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House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we look at the situation as it evolved in Colombia, we see that things are definitely better now eight years later than they were when President Uribe started.

The member talks about the challenges with which Colombia still has to deal. I do not think anyone in the House would disagree that there are still challenges with which the Colombian government needs to deal. If we look at just one story, anecdotally, that was written in the newspaper some time ago, when the troops showed at the border of Venezuela and the U.S. asked President Uribe if he needed some military support, he said no. He said that he needed a free trade agreement with the U.S. He said that this was not the way he wanted to do business as a country as it move forward. He realized that Colombia had issues with drugs and with productivity.

Colombia has signed a number of trade agreements. It believes that this agreement will help it move out of its current situation.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, throughout the debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, I have said that we cannot let ourselves be blinded by ideologies that assume all free trade agreements are good, or on the other side, that all free trade agreements are bad. Instead we must judge each agreement, and in this case, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, in terms of how it will really affect in the long term the people of Canada and Colombia.

In Canada, farmers, factory workers, small businesses and families across the country will benefit from increased trade with one of Latin America's fastest growing economies. In Colombia, thousands of lives have been destroyed by decades of civil war and narcoterrorism. The decent, hard-working people of Colombia deserve a better future, a future driven by legitimate opportunities from trade and investment, which can help free Colombians from the violence and human rights abuses fuelled by the drug trade.

Colombia has made significant progress over the last decade. Security has strengthened and human rights abuses have declined. Earlier this year, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, tabled her annual report on Colombia. In her report, she recognized the “significant progress Colombia has made in human rights”. President Obama has also recognized the progress that has been made.

The foundation of this progress is Colombia's strong, independent judiciary. President Uribe's acceptance of the Supreme Court decision, which limited his presidency to two terms, as well as the vibrant presidential election that is now taking place, also help to underscore and demonstrate Colombia's democracy and respect for the rule of law.

However, Colombia's social progress remains fragile and incomplete. Much more needs to be done. Poverty, unemployment and lack of legitimate economic opportunity force too many Colombians to turn to the violent life of the drug trade. For too many Colombians, it is the only way they can make a living and provide for their families, but we can help. In fact, we have a responsibility to help.

Canada has a moral obligation to help Colombia build its legitimate economy, and we have a long history of providing foreign aid to Colombia. These Canadian aid dollars have helped in building vital social infrastructure in Colombia. We have helped protect vulnerable Colombians by improving security programs for women and children. We have helped Colombia with foreign aid to help train labour inspectors, to strengthen the enforcement labour laws and the respect of human rights. Canada has helped in the area of resource development. We are helping to strengthen environmental protection and improving community engagement.

These are a few examples of how Canada and Colombia are working together now, but aid dollars are not enough. Foreign aid does not provide the economic levers that a developing country needs to become self-sufficient. For that we need trade. We must encourage investment that is socially and environmentally responsible, investment that provides economic opportunities for all Colombians, including the most vulnerable, while respecting and strengthening human rights.

A free trade agreement with Colombia can create real jobs and real opportunity for Colombians. The agreements on the environment and labour co-operation will help ensure that our trade is conducted in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

As Liberals, we recognize and have a history of understanding that economic engagement can help strengthen human rights engagement. Prime Minister Trudeau was certainly no slouch when it came to human rights, but he was also the first western leader to engage post-revolutionary China, even before President Nixon.

Throughout our discussions on free trade with Colombia, the Liberal Party focused on the human rights situation. For us, it is vital that free trade with Colombia strengthens and improves the protection of human rights for all Colombians, including the most vulnerable. The Liberal Party listened to the concerns of Canadians and Colombians and we acted. We insisted on a human rights amendment to this free trade agreement. That is why we now have a binding treaty on human rights, a treaty that was signed by both the Canadian and Colombian governments last month. That is why the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is now the first trade agreement in the world to include an ongoing human rights impact assessment.

Under this agreement, Canada must measure and analyze the effect of the FTA on human rights in both countries. In fact, both Canada and Colombia must table annual reports in their Parliaments, analyzing the impact of this FTA on human rights. When these reports are tabled in Parliament, they will be public. These reports will be examined in committee, where civil society organizations and other expert witnesses from both Canada and Colombia will be heard.

This will ensure that we do not stop focusing on human rights when this FTA goes into effect. It will ensure that, on an ongoing basis, we will have constructive engagement on human rights for years, perhaps decades to come.

This Liberal amendment and the treaty on human rights and free trade has received support in Canada and Colombia and around the world. Dr. James Harrison, a professor at the University of Warwick told our trade committee that:

—the Canadian proposal is exciting and could become a model in this area, because no other country has yet included this within the scope of a trade agreement....I think the idea of a human rights... assessment is a great endeavour to be embarking on...

Mr. Gaétan Lavertu, a former deputy minister for Foreign Affairs for Canada and a former Canadian Ambassador to Colombia spoke about this human rights agreement. He said:

I think it's great that we have an opportunity to review the impact of the agreement. We should probably do that for all agreements. It's not enough to just sign agreements; we have to see once in a while what the implications have been, what the results have been, and I think that will be very useful. It will provide us with an opportunity to discuss human rights not only multilaterally but also bilaterally on a much more extensive basis.

Another former Canadian deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter Harder, called the Liberal amendment a:

—significant innovation in free trade agreements in that it provides both the Colombian and Canadian legislatures the opportunity to annually review and assess the human rights implications of the agreement. I expect that future parliaments will build on this precedent when they consider proposed free trade agreements.

Colombians have also expressed support for this human rights treaty. For example, Dr. Leon Valencia, executive director of Arco Iris, a human rights organization, has stated:

I think it is interesting and useful...This will provide an important yearly forum to discuss the situation in Colombia, and will give Canadian citizens the opportunity to monitor human rights violations in our country.

Dr. Gerardo Sánchez Zapata, president of Colombia's textile and apparel industry trade union spoke on behalf of several Colombian unions, private sector unions, when he said:

This procedure is welcomed by Colombian workers and we are thankful...it helps strengthen a mechanism already in place that monitors and evaluates the progress in matters of human rights and freedom of association in our country...

Our Parliament has discussed this free trade agreement at length. Since 2008, free trade with Colombia has been the subject of well over 100 hours of debate at second reading and testimony at committee. In fact, the House of Commons has devoted more time to the Colombia-Canada FTA at second reading and committee than it did to each of the federal budgets since 2008.

Many witnesses on this FTA have appeared before committee two or three times already. The discussions that have taken place have been extensive and nobody can say that the ratification of this agreement has been rushed. Democracy requires a fulsome debate that makes every reasonable effort to ensure that all views can be heard, but this debate must be followed by a vote. It is time for that vote to take place.

It is clear that a majority of Colombians support this free trade agreement. Of all the Colombians mainstream political parties, only one opposes these free trade agreements, whether it is with the U.S., the E.U. or with Canada, the Polo Democrático Alternativo. In the congressional elections of May 14, the Polo Party garnered a paltry 6% of the vote. In the most recent presidential elections, the Polo candidate, Petro, won only 9% of the vote.

All of the other parties in Colombia, the Green Party, the Party of the U and all the others support free trade agreements. If there is to be sustainable progress, the people of Colombia know that they need legitimate economic opportunities to unshackle them from the violent narco-economy. This trade agreement, in combination with the Liberal amendment and the binding treaty on human rights, offers Colombia economic progress as well as human rights progress.

This agreement represents hope and opportunity for Colombians to have a better way of life. It also offers Canadians the opportunities to be a partner in progress with the people of Colombia in that progress. For these reasons, the Liberal Party is proud to support this amended FTA and its accompanying treaty on human rights.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Kings—Hants for his support of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. I certainly thank him for his intervention on behalf of human rights in Colombia, because it has allowed this bill, quite frankly, to move forward.

I know that the hon. member was in the House when the NDP member was speaking. Beyond the fact that the NDP has never supported a free trade agreement at any time, in the current Parliament or in any other Parliament, part of what really bothers me about the NDP approach to this particular piece of legislation is that there has been some fundamental testimony at committee that has misled the committee.

I have one example. The hon. member was there, and I would ask him to recall it.

The NDP member in this place came into committee and said that there had been a massacre of 12 Awa citizens, indigenous people in Colombia, who had been murdered by the government. We later found out that they had not been murdered by the government. They had been murdered by the FARC, the socialist insurrection in the jungle. We still have not had that corrected. It has not been corrected at committee, nor has it been apologized for.

That is the type of opposition we have. I wonder if he would want to draw some comparisons from that.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have been disturbed by the amount of misinformation that has permeated and dominated the important and legitimate debate on this issue. I have repeatedly corrected the NDP member of the trade committee when he has made incorrect and false testimony.

At the time of the murder of 12 members of the Awa nation, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster actually accused the Uribe government of conducting the murders. Then, because the murders occurred when the hon. member for Toronto Centre and I were in Colombia, we were accused of condoning murder. That was the deeply personal and grossly biased and inaccurate type of argument made.

As it turns out, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that the murders of the 12 members of the Awa nation were committed by FARC, because they were living on grounds contiguous with a FARC drug operation. It was not the Uribe government, so I think that the hon. member from the New Democrats should apologize to me and to the Uribe government.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am appalled at the ignorance of the members who are not aware that there have been systematic massacres not only of members of the Awa nation in Colombia but of other aboriginal nations. Indeed, the government and paramilitary and military forces have been involved. It is a matter of public record.

I will turn to other issues, because it is obvious that there is not a very high level of understanding of the human rights situation in Colombia. How could there be? Liberals and Conservatives shut off debate on Bill C-2. They refused to hear from human rights organizations in Colombia who asked to come forward. They refused to hear from the Canadian Labour Congress, which asked to come forward. They refused to hear from some of the largest labour activist unions in Canada, which asked to come forward. They refused to hear from the free and democratic labour movement, which is over 90% of the labour movement in Colombia. The Liberals and Conservatives said that they did not want to hear from those organizations. If they had heard from those organizations rather than having cut off debate, their level of ignorance would have been improved.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not certain that the constructive intervention from the hon. member has contributed something new to the debate, but I would like to help him with an intervention from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who recognized:

[T]he significant progress made in terms of a drastic reduction in the number of complaints of extrajudicial executions and the continuous prosecution of members of Congress and public officials for alleged links with paramilitary organizations.

She is saying that there has been significant progress. She also said that they recognized:

[T]he [Uribe] Government’s openness to international scrutiny...[and] the spirit of cooperation that exists between the Government and OHCHR-Colombia and the commitment of the Government to address human rights challenges.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is June 2010. Exactly two years ago, in June 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade published a report entitled “Human Rights, the Environment and Free Trade with Colombia”.

All parliamentarians probably received a letter today from Canada's National Director of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union. This represents a fair number of Canadians who are against the free trade agreement with Colombia. I will quote Canada's National Director of that union, Ken Neumann:

The United Steelworkers continues to support the 2008 recommendation of the Standing Committee on International Trade for an independent, impartial, third party assessment of human rights in Colombia before this legislation is signed, sealed and delivered to the Colombian regime.

This position reflects one of the main recommendations in the 2008 report, which stated that we would go along with a free trade agreement, provided that Colombia could show continued and stable improvement in the human rights situation.

Now we have a proposal from the Liberals, who are putting the cart before the horse. They claim to agree with the Conservatives that a human rights assessment should be done after the free trade agreement is signed with Colombia.

I remind my colleagues of some comments made in the dissenting opinion of the Liberal Party in June 2008:

A trade agreement with Colombia should be contingent on an independent human rights assessment which clearly demonstrates the progress of the Colombian Government on these important issues...It has long been the position of the Liberal Party that trade and human rights should not be done in isolation.

As it turns out, the Liberal Party is doing exactly the opposite of what it said. This change happened when the current Liberal Party leader took over and the agenda changed. We must not forget that even the United States has refused to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia and that it is still waiting for significant improvement in the human rights situation there.

It is clear that the government does not respect the will of parliamentarians as expressed in the report. Had we already begun the analysis and assessment process with independent human rights groups, we would already be in a position to describe with absolute certainty what has really been going on in Colombia for the past two years.

Have things improved? Are all of the necessary systems in place to foster continuous improvement? Given an opportunity to study a report produced by an independent group appointed to carry out the assessment, the majority of the House would already be prepared to support the agreement. However, I must repeat the following, just as I do every time I speak to the Colombia free trade agreement bill.

During the time that I was a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I never once saw a report that offered a credible assessment of the impact on Canada and Quebec's economy or that of the partner country, which in this case is Colombia.

We are all well aware and should not have to be reminded of what happened in Colombia. In terms of human rights, it was the world's worst offender. It may no longer be the worst, but it is probably close. The people are against this agreement because of the human rights situation in that country.

The committee listed a number of recommendations in its report to the Government of Canada. Clearly, the Conservative government did not respect the will of parliamentarians. The Canadian government flat out rejected some of the recommendations and made decisions based on ideology without taking into account the will of those who represent the people of Quebec and Canada.

I want to point out that the Bloc Québécois wrote a dissenting opinion. We confirmed our strong opposition to the signing and ratification of such a free trade agreement. We believe that the committee's report was misguided and biased and did not reflect the committee's opinion.

We disagree with this bill for several reasons. First, it is bad trade policy. The free trade agreement with Colombia has almost nothing to do with trade. It is mainly about investment. The investment agreement with Colombia looks strangely like the free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico. The government is trying to promote and protect investment.

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of protecting domestic and foreign investments, but we know Canada is involved in developing Colombia's greatest resource: minerals. As an aside, the government says Canada needs to do business abroad and that since we began studying this report on the free trade agreement, trade with Colombia has changed for the better.

It is clear to us that trade between Canada and Colombia is limited. The agreement will therefore have limited benefits. This agreement is not about trade, as I said earlier. It is about investments in the Canadian mining sector.

When it comes to free trade agreements and especially the agreement with Colombia, the Conservative government has a deplorable attitude, like the one we saw too often in the early days of this vast world development. Companies went abroad and set up shop in the name of globalization. Multinationals tried to take advantage of poor working conditions, pitiful human rights recognition and weak environmental regulations. They wanted to make the most of the often negative discrepancies that leave countries' populations and economies unprotected.

Armed groups forced the displacement of huge segments of the population. More than three million people were displaced. Rebel forces stole people's land and took ownership of it. If the Colombian government wanted to put things right and restore land to the people who were displaced, the Canadian companies that bought that land would prevent the government from improving the human rights situation.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I very much enjoyed the speech by the member for Sherbrooke. He knows a great deal about these issues and this free trade agreement with Colombia. He did a great job as a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade.

As the member is well aware, representatives were sent to Colombia and when they came back, all of the members from the four parties agreed that we should not enter into a free trade agreement with Colombia given the human rights situation in that country. That was two years ago. Then, the Conservative government decided to simply ignore the information that the committee presented here. Now, we are in a situation where the Liberals and Conservatives refuse even to hear witnesses from the Canadian labour movement, the Colombian free labour movement, Afro-Colombians, aboriginals and all of the other civil society groups that asked the Standing Committee on International Trade to listen to their testimony on these issues.

I would like to hear what the member for Sherbrooke thinks about this. What has changed in the past two years, from the time when the Liberal Party recognized the human rights situation to present day, when it no longer recognizes the human rights violations? Is it because there is a new Liberal Party leader?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the dates do in fact seem to coincide. The new Liberal leader's attitude seems oddly similar to that of the Conservative government, particularly that of its leader and perhaps even the Reform ideology that permeates the Conservative Party.

I will never forget the support and backing we had from the Liberal Party in committee when we presented the report and the recommendations. We must be honest and transparent, and admit that the Bloc had the support of both the Liberal Party and the NDP. The Liberal Party supported several of the recommendations. Furthermore, regarding the main recommendation—calling on the government to ask a third party to assess the human rights situation and examine any positive changes—of course the Liberal Party supported us in that regard. Now it is doing the opposite. It wants Canada to sign the report and worry about the rest later.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear the member's comments on the remarks made by the hon. member for Kings—Hants who in the very beginning, and if one did not listen very closely one would have missed it because he kind of skated over it, mentioned that this trade agreement really honours the government's support for balancing the environment, development and sustainability.

I would have liked the opportunity to ask him a question about that but I did not have the chance. However, I am sure the hon. member was listening to what he had to say in the ongoing debate about these trade agreements, these free trade as opposed to fair trade agreements.

As I mentioned before in the House, I had the honour of being the first head of law and enforcement for the NAFTA Environment Commission. There was a lot of concern that even that side agreement to the NAFTA agreement was not binding, the same way that the actual NAFTA agreement was binding, but still provided for a full-time secretariat. It provided for a council of all the environment ministers, as there should be for Colombia and the environment if this is truly a sustainable--

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will have to stop the hon. member there. There are only 40 seconds left for the hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, if we look at this in terms of geometry, we all know that parallel lines never meet. They are always the same distance apart. Indeed, parallel agreements associated with a free trade agreement rarely merge with the main point of that free trade agreement.

Furthermore, for all practical purposes, we should have taken the time to negotiate with the Uribe government, the government of Colombia, in order to send a clear message that we would be willing to sign a free trade agreement if the situation improves in terms of both human rights and of course environmental rights. We know very well how some mining companies conduct themselves here, so we can only imagine what they might do to the environment in a country like Colombia.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this piece of legislation again. Having been involved in not quite all of the hearings of this committee, which have been fairly extensive with over 130 representations by around 100 witnesses, the international trade committee has studied the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement in a very thorough and solid way.

This trade agreement is good for Canada and that is the predominant reason why we as members of Parliament should vote to support this trade agreement. In particular, this trade agreement is really good for agriculture, an industry that is of prime importance to my province of Saskatchewan. The way that this free trade agreement is structured there will be an immediate elimination of certain tariffs on certain agricultural products that come from Canada. This would affect our lentils industry, barley, wheat, oats, grains which are predominantly not produced in Colombia, but grains that we compete against other countries such as Argentina, Brazil and the United States in exporting to Colombia.

This is very important because it deals with one of the criticisms that opponents have made against the agreement, that it will somehow devastate small Colombian farmers. To those critics I should point out that under the structure of the small Colombian farm, the predominant crop is beans. Under this agreement the Colombian government rather prudently protects its small one, two, three acre farmers with a much slower 20-year reduction of the tariffs on beans. Since Canada does not export great amounts of beans to Colombia, it is not of major importance to us.

This agreement is also good for Canada because it helps our manufacturing industry. While we do not always think of ourselves as being in head-to-head competition with the United States when we export Ford, GM or Chrysler products, in the situation with Colombia we right now face the same tariff, but that tariff would be eliminated. So car dealers and car manufacturers from southern Ontario will be able to export and the 35% tariff would be eliminated, so they can then export directly into the Colombian market. This will give them a massive advantage over United States exporters who wish to follow up, particularly as the United States Congress is dragging its feet when it comes to the implementation of its free trade agreement.

One of the advantages that has not be noted too often in this debate is the advantage that Canada will incur under this agreement in the area of services. Services as investments are important engines of the Canadian economy. For example, the service sector contributes to 71% of Canadian GDP and three out of four jobs. There will be opportunities in Colombia for Canadian companies in areas such as financial services, legal services, engineering, architecture and high technology. Canadian service providers are already providing services to help develop the Colombian economy, estimated to be about $80 million to $85 million per year.

This is important in areas such as engineering. Colombia is a country that has had severe civil wars over the last many decades, but it is starting to rebuild its infrastructure. If anyone has been there recently there are highway construction projects. The building of infrastructure in Colombia is very important and Canadian engineering firms can be a part of that development. Therefore, being able to recognize credentials back and forth would save both Canadian and Colombian providers time and of course money.

This agreement removes barriers to entry at the border such as quotas and labour market evaluations which makes the entry of investor service providers and traders into both countries easier. With the ability to move key personnel to different positions with reasonable timeframes, businesses can operate more successfully.

We already know that this agreement gives Canadian service providers greater access to the Colombian marketplace than ever before. It is therefore now time to ensure that Canadian service providers can take advantage of these opportunities and remain competitive in the Colombian market by passing this agreement.

At the end of 2009 the stock of Canadian direct investment in Colombia was $773 million and this trade agreement will establish a stable legal framework for Canadian investors in Colombia. Strong obligations will ensure the free transfer of capital and protect against expropriation without prompt and adequate compensation.

Another element of this free trade agreement is the recognition of the role of governments to promote corporate social responsibility principles with investors. We had the privilege in committee of listening to corporations, including the largest mining company in the country of Colombia, and what it is doing to promote education and social well-being in and around the regions where it works. It was encouraging to hear about the development, to hear that Colombian enterprises, on average, re-invest 3% of their sales into corporate social responsibility compared to 1.5% in Europe, for example.

Overall, investment links mean business to global value chains, and to the technology and expertise they need to forge a wide range of commercial links with our partners around the world. Investment with our partners, inwardly and outwardly, is incredibly important and that is certainly the case with Colombia.

Over the last few years we have seen increases in the security and stability of Colombia, and that has been important. These are some of the factors that are helping to drive Canadian investment in this new frontier market with new opportunities.

Canadian investments in Colombia are expected to grow, particularly in the oil and gas and mining sectors, and Canada has significant interest and expertise to offer our Colombian partners going forward. For Canadians and Colombians alike, the free trade agreement offers an unprecedented level of stability, predictability, and production to assist in taking our investment relationship to a new level in the years ahead.

Since the beginning of the global economic downturn, this government has been very clear that trade and investment hold the key to world economic recovery. That is why the government is continuing to move forward with aggressive free trade agendas around the world that put a focus on creating new partnerships with key nations around the world.

To create new commercial opportunities around the world, we need to do everything we can to open the door for Canadians and that includes promoting free trade agreements, not just with our traditional partners in Europe and the United States but everywhere around the world.

I would like to deal with some of the criticisms that have been addressed in regard to this agreement. While I believe that the predominant purpose of the House is to vote according to the interests of Canadians, the arguments against this legislation have been based on the fact that it is a bad deal for Colombians.

Having watched the results of the first round of the presidential election and the elections for congress earlier this year, I am a little puzzled as to why critics continue to say that because the Colombian people have overwhelmingly voted for parties and candidates who are favourable to this agreement. In fact, the two candidates in the runoff for the presidency, Mr. Mockus of the Green Party and Mr. Santos of the La U Party, are both supporters of this agreement. They both see this as enhancing the prosperity of Colombia.

Critics have said there are supporters of this agreement who have abused human rights, but I would also note that there are opponents of this agreement who have abused human rights. To argue that this is the major basis to vote for or against it is stretching logic as to why we should be for or against it. We should be in favour of this agreement because not only does it enhance the economics of Canada but also job creation for our country. It does the same in Colombia.

It makes a better life for average Canadians and Colombians. Undoubtedly, this agreement will have a greater impact on Colombia than it will on Canada, but it is a positive agreement that will help our farmers, manufacturers and service industries.

I ask all members to vote for this agreement, an agreement which respects human rights and builds the economy in both countries.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that there is not much disagreement that bilateral trade is a good thing intrinsically. The member is aware that the concerns are with regard to what happens to the people. Specifically, the information that has come out is that much of the proposed activity would involve the significant displacement of persons.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on how we would ensure that the people who would be displaced by some of the aspects of the trade arrangements would be taken care of.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's question goes to something that has been a mischaracterization of elements in this trade agreement.

The critics of this agreement have made two allegations in regard to what the hon. member is alluding to: one, that there will be major displacement caused by Canadian mining companies going in; and, two, that commercial large-scale agriculture will be put into place and will cause displacement.

With regard to the hon. member's question about displacement, when it comes to agriculture, this agreement should not have any effect in causing those displacements. Why is that? Because of the nature of Canadian agriculture exports to Colombia, we will not be displacing the small-scale farmers. The Colombian government has set up tariffs to protect those small-scale farmers. They will not be displaced by crops coming into the markets to compete directly with them.

The second thing is in regard to mining operations that, it has often been said, displace persons. I invite the hon. member to read some of the testimony we have had from one of the mining companies in Colombia. The witness was a Colombian citizen who dealt with social responsibility and discussed the ways that he helped to build the country. I would also invite the hon. member to directly contact some of the mining companies that are working in the social responsibility areas.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member referenced the Colombian elections. He should be aware, even though the committee did not have the full and comprehensive hearings into this bill that the Liberal Party had promised, that impartial election observers had flagged widespread fear among the Colombian population around the elections. They said that a number of factors impede free and fair elections, such as vote-buying and selling, the misuse of identity documents, illegal possession of identity documents, coercion and intimidation of voters and fraud committed by polling officers. I could go on and on.

To say, on the one hand, that these elections did not have problems would be inappropriate, but to say, on the other hand, that somehow, as we have heard in a couple of interventions, the few Colombian voters who did make it to the polls around this issue were only voting on the Canada trade deal, is absolutely bizarre. It is absurd. It is kooky. However, if that is all they have, it shows the paucity of the arguments from the other side.

I will not go into the human rights issues. I will just go into the issue of the failure of the government on trade issues. Every bilateral trade agreement that we have signed, we have actually seen a reduction in exports to those markets after signature, and that has been systematic and, in some cases, taking years to get back to the point of departure.

Why does the hon. member think the Conservative government has failed on this? Why do our exports consistently go down when we sign these bilateral trade agreements?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will first deal with the hon. member's assertions about the elections.

The Organization of American States sent 80-some observers down there and they said that the elections were substantively free and fair. An independent electoral monitoring organization, with 2,400 electoral monitors in Colombia, stated that the elections were much better than the congressional elections. They said that there was a considerably lower level of shenanigans, which I think would be the proper way to describe the overall description of the way Colombian elections have been handled in the past. In fact, the number of cases that the prosecutors were looking at and charges being laid for election fraud, misrepresentation, et cetera, were considerably lower than normal. Even the presidential candidate who was trailing the Green Party was not alleging electoral fraud by the winners.

The hon. member has made some allegations without having the facts to back them up.

In respect to the hon. member's cherry-picking--

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt. The time has expired for questions and comments.

We will resume debate with the hon. member for Mississauga South.

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide a few comments on Bill C-2.

It is interesting that this is the first bill the government brought to Parliament. We have been on quite a journey with this bill and it bears some reflection on where we came from.

First, I want to indicate that there is no question that rules-based bilateral trade deals are intrinsically a good thing. When we enter into these arrangements, as we have with a number of countries, it is a win-win situation. There are synergies and things that happen that make value come between the economic inputs that each can bring.

In fact, I was much swayed by the argument that other countries that are doing this will have the benefit of the tariff arrangement that would be entered into and that if Canada does not do this, then our businesses that want to do business in Colombia will be impaired. It is an interesting argument. I do not think I have heard the answer to the question on whether we should proceed at this time or whether there is a point at which current bilateral trade with Colombia might be impaired because of that.

I was also intrigued that the standing committee looking at this in the first instance came back to the House with a recommendation that the first thing that should happen is an independent human rights assessment. That was the starting point and all the parties said that but it did not happen. Canadians probably want to know why. I do know that I had read where Amnesty International was reluctant to participate or to conduct such an independent assessment. I do not know why.

We have had a number of debates on this matter for some time and the issue of human rights has often been raised. I gave a speech at second reading after doing some work. I was looking at what was happening in the United States, which was also working on this. I was looking at some of the reports out of Colombia that talked about judicial corruption. I was talking about some of the reports from Colombia that showed that the number of prosecutions and convictions of those who had participated in human rights abuses and murders was almost nothing.

I could not understand how, if we had a situation that was improving, we could have circumstances where the judiciary was corrupt, where prosecutions were not being followed through on and where people were being disrupted and displaced from their homes. This is part of the partner with which we are looking at in terms of doing trade.

If I am not on the committee, when I look at any bill I have to depend on the committee to provide that information. I can only do so much research myself. I do know I still have questions about the agreement to have Colombia do an assessment on human rights as a consequence of the trade that would happen as a result of Bill C-2; the incremental or the specific impact of additional trade on human rights in Colombia. We would hope that it would improve it. However, from the standpoint of due diligence and of doing the kind of work that would be necessary to prove it, we need a mechanism. I think one of the Conservative members said that we need a rules-based free trade deal.

I understand, and I stand to be corrected, but the understanding is that the Government of Colombia will do an assessment of its human rights situation and the impact of trade on that, how trade has impacted human rights as a result of this deal, and report to its government.

I think we would get a copy of that, but I am not sure. However, when it was first introduced, it sounded like both governments would do their own independent assessments and report to their Parliaments. The other interpretation was that Canada and Colombia would work together on an assessment and would each report the same report to both Houses. I do not know where that is right now but I do know that it is a big question. I do not know whether there is a mechanism in place that could actually make an assessment of the impacts on human rights.

The fact is that the government wanted to have this amendment to the bill, an amendment that it had not contemplated. If we think about it carefully, it is not just an appeasement. It probably reflects a concern that there will be a major constituency out there concerned about the human rights element here.

As parliamentarians, we have heard from Canadians right across the country about the human rights aspect. I know they are in the same position as many parliamentarians who are not on this committee. They do not have all of the facts. However, when parliamentarians do not have all of the facts and the government says that we should trust it because trade is a good thing and it will deal with this, I am not sure. So, as a parliamentarian, we would look at what other countries are doing.

In the United States, President Obama was very aggressive in saying that getting out of the hole in the United States will be by promoting bilateral trade. I read the article on his speech and he had made a list but he did not mention Colombia, even though his country was working on a free trade deal with Colombia. I then heard congressional leaders saying that they would not go there and that it would be a long time before they looked at it. I do not know the precise reason but my understanding, from the media reports, is that the Americans are not proceeding aggressively with their free trade deal with Colombia.

Again I have some questions and parliamentarians should not be left with questions. We need to have answers. We need to have credible, reliable, verifiable information from all of the stakeholders in this matter and that includes from all the various human rights groups that have expressed concerns and who wanted to appear before the committee.

I understand how committees work and I know that sometimes it is very difficult to hear from everybody, but if there were any issue that we had to identify that was the principal concern that some people have about Bill C-2, it is about human rights. I have not heard many challenges to the benefits of trade, whether it be in agriculture or mining, but there has been some concern about that. I would have thought that the committee would want to ensure that the principal representatives of stakeholders across the country related to human rights issues would have had an opportunity to present their case to the committee so that the committee could ensure that Bill C-2 would contain measures to help mitigate or in fact eliminate the concerns that may have been raised. Those are the questions that as parliamentarians we wish were answered. It is fundamental.

I do not have to stand here and give a technical speech about the bill. The bill is about doing a free trade deal with Colombia. I hope that we can do many free trade deals that are rules-based and that take into account all of the factors that cause certain stakeholder groups concern. However, the fair way to do it is to listen to those stakeholders.

When we start this House, every day we say a prayer in this place before it is open to the public and the last line is that we make good laws and wise decisions. There is still time.

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1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for my hon. colleague.

First, does he feel that 130 representations on a subject is sufficient? In his experience as a parliamentarian, which predates mine, does he feel that is more than most legislation would receive?

Second, in regard to whether we should go ahead with this agreement, does the hon. member accept that Colombia's elected representatives are the persons, from the Colombian perspective, who should have the final say?

third, does the hon. member also accept that many Colombians who support the agreement are working toward improving human rights and social development in their own country?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that there are good people in Colombia who are working very hard to address a very difficult situation. They have been in an awful situation politically and economically and from the standpoint of justice issues.

However, the member will know that each one of us has a responsibility to at least have some assurance that questions are asked and answers are given and that the members can look at the transcripts of committee meetings and follow the debates in the House, which I have.

When we receive hundreds and hundreds of e-mails from people who are passing on those questions, we want to at least bring them to the House and bring them to wherever we can find those answers. We are still working on it, as far as I am concerned.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I admire the member for standing up in the House and saying what he said.

This is extremely important, because as he referenced, there are a whole range of questions that need to be answered.

Before I ask a question of the member for Mississauga South, I have a comment. The comment is very clear, because this has to be on the record. Members of Parliament are citing the recent elections. They have to cite the fact that most Colombians could not vote or did not feel comfortable voting. Most Colombians could not vote or did not feel comfortable voting in those elections. That is a fact that any member of the Conservative side who tries to reference the elections has to take into consideration. Most Colombians were not able to vote in that election.

My question for the member for Mississauga South is very simple. Is his recommendation to the committee that the committee should be hearing from the Canadian Labour Congress, NUPGE, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Colombian free and democratic labour movement, aboriginal people, and African Colombians?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in fairness, I do not think that I could do a proper assessment of who we have heard and not heard and who we should hear. The committee members are the ones responsible for that.

Having said that, when it comes right down to it, I really have a problem when there are people who want to appear who are credible and whom we have relied on in the past for their expertise, and for some odd reason, we decide that it is not necessary to hear from them, possibly, again. It might have been that they appeared in previous discussions.

However, the member is asking a question that I cannot answer. The committee has to justify its actions. I only raise the question.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, was the hon. member aware of the agreement tabled in the House recently? It is the binding human rights treaty signed by Colombia and Canada, which states:

[E]ach Party shall provide a report to its national legislature by May 15 in the year after the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and annually thereafter. These reports will be on the effect of the measures taken under the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia on human rights in the territories of both Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

I just wanted to ask him if he is aware of the nature of that mechanism and the fact that Canada will be writing human rights reports on Colombia. It will not be Colombia reporting on itself.

Second, is the member aware of the support of two former deputy ministers of foreign affairs for this mechanism?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was actually here when the member for Kings—Hants proposed it to the government and I listened to it. I questioned it at the time, because I did not understand it.

I know that it has changed since, so I am glad that I questioned it at the time. I also spoke about it in my speech at second reading.

The question that has been raised, though, is whether the Colombian government can actually objectively assess the impact of trade on its human rights.