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House of Commons Hansard #73 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, with respect to workers' rights, I mentioned earlier that as long as we do not have proof that the government of Panama has backed off—although it has announced its intentions—on Law 30, which was passed last spring and is considered to be anti-union legislation that prohibits union protests, I think that we can say that there would be serious risks if the free trade agreement with Panama were adopted. If it were adopted, there is a serious danger that Canadian companies could be put in a situation where they would violate core convention 87 of the International Labour Organization.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague mentioned the free trade agreement with Colombia. Members will recall that in the beginning, when we examined this issue, the Liberals agreed with us. As leadership changes were made, the Liberals started disagreeing with the Bloc and supported the agreement. We see today that they support the free trade agreement with Panama, so they support the Conservatives as well.

Do they see a chance for power and want to meet the demands of industries, financiers and businesspeople?

I would like to ask my colleague whether an impact study was provided to members in committee, as it was with previous agreements, so that the members could carefully examine the impact on our businesses here, our businesses abroad, our businesses in Panama, human rights and the environment.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, very quickly, I have never seen a political party change its tune faster than what we saw this spring concerning the free trade agreement with Colombia.

To answer his second question, we have not received any impact studies or anything of the sort in committee. We are not yet in committee.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, the environment; the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Public Safety.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Hamilton Mountain.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

I have to say at the outset, though, that I find it mind-boggling that we are yet again debating a bilateral trade agreement, as if such agreements will somehow magically give us a coherent and smart industrial and economic strategy.

On the contrary, there has been no economic strategy, no real focused trade strategy, and the result has been that most Canadians are worse off now than they were before.

The government simply cannot keep doing these ribbon cuttings for free trade agreements and then expect that its job is done.

This is no small issue. When we look at the last 20 years, since the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the real income of most Canadian families has gone down, not up. The real incomes of the two-thirds of Canadian families that comprise the middle class and those of the poorest Canadians have gone down right across the country.

The only people who have actually profited and seen an increase in their real income over the past 20 years, when the first of these agreements was implemented, have been the wealthiest of Canadians. The wealthiest 10% have seen their incomes skyrocket. One-fifth of Canadians, the wealthiest 20%, now take home most of the real income in this country.

In fact, as I pointed out in this House on Monday when I spoke about the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement, I remember the arguments being used when the first free trade agreement was being signed between Canada and the U.S. At that time, the management of Stelco, which is now U.S. Steel, a steel manufacturer in my hometown of Hamilton, sent a letter to all the steelworkers in the plant telling them that in the upcoming federal election they should vote for the parties that support free trade because without such a trade deal their jobs would be at stake.

Well, that trade agreement has been in place for decades now and I would defy the government to find a single steelworker who would say that it has been good for his or her job. On the contrary, decent family sustaining jobs are disappearing and they are being replaced by precarious and part-time work.

To imply, therefore, that the free trade agreements that have been brought in by the Liberals and Conservatives have led to instant prosperity is simply false.

Statistics Canada data puts the lie to those pretensions that this is somehow a coherent and smart industrial and economic strategy. Maybe the reason the government is so intent on doing away with the mandatory long form census is that it knows that solid statistical evidence will contradict its mantra of being a good economic manager.

We need to ask about the actual record of the government since it came to power. We saw the softwood lumber sellout, which killed jobs right across this country. We have seen the shipbuilding sellout, where the tiny European country of Liechtenstein actually outmanoeuvred the Conservative government. Of course, there was also the Canada-Colombia free trade deal. All of them point to the fact that the Conservative government's record is abysmal when it comes to protecting Canadian interests.

Meanwhile, our competitors are investing in export promotion support. The United States, Australia and the European Union are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year in providing support for their export industries and promoting their exports.

In Canada, we spent paltry cents on the dollar compared to other countries like Australia. Australia's total budget for export promotion support is half a billion dollars. Our total budget is a few million. This is what is wrong with the government's approach: it simply does not provide the kinds of supports that other major industrialized countries, our competitors, do.

What we in the NDP have been saying ever since the Conservative government came to power is that it needs to change its approach. The government simply cannot go to these free trade agreement ribbon cuttings and expect that its job is done.

Even if these trade agreements were based on fair trade as opposed to the old NAFTA template, do the trade agreements themselves make a difference? Obviously not, because with a number of these bilateral agreements, our exports in places have actually gone down in those markets after the trade deals were signed. In every case, imports from the countries that we have signed with have gone up. In other words, other countries have managed to profit from the agreements signed with Canada but Canada's exports have actually gone down.

How can we sign an agreement and not have a follow-up strategy to bolster our exports?

The problem with the government's approach is not only that it has no industrial strategy but it also does not have an export oriented focus and it is not willing to invest Canadian government funds in the way that other countries do to bolster their industries.

Instead, our government is allowing the wholesale sell-off of Canada's strategic industries: Stelco, Inco, Alcan, Nortel, Falconbridge, and the list goes on. Canada has already ceded control over aluminum, steel and nickel, and now potash is inching its way toward a foreign sale. It is way past time for the Prime Minister to stop rubber-stamping foreign takeovers and start protecting family supporting jobs and our communities.

I am proud that my NDP colleagues and I have been advocating a buy Canadian strategy. We are the only party in the House to do so. While the Liberals and Conservatives make facile attempts to ridicule us for it, countries like France, the United States and Germany are focused on making precisely such investments in key industries. They are essential for ensuring a strong foundation. Without such a foundation, Canada will continue to lose from the trade deals it signs.

Let us look specifically at the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

As the NDP labour critic, I will begin by focusing on the labour co-operation agreement, which grandly declares that both countries have committed to ensuring that their laws respect the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The declaration aims to ensure that social progress goes hand-in-hand with economic development and covers the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. That sounds great, except the labour co-operation agreement contains no provisions that would force the signatories to implement the UNs labour standards.

Moreover, the agreement does not prevent Panama from weakening or reducing the protections afforded in domestic labour laws in any future effort it may make to encourage trade or investment. The Canada-Panama FTA contains only one enforceable labour provision: a requirement for the government to adhere to its own labour laws. Unfortunately, there is a significant canard involved in this language.

Panama's labour track record is not good. While unions and collective bargaining are permitted in export processing zones, the International Labour Organization's committee of experts questioned the government as to whether these workers actually have the right to strike.

In August 2007, two construction union members were assassinated while demonstrating for worker's rights. This summer there was a new wave of anti-union repression in Panama, resulting in several workers killed, over 100 injured and over 300 arrested.

Panama's law regulating the EPZs does not include arbitration or specify procedures to resolve labour disputes. Moreover, the U.S. state department noted that child labour continues to be a problem, with violations occurring most frequently in rural areas at harvest time and in the informal sector where many children work as street vendors, shoe shiners, cleaning windows, washing cars, bagging groceries in supermarkets and picking up trash. Clearly, even if Panama plays lip service to upholding ILO and UN labour conventions, it does not walk the talk. This FTA's so-called “dispute settlement system” does little to change that reality. It serves as little more than window dressing.

The maximum government fine for labour violations is capped at $15 million and, to add insult to injury, these funds, in the unlikely circumstance that they will ever be collected, are paid to a joint commission to improve labour rights enforcement, which, in turn, could easily be funnelled back into the Panamanian government's coffers.

Given that the Panamanian labour code does not even apply in export processing zones and that approximately two-thirds of Panamanian workers operate in the informal economy, the remedial power of any labour provisions that might be included in the agreement would be severely limited. In fact, this FTA would ultimately exonerate the signatories from meeting an acceptable human rights standard. To put it in a nut shell, this free trade agreement is bad news for labour.

However, it gets even worse.The agreement is bad news not just for labour, but for every Canadian because Panama is an offshore tax haven for companies that want to evade their Canadian tax obligations. A free trade agreement between Canada and Panama would be a bonanza for big business while leaving individual Canadian taxpayers with an ever-increasing burden for picking up the costs of federal government programs.

Let us take a closer look.

For decades, Panama has adjusted its laws in order to ensure that its business climate is one of the most unregulated in the world. Such lax regulation offers tremendous opportunities for foreign companies interested in dodging fair taxes, exploiting malleable labour regulations and taking advantage of less than transparent reporting requirements.

Panama's level of foreign direct investment has skyrocketed since legislation was passed in 1992, which established export processing zones in a number of locations across the country. Companies from all over the world are welcome to establish factories in these zones from light manufacturing, assembly, high technology and specialized and general services. Companies operating there are exempt from all taxation on imports and exports, sales tax and taxes on capital and assets.

In addition, EPZs are free from all restrictive national labour and immigration standards. Instead, they operate under provisions that are more favourable to foreign companies than the current Panamanian code.

In April 2009, the U.S.-based Public Citizen released a report highlighting Panama's banking secrecy rules and lax financial regulations. Ever since then, there has been much discussion in the media about Panama's status as a top tax haven. All foreign corporations conducting business in Panama are exempt from national taxes, making the country a 100% tax haven, according to the report. It comes as no surprise that over 350,000 foreign registered companies nominally operate from Panama.

In addition to tax exemptions, Panamanian law also makes it easy for multinational corporations to cook the books. According to the Public Citizen report, Panama has one of the world's most restrictive information exchange regimes, which allows the country to withhold information, even within the framework of a criminal investigation. Moreover, extremely strict slander laws can be used to arrest journalists for reporting facts and figures if they do not reflect well on business interests.

This lack of transparency, coupled with a lenient regulatory system governing the country's banking and financial sectors, enables corporations to conceal their financial losses and to engage in off-balance-sheet activities.

Evidence also links Panama's Colon Free Zone, or CFZ, with trafficking of narcotics and other illicit substances, in addition to offshore activities carried on by foreign corporations. Panama's CFZ, which is the second largest free trade zone in the world, provides a centrally located transit area for drugs and related money laundering activities moving up through Mexico to its northern border, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The illicit matters have grown even more controversial since the G20, at its recent conference, decided to crack down on tax havens and to step up financial regulation as key steps toward global financial recovery. In response, the Canada Revenue Agency is working on a new set of rules for voluntary disclosure here in Canada of offshore earnings.

I have criticized these rules elsewhere before. Not only will these rules allow individuals and corporations to admit that they have earned income in offshore bank accounts without facing prosecution for tax evasion, but under the new rules, auditors will only go back 10 years, and account holders will no longer have to explain where the original capital on accounts more than 10 years old came from. That, of course, means that money laundering is now legal in Canada as long as one is patient.

A free trade agreement with Panama would actually make it even more difficult to crack down on tax evasion and money laundering in Panama. The proposed FTA contains provisions that forbid cross-border regulations on financial transactions between Canada and Panama. It would also provide subsidiaries operating in Panama enhanced investor rights that would enable them to challenge any attempt by the Canadian government to monitor or limit financial transactions. In short, if one has tax evasion or money laundering needs, try Panama.

It is time to rethink our approach to global competitiveness. The measure should not be the profitability of Canadian multinational corporations abroad but rather the ability of Canadian-based producers to compete and thrive on Canadian soil in a dynamic global economy. What Canada needs and Canadians deserve is an overall national economic strategy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad. The patchwork of trade agreements the Conservatives have brought to this House to date delivers neither.

It is time to stop the ad hoc ribbon cutting across the globe and start afresh in the recognition that our trade policy requires deep reform. In fact, Canadians understand that need better than the Conservative government, and they are getting active on the issue. There is a growing fair trade movement in Canada that is being embraced by individual citizens, schools, academics, unions, activists, religious organizations, and more, all unified by their desire to make the world a better place.

Fair trade is really about making changes to conventional trade, which, as I pointed out, often fails to deliver on promises of sustainable livelihoods and opportunities for people in the poorest countries in the world. Poverty and hardship limit people's choices, while market forces tend to further marginalize and exclude them. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation, whether as farmers and artisans or as hired workers within larger businesses. That two billion of our fellow citizens survive on less than two dollars per day, despite working extremely hard, makes it painfully clear that there is indeed a problem.

Fair trade seeks to change the terms of trade for the products we buy to ensure that the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. Most often this is understood to mean ensuring better prices for producers, but it often includes longer-term and more meaningful trading relationships.

Clearly, Canadians are taking this concept to heart. I want to applaud everyone involved in having their communities certified as Fair Trade Towns. The first city to be awarded Fair Trade Town status in Canada was Wolfville, Nova Scotia, on April 17, 2007.

Since then, additional cities, such as La Pêche, Quebec; Port Colborne, Ontario; Nakusp, B.C.; Golden, B.C.; Gimli, Manitoba; Olds, Alberta; Revelstoke, B.C.; Neuville, Quebec; Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Quebec; Vancouver, B.C.; Barrie, Ontario; Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec; and Canmore, Alberta have all joined, allowing fair trade towns to stretch from coast to coast.

I am proud that my own home town of Hamilton is a fair trade town in progress. We are well on the way to meeting all six goals for achieving fair trade town certification. All of the credit goes to Environment Hamilton and its supporters, who have been tireless in promoting sustainability in our community.

Members of the House may be interested to know that the six criteria for certification are as follows. First is the support of city council. Council has to pass a resolution in support of fair trade and the local campaign including (a) a commitment to purchase only fair trade certified tea, coffee, and sugar and other fair trade certified products, where possible, for all meetings and in offices and cafeterias and (b) a commitment to assign fair trade town responsibilities to a member of staff or committee to ensure continued commitment to its fair trade status.

Achieving this goal has been interrupted by the current municipal campaign in Hamilton, but I am cautiously optimistic that getting the city to commit will not be the most daunting challenge. Of course, the outcome of the election may change that landscape.

Second, communities have to demonstrate that fair trade certified products are available in stores and restaurants. Hamilton is already there.

Third, there must be support from community groups. Again, the support and commitment is already there in Hamilton, and we are now getting people organized around the goal of formal certification of the city.

Four, there needs to be demonstrated public support from both the media and the general public. Those pieces will certainly fall into place in Hamilton as we take the final steps toward certification of the city.

The fifth criterion is that a steering committee be convened that includes wide representation from the community and that commits to achieving two additional targets per year: submitting an annual progress assessment to TransFair Canada, and organizing events for National Fair Trade Week in May of each year. Environment Hamilton has already recruited representatives from local co-ops, faith groups, and retail outlets to join EH on the steering committee, so that is another criterion that has been met.

Lastly, there has to be a commitment to promote ethical and sustainable consumption. This will dovetail nicely with work already being done around the “eat local” campaign and the labour movement's “sweatshop-free” campaign. Again, we are almost there.

I am confident that Hamilton will get its certification as a fair trade town in very short order. When we succeed, we will be the largest municipality in Ontario to have achieved that designation.

Let us put that into the context of the oft-cited phrase of environmentalists, “Think globally, act locally”. Clearly, Hamilton is already acting locally, but the phrase urges people to consider the health of the entire planet when acting in their own communities and cities.

Long before federal agencies began enforcing environmental laws, individuals were coming together to protect habitats and the species that live within them. Now, with respect to trade, grassroots activists are once again way ahead of the federal government. It is time to catch up. It is not overly complicated, and if we make the effort, it will be very easy to engage in fair trade.

There are only three pillars to fair trade: respect for the environment in all dealings, respect for the economy—agreements must be economically viable—and respect for the human rights of the societies involved in trade agreements.

If the Conservative government included these simple but profound guidelines and principles in its international trade policies, Canada's image on the global stage would be transformed, and all Canadians would know that their federal government is finally embracing a trade policy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad.

Instead, what I see in the Canada-Panama free trade agreement is a continuation of the patchwork approach of signing bilateral agreements that neither meet the goals of fair trade nor lead toward a comprehensive national economic strategy. In the absence of meeting those criteria, this is not a trade agreement that I can support.

Therefore, I move the following motion:

That all the words following “That” be deleted and replaced with the following: Bill C-46, An act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama, and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama, be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time six months hence.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

This amendment is deemed in order. Questions and comments.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the member for Hamilton Mountain. First, I agree with her that today our country is in a trade deficit, after 30 years, and it is sad, because under the Liberal administration, we were doing quite well.

The hon. member talked about following examples, such as France and Germany. France and Germany generate a great portion of their revenue by being trading nations. They are also members of the European community, and they trade. This agreement is patterned on similar trade deals.

I want to ask a simple question. The member for Hamilton Mountain talked about an economic strategy to create jobs at home. What would the member say to farmers or to people in the greater city of Toronto, because we trade, for example, potato products, beans, lentils, pork, processed foods, and beef with Panama, and the duties will come down once this agreement is signed.

What will she tell the people in my area who engage in the manufacture of machinery, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, et cetera, or banking services, engineering, and information technology who are creating jobs for Canada?

This agreement might not be a big agreement. Nevertheless, it is working toward an agreement to reduce tariffs and to create whatever part of the economy we can generate for jobs in Canada. What do we tell these people?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I really welcome that question, particularly because the member started by focusing on Europe. My goodness, I wish that our trade agreements were like the EU's. In the EU, they actually support fair trade. That is exactly the model we ought to be supporting here in Canada.

The member asked what he should be telling his constituents. I was not aware that Scarborough had such a huge farming community, but I certainly welcome his comments on that.

When I look at free trade agreements, if we actually do the analysis of the agreements we have signed, more often than not, after we have signed a trade deal, our exports actually go down.

If the member is interested in protecting manufacturing, I would encourage him to have a much, much closer look at what is before us in the House today.

I said earlier, and the member may have missed it, that in my home town of Hamilton, the management at Stelco, which is now U.S. Steel, during the free trade election, told all of his workers that they had to vote for parties that supported free trade, because that is what would be good for their jobs. I would encourage members who were around at that time to come to Hamilton now and find a single steel worker who would say that free trade has been good for the manufacturing sector or for the steel industry in Hamilton. We are losing decent paying, family sustaining jobs. They are being replaced by precarious part-time work. I do not think that a whole lot of people who have actually given serious thought to the impact of free trade agreements on their jobs would agree with the member that they are good for their communities.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for an extremely expansive overview of the legislation.

I am not sure the member was here when my colleague, the representative for Willowdale, talked about the mechanisms that have been entrenched in the agreement that deal with occupational health and safety, that deal with the exploitation of children and their working conditions, that deal with fair labour issues, and that also deal with issues related to sustainable development under multilateral environmental treaties.

Entrenched in the agreement, the member for Willowdale reminded us, is the mechanism of appeal to the International Labour Organization and other suitable, established international organizations.

My question is on the human rights and fair trade issue. Is the member not satisfied with the concerns that have been raised and answered by the legislation and by, for example, the overview that was given by the member for Willowdale?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the question, particularly as I am the NDP's labour critic, and the opportunity to once again comment on the labour side agreement that is indeed part of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Let me say first that it is a side agreement. Therefore, it is not entrenched in the main text of the trade agreement that is before us here in the House.

Second, there is only one enforceable labour provision, and that is the requirement for the governments to adhere to their own labour laws. These are their own labour laws that this summer saw workers killed in Panama, just in July, when over 100 workers were injured and 300 were arrested. These are the same labour laws that are now allowing for child labour. Clearly those protections are not enough. They certainly do not meet Canadian standards. They do not meet ILO standards, and they do not meet the standards of the UN Convention. No, I am not at all convinced that the labour side agreement does the job the member is hoping it will.

Moreover, this is akin to what we saw in the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Members will remember: kill a worker, pay a fine. Those same provisions are identical in the free trade agreement before us today.

On all of those grounds, I do not know how anyone who supports labour rights in this country could agree to engage in a free trade agreement with Panama under these conditions.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, the member for Hamilton Mountain has made a very compelling case in front of this House.

What the Liberals and Conservatives appear to be doing, yet again, is telling Canadians to swallow this because it is good for them. They said that about the softwood lumber sellout, leading to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs across the country. The shipbuilding sellout that was brought into this House has led to the loss of hundreds of shipbuilding jobs.

The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is a complete repudiation of Canada's tradition of standing up for human rights, rewarding a regime that is tied to brutal paramilitary and military thugs and intelligent officers who routinely kill trade unionists and human rights advocates.

The Liberals and Conservatives, yet again, are making the same pitch to Canadians. The are telling Canadians to swallow it because it is good for them or it is good for Panamanians. However, none of them have done their homework. None of them have actually looked at what the export figures are after we sign these bilateral free trade agreements. In every case, exports have declined afterwards.

This is a dysfunctional trade policy. We have a dysfunctional approach from the Minister of International Trade, supported by the Liberals, despite the fact that it is very clearly not working and despite the fact that after 20 years of this free trade regime, or so-called free trade regime that has been very costly to Canadians, most Canadians are earning less. There is a problem. Our exports declined in those markets and Canadians are earning less.

What is wrong with this picture? Why is it only the NDP, as a national party, standing up in Parliament and telling Canadians that they do not need to swallow what the Liberals and the Conservatives are trying to force down their throats?

Why does the member for Hamilton Mountain think the Conservatives and Liberals are unwilling to do their homework, actually read the export figures, actually read the income figures and actually work with the NDP so that we can create a fair trade policy that is in the interest of all Canadians.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not know whether one can respond to a question in this House by quoting Pete Seeger, but the question really is, “Which side are you on?” In the answer to that question, we will find the answer to the member's question, as well.

The rich have been getting richer under the successive bilateral trade agreements that this country has been signing. If we look at the standard of living for the middle class or the poorest in our country, it is quite clear from the statistical evidence that they are much worse off.

Why would the Conservatives sign this? As we have said under so many other circumstances in this House, they are the friends of the banks, the wealthiest corporations, and they are, once again, protecting the interests of those wealthy friends.

It is imperative, though, that on this side of the House we stand up for those who are not able to advocate for themselves under these circumstances and that we fight for decent paying, family sustaining jobs.

Let us keep in mind, as the minister said earlier in this debate, that we are talking about an agreement that is contemplating $132 million in trade. That is one-tenth of the amount of money that the current government spent on the security for the G8 and the G20 alone. Clearly, this is not an amount of money over which we would we want to sell out human rights, environmental protection and labour rights. It is just completely insane that we would be signing these kinds of agreements without any protections in place.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Labour

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in the House today to labour co-operation in the context of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

In line with our previous free trade negotiations, labour and environmental issues were an important part of the free trade discussions with Panama. That is why Canada negotiated separate international treaties on labour co-operation and the environment to coincide with the free trade agreement talks with Panama.

With regard to labour, the Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement is strong and comprehensive and it would help protect the rights of workers in both countries. In particular, Canada and Panama have committed to ensuring that their domestic laws respect the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This declaration covers a wide range of workers' rights; namely, the abolition of child labour, the right of freedom of association, the right to collect bargaining, the elimination of discrimination and the elimination of forced or compulsory labour. Through these provisions, Canada has shown its commitment to improving labour standards and to helping Panama protect its workers. It also demonstrates this government's firm belief that prosperity cannot come at the expense of workers' rights.

The labour co-operation agreement with Panama, however, goes even further than the International Labour Organization's 1998 declaration. More specifically --

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. A motion was moved on the floor of this House just a few minutes ago by the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain that essentially moves the debate and discussion of whether or not this bill should be read and heard six months from now.

Madam Speaker, could you just clarify for the minister that she is indeed speaking to the motion now and not to the bill itself?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I thank the hon. member for his comments. I am sure the hon. minister will take note of that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Halton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy the hon. member is actually listening and paying attention. After what I have been hearing in terms of the inaccuracies and absolute untruths he has been indicating with respect to some of the accusations against Colombia, I do believe it is important for us to listen to what we have to say to one another.

Of course, everything I do say today applies now. It is even more important to ensure we have something like this in place between Canada and Panama currently and, going forward for more than six months, would make absolutely no sense in terms of labour co-operation agreements, specifically for the reasons I will be enumerating here.

As I said, the labour co-operation agreement with Panama goes even further than the International Labour Organization's 1998 declaration. That is why it is important to deal with it now and not deal with something in six months. We should take the opportunity to deal with these things as they appear before us and as they are meant to be.

This agreement commits both countries to protect workers by providing acceptable protections for occupational health and safety. I am sure the House would agree that it is something that should happen immediately and not six months from now. Allowing for compensation in cases of injuries and illnesses is important for workers and that should happen now, not six months from now.

Providing for acceptable minimum employment standards, such as minimum wage and hours of work, on which I assume the opposition would agree, is something that should happen sooner rather than later, not through a delay of six months.

Further, the labour co-operation agreement would ensure that migrant workers would be given the same legal protections as nationals in respect of working conditions.

In order to ensure that Canada and Panama comply with their labour obligations, this agreement does include a strong dispute resolution mechanism that is transparent, robust and easy to use. The model is in line with Canada's other parallel labour co-operation agreements with Colombia, Peru and, of course, with Jordan.

As part of this settlement process, members of the public can submit complaints to either government concerning any of the obligations contained in the labour co-operation agreement. These complaints can bring to light any concerns from the public that domestic labour laws or their implementation by Canada or Panama do not comply with the terms of the labour co-operation agreement. If the complaint is deemed valid, then either country can request ministerial level consultations with the other country to resolve the issue.

If the countries are unable to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement and the matter concerns a perceived failure to respect obligations related to the 1998 International Labour Organization's declaration or even the enforcement of domestic laws, the country that requested the ministerial consultations can request that a review panel be convened. If the matter cannot be resolved, the independent review panel may require that the offending country may face financial penalties. These penalties would be placed into a co-operation fund in order to resolve the matter identified, as well as to help ensure compliance with and respect for domestic and international labour obligations.

Moneys placed in the co-operation fund would be disbursed according to an agreed upon action plan, which would ensure that the matters under dispute are effectively resolved

As we can see, under the labour co-operation agreement, both Canada and Panama will have an important tool to protect and improve the rights of workers, which, of course, would make more sense for them to have this now rather than six months from now at the very earliest.

That being said, it must be noted that this agreement also respects provincial jurisdiction on labour matters. At the same time, however, the federal government would have the ability to immediately use the dispute resolution process, if necessary, regardless of the level of provincial participation in the labour co-operation agreement.

In looking beyond the provinces, it is important to remember that this government is re-engaging with our partners across the Americas. An important part of this re-engagement is the promotion of the principles of sound governance, security and prosperity. A vital component of this strategy is the protection of labour rights, and this includes Panama. That is why Canada negotiated a robust and comprehensive labour co-operation agreement with Panama.

Our efforts to protect labour rights do not stop there. During the free trade negotiations with Panama, Canada requested that a principles based chapter on labour be inserted into the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. Panama agreed to this request and, as such, there is now a much stronger and much more direct reference to labour rights in the free trade agreement.

That is important because the chapter on labour reaffirms both countries obligations under the labour co-operation agreement. By inserting a labour chapter into the free trade agreement text, Canada has provided an additional confirmation of that vital link between economic growth, prosperity and the respect for labour rights.

In closing, I would like to emphasize this government's view that free trade can play a positive role in a country's economic and social life, but this positive role does not have to come at the expense of labour rights. In fact, as the labour co-operation agreement demonstrates, it is possible to liberalize trade while protecting the rights of workers.

The push to protect labour rights is also an important component of Canada's active engagement in the Americas. Under this labour co-operation agreement, Canada would be able to help support Panama in its efforts to respect both its domestic labour laws and its international labour obligations. These efforts in turn will benefit Panamanian workers.

For those reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support of the agreement in total and the parallel agreement on labour co-operation and implore that this happen sooner rather than later.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. minister will have about 11 minutes for comments if she chooses when this bill returns to the order of business.

The House resumed from September 28 consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Long Form CensusBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion relating the business of supply.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #90

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

The hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence is rising on a point of order.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know you will appreciate this in the spirit in which it is delivered, but it is common practice in this House that if we are going to maintain a certain decorum, that we not use props.

The member for Saint Boniface used a Canadian passport as a prop, which is most undignified in its own right, but members of this House have a special passport. Could she explain why she is still in possession of the blue passport when she would have had to surrender it?

I wonder if you would ask the member to get her story straight.

Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I could not tell what the hon. member was holding up. I would remind all hon. members that there are lots of things that they are not supposed to do during voting. Using props is one of them. Calling out and yelling are also things they are not supposed to do.

I would just remind all hon. members to observe the rules of decorum at all times and then we could avoid things like this.

The House resumed from September 22 consideration of Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Employment Insurance ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill C-308, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) under private members' business.