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House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was privacy.

Topics

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

Fairness at the Pumps ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, a few weeks ago, the Bloc Québécois and I spoke out against Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. The Conservatives' eagerness to ratify this agreement was one of the reasons we could not support it. About a month ago, while we were considering this bill in the House, we found that it was not in line with the Bloc Québécois' values and beliefs or those of Quebeckers.

Our position remains unchanged because we have seen no indication that neither workers' rights nor the tax haven situation in Panama has improved since then. My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I will never be able to support any agreement, treaty or government decision that does not respect these fundamental rights. We will never accept such an agreement unless we can be certain that these rights will be respected.

Before going any further, I would like to answer a question that was asked by the Conservative member for Abbotsford. After my last speech on this subject, he asked why the Bloc Québécois would not at least allow this agreement to go to committee to ensure that amendments are made that would satisfy the Bloc. I would say that if some of these problems could be fixed in committee, we would be in favour of sending the bill to committee. However, some of the problems with the agreement or relations with Panama are beyond Canada's control. For example, there is the issue of police repression of unions. As my colleague, the member for Joliette said, although we could study the issue in committee, we would be wasting our time if the Panamanian leaders have no interest in examining and addressing the situation.

That said, since I have the honour of speaking on this topic today, I think it is important to briefly reiterate the Bloc's position on bilateral agreements. The Bloc Québécois is not a protectionist party. Quebec exports 52% of what it produces, and our businesses, especially cutting-edge businesses, could not survive in the domestic market alone. That is why the Bloc Québécois supported NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and was the first party to propose entering into a free trade agreement with the European Union. Clearly, our party supports free trade.

We believe that in order for trade to be mutually beneficial, it must first be fair. This would be easy if the Conservatives were willing. A trading system that results in exploitation in poor countries and dumping in rich countries is not viable. Members can be assured that the Bloc Québécois will never tolerate a system of free trade that would result in a race to the bottom. We simply want to increase wealth and not poverty, in Quebec, Canada, and in the countries with which we are signing agreements.

We are well aware that the absence of environmental or labour standards in trade agreements puts a great deal of pressure on our industries, especially our traditional industries. It is very difficult for them to compete with products made with no regard for basic social rights. We are in favour of a real policy of multilateralism, not the shameless pursuit of profit at the expense of people's living conditions and the environment, which is all too often the case with the bilateral agreements that the government wants to sign.

I would like to remind the members of an aspect of this agreement that the Bloc Québécois finds very worrisome, and that we proclaim loud and clear every time we have the chance.

Panama is still on the OECD's grey list of tax havens, and it is even on France's blacklist of tax havens. Yes, I said France. Obviously Panama poses a problem.

While major European corporations are leaving that country because of its lack of banking transparency and its promotion of tax evasion, Canada wants to send its companies there. Does that make any sense? We need to think about this. The fact that France is pulling out of the country and we want to go in needs some serious consideration.

The Bloc Québécois feels it is imperative that, before concluding a Canada-Panama free trade agreement, the Conservative government sign an information sharing agreement with Panama. Nonetheless, this agreement must not exempt subsidiaries located in the targeted jurisdictions from paying income tax.

I want to repeat that, even though the free trade agreement signed on May 14, 2010, comes with a comprehensive agreement on labour co-operation, protecting labour rights in Panama remains a serious concern.

President Ricardo Martinelli's right-wing government passed Law 30, legislation that is considered anti-union, just a few months ago in June 2010. It is unbelievable. Basically, the law criminalizes workers who demonstrate to defend their rights. Here we are in 2010 and that government is still passing that kind of legislation. Once again, this certainly gives us something to think about.

We also know that Panama was shaken in recent months by crackdowns described as anti-union. Between two and six people were killed and about 100 were injured during violent demonstrations that were held after Law 30 passed in June 2010.

As a member who comes from the agricultural labour movement, I naturally believe that workers' rights are universal rights, and no trade agreement, no free trade agreement—and I mean none—should be entered into without absolute assurance that workers' rights will be respected. That is a fundamental principle of fair trade. That is how fair trade begins. It is not rocket science.

Accordingly, we rigorously apply that principle to all of our actions and the decisions we make. That is one of the reasons we simply could not support the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement recently. Our party acts in accordance with our values and policies.

Even though on August 5, 2010, the Panamanian government agreed to review this law, we nonetheless have cause for concern about the Martinelli government's true willingness to respect the International Labour Organization conventions. Why is the government in such a hurry to ratify this agreement? Should we not ensure that the Panamanian government is backing down on Law 30 before we make any commitment? Why not make sure the Panamanian government reverses its decision and supports labour rights in that country instead?

Without any assurance that workers' rights are respected in Panama and considering that this country is still on France's blacklist and the OECD's grey list of tax havens, it is not possible for the Bloc Québécois to support this bill.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his presentation. He has raised some extremely serious points about the bill we are debating today.

I would like his opinion or that of the Bloc on the government's agenda with regard to this free trade agreement. It took the same approach with Colombia and other countries, an approach that ignores human rights, fairness and transparency. These values are important to Canadians but, as we can see, the government is taking a very different approach.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent question.

I was elected to sit in this House two years ago. I have had to take a stand on a number of issues, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement in particular. The Bloc Québécois thinks it is unfortunate that the government, which the Liberals are supporting more and more, insists on concluding bilateral agreements knowing that this will lead to situations like the one we experienced with Colombia and the one we are currently going through with Panama.

Quebeckers are in favour of free trade. We were the first to want a free trade agreement with the United States. The Bloc Québécois was one of the first political parties to support NAFTA. Our political party and the Province of Quebec support free trade, but we prefer a multilateral approach in order to avoid thorny problems arising every time.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the debate that is going on. However, I disagree with the position taken by the NDP and the answer of the member from the Bloc.

It is interesting to talk about the bilateral agreements that we have been signing as a government, but I am sure the hon. member understands that the multilateral forum, at least at Doha, has failed. As it is not moving forward, Canada has no choice but to look at bilateral trading agreements, so that we have jobs and opportunities for Canadian workers.

The Panama Canal is being expanded to double its present capacity. A lot of trade out of Asia, China in particular, will be coming to the east coast through the Panama Canal. Panama is a key country in Central America. It is a country we need to look to the future with. We need to be part of that future.

What is wrong with putting rules in place for our trade with Panama? Rules-based trading has to be better than non-rules-based trading.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comments and his question.

Yesterday afternoon, we talked about this at the Standing Committee on International Trade. Indeed, the Doha Round negotiations are causing problems and leading us to sign more bilateral agreements. I think we should ask ourselves why there are problems in the Doha Round negotiations and then try to resolve them. We know that the biggest problem has to do with everything that is happening in the agriculture sector. Why not bring everyone to the table to resolve the problems in the Doha negotiations and then sign multilateral agreements?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House today and speak to Bill C-46, Canada-Panama Free Trade Act.

I rise, along with many of my colleagues who have spoken in this House, opposed to this free trade agreement. We have brought forward a critique and recommendations that speak to our concerns about this free trade agreement and about the government approach to bilateral free trade agreements.

I would like to begin with a story that I was witness to just a while ago in my home constituency. I was in The Pas, Manitoba, one of the communities that I represent, at the announcement of federal infrastructure funds that were to be used to help the local pulp and paper mill to develop a more green approach in its production.

There was quite a bit of support for this initiative. While we were sitting and talking about how important this commitment was to the plant and to the community, one of the speeches by a government member referenced the importance of bilateral free trade agreements to Canadians as a whole.

The irony is that the pulp and paper mill we were in is across the street from a lumber mill that has been shut down for a year and a half as a result of the softwood lumber agreement. Some people who were laid off from the lumber plant now work in the pulp and paper plant. This community was hurt a great deal as a result of that shutting down. Many jobs were lost. And the community was saddened by the wholesale export of trees that come from our area only to be processed south of the border or overseas.

Everybody knew that the government did not stand up for the people in my community or the people across Canada who depend on the jobs in the lumber industry. Free trade agreements are not always fair. Some have caused the loss of good-paying jobs and the loss of support for communities all across our country.

The irony is that we are hearing about how these free trade agreements will make Canadians' lives better, when in fact we know that this not the case.

Bilateral free trade agreements usually favour the dominant economy and ultimately facilitate a degree of predatory access to the less powerful economy. This is more apt to happen in bilateral agreements than in multilateral ones. In this case, Canada is the dominant economy, and this deal is characterized by imbalance.

Since this is true, why do we keep negotiating these kinds of trade agreements? Does the government not care about this imbalance? Does it have no qualms about the challenges that will come of our being given greater access to Panama, whether we are concentrating on resource extraction or on extending our export-driven interests? It is a question that needs to be asked.

Canada's reputation is built on multilateral co-operation, consideration of human and environmental rights, and fairness in our work at the international level.

We have seen, certainly in the area of foreign affairs, a different approach on the part of the government, an approach that throws away some of the core values that Canada was built on, and on which my generation was raised.

When we look at this trade agreement, there are some points that cause concern. Labour rights are something that we in Canada uphold and respect. We believe that working people have the right to form unions and negotiate for a decent wage and decent benefits. This is not the case in Panama. If we go through with this agreement, we will be going against Canada's tradition of fairness for workers.

In July, there was a new wave of anti-union repression in Panama. Several workers were killed, over 100 were injured, and over 300 were arrested, including the leaders of the SUNTRACS and CONATO trade unions. This was the government of Panama's brutal reaction to protests against legislation restricting the right to strike and the freedom of association. The legislation provides for up to two years in jail for workers who take their protests to the streets.

It is despicable for us to engage in a trade deal with a government that undertakes this kind of repression toward working people. It is something that we will continue to see as a result of the bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia. But here we have a chance to stand and say no, this is not right. This is a government that denies its own citizens basic rights such as the right to unionize and the right to strike.

Another glaring hole in this free trade agreement is the failure to deal with the fact that Panama is an offshore banking centre and a tax haven, with a serious lack of transparency that displays excessive banking secrecy. We in the NDP have been critical of the government's failure to act against offshore tax havens and tax loopholes that benefit Canadian entrepreneurs. Here we would be engaging in a free trade agreement with a country that turns a blind eye to these destructive practices and is showing no interest in correcting them.

We in the NDP stand in opposition to these elements, which accompany this trade agreement. These elements are either not being looked at or they are being viewed in an unrealistic way. The government apparently thinks it is okay to enter into bilateral free trade agreements with a country like Panama that has such disregard for principles that are important to Canadians.

On the environmental side, there is reference to the existence of an agreement on the environment. But given the government's approach to anything environmental, whether it is in our country or abroad, we doubt that this agreement will be taken seriously.

We understand the importance of trade and trading with countries. In this day and age, we would not be where we are without trade. What we oppose is bilateral free trade agreements that reject fair and sustainable trade. This rejection often generates discontent and increased protectionism. We have all seen the destructive impact of the NAFTA on the U.S. economy and, quite frankly, on our own.

To end, I would like to return perhaps to the people I represent and the way in which we have seen jobs taken away from our area, good paying, community sustaining jobs, as a result of free trade agreements that have failed to put Canadians first. This is one more example of that pattern.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member will know there are 350,000 foreign companies registered in Panama to take advantage of its tax haven status and the Canadian government has done absolutely nothing to try to get a double taxation avoidance agreement signed with Panama before it proceeds to ratify this agreement.

In February of this year, France took very proactive action. The French government levied a tax of 50% on dividends, interest, royalties and service fees paid to anyone based in France to a beneficiary based in one of the countries on its blacklist. Guess what? Within months, Panama signed a double taxation avoidance agreement with France. That is an example of where we can get results and action.

I would like to know what the member thinks about the government's lack of action, to try to implement a free trade deal with a country and not even try to deal with the issues of a tax haven.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, absolutely this is a real failure to show interest in building a bilateral free trade relationship, and certainly engaging in an agreement without dealing with such a glaring absence of accountability and transparency on the part of Panama. One would think it would be interested or enthusiastic about entering into trade with Canada. Instead of Canada saying that the government is interested but has some serious concerns with respect to the area of tax havens, and of course we are saying with respect to labour issues and the environment, the government is throwing its hands up and going for the lowest common denominator instead of making a real difference.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to stand up on this issue again and talk once more about the importance of trade to Canada, but more importantly, to talk about the principles that underpin a sound, fair and effective trade policy.

I want to underscore from the beginning something that my colleague said so well, which is that I think all Canadians understand the importance of trade to our country. I think all Canadians want Canada to have a healthy, vibrant trading relationship with countries that help to provide a sound basis to the Canadian economy and allow us to build an economy that is strong, environmentally sensitive, sustainable and fair.

I think trade relationships with other countries and Canada can be built on such a foundation. The New Democrats are constantly a voice of patience and intelligence in urging this House to pursue such a policy. The particular bill before this House is something that does not meet those criteria, and accordingly, it is something that our party is opposing.

Here are some of the reasons we are opposing this trade agreement.

This of course is a trade proposal and an agreement that would impose upon Canadians the obligation to provide very favourable trading terms to a country that I think has a very unenviable record on a number of fronts.

First, we are engaging in a NAFTA-style trade agreement with a country, Panama, that is an infamous offshore banking centre. It acts as a platform for multinationals and a conduit for opaque banking activities and tax evasion. Let me tell you what Congressman Michael Michaud, a Democrat, quoting from the U.S. State Department, recently said about Panama:

[Panama's] industrial policy is premised on obtaining a comparative advantage by banning taxation of foreign corporations, hiding tax liabilities and transactions behind banking secrecy rules and the ease with which U.S. and other firms can create unregulated subsidiaries. According to the State Department, Panama has over 350,000 foreign-registered companies.

This agreement would propose building a so-called free trade platform that would provide front corporations with additional powers and incentives to their right to challenge Canadian regulations and standards and shape trade to serve their needs, not the public interest of Canadians.

This trade deal would make it easier for Canadian and foreign corporations to move to Panama and flout Canadian labour laws, pay their workers in Panama an average wage of about two dollars an hour and not have to pay for pensions, benefits or sick days.

Canadian law states that workers enjoy certain minimum workplace safety laws and benefits. Corporations that would be established in Panama, and that this trade agreement would make easier to establish in Panama, do not have to do any of those things.

Let us stop for a moment. This is not just bad for Canadian workers, this is bad for Canadian businesses. Businesses that set up in Canada have to pay living wages and market wages. They very often have to establish pension plans and pay for health care premiums, insurance premiums, life insurance premiums, and workers' compensation premiums. In other words, they have to act like fair and responsible corporate citizens.

Canadian businesses would be affected by companies that could go to Panama, set up subsidiaries, and provide the exact same products that in many cases are being produced here, but those companies would not comply with any of that. I think any Canadian watching this debate or who follows this subject can easily see that is most unfair to Canadian businesses.

I want to talk about Panama's tax haven status. I think that is a major concern in regard to this proposed legislation.

In 2008, Panama was one of 11 countries that did not have a tax information exchange agreement signed or enforced. Panama is one of three states, with Guatemala and Nauru, that would not share bank information for any tax information exchange purpose.

The OECD blacklisted Panama in 2000 as an unco-operative tax haven. In 2002, in a letter from the Republic of Panama to the Secretary-General of the OECD, Panama committed to meet the OECD standards for transparency and information-sharing such that it would no longer be considered a tax haven.

Here we are today, in 2010, and Panama has not, to date, substantially implemented that internationally agreed tax standard to which it committed itself.

There was a study done this year by Cornell University that examined a study done by the IRS over a four-year period earlier this century. I think it was between 2004 and 2007. It found that Panama was tied for first in the country as a source of tax-laundered money emanating from the drug trade.

It is interesting that Panama is also tied to Colombia. In 1903, Panama was formally separated from Colombia, with the blessing and military support of the United States government. Today, Colombian banks retain a prominent role in the Panamanian banking system, as well as the offshore banking system in Panama. They are very active in managing the considerable assets of high net worth Colombians.

What is this about? Canadians are well aware of the fact that Colombia in particular is one of the world's most renowned narco states. It is one of the major suppliers of cocaine to North America, and there is a lot of illegally produced money in Colombia. The connection between Colombia and Panama and the way that this money is laundered through Panama is not a matter of speculation, it is a matter of fact.

These are the two countries that the Conservative government has hastened and rushed to sign free trade agreements with. I find this always very surprising, because the government likes to talk about how it is tough on crime. It talks about that for domestic purposes and tries to make it a wedge issue, to create fear among Canadians and use it as a political issue, but who does the government sign business agreements with? Out of all the countries in the world, who does it pick in this hemisphere? It is Colombia and Panama, two countries that are renowned for their drug production, for their tax evasion, and for their money laundering.

This agreement, if we leave everything else aside, would do one thing. It would make it easier for money to be laundered through the drug trade, because this agreement says that all financial transactions between Canada and Panama would be unregulated. That is just simply unsound, and it is curious.

I also want to talk a bit about the labour situation in Panama. Just this summer, in July, there were a number of trade unionists in Panama who gathered publicly. To do what? To protest in the streets. That is all they did. They peacefully gathered, assembled, and expressed their views. What happened? Over 100 people were attacked and injured, several workers were killed, and over 300 people were arrested, including leaders of the SUNTRACS and CONATO trade unions. This was the Government of Panama's brutal reaction to protests against new legislation that restricted the right to strike and freedom of association, including provisions to jail for up to two years any workers taking their protest to the streets.

That did not happen 10 years ago or 20 years ago. That happened this summer.

This is the record of Panama: jailing its citizens for having the audacity to protest legislation in the streets; killing and attacking trade union workers who simply want to gather and express their rights to join a trade union if that is their wish.

The Prime Minister, yesterday and today, is in the Ukraine, talking about standing up for human rights in the Ukraine, making it very clear to the world that, according to him, in that context, Canada wants to ensure that we promote human rights in the world, that we will not, I think, according to his words, sacrifice our principles in order to secure economic benefits or trade benefits.

Yet here at home, in the House of Commons, we are debating a bill that seeks to establish preferential trade relations with a country that absolutely obliterates human rights.

I do not think that anybody on either side of this House, including hon. members on the government side, would stand up for what happened in Panama this summer. I would like to hear from them. What is their position on human rights and signing trade agreements with a country that saw people attacked in the streets and jailed for up to two years for expressing their democratic wishes? What is their position on signing an agreement with a country that seeks to deprive its citizens of the right to join a trade union which, by the way, violates commitments made to the International Labour Organization and several treaties that Canada signed? Why would we want to sign an agreement with a country such as that?

The fact that that country violates human rights is something that should be of concern to all Canadians, and we oppose the bill accordingly.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the American Congress gets it. No fewer than 54 United States congressmen have demanded that President Obama forgo the agreement with Panama until Panama signs the tax information exchange treaties which, as I had indicated, France got in short order when it started taxing French corporations that were among the 350,000 foreign companies that are operating in Panama.

The Americans have figured it out. They know that Panama is a major conduit for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers. The Americans are holding up the agreement. The member for Mississauga South asked the other day why the Americans are not proceeding to ratify and implement the agreement. That is why they are not doing it.

The company AIG was instrumental in getting huge bailouts just two years ago, thanks to the American taxpayers. AIG gave its directors huge bonuses only six months later. On top of that, it is suing the American government for $306 million. It is trying to get back money because of involvement in the tax haven in Panama. A situation like this is absolutely ludicrous.

The Americans have figured it out. The question is, why can the Canadian government not figure it out?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, the comments of my hon. colleague from Elmwood—Transcona are bang on. Many members of the House are getting it as we learn more and more about this trade agreement.

It is noteworthy to point out that this agreement was negotiated relatively in secret and in haste. This Parliament is doing what a good, effective parliament does. It is scrutinizing the context in which it was negotiated. It is looking in very great detail at the facts that are involved and what this agreement would do, so that we can very carefully plot a trade strategy for our country that is based on the principles I outlined earlier of fairness, of respect for the environment, of respect for human rights, of reciprocity between the two countries, to ensure justice for our businesses and our workers.

I want to talk briefly about the environment. I note that the environment is sloughed off as a side matter in this agreement. It is not considered significant and pivotal enough to be put in the main body of the agreement. We cannot leave the environment any longer to provisions that are made as an afterthought, that commit countries to maintain what are often very poor environmental records, as this agreement does. It is important that we start making the environment a priority in these trade agreements, to make sure that countries that want to get the benefit of trade with Canada also commit to improving their environmental records, as we ought to do as well.

That is an important part of trade in the 21st century. That should be part of every agreement. This agreement is substandard in that regard.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, we seem to see this repeating over and over again. The two things that we continually talk about and which other countries have put into their agreements are the environment and labour standards and other labour issues. Yet we continually see the government leaving them as sidebar agreements rather than being included in the main body of the agreement.

My colleague is a labour lawyer and understands the importance of making sure they are in the body of the agreement. I wonder if he could comment on why it is important that those items no longer be side deals and that they be incorporated in the main body of the agreements.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague from Welland has also devoted his life to improving the lives of workers and their families in the trade union movement.

I have negotiated many contracts in my time. The first thing everyone knows about putting something in a side deal is that it means something. It is not meaningless. When there is the main body of an agreement and there are appendages and side agreements, it is not done for no consequence. It is done for a reason.

The first thing of note is the optics of it. What it conveys to the parties that negotiate the contract and anybody who reads it is that the parties that negotiated those agreements thought that those issues were secondary, not important enough to put in the main body of the agreement.

It also has to do with enforcement mechanisms. They are weak in this agreement for enforcing environmental and labour standards because they exist in side agreements. That is another flaw of this agreement and this bill.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the bill before us, a bill that would fast-track agreements, in particular the bilateral free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.

The fact is that the government is fast-tracking the ratification process for an international agreement similar to those that have already been ratified by Canada. I am thinking, among others, of the agreement with Peru. These agreements are designed to fast-track and increase trade between Canada and other countries. In the case of the bill before us, the agreement in question basically attempts to fast-track trade with Panama.

Panama has decided to increase its trade relations through formal trade agreements with three countries that belong to NAFTA, including Canada. We also know that the United States has negotiated and signed an agreement. Canada would be the last to do so.

First of all, we are not opposed to trade agreements that facilitate trade among countries, whether they are southern, northern or European countries. We have clearly indicated that we would like Canada to negotiate, ratify and sign a free trade agreement with the European Union, but with some conditions. And that is the point we wish to make today in this debate. We are saying yes to trade agreements, yes to free trade agreements, but not at any cost.

The Bloc Québécois has an analytical grid of the trade agreements signed by Canada, which we use to determine whether or not we should support specific trade agreements that are or may be negotiated. What are the criteria for supporting trade agreements?

First, we must ensure that human rights are respected. We cannot agree to sign and ratify a free trade agreement with a country that does not respect the most basic rights, human rights, and that allows repression and the violation of fundamental rules such as women's access to certain sectors of economic activity. We cannot allow Canada to sign trade agreements with countries that violate human rights and the fundamental rights of their citizens. That is the first criterion.

The second criterion is that there must be a minimum level of environmental protection in countries with which we will be conducting tariff-free trade. We cannot agree to trade agreements with countries that have weak environmental regulations, because that would facilitate trade and lead to agreements that are socially and environmentally irresponsible.

Furthermore, what would be the consequence of signing such agreements? It would enable Canadian companies to go to these countries to develop the natural resources, free from any environmental regulations. So a country that chose to implement serious, stringent environmental regulations would lose economic activity to countries that chose to disregard the environment in order to allow businesses to save money and cut costs, at the expense of the common good.

We cannot agree to a trade agreement with a country that has poor environmental regulations. Lastly, we cannot agree to trade agreements when workers' rights are violated and when police crack down on legitimate, peaceful protests.

These three key issues must be taken into consideration when we decide whether or not Canada should ratify or sign a trade agreement.

In this case, with the trade agreement between Panama and Canada, what analysis needs to be done? Our analysis should be based on the principles I just mentioned.

In recent years, Panama has shown that it wants to enter freely into international trade agreements. But what is Panama's record like on the three issues I just mentioned? In terms of the environment, Canadian companies, particularly mining companies, have pushed to be able to operate in Panama, where they have a number of mining claims. They saw that there were abundant natural resources, particularly gold and silver, so they decided to purchase mining claims in Panama to be able to develop these resources. That is good, it is commendable, and it is acceptable. It allows for the creation of wealth, but under what conditions is this being done? That is key. Are human rights, workers' rights and a minimum level of environmental protection guaranteed?

Canadian mining companies are currently in discussions with Panama's government to establish a new legislative framework for environmental co-operation, just as there is co-operation between Canada and the United States as part of the free trade agreements. That is what we want; that is good. We hope that these discussions between Canadian companies and the Panamanian government will lead to the most basic and most stringent environmental protection rules. It would also be good to see the government taking part in these discussions.

Before these agreements between Canadian companies and the Panamanian government are signed, can we know the outcome? Yes, Canada has signed a free trade agreement with Panama, but can we wait for the discussions between these two levels of stakeholders to finish before we ratify this agreement? That would be the socially and environmentally responsible thing to do.

There is also the issue of tax havens. We cannot agree to trade with a country that still does not divulge information and that has a secretive banking system. Panama is still on the OECD's grey list. Last year, the Panamanian government committed to signing 12 tax agreements by 2010. That is one sign that the Panamanian government wants to move in the right direction and improve its record, which is far from enviable at present.

The Panamanian government seems to be showing a desire to put an end to tax havens. Before we ratify an agreement, can we wait and see whether the Panamanian government will follow through on its commitments? It would be smart of the Canadian government to do so. In fact, that is what the American government and Europe have decided to do. The United States and Europe are not rushing to ratify this trade agreement because they want to know that the Panamanian government will follow through on its commitments.

That is what a socially responsible nation should be doing.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, my colleague did a good job of presenting his and his party's position on this bill.

Since we are discussing some of the problems with this approach to free trade with Panama, I would like him to comment on why the government so badly wants to create this kind of relationship, and not just with Panama. The same thing happened with Colombia.

Where are the Conservatives coming from, and why are they so determined to pass this kind of bill, which is against the values and interests of Canadian workers, not to mention the values of justice and fair trade, which are really important to our country?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, the answer is simple. The reason that the Canadian government wants to expedite ratification of the Canada-Panama agreement—unlike Europe and the United States, where the debate in Congress is ongoing—is that it wants to give Canadian companies a competitive advantage in the Panamanian market. That is what it wants. It wants to show Panama that it is eager to proceed regardless of whether workers' rights are respected.

That is the real problem with the Canadian government's approach. By trying to ratify this agreement in a hurry, contrary to what the United States is doing, the government is showing that it does not care about workers' rights, social rights and environmental rights. It cares only about international trade and the economy. I think that is why Canada is trying to rush ratification of this trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, like the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, I am concerned about yet more NAFTA style bilateral agreements that move our jobs offshore and cost us more and more autonomy here in Canada.

However, given the hon. member's extensive expertise and interest in the environment, I would like him to comment a little bit more and explain why the side agreement on the environment seems to have absolutely no teeth. It seems to be a feel good exercise, a kind of gentleman's agreement. Am I wrong? Does it have teeth? Will it protect the environment? Does he share my concerns?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, that will depend on the negotiations that are under way between Canadian mining companies and the Panamanian government. However, when we look at other agreements, they must ensure that national governments are in a strong position to shape environmental policies. We have not yet received that assurance. When looking at the power of chapter 11 in free trade agreements, we realize that, in the end, international agreements often rob national governments of their powers to regulate environmental matters, for example.

An international agreement must never weaken the power of nations to implement regulations concerning environmental protection. It is not true that the major multinationals will determine the rules for social and environmental protection. The state is there to protect ecosystems and populations. It is very dangerous to place this power and this recourse to international courts in the hands of any multinationals. I believe that there is cause for concern. Canada must have guarantees before ratifying such an agreement.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is with great regret that I rise to speak to the Canada-Panama free trade act. As I said previously in the House on both this proposed trade agreement and on the trade agreement with Colombia, the government has completely reneged on its promise to supposedly balance environment and trade, environment and development. Instead, the government has moved backward in time.

Even though the North American Free Trade Agreement has a lot of problems, at least there was a substantial side agreement on the environment. Today I will go through how the government has specifically downgraded that agreement.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House one of the reasons that I tabled an environmental bill of rights. I tabled the bill of rights because it was important for Canadians to have cast in law their right to participate in decision-making and their right to have the implications of any government decisions revealed to them.

The Conservatives ran on a platform of increased openness and transparency. In their time in power as the Government of Canada, they have done nothing but the opposite, and the tabling of this bill reflects that. First, where is the dialogue with Canadians about what they think is important in trade agreements with other nations?

Previous governments stated that they thought that balancing labour rights and environmental rights and protection were equally important to trade, and so we had side agreements. At the time, there was a lot of controversy because it was felt by many that if we were really going to put development and trade on par with environmental protection and labour rights, then they should be incorporated into a legally binding document.

The government professes to balance development and trade with environmental protection and that it believes in openness, transparency, accountability and engagement of the grassroots public and yet it has tabled trade agreement after trade agreement doing the complete opposite. There has been no dialogue with the public on what direction we should be taking in our trade agreements since NAFTA. I would highly recommend that the government initiate that dialogue because Canadians will pay the price.

Under my environmental bill of rights, Canadians would have the right to this information. They would have the right to see proposed trade agreements with nations such as Panama. They would have the right to participate in decisions about the criteria for entering into trade agreements with other nations and what would be included in those documents. They also would have the right to know whether we should move forward on the long overdue promise of putting environment on par with trade and development.

Here again, similar to the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, we have the same reprehensible document. The side agreement on environment has been stripped of any of the substance that it had under the free trade agreement with Mexico and the United States, to the point where we may as well not have the side agreement.

Specifically, we have taken away the ministers of environment meeting to discuss the major environmental implications of decisions on trade and development in the respective two countries. Under the side agreement to NAFTA, the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the government very wisely created the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. In this case, that has been taken away. Instead, there is an advisory body composed of lower echelon bureaucrats. Nothing is revealed. There is no budget in this time of restraint in our country and, most likely, in Panama as well. Where is the budget line item to adequately finance the review of decisions on trade in the respective countries?

There is no full-time secretariat, unlike the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation which established a full-time secretariat. The three countries to that agreement alternate the head and staff of the secretariat. We have no such secretariat. This will simply be another task downloaded on an already overstretched bureaucracy that, in all likelihood because of our deficit, will be cut back even further.

It is not clear who is actually going to be the watchdog for this side agreement and who is going to be addressing and responding to public concerns. Where is the line item in the government's budget with respect to providing those services for this trade agreement?

There is no full-time commission, no full-time budget, no independent secretariat. The value of an independent secretariat under the North American Free Trade Agreement is that people have a level of comfort in coming to that secretariat and raising issues. In fact under the North American agreement on environmental co-operation, under article 13, citizens of the three respective countries, Mexico, the United States and Canada, can recommend to the secretariat that particular issues of concern to the environment on a bilateral or trilateral issue be investigated independently by the secretariat with independent consultants. The council of ministers can recommend that issues of common interest be reviewed in a co-operative manner to come up with co-operative solutions.

There is no such body here where we can have a level of confidence that the government sincerely wants to pursue any implications to the environment of the trade agreement.

There is also no mechanism for open dialogue. Under the North American agreement the council commits at least once a year to meet in the open, transparently, with the public of the three countries. There is no such commitment in this agreement, so everything is going to be behind closed doors between bureaucrats.

A number of public bodies to hold the council accountable for delivering on the side agreement are created under the North American agreement on environmental co-operation. There are no public advisory committees under the side agreement with Panama.

There is under NAFTA a joint public advisory committee that includes representatives of industry, of public interest groups, of scientists and other learned people from all three countries selected to advise the secretariat and to advise the ministers. We have no such body here. There is no mechanism for the people of Panama or Canada to provide input to the governments on issues that may arise related to this trade agreement.

Where is the grassroots government promised by the Conservative Party of Canada? The Conservatives promised they would be a new kind of government. They said it would not be top down, that it would be grassroots up, that the people of Canada would drive policy. Where is the voice for the Canadian people on this agreement or either of the two side agreements? It does not exist.

As well, under the North American Free Trade Agreement all three countries created national advisory committees to advise the environment ministers of the respective three nations on the issues they should be bringing before the common body. I do not know what has happened to the national advisory committee under the Conservative government. Perhaps it does not exist anymore even under that agreement, but there is no such mechanism under the Panama agreement.

There is no requirement to hold public meetings. There is the opportunity to raise a concern but it is with some not yet identified body of the bureaucracy of the two countries. Where is the level of comfort? With whom will these concerns be raised: the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of the Environment, or the Department of National Defence? With whom will this be raised? There is absolutely no certainty that whatever body is established will have the full competency to deal with the kind of issue that is raised, whether it is to deal with pesticides, climate issues, access to safe drinking water, or the trade in a particular commodity that may or may not be contaminated. There is no certainty of who within the two respective regimes will be responsible for giving serious attention to those concerns.

Of greatest concern to me is the fact that in this agreement with Panama, the side agreement on the environment misses one of the most important provisions of the North American agreement on environmental co-operation and that is the right of any citizen to file a complaint that the law is not being effectively enforced. This provision was put in specifically because of the concerns that with free trade, protection of the environment may be put in second place. It gave the right of citizens in any of the three countries of Mexico, Canada or the United States to file a complaint of failure to enforce against any of the three parties. That is completely missing in this agreement.

Where is the commitment to pay equal attention to environmental protection as there is to opening the doors to trade? It is absolutely missing, as is the whole right to public scrutiny of whether or not these free trade agreements are having implications for the protection of the environment and the protection of biodiversity. This topic is being discussed in Japan as we speak. Canada is being maligned. Canada has been given the first Dodo award because we have failed.

I would recommend that the government seriously consider withdrawing this trade agreement, go back to the table, meet with people who have participated for over a decade in the North American agreement and learn from what they have learned.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is extremely knowledgeable and articulate about environmental issues. I listened with great attention, because I knew that the things she would tell us would be extremely important.

Some of us are not quite as wise about environmental issues, the regulations and all those other things. The environment and labour aspects are done as side agreements and outside the main body of these free trade agreements. We always say that there should be a holistic approach on how we do labour agreements and contracts. My colleague has articulated why we have been skeptical about having them outside the main agreement. She has articulated the reasons for including things in them that actually give them teeth, so that citizens can come forward when they have complaints and actually have those situations addressed. I thank my colleague for that.

When it comes to the environment, my sense is that the government has made it a secondary issue, rather than one of primary concern. It really should be a primary issue for all of us. It should be right at the top of the agenda rather than where it is now.

I wonder if she could explain to us how we should make it a holistic part of any trade agreement we enter into anywhere in the world, so that not only does it have teeth, but it is at the forefront of all agreements that we enter into.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised many concerns, particularly with respect to the labour side of this agreement.

It is quite straightforward how we would incorporate environmental matters into the trade agreement. We simply would treat them with the same level of seriousness.

The trade agreement provides that private corporations can go after the government for compensation if their trade, development and economic situations are prejudiced by a decision by the Government of Canada to protect the environment. We should have parallel measures in every trade agreement where the public interest of Canada would be given equal weight when some kind of a trade decision is made to the prejudice of the environment of Canada.

We simply need to raise the measures that are in the side agreement on the environment to the level of the binding trade agreement, and frankly give the citizens of Canada the standing to come before those tribunals and speak on their behalf.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona is by far the strongest MP from Alberta in this House of Commons. She does a tremendous job speaking up for her province.

I am wondering how she feels this plays back home in her region of Alberta. The Conservatives are trying to push through a deal with what is tied for the worst regime for dirty drug money laundering on the entire planet. Rather than dealing in any way in this trade deal with the dirty drug money laundering and the tax haven status of Panama, the Conservatives, in a desperate attempt to cover their own tracks, sent a letter to the government, but there is nothing in the trade deal that stops dirty drug money laundering. In fact, it is the opposite. This is going to facilitate it.

I am wondering, for folks back home in Alberta, as she is the strongest MP from Alberta, if she could comment about how Albertans are going to see Conservatives trying to facilitate dirty drug money laundering through Panama. How is that going to play back home?