Mr. Speaker, this is the second time I have spoken to Bill C-2, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. It was introduced in the second session of this Parliament and then again after prorogation.
The Bloc Québécois will again say no to this bill because certain amendments should have been made. We have difficulty understanding why the Liberals accepted certain amendments in committee. The Liberals have backtracked on their position. We consider the amendments to be cosmetic and not at all relevant to the issues in this matter.
The compromise is acceptable to the Liberals. They have agreed to let the Colombian government assess the human rights situation. A number of companies will invest or do business with Colombia even though some human rights are not respected there. Given that the Colombian government is being asked to conduct its own assessment of the human rights situation and to report only annually to the Government of Canada, the Bloc Québécois believes that the Colombian government is both judge and judged in this situation.
Some very serious human rights violations take place in Colombia. I will talk about some of them and provide statistics.
After Sudan—where we find Darfur—Colombia has the second largest number of people displaced by threats, reprisals and violence. In addition, 2008 was one of the worst years for this. Since 1986, 2,970 trade unionists have been assassinated. In 2008, crimes committed by paramilitary groups rose by 41%. In 2006, 47% of the population lived below the poverty line and 12% lived in abject poverty. The unemployment rate is one of the highest in Latin America.
The situation in Colombia is thus very disturbing and makes us wonder about the Liberals' support for an amendment that would have the Colombian government perform a self-assessment of the situation.
The Bloc Québécois believes that an impact study should be conducted by an independent international organization, which would give us the straight goods. It would be more likely to provide a critical and pertinent assessment. It would also be more objective because, by report on itself, the Colombian government becomes both judge and judged.
We are left wondering about the position of the Liberal Party, which said it was worried about human rights and, in particular, respect for those rights. We wonder why the Liberals have done such a radical about-face and agreed to these amendments.
The issues in the side agreements are tied to the main agreement on trade. But we have to wonder about the merits of the bill. The Conservative government is keenly interested in investment, which is why they support the agreement and have introduced this bill.
Something does not add up with this bill. The provision on investment protection is modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA. It will not contribute to improving human rights and general living conditions in Colombia. Allow me to explain. The fact that some aspects of this infamous bill are consistent with chapter 11 of NAFTA means that foreign investors may apply to the international tribunals themselves, bypassing governments.
We are in favour of having investment protection provisions, but not at the expense of the people. The bill could also have some provisions on the environment. Under the agreement, if an investor has put money into a company and that company pollutes or violates human rights, this will not be dealt with between governments. The investors themselves will turn to the courts, where they could seek compensation if their investments stop being profitable enough.
There could also be an inquiry into a lack of return on their investments.
We wonder what the government's intentions are with this bill. We have very little trade with Colombia. We trade much more with other countries. Why are they so absolutely keen on passing this bill?
Canadian investors would be able to take legal action against the Colombian government if it decided to make life better for its citizens or improve its environmental protection regulations. There, too, the investors have a say regarding the suitability of the government's actions.
When President Clinton was in power, the United States renegotiated Chapter 11 of NAFTA. They included the issue of human rights in a side agreement, which is not directly related to trade. Side agreements are ineffective when they are not part of the free trade agreement. We have to wonder why the Liberals did not pick up on this ploy. We know very well that this will not be included in the free trade agreement. They are just side agreements, which will have no direct impact on trade.
The purpose of this bill is simply to open the door to investments. We know that some Canadian mining companies that will go to Colombia could not care less about protecting the environment.
We believe that human rights are non-negotiable. We cannot have an investment free-for-all; we must be vigilant. The Bloc cannot understand why the Liberals are following the lead of the Conservative government on this issue.
We will vote against this bill because it is not in line with the expectations, priorities and values of the Bloc Québécois in terms of human rights.