moved that the second report of the Standing Committee on International Trade, presented on Wednesday, April 1, 2009 be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased on behalf of the New Democratic Party to move concurrence in the second report of the Standing Committee on International Trade today in the House.
As the House knows, we have been discussing trade policy for the last few months, and we have seen some of the more egregious aspects of the current government's trade policy.
I am happy to say that despite some disagreements we have had in the past on certain aspects of trade policy, the Standing Committee on International Trade was able to actually have discussion on the report last March. This report deals with the provisions of chapter 11 and investor-state provisions that exist in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The second report states very simply this:
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the Committee on Tuesday, March 31, 2009, your Committee recommends: that the Government vigorously defend Quebec's Pesticides Management Code in the case opposing Dow Agroscience and the Government of Canada in order to safeguard Quebec's right to enact legislation and make regulations in the public interest.
That report was a report that essentially demanded of our national government that it vigorously defend the right of Quebec to make regulations in the public interest, in this case the banning of a chemical that very clearly has negative environmental impacts and negative health impacts and that is 2,4-D.
However, there are much broader implications for this particular report and this particular provision of NAFTA. The broader implications are the implications that it has, through the chapter 11 provisions, on any government. Whether we are talking about the Quebec government or the Government of British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, any province, any territory or any municipality in Canada, it is essentially impacted by the provisions of chapter 11.
This is an important discussion we need to have and an important report that we hope Parliament will endorse. It comes out of the Standing Committee on International Trade in light of the concerns about Dow Chemical Company's attack on Quebec's right to make this regulation in the public interest. It could be Quebec today and it could well be British Columbia tomorrow.
As democratic representatives in the House of Commons, we have to very clearly take the stand that when powerful international companies attack democratic entities and attack the rights of those entities to make safety regulations, health regulations and environmental regulations in the public interest, Parliament has to clearly take a stand.
I am pleased to say at the outset that this report stemmed from hearings the NDP was able to obtain at the Standing Committee on International Trade on 2,4-D pesticides and on the attack by Dow AgroSciences against Quebec's right to make this legislation in the public interest.
We pushed for that at the beginning of March. I am pleased to say that we had the support of the majority of members of the Standing Committee on International Trade. We had those hearings, and subsequent to those hearings we brought forward the report with the support of the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party as well. We brought forward the report, it was adopted and it has now been brought forward to Parliament for discussion.
The information sessions and witness testimony that the NDP was able to bring before the Standing Committee on International Trade were what was most important. I will talk about some of the statements we heard in committee about this attack by Dow AgroSciences on the Government of Quebec.
Once again, Quebec is not the only one affected by the provisions of chapter 11 of NAFTA, which the NDP has long opposed. All the provinces, all the territories, all the municipalities in Canada could be affected by the provisions of chapter 11.
A number of witnesses appeared before the committee. Their testimonies were very helpful in the report we are discussing today. We first heard from Steven Shrybman, the legal counsel for the Council of Canadians. This is the largest citizens' organization in Canada, with more than 100,000 members nation wide. Mr. Shrybman said:
Under chapter 11 of NAFTA, private parties-—investors and companies—from the other NAFTA jurisdictions, namely the United States and Mexico, can make a claim for damages arising from an alleged breach. We're going to take the case of a claim against Canada--a Canadian government, be it a federal government, provincial government, or municipal government--because of something the government has done that the private investor or the U.S. company, for example, argues is in breach of the broadly worded and ill-defined constraints of chapter 11.
That is the problem. These private investors, such as Dow AgroSciences, have the right to attack regulations made in the public interest, and that is why the Committee on International Trade decided to strongly urge the government to protect the interests of Quebec and all of the other provinces from the use of chapter 11 to attack these regulations.
Hugo Séguin, public affairs coordinator with Équiterre, a well-known Quebec organization, had this to say about the dispute with Dow AgroSciences, or rather, Dow AgroSciences' attack on Quebec's right to pass legislation in the best interest of Quebeckers in areas under its jurisdiction:
The Quebec Pesticide Management Code has been in effect since 2003. The ban on 20 active ingredients in pesticides has been in effect since 2006. For example, the Pesticide Management Code applies to turfed areas, including areas used frequently by children. Public health studies seem to show that children are exposed to even greater health risks when they play in parks, schoolyards or day care yards.
Mr. Séguin went on to say that Quebec has justified its actions on the grounds of the risk to public health. He added that Quebec is not the only jurisdiction in the world to ban 2,4-D or other pesticides. This is also the case in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Ontario, where some pesticides, including 2,4-D, have been banned.
That is the problem. Quebec took responsibility. The Government of Quebec decided that it had to protect children by prohibiting the use of 2,4-D. Quebec is not the only jurisdiction in the world to prohibit 2,4-D. Several other jurisdictions are doing so, including Ontario. Even though Ontario is behind Quebec on this issue, it is heading in the same direction as Quebec. So Dow AgroSciences could choose to attack the Government of Ontario for its decisions, just as it has attacked the Government of Quebec's decisions. However, countries like Norway, Denmark and Sweden have also decided to prohibit the use of 2,4-D.
These countries are not governed by the chapter 11 provisions. So companies do not have the same grounds for attacking decisions made in the public interest by democratically elected governments.
That is the problem, and that is why there is a motion to concur in this report today. This affects municipalities, Quebec, Ontario and other provinces that want to bring in legislation to prohibit products like 2,4-D.
That is the fundamental problem. Essentially, there are chapter 11 provisions that can be used by any company to attack any democratic decision that is taken by a democratic government in the interests of the people it represents.
It is important to note that when the discussions were held around NAFTA, the provisions of chapter 11 that provide this super chèque en blanc, as is said in French, this blank cheque to the corporate sector to challenge government initiatives were something which, immediately upon signing NAFTA, the United States immediately retreated away from.
There was a very clear unease in the United States and other jurisdictions about the provisions of investor state and what it could mean in the long term. It is interesting to note, and this comes down to a fundamental question, that the chapter 11 provisions have not been reproduced by the United States in any other trade agreement it has signed since NAFTA. The provisions of chapter 11, the blank cheque given to the corporate sector to challenge the health and safety regulations put in place in the public interest, are something the United States, since that time, has moderated in all its trade agreements. There is no longer a blank cheque in any other American trade agreement.
The United States took that step back from the brink. It said that these provisions are far too widespread, that they give too much power and control to the corporate sector. In place of them, the United States, in any provisions around investor state, has made it very clear that environmental regulations, health and safety regulations, decisions that are made by democratic bodies in the public interest cannot be challenged under chapter 11 or investor state provisions. The United States retreated immediately from that.
Canada is the only country in the world where every single comprehensive trade agreement that we have signed since NAFTA has included these blank cheque investor state provisions. I will repeat that because this is of fundamental importance. Whereas other countries have retreated from the brink, we have gone right over. Agreements that have been brought to this House have all included the chapter 11 provisions that give a blank cheque to corporate CEOs to challenge decisions made in the public interest.
Only one party in the House of Commons has defended the public's right to make regulations in the public interest through its democratically elected representatives. Only one party consistently has said that these investor state provisions, rejected by the United States since NAFTA and by every other country on the planet, are a negative, unsustainable and irresponsible provision of trade agreements that Canada has signed.
That is why New Democrats have stood in the House consistently over the past two decades, since the signing of NAFTA and the putting into place of the Canada-U.S. trade agreement, and opposed those chapter 11 provisions. We have done that for one very simple reason, that when we give investor state provisions, when we allow this blank cheque to the corporate sector, it is understandable there is going to be a very clear attack on some democratically elected government's right to put in place that legislation.
What is more important is the effect it has on legislation even before it is brought forward. We have heard in discussions at the municipal and provincial levels on the possible implications of chapter 11, that sometimes governments step back from taking action in the public domain because they are concerned about whether or not investor state provisions could be applied by companies that feel that their right to make a profit may be infringed upon.
That brings me back to the issue of 2,4-D, an issue that, I will repeat, was supported, that we must vigorously defend Quebec's right to put forward this legislation in the public interest to protect children. As I have mentioned, witnesses were very clear on this. As a trade committee, and I am hoping to get the approval of Parliament, we are saying that the Canadian government has to vigorously defend the right of provincial legislatures, the right of the national assembly, the right of municipalities, the right of democratically elected bodies to put in place legislation in the public interest.
It is important to mention some of the chapter 11 cases that have been brought forward, because these indicate the impact of chapter 11 and why the NDP believes, like Barack Obama, that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated. The chapter 11 provisions need to be strongly curtailed because they simply were not appropriate at the time, are not appropriate today and are not a mechanism that allows for the kind of public policy Canadians want to see.
As soon as NAFTA was put into place, Ethyl Corporation, a U.S. chemical company, challenged a Canadian ban on the gasoline additive MMT. MMT is a neurotoxin. No one objects to the very clear health impacts of that ingredient, but the fact that the government moved to ban MMT led to the use of chapter 11 provisions. Canadian taxpayers across the country from coast to coast to coast had to cough up $13 million for an out-of-court settlement. This was for a product that is a known neurotoxin. It was banned by the Canadian government in a responsible way to ensure that the product could not have the negative health impacts, but because of the chapter 11 provisions, Canadian taxpayers had to compensate the company for producing a product that has known health impacts.
What is wrong with that picture? Embedded in NAFTA are provisions that force taxpayers to compensate bad companies for producing a product that is a health risk. What is wrong with this? It is rewarding bad behaviour. It is like saying to somebody who has murdered somebody, “We are going to give you compensation because we are going to have to put you in jail”. This is absolutely absurd.
That is why the NDP has been saying consistently over the last number of years when these investor state provisions come forward that NAFTA has to be renegotiated and that we have to fundamentally rejig our approach on trade policy, including removing the chapter 11 provisions from the trade policy template that is put forward for all of our comprehensive trade agreements.
That is a fundamental problem. It is a problem in Quebec when it tries to legislate and ban a toxic product, 2,4-D, and it is challenged by the company. It is a problem for other provincial governments that may choose to do the same thing. It is a challenge for our federal government.
The NAFTA chapter 11 provisions have a negative impact on public policy. The NDP believes that NAFTA must be renegotiated. We will agree with Barack Obama on this. We believe that investor state needs to be removed from the provisions of NAFTA.