Madam Speaker, I am rising to speak to this agreement, which the Bloc Québécois opposes. We could not possibly be in favour of it.
It is hard to understand why the Liberals jumped ship and say—as an hon. member did this morning—that there is less violence and fewer murders now in Colombia when our colleague tells us that 48 trade unionists were killed in 2008, which is not so long ago.
Is it because the Liberals think life is less valuable now than it used to be or that lives in Colombia are not worth much? Is that how we should take it? Or should we assume they are afraid of being accused during the next election of opposing the agreement with Colombia?
In my view, it is probably the latter. It is still too bad, though, that they fail to see how valuable the lives of Colombians are.
We in the Bloc have always been in favour of free trade when it is with countries where the standard of living is roughly comparable to our own. That was true of NAFTA but it is not the case in the agreement with Colombia, where 77% of the people live below the poverty line and 12% in dire poverty.
This means that 17% of the people live in a certain amount of comfort and that real wealth is concentrated in the hands of 1% or 2%. This is the tiny proportion with whom the government wants to sign an agreement. A few Canadians would also like to be able to operate mines and factories without being bothered by the Government of Colombia, which might bring legislation forward that would place restrictions on their operations.
What we need to remember about this free trade agreement is that it will enable Canadians and Quebeckers who have the money to develop new mines or factories to get around potential legislation passed by Colombia.
If the Conservatives were sincere—and I will return to this point—and really wanted to see the situation in Colombia improve, they would start by providing aid and helping to reduce drug trafficking. When poverty in Colombia has been reduced, they could then sign a free trade agreement more or less between equals.
The Liberals are really feeling guilty—at least that is what I heard them saying this morning—and say they will require a report to be submitted every year in order to see whether the situation has improved. Just imagine. They sign an agreement and then they study the reports.
Once the agreement has been signed with the Government of Colombia, are they really going to change their minds and backtrack because of a report? That is nonsense. A report certainly will not change anything.
There is extreme poverty throughout Colombia.
It is really unfortunate and there has to be help in this regard. This country is heavily in debt, has 43 million inhabitants and has wealth concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. So it is hard to imagine respect being given to people working in difficult areas, such as mines, and human rights being upheld. It is also hard to image that the unions will have the power to change the government's attitude.
I would like to quickly go over conditions which prevent the country from readily adopting legislation. We are told it is for trade. Let us take a look at one thing. Colombia exports grain and beef. We have those here. That is their primary production. We are not going to trade cattle for cattle and grain for grain. Is it not really for the extraction of precious metals? I think that would be much more likely. So, it is not a trade agreement, it is an agreement to avoid legal proceedings if damage to the environment results.
The environment is global and important. In other words, the government does not want Colombia to pass restrictive legislation on the environment that would reduce the production of Canadians investing there. In terms of the environment, consideration must be given to potentially dangerous waste from a number of open-pit mines. Deforestation occurs as well. Trees are cut without proper replanting because the mine is open. If there were legislation requiring replanting, some would not be pleased because it would cut into their profits. Landslides are a risk as well. When open pit mines are created over vast areas, mudslides can occur in heavy rains, such as we see increasingly with climate change, which can bury villages built below the cliffs where people go to work in the mines. There are no town planning regulations, it goes without saying. The investors do not like that.
As concerns water, a number of factors may have an impact. What is taken from the mines can impact surface water, drinking water. We have seen this in mines in South America owned by Canadians. The water is so polluted that people can no longer drink it or use it for laundry. Naturally, underground water and the water table can be contaminated. It can have even more sinister effects because water some 40 or 50 kilometres away in another village can be polluted along with all the wells.
So we can see where this leads? Only the word environment and binding environment protection legislation can lead us further. The sole purpose for this free trade agreement is to save investors from having to face too many environmental constraints.
As for labour laws, the situation is the same. It means that people would be given respectable working conditions, that the unions could make demands so that it would cost investors more a few years after they set up. It is too restrictive, so they do not want to hear about it.
Let us talk about health laws now. Whether we are talking about open-pit mines or underground mines, in the long term, health can deteriorate when minerals this dangerous are being extracted. They prefer to let people’s health deteriorate rather than allow a government to enact binding legislation.
Let us also talk about pension laws. We would have to look long and hard to see people being looked after once their career is over. The government could enact pension legislation, and the companies would then have to pay. That is among the things that would not be welcomed by companies that prefer no constraints.
Once again, this is all aimed more at protecting investments than at trade. These are not negotiations between equals. I have described the extent of the poverty in that country. It is quite obvious that we are not going to be selling General Motors cars to the population. We will sell some to a few people who are very rich, and we will sell a few commercial or utility vehicles to people on the ground to promote investment from Canada. It is quite obvious that this agreement is not about free trade with the people. Thinking that amounts to putting on a blindfold.
There is a certain hypocrisy in this kind of agreement. Obliquely, we imply we will be opening up. Yesterday afternoon, I even heard a member of cabinet say that this kind of agreement would allow Canada to develop its foreign trade. That is not the case. Signing an agreement with Colombia is not going to develop Canada’s foreign trade. Be serious! We have to have agreements with Europe. We have to have agreements with people who have money. We have developed our foreign trade with the United States because there are people there with purchasing power; and still there are ups and downs. Because of the current crisis, globalization has had some setbacks.
Other members said earlier that it was time to sign this agreement because of the current global crisis. In a global crisis, poor countries are much harder hit than wealthy countries. Let us now go and see, in Colombia, how hard the Colombians have been hit by the crisis. This is not the time to go and exploit them more, it is the time to help them. If we really wanted to help those people, we would lend them money, we would help them to get on track and develop their country, we would not be proposing to sell them things. It is entirely improbable that this is going to happen.
This kind of agreement will not produce any improvement. Globalization has not improved the situation in every country, but it has greatly improved the situation in the big countries: the United States and its satellite countries.
Let us go and see whether globalization has brought well-being to Africa. The United States sells them rice that is subsidized and grown using super-mechanized methods. In those countries rice growing has been killed off. Elsewhere, countries have killed off the garment manufacturing industry by dumping cheap clothing.
So globalization is not automatically an improvement, particularly for smaller or less wealthy countries like Colombia, whose economic equilibrium is fragile.
Canada is able to make products cheaply and wants to sell them those products, and this will destroy the commercial fabric of those countries, which is very fragile.