canadian entrepreneurs in Colombia are making a real difference in ensuring that Colombian labour standards continue to progress. The fact remains that labour laws in Colombia are actually stronger in many areas than they are in Canada.

The challenge is around enforcement. Colombia needs more inspectors. There are only 430 labour inspectors in the entire country, but the Canadian government is providing funding to significantly increase the number of inspectors and that needs to be a priority for us.

Unlike other countries in the region, in Colombia 85% of royalties paid by the Canadian extractive firms go back to local communities. These royalties help these communities pay for social investments like health, education, and infrastructure like roads and safe drinking water.

We met with think tanks in Colombia to discuss the challenges on peace, security and human rights including labour rights. Again, it was felt that Canada could help as a bridge builder, that there is a toxic relationship now between governments and many of the unions, organizations and the NGOs, and that Canada could in fact be a very positive bridge builder between these groups by being a responsible corporate social citizen in Colombia.

Outside Medellin we met with flower cultivation factory workers, 500 workers in fact. As part of Asocolflores, the national flower production association, this flower factory has made a huge difference in providing employment to people who need it, people who were displaced from their lands by the drug trade, people who did not have any other legitimate opportunities until this company provided them, through trade, with the opportunity to improve their living conditions and those of their families and to strengthen their security.

We met with union leaders from the private sector and public sector in Medellin. A majority of them in fact supported the FTA and viewed it as being essential to strengthening Colombia's standard of living. They characterized their views as not ideological but pragmatic, recognizing that globalization is unavoidable and a rules-based FTA such as this one with Canada can be beneficial.

We participated in a session convened by the OAS-MAPP, Mission in Support of the Peace Process with victims, ex-combatants and local institutions. We discussed the need and the important role of the OAS and Canada's support in terms of the reintegration process in Colombia. Victims and ex-combatants talked about the challenges they face in returning to their communities.

Now is the time for Canadians who are sincerely concerned about the well-being of the Colombian people to economically engage them, not ideologically abandon them. Evil flourishes where good people do nothing. Legitimate trade can help the people of Colombia replace the forces of evil with the forces of hope. Now is the time for the good people of Canada to reach out to the good people of Colombia, to help them build a more peaceful, more prosperous and fairer future.

The EconomyStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, this summer I took the opportunity to travel to every area of Kootenay—Columbia, talking to my constituents and taking pictures with them hard at work on projects and programs funded through Canada's economic action plan.

The Conservative government has been getting shovels in the ground and projects energized for the benefit of all my constituents. We have multiplied the effect of our economic initiatives by using a very wide variety of programs. From one end of the riding to the other, I heard people voicing cautious optimism. They appreciate our economic action plan and what it means to their families and our communities throughout Kootenay—Columbia.

As we work our way out of this worldwide recession, my constituents give the Conservative government an A plus.

However, without exception, they are angry with the useless, counterproductive, dangerous, opportunistic election talk by the opposition coalition. My constituents give a massive F for failure to the Liberal, NDP and Bloc coalition.

Donald Marshall, Jr.Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, recently in August, the Mi'kmaq Nation lost a great man and reluctant hero in Donald Marshall, Jr. Affectionately known as Junior to his friends and family, Marshall was one of 13 children of Caroline and Donald Marshall, Sr., former grand chief of the Mi'kmaq Nation.

Donald Marshall, the man, was only a boy when he was wrongfully convicted of murder, a crime he did not commit. He was acquitted. A subsequent inquiry found that the system was not working for the aboriginal people.

Donald Marshall was thrust into the spotlight once again when he simply went fishing. The fishing trip resulted in the landmark Marshall ruling by the Supreme Court, upholding treaties with the Mi'kmaq people and upholding their rights and traditions.

I attended Donald Marshall's funeral and I think the life of Donald Marshall was best outlined by Grand Chief Shawn Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations. He said that Donald Marshall was “a man who carried himself in a humble and dignified manner, a man who believed in his people”.

Tackling Economic CrimeStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, today the Bloc Québécois will introduce a bill designed to abolish parole after an offender has served one sixth of his sentence.

This practice allows white collar criminals who are guilty of economic crimes to get out of prison after serving only one sixth of their sentence. In effect, it turns harsh sentences into a few months in jail.

Given the economic scandals that have made the headlines in recent weeks, we must do away with this practice. The Bloc Québécois bill is simple and reflects a broad consensus. It is one of a series of measures designed to tackle economic crime. We are counting on all the parties to show good faith and help fast-track this bill starting tomorrow.

Climate ChangeStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, in just 83 days, the world's leaders will gather in Copenhagen to finalize an action plan on climate change. Yet, here in Canada, where is the action? The government drags its feet on concrete measures while the Arctic melts, the Prairies burn or flood, and communities suffer severe weather and unprecedented forest fires.

As emissions rise, so does regulatory risk. Investors are looking elsewhere. Our renewable energy sector flounders. Where, they ask, are the long-awaited federal targets and standards for greenhouse gases and pollutants? Where is the opportunity to review these rules?

The New Democrat climate change accountability act is now at committee. It prescribes the promised science-based achievable targets committed to by other G8 countries. It offers a framework for accountability.

Thousands of concerned Canadians have contacted their MPs seeking swift passage of this bill. They want their MPs to put the future of Canadians ahead of partisan interests.

The EconomyStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the MP for Oakville, I report back to the House of Commons today that in these challenging times the residents of Oakville are very pleased that their government is working to create jobs and build a stronger Oakville in Ontario.

Since the last budget, they are happy to see the federal government invest $15 million to help build a new Oakville transit facility, $15.5 million for 1,000 long overdue parking spots at Oakville's GO station, $8 million for a new water treatment plant, and $15 million for Oakville's Sheridan College. They also know that there is more to come.

These investments demonstrate our government's commitment to stimulating the Ontario economy by getting shovels in the ground to create jobs for Ontarians. These projects will improve transportation efficiency, support a healthier environment, enhance local facilities and stimulate further investment.

Thanks to the hard work of our government, Oakville is on the right track for its economy to grow immediately and thrive into the future.

Honoré-Mercier Secondary SchoolStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud and excited to extend my congratulations to the 50 young people from École secondaire Honoré-Mercier who took part in the June launch of a CD entitled “Un chant d'espoir”.

This CD of songs that the students themselves wrote and performed, with the support of artists from Nuits d'Afrique, is the culmination of a Secondary IV French project. The songs address social issues that affect these young people, who come from various cultural communities.

Julie Patenaude, who instigated the project, also deserves recognition for the work she did on the CD. Her perseverance and creativity were vital to the success of this wonderful venture and speak volumes about the quality of the teaching staff at the school.

I wish them the best of success in the coming school year.

Portage Plains United WayStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise and pay tribute to the Portage Plains United Way.

I was pleased to attend its kick-off luncheon last week and to see first-hand the commitment these people have to giving back to their community.

This United Way donates 100% of all funds raised to organizations in Portage la Prairie and the surrounding area. These organizations include Big Brothers and Sisters of Canada, the MS Society, the Portage Family Abuse Prevention Centre and many others.

I want to congratulate it and wish it great success as it begins its fall fundraising campaign.

The leadership that groups like this show can set an example to all of us in the House as we begin our fall session.

Let us commit to putting the needs of Canadians above all else. Let us all commit to serving Canadians instead of asking Canadians to serve our own political agendas. I believe we can do it and Canadians deserve it.

Deaths of Soldiers in AfghanistanStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pay my respects for the courage and commitment of the soldiers who recently died while carrying out their duties in Afghanistan.

People were deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of Major Yannick Pépin and Corporal Jean-François Drouin, both of the 5th Regiment of Combat Engineers based in Valcartier, and of Patrick Lormand, member of the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment from Valcartier.

This terrible situation reminds us once again of the risks our soldiers are exposed to every day.

On behalf of my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I offer my sincerest condolences to the families, loved ones and colleagues of these men killed in action. I hope you will find the strength and courage needed to get through the grief you are feeling right now.

The EconomyStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week the World Economic Forum once again confirmed Canada's position as home to the world's soundest banks, backing what we have been saying all along: Canada is a model for the rest of the world. It also ranked Canada as having the ninth most competitive economy in world, a big jump from fourteenth under the previous Liberal government.

The world is taking notice. France's finance minister gushed with praise for Canada's economic stability at a recent G20 finance ministers meeting when she said:

I think...we can be inspired by...the Canadian situation. There were some people who said “I want to be Canadian.”

Canadians should be proud that during these trying times other countries are looking at us with envy and admiration.

The government wants to fight the recession. The Leader of the Opposition wants to fight the recovery. This just proves that he is not in it for Canadians; he is in it for himself.

Jerry YanoverStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, this summer Canadians lost a parliamentary treasure with the passing of Mr. Jerry Yanover.

For four decades, Jerry served as a trusted adviser to every Liberal leader and caucus. His expertise in the rules and traditions of the House, his encyclopedic knowledge of politics, his brilliant approach to strategy earned him not only the deep gratitude of Liberals, but also the genuine respect of all political parties, House officials, public servants, the media, academics and many others.

Jerry loved our system of government, respected its values and institutions and dedicated his life to making this place function at its best.

Always focused on the future, he built himself a living legacy in all the young people he encouraged to become engaged in the governance of their country.

An extraordinary mind, a tower of strength, Jerry Yanover is gone too soon. The Parliament of Canada will deeply miss one of its finest advocates.

Canadian FlagStatements By Members

September 14th, 2009 / 2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, like many Canadians, I was shocked to see the Liberal Party's latest attack on the Canadian flag.

The message that Canadians should not be proud of our flag, the symbol of our nation and our sovereignty, has no place in this country's political system. What is perhaps even more shocking is that the Liberal Party is using hard-earned tax dollars to send this offensive literature around.

Despite what some in the Liberal Party may think, Canadians still go abroad wearing our Canadian flag with pride. In fact, over 2,500 Canadian men and women are abroad in Afghanistan risking their lives daily. No wonder military families at CFB Gagetown are outraged at receiving this anti-flag postcard.

It is disrespectful to the families of these men and women to imply that their lived ones should be anything but proud wearing our Canadian flag abroad, although we should not be surprised, considering the Liberal leader once referred to our Canadian flag as “a pale imitation of a beer label”.

Employment InsuranceStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, over the summer, constituents from my community and others from across Canada shared with me how the government's employment insurance program was failing them.

With as many as 60% of unemployed workers not qualifying for EI, in particular thousands of women, part-time and short-term employees also not meeting the qualifying criteria, it is left to the municipalities and the local community to provide a social safety net.

In communities like Windsor—Tecumseh that safety net is strained to the breaking point by the weight of the government's failed employment policies, employment policies, by the way, that have resulted in my community suffering an official unemployment rate over 15% and a real unemployment rate approaching 20%.

My community calls upon the government to take immediate action to help those unemployed and to alleviate that human suffering.