House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was documents.


Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster had the floor. There were 10 minutes remaining for questions and comments consequent upon his speech. I, therefore, call for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I was here to hear the member's speech, and I know that he has some concerns about the human rights aspects. In fact, at one point in his speech he said that our trade agreements should have one common element; that is, that there is this respect for human rights.

The dimensions of trade with Colombia are not major. However, I think that the issue is, at what point in time does the criteria of human rights kick in and supercede the benefits of a trade agreement?

Second, I would be interested in the member's comments with regard to whether or not entering into a trade agreement would be premature, given the reconsiderations by countries such as the U.S. and the U.K.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is sincere in his concern about the ongoing human rights abuses in Colombia. I certainly hope he can make those views known to his caucus and his leader, because we are very concerned in this corner of the House about the deal that seems to have been concocted between the Liberals and Conservatives to try to ram this bill through, despite the egregious, ongoing and growing human rights violations throughout Colombia.

Just yesterday the Flanders government, another European government, rejected an investment treaty between Colombia and Belgium, saying that there was a huge gulf between the human rights rhetoric and reality in Colombia. Yesterday the Liberal trade critic said that what the Liberals are going to try to do with the Conservatives is to have the Colombian government report on itself. Can anyone imagine allowing elementary school kids to give themselves their own grades or criminals to choose their own punishments?

If one extends that ridiculous notion to other aspects of government policy, one can see that the government is desperate to ram the bill through. Canadians oppose it and say no.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, given that the United States Congress has yet to pass its own legislation, which has been before it now for a number of years, and given that Republican members of Congress said as early as last month that they did not feel the legislation had any chance of passing Congress with the Democratic majority in control, the question is: Why is the government, which normally likes to follow the United States in everything it does, trying to be a leader on what is basically a very unpopular piece of legislation?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has been front and centre on this issue.

In the U.S., the treaty will simply not go before Congress and has been set aside entirely. In the European Union, government after government after government have rejected a proposed treaty.

Thus what we have here is a Conservative government, with some Liberal allies, trying to push this agreement through at the worst possible time. Colombia is in an election period and impartial observers have talked about widespread fraud, fear, and coercion being used by the government to try to ram through a puppet election, and yet here we have the Conservatives trying to reward that government for bad behaviour on the electoral front.

The question that stands in the House is why are the Conservatives, at this worst possible time, trying to aggravate the human rights situation in Colombia rather than standing up to the Colombian government and saying that it needs to have free and fair elections, to stop the fraud and coercion and stop the fear the government is generating among the population, and to hold democratic elections in Colombia?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, this has been a real passion of my colleague over the last year.

Other European countries are denying free trade with Colombia, and I know there have been a lot of murders of union activists and people who want to make a Colombia a better place to live. If all of these other countries are not willing to participate in free trade with Colombia, can the hon. member tell me what the motive is of the Canadian government in wanting to participate in this free trade agreement with Colombia?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Nickel Belt has also been speaking out very clearly and strongly against the appallingly bad judgment shown by the Conservative government on this.

Why is it pushing the agreement forward at this time? When every other democratic government is taking steps back and trying to put pressure on the Colombian government to improve the human rights situation, why are the Conservatives rewarding bad behaviour, criminal behaviour, murder and the ongoing violence there?

I have to note that the Colombian Commission of Jurists talks about the military arm of the Colombian government, the sexual abuse of women and the ongoing murders. We know about the so-called false positives, the growing number of killings that are taking place and the paramilitary's link to the Colombian government. Yet there is not a single Conservative member willing to stand up for human rights, not a single Conservative member willing to stand and say this is an appalling human rights situation and that Canada should stand with the people of Colombia rather than a government whose hands are stained with blood.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, according to the Canadian Labour Congress, more labour activists and trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia than all other countries on the planet put together. Think about that.

In this country we have trade unionists and working people who gather to sit down and discuss with their employer the working terms and conditions of their employment to try get a fair piece of the economic activity they produce. Yet in Colombia, they kill people for this. Imagine in this country if 40 Canadian trade unionists were killed this year by paramilitaries.

I see the hon. member across shaking his head. Really? Stand up and tell me what is wrong. I would like to hear where he disagrees with me on this.

Forty trade unionists were murdered this year, and this is a country that the government wants to sign a free trade agreement with. There are other countries in South America who are taking steps to progressively mobilize their economies and to share the resources more equitably with their people.

I would like to ask my hon. friend what other countries in South America does he think are on the right path and with whom Canada maybe ought to be looking at having closer economic relations with?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has been very sensible on this issue as well. I know that he has read the reports and that unlike a single Conservative MP, he actually understands the situation.

We have Conservatives laughing in this House about the death toll in Colombia. It is absolutely inappropriate. If they feel it is somehow funny when trade unionists are killed or human rights activists are killed, I think they should go and defend that in front of their constituents. If they think it is somehow funny that 4 million people have been displaced by violent paramilitaries connected to the government and by guerrillas, then they should go and talk to their constituents.

This appalling approach of the Conservatives, this disregard for human rights, is something their constituents do not share. Their constituents believe in Canadian values. Their constituents believe in labour rights and human rights, and their constituents, quite frankly, believe that the Conservatives are completely off-centre in trying to force through this bad deal with a bad government, when Canadian values are being repudiated.

I think it is fair to say that the Conservatives are embarrassing themselves today by trying to push this through when they should be aware of the egregious and ongoing human rights violations taking place in Colombia against human rights advocates, against labour activists, against Afro-Colombians and against aboriginal peoples throughout Colombia. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for recognizing me in this discussion on 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 debate we started yesterday will prevent the government from claiming that it did not know that parliamentarians were in favour of respecting human rights in Colombia.

We are still wondering whether the government is paying any attention to what we say. In 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade presented a report on this free trade agreement with Colombia, which contained a number of recommendations, including the following:

The Committee recommends that an independent, impartial, and comprehensive human rights impact assessment should be carried out by a competent body, which is subject to levels of independent scrutiny and validation; the recommendations of this assessment should be addressed before Canada considers signing, ratifying and implementing an agreement with Colombia.

The committee said that in 2008. Today, as a member of that committee, I doubt that the report was even read by the Conservative members. It seems, unfortunately, that the Conservative government has turned a deaf ear and wants to proceed with this agreement even though absolutely no impact assessments have been conducted, as demanded by a number of groups, including the Bloc Québécois.

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; free trade fixes everything.

No one is against prosperity, of course, not myself or my Bloc Québécois colleagues, 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 countries, and not just from a commercial point of view. Human rights are important.

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.

Contrary to what some may think, free trade is not always welcomed by the agricultural sector, for example. 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 Cooperation, 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 the value of domestic wheat production in Colombia will drop by 32%, leading to losses of 44% in employment levels and wages. These are serious consequences.

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 that remains profitable.

The sale of coca, drug trafficking, guerrillas, paramilitaries, the link with power, corruption and so on—this is a cycle that is not easily broken and involves many innocent people. Clearly Colombia must develop the means to break it, and Canada can help. In our opinion, however, the free trade agreement is not the way to go about it.

It is not obvious from a careful look at the bill why the Conservative government, with the clear support of the Liberals, is insisting so strongly on approving such a trade agreement. From various standpoints, this agreement flies in the face of the concept of a responsible government working for the welfare of its citizens and the well-being of humanity. In the country with the worst human rights record in Latin America, Canada must create conditions to improve the situation, despite its economic interests.

Unless it is proven otherwise, it may be said that the Conservatives are not doing their duty. I myself am a farmer with a background in the farming union, and I tremble at the thought that, as I speak, unionists in Colombia are the target of attacks simply because they insist on fighting for workers' rights.

Still today, people in Colombia who try to advance human rights are paying with their lives. Even yesterday, people died as a result of an attack in the streets of Bogota. It is awful. And I am not even talking about the number of children, women and men who have to leave their homes and comfort because of conflict between the government security forces, paramilitaries and guerrillas.

Increasingly, economic displacement is forcing subsistence farmers and small-scale miners to leave their land in favour of the major agri-food and mining companies. Whole communities are obliged to leave. In this case, too, no significant measure is proposed in the agreement to remedy such injustices, and it is utterly unrealistic to think that such an agreement will help resolve the situation.

We have to ask ourselves why the government wants a free trade agreement with Colombia. We have to ask ourselves what the government's and the Liberals' real reasons are for wanting to ratify this agreement at all costs. Colombia is Canada's fifth-largest trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is its seventh-largest source of imports in this area. So, Canada has more important trading partners than Colombia.

In recent years, trade between Canada and the other Latin American countries has increased considerably, cutting into trade with Colombia. In addition, Canada exports primarily cars and grains, which represented 23% and 19% respectively of our 2007 exports, and most of Canada's investments in Colombia, as we might expect, are in the mining industry.

In my humble opinion, a free trade agreement requires a relationship of equals between the two governments. They must therefore be special trading partners and the level of the trading must warrant the lowering of trade barriers.

Let us be candid: Colombia is not a very attractive market, considering that trade between the two countries is quite limited. Might it be that the Conservative government’s main motivation for signing this free trade agreement at all costs is not trade, but investment?

I wonder about this because this agreement contains an investment protection chapter that will, without a shadow of a doubt, make life easier for Canadian investors who invest in Colombia, more specifically in the mining sector. That chapter is closely modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA, which is in fact a charter for multinationals at the expense of the common good.

More specifically, chapter 11 of NAFTA, which, I reiterate, is what the investment chapter of the agreement in question is closely modelled on, includes the following points: foreign investors may themselves apply to the international tribunals, skirting the filter of the public good that is applied by governments; the concept of exports is so broad that any law that might have the effect of reducing an investor’s profits can amount to expropriation and lead to legal action being taken against the governments; and the amount of the claim is not limited to the value of the investment, but includes all potential future profits, which is completely excessive.

That chapter has been denounced by everyone. When a law, for example human rights legislation, reduces the profits of a foreign investor, the government is exposing itself to enormous legal claims. Ironically, when the Liberals were in power, they signed a number of trade agreements containing clauses resembling chapter 11 of NAFTA. The Liberals were harshly criticized for their improper practices and stopped signing agreements like that. And yet here they are today, supporting Bill C-2 Why?

We are seeing a return to the past, with the job of determining the common good being assigned to multinationals. That is what is being done. That is what the Liberals and the Conservatives want.

I hope the Conservatives and the Liberals do not think these multinationals will be serving the public interest by giving the public the resources that are needed and working toward greater respect for human rights, workers and the environment.

The Conservatives and the Liberals keep hammering away at their argument that we have to support developing countries and help them to progress, and they are not wrong. The Bloc Québécois and I do think that it is our duty to enable other societies to make progress, and we have to give them all the resources they need to do that. But the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement does nothing to promote that kind of improvement. There is no significant measure in Bill C-2 to improve the economic, social and environmental situation in Colombia.

Let us not hide behind pretexts to achieve our objectives. Let us instead take these business opportunities to develop an equitable form of globalization that encompasses the ideas of human rights, workers’ rights, the environment and honourable trade. Why do we not try to play that role from time to time?

The impact on the environment is another factor we cannot ignore. The side agreement on the environment does not come close to meeting the expectations of people who are concerned about compliance with environmental standards. This agreement provides for no penalties for non-compliance with the most minimal requirements and ultimately could be an incentive for Colombia not to move ahead with adopting new measures to preserve the environment.

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation report says that:

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.

Canada should be very concerned about this, yet this is exactly what the Conservatives and the Liberals plan to support.

This country should follow Belgium's lead, do the right thing, and refuse to sign this agreement because it will be bad for human rights in Colombia. Even the U.S. Congress has backed away from its free trade agreement with Colombia and does not plan to proceed without more information about the human rights situation in Colombia. We are not just making these issues up.

Free trade is meant to improve the lives of workers by providing them with higher pay and better working conditions. But here at home, in Quebec, a lot of companies are choosing to close their factories so they can take advantage of the lower wages and less rigorous workplace standards in other countries.

This industry-wide approach results in unemployment at home and promotes human rights abuses in other countries, while companies rake in the cash. Do we really want to make things worse than they already are?

Before being elected to represent my riding, I was the president of two Quebec agricultural unions for 11 years. As a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade since last year, I have had the opportunity to hear from many witnesses. As an agricultural union president in Quebec, I often took strong stances to defend the Quebec farmers I was representing. Had I done so in Colombia, I would have received serious threats. People would have threatened to kill my three daughters and me.

I do not understand why the Conservatives and the Liberals are so bent on signing this agreement, which will provide only minimal economic benefits. The answer to that is self-evident. All they want to do is roll out the red carpet for mining and agri-food companies that want to invest in Colombia, where costs are low and mineral resources plentiful. There are lots of opportunities for resource exploitation in Colombia. Labour is cheap too.

Unfortunately, this agreement will lead to the displacement of entire populations. They will be uprooted and exiled to parts of the country that are not their own.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I will fight this agreement to the bitter end.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has expressed very well why his party and mine believe that this is a bad deal for Canada as well as Colombia.

The NDP does not believe that the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia will promote human rights and improve conditions in Colombia. In fact, we believe the opposite to be true. The Conservative government, with the help of the Liberals, is feeding us explanations. I would like to hear my colleague on that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.


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

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

As I indicated in my speech, which was based on all the evidence I heard at the Standing Committee on International Trade, there is absolutely nothing in this agreement to suggest that the human rights situation in Colombia will be improved. Colombia has the worst human rights record in the southern hemisphere, and this agreement is certainly not going to make things better.

A number of interesting proposals to help us make an informed decision were made by witnesses. An independent inquiry could be conducted by leading international experts, who would be able to fully assess each point in the agreement we are debating today to ensure the well-being of the people of Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his excellent speech. He mentioned an attack that took place yesterday in Colombia. We learned that, at the very moment the Liberal member for Kings—Hants was agreeing to what I would call a bogus amendment from the Conservative government asking that the Colombian government conduct its own assessment of the human rights situation in that country, an attack was taking place in Buenaventura, killing two people and injuring 30 others.

For a long time, that place has been a hub for drug trafficking with a high level of violence. It had been two years since the last violent incident. But the governor of that province, Mr. Juan Carlos Abadia, is now saying that he is very concerned about the upsurge in drug-related violence in Colombia. The attack was a car bombing near the public prosecutor's building and the mayor's office.

Such an image is enough to compel us to ask our Liberal colleagues to rethink their position. I wonder what the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques thinks of that.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague makes a good point and is asking a good question. He is the new international trade critic for the Bloc Québécois, and I am very happy to be working with him.

In my speech, I pointed out the dangers of taking a stand in Colombia, saying that it would have been different for me if I had been president of an agricultural union in Colombia rather than Quebec. Yesterday's attack left some people dead and many others hurt.

I would like to bring something to the attention of the House and the Speaker. There have been Colombian families living in Rimouski for some time. Last summer, in my office in Rimouski, in my riding, I spoke with a father who still had children in their 20s in Colombia. I no longer remember his name. He is moving heaven and earth to get his kids brought to Rimouski.

It has been months, if not years, since he has had news of his children. They might be trade unionists and they might have disappeared; he does not know.

Meeting this father and seeing his emotion as he told his story tells me that, despite what some people think, there are still serious issues in Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech given by my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques. He is a real asset to this Parliament, as we can see from his speech on the free trade agreement with Colombia.

As he knows very well, and as all members of the House must know, the electoral process currently underway in Colombia has been very problematic. Impartial, independent observers have reported that the people of Colombia, who simply want a bit of democracy in their country, fear the violence, electoral fraud and intimidation perpetrated by their government.

Yet not one Conservative member has risen to denounce the Colombian government's practices. Not a single Conservative member ever stands up to defend democracy in that country.

I wonder what my colleague's thoughts are on why the Conservatives have nothing to say about the abuses of human rights and democracy taking place in Colombia. Is it because this government has allied itself with a regime that has blood on its hands?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, those are certainly legitimate questions.

After hearing all the testimony in committee, we cannot deny that Colombia has some serious problems regarding democracy.

In my opinion, the Conservatives and the Liberals want this agreement to be ratified, whatever the cost, simply in order to pave the way for big Canadian mining companies. I am convinced that a powerful lobby representing these companies has influenced the government. I can see no other reason. That said, I see no valid reason to ratify this agreement.

As we have clearly demonstrated, from an economic standpoint it offers absolutely nothing. So we must ask ourselves some questions, and I think the answer is obvious. They simply want to pave the way for Canada's big mining companies.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate Bill C-2, formerly Bill C-23, and to talk about the free trade agreement with Colombia.

I would like to put some contextual form to the debate initially, in the sense of why it is we are authorizing a trade deal after the fact and why parliamentarians have not had the opportunity to discuss beforehand whether we want to pursue a free trade agreement with certain places rather than simply at the tail end of it having to put a rubber stamp on it, as the Conservative government and its co-conspirators in this deal, the Liberals, would like us to do.

If we are going to enter into free trade agreements with whomever across the globe, then what we ought to be doing in this House is actually deciding what the framework of those trade deals should be. The word “free” in free trade begins with the letter f, but it ought to be the a “fair” trade agreement, not a free trade agreement. The partners to it, whether it be a bilateral or multilateral agreement, should be equal partners. That includes those folks who work for a living, whether they be unionized or non-unionized, whether they be in the manufacturing sector, the service sector or in the agricultural sector. No matter where it is they work they should be seen to be equal partners in trade deals that will affect them whether or not they want the agreement.

We are seeing with these trade deals the effect on us as workers in this country. I spoke to this before. A StatsCan report talked about income disparity in this country and it is a disgrace. The report clearly showed since we signed the first free trade agreement a little over 20 years ago that our income is either stagnant or declining. Yet the previous Liberal government and now the present Conservative government tell us that free trade is good for all of us. I beg to differ.

Workers that I represented when I was involved in the Canadian auto workers and workers that I have the pleasure to represent in this place are testimony to the fact that it is the opposite. They are not better off. In fact in many cases they are not even equal to where they were as far back as 1985. If that is prosperity, to be stuck in 1985, then I really do not understand the meaning of prosperity.

Sure, there is a small percentage in this country, and it is less than one and a half per cent, the wealthy elite, who have done remarkably well. I suppose for them free trade is a wondrous thing. When it was sold to us as Canadians it was sold to us with the aspiration that it would be better for all of us. This meant that the standard of living for every man and woman in the working world of this country would increase. What we have seen is the opposite.

This brings me to this particular deal and what it really means. How important is it to our manufacturing sector, our agricultural sector and any other sector that the government is suggesting are really important and we need to ram this deal through. When we look at it, it is infinitesimally small. It does not mean to say that is not significant to some of those players. Of course it is.

There are markets elsewhere where we could enter into a trade deal that would be fair in nature because we would be seen as co-equals. We would look at it from the sense of saying to one another that our rules are basically the same; our human rights issues are basically on par; maybe their rules are better and we could improve ours; our labour laws and environmental standards are on par; and the freedom in both countries is about on par.

Yet we are going to enter into an agreement with Colombia rather than some other country because it has less and somehow we feel that that is a fair deal.

With respect to this deal, when we talk about human rights, the argument being brought forward is that things are getting better. That is marvellous. That is great for Colombians. We applaud the fact that it is getting better, but it is not yet good enough to enter into a trade deal.

To suggest that somehow allowing multinational corporations to come in and perhaps generate some wealth for themselves will enhance the human rights for those who live there is a specious argument at best and a falsehood at worse.

We had agreement in the previous session. We talked about an international human rights group going in to monitor and help bring them out. Even the president of Colombia, Mr. Uribe, who was here before us, admits they have work to do in the human rights field. They themselves say they are not there yet. If that is the case, if they have the understanding and have actually told us they have work to do, why do we not let them go about doing that work and then come back to us when they have finished, rather than trying to ram this through before the president's term expires in another month or so?

Of course, he cannot run again because their constitution has a two-term limit. He already tried to get an extension of the two-term limit to three and was denied by his own supreme court. Now he will basically have to retire and go into another line of business, whatever that happens to be.

I do not see why we should shove this through so that Mr. Uribe can hold a meeting, hoist a toast and say they have done what they said they were going to do without doing what he said they wanted to do. He said they wanted to ensure people were safe inside his country, paramilitary squads were not still out there and trade unionists could be safe and secure and not find themselves under threat and murdered.

It is astonishing for me, as someone who comes from the labour movement. I look back to leaders of my labour movement, going back to Bob White and Buzz Hargrove and before that to leaders like Walter Reuther of the UAW. Those folks would probably have been found in an alley with a bullet either between the eyes or behind the ear if they had been in Colombia.

Because of the things they stood for, the things they spoke about and what they did for their members, including their efforts to enhance the ability of their members to move up that socio-economic ladder and get freedom of speech, their efforts to allow them to collectively assemble and their efforts to allow them collective bargaining, all of those folks would have never lived to ripe old ages of retirement. They all would have been dead by now. That would be a great travesty.

In this land, as much as a lot of folks do not agree with the trade union leaders who I mentioned, we do it in a civil way. We express our opinions and we debate the merits of what we stand for on one side and what we stand for on the other. None of those trade union leaders ever felt under threat, albeit Walter Reuther back in the 1950s was a different issue.

However, things have progressed from those days to the point where those leaders do not feel under threat, including the president of the CLC, Ken Georgetti, who is not afraid to walk across this land and talk about trade unionism, human rights, the collective bargaining process and the right to organize. The Supreme Court of Canada has said folks have that right under the laws of this land. It is an important fundamental right that we do not see in Colombia. As long as trade union leaders in Colombia feel under threat and duress, my sense is that this is not an agreement we need to go forward with.

What are we doing in Colombia? What is the benefit for us in Colombia? There is no great benefit for a free trade agreement with Colombia. Certainly, there are some power elites in Colombia who truly want an agreement with us because it sends out a signal to the broader world that they should come back to the table to enter into negotiations with Colombia. The EU has walked away. It threw its hands up and said it was going to stop negotiations and was no longer interested in talking until Colombia cleaned up its own house.

As a member of the G8 and the G20, we see our partners in that club saying it is time to let the Colombians take care of their internal issues and allow them time to ensure their population is safe, their human rights record is on the upswing and at a level where trade unionists no longer fear for their lives and indigenous people no longer feel as if they are going to be forced off their land, allow them time to ensure the country has actually stabilized itself.

It is not to take away from the work that has already been done. There is no question that we are seeing a decline in the violence in Colombia from where it was 10 or 15 years ago. However, it is still not at a place where we should be in trade negotiations, not until it finds itself stabilized.

It is for them to do that, not for us to say we will send them a trade deal, we will send them some of our products and we will let some of our companies go into their country, and somehow that will stabilize their country. Governments stabilize countries by a set of rules, by the understanding of their populations that they respect those rules, and at the moment, that is not happening. The statistics clearly point to that.

Some of my colleagues will point out that there are not paramilitary death squads anymore; they are really narco-gangs. Yesterday's narco-gangs are tomorrow's paramilitaries, and vice versa. They are interchangeable. They go back and forth across that very, very blurry line. There is no question there are some narco-gangs in Colombia. No one disputes that, but no one can suggest that somehow they have demilitarized every paramilitary group in Colombia. That is not the case. The evidence shows it is not the case and we have to accept the fact that it is true.

In the end, if we know that to be true, then we know we cannot get sustainability in Colombia when it comes to human rights, the right to collective bargaining, the right to collective assembly and the freedom and democracy that we know and share here. That is why our friends in the club of G8 and G20 have said no to the Colombians this time, not no to them on a permanent basis.

But I think that is what the House needs to know about what the New Democrats are saying. We are not saying no to Colombia forever. In fact, we are saying yes to Colombia. We want to help it, to help get it back up on its feet. We will allow it and help it with those institutions that it needs to form.

I would suggest to the government that what we ought to enter into with Colombia is to help them strengthen their government organizations, their court systems, so that they can indeed move forward, as we did years ago. We had to develop ours and strengthen them, and eventually the rule of law in a free and democratic society likes ours, where we respect it as individuals, will then be in Colombia as well. Then we become co-equal partners. Then we can enter into trade. Trade should never be measured by simply dollars and cents. It is about those who are affected on both sides of that ledger, which means workers here and indeed workers in Colombia.

In the agricultural sector, we see what happens to indigenous farmers when multinational organizations in the agriculture sector come in. When we talked to our friends in the campesina movement, they told us they have been pushed off the land. Yet we talk about how to help folks who perhaps are not eating as well as they should because there is not enough nourishment, not enough sustenance, because we needs folks on the land to actually grow food that can be consumed by those who live there. When people have to buy food from abroad, they are at the mercy of the prices in the world market, which means that if they are poor already, they become not only poorer, but hungry.

We need to make sure that all of those factors are in play, that indeed none of the things we see happening today are happening anymore. It will not be an idyllic society. It will not be a perfectly peaceful place; nowhere is. In this country we find from time to time folks get annoyed at things that happen. We have demonstrations. Sometimes those demonstrations lead to the odd window getting broken. That is what we would like to see in Colombia: a time when demonstrations result in no more than a broken window rather than a bullet behind someone's ear. Then we will know they have got to a place where we can put our hand out and invite them to talk about trade; that will be the time we can sit down and talk about the actual trade negotiations.

My friends will talk about its being an addendum to the back of the agreement with labour laws, environment laws and the fact that we could pay a fine if there are things going on, or we could make a complaint and a fine would be charged against us.

When I wrote collective agreements in the bargaining that I did over a number of years, if we were serious about what we meant about something, we did not write it off the agreement. It used to be called “letters off the agreement”, which for the most part used to be hidden. Those are things we did not tell the folks we represented. We gave them the collective agreement and we kept the letters off to the side. That is why we did that, because those were in the so-called clandestine semi-agreement between us and the employer. In my view, those letters at the back of the agreement are what that is about. It is about a certain group of folks saying that they know they are there and they know they can exercise them, but the majority of folks will not.

When people actually find themselves in a situation where they should use them, they do not even know they are there to try to exact a price that folks should pay as far as the fine is concerned, which I find ludicrous, to be honest. I know my fellow New Democratic colleague has coined the term “kill a trade unionist, pay a fine”. It seems rather cruel when we hear it out loud, but that is a reality. That is clearly what this piece of the agreement talks about.

It does not talk about how to stop it. It does not talk about setting up fundamental rights and freedoms for trade union leaders to actually go about doing what we consider to be legitimate, which is to organize workers if they choose to be organized, collectively bargain for them because that is what they have asked to be done, represent them in the bargaining process and, indeed, the grievance process and from time to time engage Parliament in advancing the rights of workers, which it believes workers are asking it to do.

In Colombia, we do not see that. In fact, my friends in the CUT, which is the largest trade union movement in Colombia, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting over the years, tell me this is not a good deal for workers. If Colombian workers are telling us it is not a good deal for workers, why is it we are so pious to believe that we can tell them it is, it will be good for them?

It reminds me of the 1985 debate on free trade, to be honest: “This will be good for you”. The president of my union, unfortunately, told General Motors during bargaining in 1996, “You are going to eat Pablum because I am feeding it to you because you are going to like it”. It turned out they did not like it that much and they put us on strike for a long period of time. The bottom line is that because we think it is good for them does not make it necessarily so. In fact, I would suggest it is not.

What we should be doing is listening to the workers in the fields, factories and cities in Colombia who are saying, “No thank you. Thank you very much for thinking about us. Thank you very much for telling our government that it needs to do better with human rights. Thank you very much for saying you want to make sure I am protected. We appreciate that. We want you to continue that, but we don't want this deal at this moment”.

They are not saying they do not want a deal. They are saying not right now. We should respect that. We should respect the fact that the citizens and workers of Colombia are saying to us, “Thank you, but not right now”. To suggest that we know better than they do is not only insulting to them but it is quite delusional for us.

We are entering into a pact with whom? An elite? Because the government says it will be good for workers? We saw the results here and I mentioned them earlier. If we ask workers in this country if they are better off today, Statistics Canada says unequivocally no. It did not work for ordinary Canadians who toil across this land.

The proof is in the pudding. People always ask where the proof is. The proof is in the report. The Statistics Canada report clearly shows how we have done as working men and women across this country. We did not prosper. A very few at the top did. By and large, 80% of us did not. Therefore, why are we foisting this deal on Colombians and telling them they will be better off?

It reminds me of what we said with regard to the North American Free Trade Agreement when Mexico was brought in. We said it would be better for them. I would challenge anybody to go across the maquiladora zone and ask how people are making out. They are worried about losing their jobs to China, and yet they have the lowest wage rates in North America. Their wage rates do not sustain them in the Mexican economy. Yet they were supposed to be better off.

Across the globe, when it comes to free trade instead of fair trade, and I stress the word “fair” trade, which has in it many other pieces that this free trade agreement does not, what we need to be doing is saying no to this, respecting Colombian workers' wishes, respecting the citizens of Colombia who say no, taking a step back and telling them that when they are ready, when they decide it is in their best interests, the workers and citizens of Colombia should tell us that they want to sit down and negotiate a fair trade agreement.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order in response to the government's dumping of censored documents in this Chamber this morning. This purports to be the government's response to the question of privilege and the associated motions that had been placed before the Speaker for a ruling with regard to the transfer of detainees and documents relevant to that very serious issue.

If this purports to be a response, it is, frankly, an insult. It is an insult to this Chamber and to the rights of parliamentarians to request documents and to have those documents produced.

The government has produced 1 copy of 2,500 documents and put them at the table. Contrary to normal practice, it has not taken the time or trouble to make additional copies for members of Parliament. They are unavailable to the media so it could properly report what has been done here to the public.

This is yet another illustration of the contempt that this Conservative government's Prime Minister has for this Parliament. This is unacceptable to us.

Our party has been consistent. We have always asked for one thing: to have access to the documents in order to do our work. In other words, we want to supervise the government and ensure that it is acting in the public's interest, but without posing a threat to national security.

Having access to the documents is the only way we can ensure that the government is being accountable to the public through its representatives in the House of Commons, namely us, the people's elected representatives, the members of this House.

Mr. Speaker, the documents that have been tabled before you are highly censored. The order that was adopted cites the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents.

Given the reality that the government has violated the rights of Parliament by invoking the Canada Evidence Act to censor documents before producing them, the House urgently requires access to the documents uncensored. What do we get as the government's response? We get a pile of censored documents.

This is a critical situation. If this is all the government has to offer, then, Mr. Speaker, I do not think you have any choice but to rule on behalf of the House of Commons, on behalf of the traditions of this Parliament to have supremacy when it comes to requiring the government to provide documents.

It is a sad day when members of Parliament request information and they are treated in such a contemptuous fashion by the government, which is why we are raising this point of order and drawing it your attention.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before I hear from other members on, I presume, this same subject, I would like to share with all members my understanding.

The government did table two boxes of documents this morning. A single copy of each was tabled. Many of these documents are not in both official languages, which is why unanimous consent was required in the House to accept those. That was asked for and granted.

As members know, the usual practice of this place is when documents are tabled that are one, two or three pages long, the Table provides copies of those as a courtesy to members. In this case, as the Leader of the NDP has mentioned, there are many hundreds of documents and so, from a practical point of view, that was not possible.

Having said that, the Journals Branch has received those two boxes of documents and are proceeding with them on a priority basis to create a single set of copies for each of the three opposition parties and they will be delivered as quickly as possible. I cannot give you a specific time but I can say that the Journals Branch is proceeding on a priority basis.

In terms of the contents of the documents, the leader's point is well taken, but at this point the Chair is not in a position to comment on the contents of those documents.

I believe the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was rising on the same point of order.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for making one of the points that I was going to make to my hon. colleague about the additional copies, which are being photocopied as we speak. As soon as the additional copies are made in sufficient quantities, they will be transmitted at the earliest possible moment to the opposition parties.

With respect, however, to the contention made by the leader of the New Democratic Party that the documents are censored in some way, I would point out to all members of this House that there is a point of privilege before the House on which the Speaker will be making a ruling once the government has an opportunity to make a more fulsome response to the original points of order.

At that point in time, and only at that point in time, will this House be able to determine whether the government should be compelled to release all documents in unredacted form. The point that the hon. member was making, that we were compelled today to release documents in unredacted form, is simply not true.

The government's position is still that the executive has the absolute right, on the basis of national security and confidentiality concerns, to release documents in the form that we have been releasing them. We have consistently stated that all legally available documents have been and will continue to be released. We maintain that position until otherwise advised by the Chair.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday, I rose in the House on a question of privilege on the issue we are addressing today.

The Bloc Québécois is extremely disappointed in the government's attitude. This is just another example of the government's bad faith when it comes to handing over all the legal documents and it is becoming a broken record. The thing we do not see eye to eye on is the precise definition of legal documents. Are they the 2,500 pages of censored documents that they just tabled, but are in fact totally useless to the members of the committee? We are still at square one.

When the committee receives witnesses who have read all of these uncensored documents and we, as members of Parliament, are to ask them questions, we are not on the same wavelength. We cannot get to the bottom of things if the documents to which we have access do not allow us to effectively question the witnesses.

I want to remind the government that Parliament's House of Commons is usually the grand inquest. Legal research proves it. The House of Commons is the grand inquest that gets to the bottom of things to see whether the government is being accountable. That is what democracy is all about.

For their part, the government and the cabinet are the protectors of the realm. At this time, I find that the protectors of the realm have many more advantages than the grand inquest. They are paralyzing the grand inquest.

I wish to remind members that the December 10 motion is clear, “...the House hereby orders that these documents be produced in their original and uncensored form forthwith.”

By submitting 2,500 pages of censored documents today, they are not complying with the motion of December 10.

Was it so difficult for the government, having had all night to prepare this obstacle, to bring photocopied documents and distribute them to the opposition?

This shows once again the bad faith of this government, which continues to throw up road blocks to prevent us from getting to the bottom of the matter.

Not only did they not give us the copies this morning—the documents were tabled in the House, and they must be photocopied immediately—but, furthermore, having looked through the documents behind the Speaker's chair, I can say that they have been censored. Therefore, they are of no use to us.

This is another sign of contempt. It proves that the Speaker's ruling is urgently needed. The government's constant hoopla and all kinds of theatrics are attempts to delay examining the fundamental issue.

What this government is doing is putting up smokescreen after smokescreen after smokescreen. Last week, I quoted a number of authorities who have the right to order the House to produce documents. I will quote Bourinot:

...there are frequent cases in which the ministers refuse information, especially at some delicate stage of an investigation or negotiation; and in such instances the house will always acquiesce when sufficient reasons are given for the refusal.

I could cite several other passages, which I cited when raising a point of privilege last week. But we always get back to square one: only the House can say whether these documents are confidential or not.

The motion we want to introduce would allow members of Parliament to judge whether a document should be kept confidential for security reasons or made public. Not only will the members be able to judge, they will be helped by other people. There will be no additional filter.

The government’s tactic is to give the documents to an eminent judge, Mr. Iacobucci, who will decide which ones parliamentarians will get. That is not the way things should be done. The opposition parties are unanimous in their view that it is the members of Parliament who should decide which documents can be revealed publicly and which are too sensitive from a national security standpoint. That is the basic principle we are asking the Speaker of the House to investigate.

Mr. Speaker, there is a pressing need for you and your colleagues to reach a decision because there are more and more cases in which the government shows its contempt for the House.

It is the 308 members of the House of Commons who represent Canadians, not one judge. In a democracy, it is the members of Parliament who represent the citizenry. They can always ask senior public servants or the courts to help them, but it is their decision to make. We are the ones who were elected to the House. We are the ones who are accountable when things do not go well. We are the ones who are accountable for the well-being of the nation.

Here is the evidence that this government is not concerned about the nation's well-being. It tries instead to use national security to hide the fact that ministers may well have made mistakes. And how does it do this? It provides documents and then censors them.

The other day I showed a document on camera in which an entire page had been blacked out. Then I asked how long it had taken to translate the document. It did not take much time. They just made a photocopy and said it was the French version.

This is another stunt staged by a government that is just trying to gain time and conceal the possible incompetence of some of its influential members. That is not good for democracy and that is why we are taking up the cudgels again and saying that the government’s current approach is meaningless, unacceptable and contrary to the motion of December 10, 2009.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.


Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is of course a very serious topic. This is not the first time this issue pertaining to the documents related to Afghanistan has been raised in the House. It has been raised seriously and conscientiously by a members of a number of different political parties. It is extremely important that the Chair treat this matter with the gravity it deserves, and we are confident that will be the case. However, it is also very important that the government treat it seriously as well.

The government's behaviour today in bringing these documents, whatever they may be, to the House in the condition that it has is really a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The government wants to appear to be doing something to leave the impression that it is being transparent with respect to the Afghan documents when in fact transparency is the least description one could use to characterize what has gone on here.

When the House opened at 10 o'clock, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader was in his place and put before the House two large cardboard boxes. He said that those boxes contained documents pertaining to the motion passed by the House last December, related to Afghanistan. He indicated that they were not translated and accordingly he had to seek unanimous consent for those documents to be put forward. The House gave unanimous consent, as a courtesy, because there is importance attached to any documentation related to Afghanistan. However, here we have 2,500 documents, we are told, one copy of each, we are told, not translated and still apparently in redacted form. That is, and Mr. Speaker I think you will have to agree, highly unusual. It may in fact be unprecedented in parliamentary experience.

The government has known about Parliament's requirement for documentation since at least December 10. Indeed, an argument could be made that the requirement for those documents was known even before the date upon which Parliament passed the resolution. However, the government has known that Parliament requires these documents. Now, more than three and a half months later, it comes to the House with one copy, untranslated, of 2,500 pieces of paper.

One might ask, in this massive exercise of recalibration that apparently went on in the government after prorogation, did it disconnect all the photocopying machines in the Government of Canada? What has it been doing, with respect to this documentation issue, for the last three and a half months, that it comes to the House in such an unprepared way?

For now, tabling, under the rules of the House, has not actually been effective. The government will try to make the argument that it has had a little exercise in transparency here today by bringing in these documents and dumping them on the table, in two cardboard boxes, but that is not effective tabling under the rules. Substantively, tabling has not been perfected. What we have had is a show, a charade, but it is not legitimate.

I would call upon the Chair to note for the record that while the tabling of these documents may have begun in this chaotic and ad hoc way today, it is not yet complete and these documents should be deemed not yet to have been tabled, unless and until all the documents, whatever they may be, are available to all parties, in both official languages, as required under the rules.

The attempt at tabling that was undertaken today has obviously been far from perfect. It does not meet any of the transparency or information requirements of members of Parliament. The government needs, PDQ, to get on with the job of producing those documents, as Parliament has requested, in a very legitimate way. The obfuscation on the part of the government simply only serves to raise greater suspicions in the minds of members of Parliament and the Canadian public.

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Before I go to the parliamentary secretary, I would like to clarify one small matter.

When I was responding to the leader of the NDP, I stated that the Journals Branch of the House of Commons was preparing three copies, one for each opposition party. In his earlier statement regarding this point of order, the parliamentary secretary said, “we are preparing copies”. Could he clarify that? Was he suggesting that the government was also preparing copies, or was he referring to those being prepared by the House of Commons?

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, what I was referring to was that the copies are being made right now for the opposition parties and copies are going to be supplied as quickly as possible.

The point I want to make right now, in response to both the opposition House leader and other members of the House—

Documents Regarding Afghan DetaineesPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

Point of order.