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House of Commons Hansard #74 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

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-46, as I did the other day on Bill C-8 which dealt with another free trade agreement the government is proposing. This bill deals with a free trade agreement with Panama.

Obviously, free trade agreements are important to Canada given that we export over 80% of our goods, and obviously Canada needs to be competitive in the international community. It is disturbing that for the first time in over 30 years, we have a significant trade deficit. The government needs to look at a comprehensive approach in terms of how we deal with the issue of trade in the international community.

At the moment we have what I would call one-off agreements. There is one with Jordan and now there is this one with Panama. We also debated one involving Colombia. The difficulty is that our competitors are taking a much more aggressive approach. For example, we have no free trade agreements with any state in Asia. With markets such as Japan, China, India, the ASEAN members, this is very important, and a multilateral approach particularly with ASEAN would be beneficial.

We are still in negotiations with Korea; I believe we are in the seventh round now. With Singapore, we are in the ninth round. This is disturbing, given that the Americans have been reaching out. We see the Japanese concluding free trade agreements with countries as diverse as the Philippines and Mexico, yet at the same time, we are doing these small agreements.

The one with Panama is fine. We on this side of the House certainly support the bill going to committee. However, in terms of the big picture, there are real issues that we need to be grappling with on the issue of free trade. A multilateral approach gives us a bigger market. For example, ASEAN, with 590 million people from Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, et cetera, is very important, yet we are simply chipping away at it. We do not have a coherent policy in terms of how we should tackle trade issues.

As a significant amount of our trade, some 75% or 80%, is with the United States, when there is an economic downturn in that country, as we have seen, it has an impact on our economy. We need to diversify, but diversifying with Jordan and Panama is not going to solve things in the big picture. It is not going to deal with what our competitors have been doing internationally. We need to be in the game. We have been more on the sidelines. We have to engage in these major markets. There are opportunities for us out there, but the government needs to lead. The government needs to demonstrate.

A few years ago, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote a very compelling paper about China. It clearly indicated that there was no policy of the government in terms of how to engage that market. For example, Canada is a world leader in the area of environmental technology, particularly with respect to clean air, clean water and contaminated sites. This is very important work and certainly is useful for China. We need to be part of that, but we are not seeing the kind of leadership needed in order to go forward.

From that standpoint, the agreements the government has been putting forward simply focus on a very small niche. They do not deal with the kinds of issues they should be dealing with.

We are seeing an increase in protectionism in the United States. That is of concern, particularly in the area of agriculture. It means difficulties for our farmers. It is a difficulty in terms of our being able to compete in the international arena. The United States' protectionist policies are having an effect here. With respect to the America first policy, the government had discussions with the United States and changes were made in terms of Canadian companies being able to compete, but that only affected 37 of the 50 states in the U.S. It is important that we be there.

The Conservative government has not shown the kind of leadership that is needed on the multilateral side, in terms of being much more visible in the United States. Policy in the United States is not done in Washington; it is done in districts and states across the U.S. That is where we need to be focusing our efforts.

Canadian businesses can compete with anyone in the world if there is a level playing field. When there is not a level playing field, obviously we often face difficulties.

Although my party supports this bill going to committee, the fact is that we would like to see a clear strategy, particularly for the emerging key markets, such as Brazil, India, China, and Japan. We have watched and continually see the United States, Australia, and others being very aggressive, particularly in their talk about a big Asia Pacific free trade zone. If they are in first, we obviously will pick up the pieces.

I think Canadian businesses deserve more than picking up the pieces. They deserve the opportunity. Again, we have to be aggressive. We can talk free trade, but we really have to demonstrate it. The only way to demonstrate it is to show leadership.

Currently, penetrating the Korean market is an issue, particularly in the automotive sector, and the Japanese are carefully watching our discussions. If, and it is a big if, a free trade agreement were to occur between Canada and Korea, the Japanese would be particularly anxious to come to the table. At the moment, the Americans are talking to them about possible free trade.

Some people say that we could never get a free trade agreement with Japan because of agriculture. I do not know of too many people in this House who represent ridings that have a lot of rice. Rice is always the one issue the Japanese deal with. Even then, Japan was able to conclude a successful agreement with the Philippines, for example.

The issue in this agreement, and we are supportive of sending it to committee, is the Canadian merchandise we export to Panama: machinery, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, et cetera. It is a relatively small market. It is also important that we look at some of the other free trade zones in Latin America.

Latin America has developed, along with states such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, zones in which there is a free flow of goods and where tariffs have been dropped so that businesses can compete. As a country, we need to send out a very clear message that we are prepared to enter into agreements where it is in our national interest.

Obviously, we have to look at environmental issues. This country has traditionally been a leader on climate change, clean water, and clean air issues. Countries really need that expertise.

Not only are Canadians very cost effective in terms of what they are able to produce and export, we can do it in two official languages, which is very helpful. Again, if we are not at the table, that is a problem.

We also have to look at the issue of labour co-operation. I notice in this agreement that there is a side agreement on labour co-operation. Obviously we have to expect that what we are asking is what we would demand at home, including the right to association, the right to collective bargaining, and the abolition of child labour. These are standards we have, and we would expect the same in dealing with other countries.

I know that some colleagues have concerns on the labour end of it. When it goes to committee and we have the appropriate witnesses, we can have those kinds of discussions and strengthen, if need be, those provisions. I think that is important. No piece of legislation I have seen in 14 years here has ever been perfect. That is why we send it to committee, where colleagues have an opportunity to look very carefully at legislation, hear from witnesses, and move forward.

My understanding, in terms of the major stakeholders on this particular bill with Panama, is that there are no major objections. On the whole, it is a fairly straightforward agreement. Again, it will give us some access, but we have to build on that, particularly in the Central American region in countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Those countries are also looking at better co-operation. As a balance to the United States, I think Canada could play an important role.

Again, it is the whole issue of having a level playing field with access to markets. We need to be able to at least secure that. When we are looking at new partnerships, we must be able to tell our business community to go forward with the opportunity.

There were reservations about the free trade agreement with the United States and whether we could compete. Obviously, we can compete extremely well when a level playing field is available.

Canada's total exports to this particular country amount to 12.6%. Imports amount to about 17.3%. Over 80% of Canada's economy depends on trade. To keep that, we need to have as much access to markets as we can.

Former Prime Minister Trudeau, in the seventies, talked about a third option, and that third option was to diversify. If we had diversified in the seventies and eighties, maybe we would be in better shape than we are now.

Tariffs are the worst thing that can happen to a trading nation. Obviously, I am not old enough to remember the Great Depression in the 1930s, but some of my colleagues on the other side might. The first thing that happened was that major tariff barriers went up, and protectionism became rampant. That is not something we want to do. That was not good. We need to make sure that we have protection.

We also need to demonstrate leadership when it comes to issues such as climate change and the environment. The Conference of the Parties will soon meet in Mexico, and that will be an opportunity to strengthen international regimes.

Canada is traditionally well known for its international leadership, particularly in areas of multilateralism. The International Criminal Court is an example.

The 11th Conference of the Parties, in 2005, was the most successful COP ever to deal with developing a clear climate change regime internationally. That was important. The former Liberal government got a lot of accolades because of that. Again, it was because of the fact that we demonstrated leadership. We need to continue to do that. We need to continue to say to our allies and others that if protectionism is wrong, this is what we are prepared to do to focus forward.

The European Union has some very stringent policies, particularly when it comes to foodstuffs, even in terms of colouring food. We have to be able to talk about these issues with colleagues. We have seen other countries react to issues in this country, and we need to have a strong voice on those issues. Some of my colleagues, particularly those from Newfoundland and Labrador, are well aware of the issue with regard to the seal hunt.

What are we doing to educate? What are we doing to get our message out on some of these issues so that these sudden trade barriers will not come forward and harm the interests of Canadian farmers and producers, whoever they happen to be?

It is instructive to look at what went forward when we made an agreement with Israel in 1997. That was an opportunity to start further negotiations in other areas of the Middle East. Bill C-8, the Jordan agreement, will build on that. The gulf trading area, a Middle East trading area, is important all the way from the United Arab Emirates to Algeria. That is another market we could penetrate.

In other words, what is the strategy? What is going to be the policy in order for us to move forward? We on this side of the House are quite willing to work with the government to develop a strategy, because it is in our nation's interest. If we do these kinds of things, we will serve our citizens well.

Non-agricultural products, particularly fish and seafood, would be helpful for our markets, but that is only one part of the puzzle. It would be nice to see a really strong policy that the government, members of the opposition, and members of key sectors that deal with international trade really hammer out together. It would be the kind the policy and the kinds of tools we need to be much more aggressive.

The Americans certainly have not been sitting idly by. The Australians, in particular, have been very aggressive in Asia and have reaped a number of benefits. ASEAN, of course, which was getting closer on trade issues with China, now realizes that they cannot put all their eggs in one basket. They are wondering where Canada is on the international stage. They see where the Australians and the Americans are, and they are saying that we need to be there.

Some people do not know that in Indonesia, for example, we are the fifth largest investor, particularly in the area of mining, but our approach is not necessarily coherent. It is not necessarily a policy to say, “Go out there and good luck”. That is not the way to build good trade relations.

Obviously, we support the faster elimination of tariff barriers, particularly in those areas that are important to Canadian industry. In this agreement, Panama will see the elimination of at least 90% of current barriers on goods coming from Canada, which is obviously a positive, but where are those big deals we need to hear about in the House? Where are those big negotiations going on?

On this side, we are watching very carefully the issue of Korea. That is very important because of the nature of that market. We need to be able to say to our businesses that there are tremendous opportunities out there. We do not want to be dealing just with our American friends, which is great, but given policy there, we need to make sure that we are at the forefront.

We were one of the first major countries in China. We had a tremendous opportunity there. Mr. Chrétien led a number of Team Canada missions there in the 1990s. We were leaders. Unfortunately, relations with China changed with the current government, and we lost a lot of ground.

We have to continue to have a consistent policy on how to deal with our trading partners. We cannot be all things to all people. We have to have a particular niche. For example, on the environment, we could have a whole Team Canada just dealing with environmental issues in the Pearl River Delta. There are days when the smog is so thick it rolls into Hong Kong and one cannot see across the harbour. We need to take advantage of those things.

People cry out and say that they need to see Canada there. It would be very helpful if we would do that. Although we will support the bill going to committee, we want to look at the issue of labour to make sure that the guarantees are there. We want to make sure that if these things can be strengthened, that will be done. We welcome the opportunity, but we want to see the bigger picture. We want to see more emphasis on multilateralism, and if that goes forward, it will benefit Canada in our future trading relationships around the world.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for his support of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

He is correct in suggesting that Canada, as one of the great free trading nations, needs to develop new trading relationships.

Where his argument falls down is the suggestion that previous Liberal governments somehow were able to achieve much more in the area of international trade. If we look at the record of the previous governments, it is really an appalling record. For years the previous Liberal government tried to conclude an agreement on approved destination status with China. It never happened. Our government got the job done.

I also refer to additional free trade agreements that he did not refer to, which our government has been able to achieve, such as with the European Free Trade Association. I refer now to the European Union, which is negotiating a free trade agreement with Canada.

Would the member not agree with me that this Conservative government's successes far surpass the record of the previous Liberal government?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

First, Mr. Speaker, the member had better define what he means by “appalling”, because my definition and his are obviously different.

I give the example of the preferred destination status with China. If the member checks the record, in the fall of 2005 it was the Liberal government that actually had an agreement in place. There was something called an election, which obviously precluded the final signing of that agreement.

My question to the member, which I realize is a rhetorical one, is why it took the Conservative Party almost four years to get that finalized when the Liberal government had done all the work. The work was already done. In December 2005, that destination agreement existed, and we lost four years of an opportunity to really showcase Canada, because those guys over there, unfortunately, were ragging the puck.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, members will know that the total two-way trade between Canada and Panama in 1999 was only $132 million. Imports to Canada from Panama were only $21 million, and half of that was refined heavy oil. The fact of the matter is that members know that trade is not going to stop tomorrow if we do not implement this trade deal.

For a government that pretends to be tough on crime, it is somewhat surprising that it would be ready to implement a free trade deal with a country such as Panama that was blacklisted by the OECD in 2000 as an unco-operative tax haven. In fact, there are 350,000 foreign companies registered to hide from the tax man in their home countries.

Why would the Liberals get in bed with the Conservatives to facilitate this agreement when what we should be doing is following the American example and forcing Panama to sign tax agreements so that there can be an exchange of tax information about tax evaders? The Liberal opposition is actually facilitating the government promoting tax evasion if it supports this initiative.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly not an advocate of getting into bed with the Conservatives, the NDP or anybody else, although I know the NDP has had experience with being in bed with the Conservatives, particularly in 2005.

I want to point out that one of the things free trade provides us is an opportunity to deal with political liberalization, et cetera. Panama has come a long way from the Noriega days. There is no question that there is continual liberalization and improvement within Panama. One of the things that at least my party believes in is engagement. There cannot be improvements unless we engage others, and this is one vehicle.

I understand the member is concerned about those issues and I would suggest to the member that the bill going to committee is an opportunity to look at some of those issues and strengthen it. That is why bills go to committee. We do not just say we do not like a bill because it is not perfect. If it is not perfect, we have to work on it, and that is why members deal with it in committee.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by saying that it seems the Liberals want to return to power. On Wednesday evening, there was a vote to improve the employment insurance system. The Liberals, who can practically taste power, have started voting against workers again.

When Prime Minister Martin was in office, the Bloc Québécois spoke out vigorously against tax shelters. Tax shelters in other countries hide money from the taxman for certain large companies, many of them subsidized by taxes paid by Quebec and Canadian workers. As a result, wealth is not redistributed to improve our health and education systems and living conditions for those who do pay taxes: workers.

How can this government and this opposition keep supporting free trade agreements that will negatively affect working conditions for Quebeckers and Canadians, agreements that will make it easier for mining and other companies to take advantage of tax shelters?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated earlier, one of the side agreements deals with labour. If the member has legitimate concerns on the labour issue, that is where at committee with the appropriate witnesses that kind of discussion needs to go forward in terms of strengthening these provisions. But if we simply want perfection and say no, if this is not here now we are not going to engage with any free trade, then we can put up a big wall around the country and obviously we will not be doing our businesses any favours and certainly not the population. So again, it is about engaging. Obviously there are provisions we can strengthen, but we cannot strengthen the bill if we simply say we are not going to do anything because it is not there now. That is why we have these discussions and obviously why amendments are made at committee.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, over two years ago I was on the international trade committee delegation to Panama and I am pleased to see the progress and support with respect to this free trade agreement.

However, does the member for Richmond Hill believe this focus by the Conservative government on these smaller free trade agreements with smaller potential for trade impedes the ability of Canada to do more strategic larger agreements with Asia-Pacific, for example, or Brazil?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would point out that it does not impede it, but it is not really focusing on what the real issues of the day are in terms of what our competitors are doing, and again, much more engagement on the multilateral level with organizations that are out there. I go back to one that I am most familiar with, dealing with the Asia-Pacific region, and that is ASEAN. Obviously if we do that, we are going to have a bigger bang in terms of that approach. Although these things are helpful, we need a strong policy, a strong strategy. We need to listen to what organizations such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce have said, which is that we really do not have that, and unless we have it, we are not going to be competitive internationally in the longer term.

In order to do that, we have to get together. We have to really start hammering out something not for this year or for the next five years, but the kind of policy that will take us 15 or 20 years down the road, because standing still is not going to help and obviously the Australians in particular recognized that when they launched their very aggressive free trade approaches in the Asia-Pacific.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I will first point out that I will be splitting my time with the member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

First of all, I would like to quickly go over the Bloc Québécois position on bilateral agreements. Make no mistake, the Bloc Québécois is not a protectionist party. Quebec exports 52% of what it produces, and our businesses, especially cutting-edge businesses, could not survive in the domestic market alone. Therefore, the Bloc Québécois supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, and was the first party to propose entering into a free trade agreement with the European Union. Clearly, our party supports free trade.

We believe that in order for trade to be mutually beneficial, it must first be fair. A trading system that results in exploitation in poor countries and dumping in rich countries is not viable. The Bloc Québécois will never tolerate a system of free trade that would result in a race to the bottom.

We know very well that the lack of environmental or labour standards in trade agreements puts a great deal of pressure on our industries, particularly our traditional industries. It is very difficult for them to compete with products made with no regard for basic social rights. We support a true multilateralism policy and not shameless profiteering without regard for human conditions and the environment, which all too often is the basis for these bilateral agreements that our Conservative friends and, for some time now, our Liberal friends want to negotiate. This Bloc Québécois position was eloquently presented yesterday by the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, and I would like to congratulate him on his apt remarks.

That said, the Bloc Québécois, as per usual, methodically examined Bill C-46, which would implement a free trade agreement between Canada and Panama. We do not support this bill because, for the most part, it does not reflect the beliefs and values of our party and Quebeckers.

Even though the free trade agreement signed on May 14, 2010, comes with a side agreement on labour co-operation, protecting labour rights remains a serious concern. Indeed, President Ricardo Martinelli's right-wing government passed Law 30, legislation that is considered anti-union, in June 2010. Quite simply, and as my hon. colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain explained so well, the law criminalizes workers who demonstrate to defend their rights. That cannot be justified.

We also know that Panama was shaken in recent months by crackdowns described as anti-union. Between two and six people were killed and about 100 were injured during violent demonstrations that were held after Law 30 passed in June 2010.

I have been a farm unionist for 20 years and I think we are fortunate to live here in Quebec and in Canada, in a democracy where we are not up against legislation like Panama's Law 30, which would bully us and prevent labour groups from raising their voices to improve their conditions. This is unacceptable. We are fortunate that we do not have to deal with such legislation and governments like Panama's that pass that kind of legislation in 2010.

As a member who comes from the labour movement, I naturally believe that workers' rights are universal rights, and no trade agreement—and I mean no agreement—should be entered into without absolute assurance that workers' rights will be respected.

Considering that in the present case we do not have that assurance, it is not possible for the Bloc Québécois to speak out in favour of this agreement.

We vigorously defend this position through our actions and our decisions. It is for that reason, among others, that we were able to support the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

Even though on August 5, the Panamanian government agreed to review this law, we nonetheless have cause for concern about the Martinelli government's true willingness to respect the International Labour Organization conventions. Why is the government in such a hurry to ratify this agreement? Should we not ensure that the Panamanian government is backing away from Law 30 before we make any commitment?

Something else that bothers the Bloc Québécois greatly is the fact that Panama is still on the OECD's grey list of tax havens. It is even on France's blacklist of tax havens.

While major European corporations are leaving this country because of its lack of banking transparency and its promotion of tax evasion, Canada wants to send its companies there. Does that make any sense?

Also worrisome is the fact that on the Finance Canada website on treaties and conventions there is no indication that Canada is negotiating an information sharing agreement with Panama.

We feel it is imperative that before concluding a Canada-Panama free trade agreement, the Conservative government, supported by the Liberals, sign an information sharing agreement with Panama. I hope the Liberals will support us on this. Nonetheless, this agreement must not exempt subsidiaries domiciled in the targeted jurisdictions from paying income tax.

In closing, without any assurance that workers' rights are respected in Panama and considering that this country is still on France's blacklist and the OECD's grey list of tax havens, unfortunately it is not possible for the Bloc Québécois to support this bill.

We will vigorously oppose any agreement, treaty or government decision that does not respect these fundamental rights.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am always happy to hear Canada's name come up on the world stage, even if they are opposed to the bill introduced by our government. I have a question for my colleague.

What do the following have in common: EFTA, Peru, Colombia, Jordan and Panama? The answer is that these are all countries or groups with which Canada has entered into free trade agreements. What about India, China and Korea? These are countries with which our Conservative government has engaged in the last few years in an unprecedented way, making Canada truly the country of the 21st century.

As the hon. member weighs the labour issues he has considered, I would ask him to think for a minute about the gains Canada has made on the world stage. What does he think about how we are doing in trade and our international respect?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

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

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

As I mentioned in my speech, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of free trade and free trade agreements. We participated in the discussions on the free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia. We were against the agreement with Colombia because that country does not respect human rights.

With respect to the agreement we are debating today, I made it clear that Law 30, which is anti-union legislation, is unacceptable. Also, we want Canada to sign agreements that address tax havens. This is in line with article 26 of the OECD model tax convention.

I can assure my colleague that the Bloc Québécois will continue to do a thorough job on the upcoming agreements with China, India and Jordan.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I always listen closely to my colleague's speeches. He mentioned a number of important things, including crime. The Conservative government always claims that it wants to address the issue of crime, but now it is signing a free trade agreement with Panama, a country that allows money laundering, which would increase the prevalence of this phenomenon in Canada.

How can the Conservatives be so irresponsible as to say that money laundering is allowed, that it is fine and that it is not serious, because we do not have to live with it? The government wants to sign an agreement and tell the Panamanian government that it can continue to tolerate money laundering.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague and say that I enjoy working with him on the Standing Committee on International Trade. We always have very good discussions.

It is unacceptable to want to sign an agreement with a country like Panama, which is a tax haven. We are not the ones saying that. Panama is on the OECD's grey list and on France's blacklist. Europeans are taking their companies out of Panama because they feel it is unacceptable to do business with a tax haven. But in Canada, the Conservatives—backed by the Liberals—are rushing to sign an agreement with the Panamanian government.

Last night, my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé said that the Bloc Québécois is making proposals to overhaul and improve employment insurance for the benefit of our workers. The two parties are telling us that it will cost too much, but at the same time, the government is signing an agreement with a tax haven where, if things were done properly, we could reap some benefits.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague on his excellent speech about the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

I was involved in a parliamentary mission to Colombia with the NDP member here and the Liberal member. We also visited Panama as members of a committee to assess the possibility of free trade.

I am keen to talk about this today because I have been following the progress of this accord for the past few years. I should reiterate that we are against this free trade agreement. My Bloc Québécois colleague made it clear that we are not against all free trade agreements. We support a free trade agreement between Quebec and the European Union. Back in the day, the Quebec sovereignty movement was very supportive of the free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I want to make it clear that we are not against all free trade agreements. I have noticed that, anytime we discuss a free trade agreement in the House, there is a lot of pressure on those who oppose such agreements, as though they were opposed to economic growth and to making Canada and Quebec more competitive in a free trade environment.

That is not the case. We support free trade agreements when they are fair for workers and the economy and when they comply with environmental standards. We oppose free trade agreements when these basic conditions are not met.

When we were discussing the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, we told the House about the human tragedies that befall unionized workers in Colombia. We also talked about violations of mine workers' rights and environmental standards. We opposed that bill.

Even though things in Panama are not as bad as they are in Colombia, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes a number of unacceptable clauses, so we should not sign it.

First of all, there is Law 30. We tend to sign agreements with right-wing governments. We signed an agreement with Mr. Uribe, whom my colleagues and I met. We signed an agreement with a right-wing government that does not respect workers' rights, particularly their right to demonstrate and unionize to protect their rights. The government lets companies violate environmental standards.

The Conservative government, unfortunately supported by the Liberals, tends to want to sign agreements with such right-wing countries because it says they will generate revenue and improve our competitiveness.

Our imports from Panama are five times greater than our exports to that country. How will this free trade agreement spur our economic growth? I do not believe it will happen. We must immediately disregard this argument.

I do not think that the workers in my riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, or Quebeckers as a whole, will get rich from this Canada-Panama free trade agreement. On the contrary, without respect for labour or environmental rights, these free trade agreements put pressure on our own companies operating in Canada. In the case of mining or the production of all kinds of agricultural products, for example, they create pressure to lower standards.

We must compete against countries that do not respect labour rights. In the case of Panama, it is even said that the right-wing government condones child labour, just like Colombia. Consequently, the agreement does not improve the working conditions of our workers, and it places pressure on companies. They think that in Panama or other countries, they can engage in such activities. This agreement will allow them to set up operations in those countries, where labour is cheaper. The agreement also eliminates tariffs and promotes trade.

Panama is also recognized as a tax haven. We have discussed tax havens on many occasions, and it is important.

A number of companies here receive subsidies. Some are having serious financial problems because of this global competition. Not only do our workers have to work very hard and in very difficult conditions, but they are financing these companies through their tax dollars, to make them a little more competitive globally. Indeed, with free trade and considering the degree of competition from China, we have lost many jobs in the manufacturing sector, in the furniture sector in my riding for example.

So the workers are paying to improve our productivity in the context of globalization and, on top of that, the revenues are going into tax havens. The companies receiving subsidies are earning huge profits. They will go and set up shop in other countries that offer more attractive tax benefits and where it is easier for them to exploit workers. So they simply move and do not pay taxes. They do not redistribute this wealth or the profits they make by paying taxes in Canada and in Quebec.

As an indirect result, this leads to cuts in social programs and education. We are told there is no more money. Our current system is already under tremendous pressure, so cuts have to be made to public services and education, all because the government does not have enough money.

Quebec and Canada should at least be collecting taxes from these companies, which are earning huge profits. We could follow the example of certain other countries, which I will not name, that have chosen to put education, health, and so on first, by making taxes a priority on a national level. That money must come back. If workers are subsidizing businesses, of course the tax dollars should come back to the country.

That is why we do not support this Canada-Panama agreement. On the one hand, it does not respect labour rights—Panama passed its Law 30—and on the other hand, there are also concerns about environmental standards. Lastly, we do not believe that this agreement will do anything to stimulate the economy in Quebec or Canada. Our exports to and imports from Panama are very limited. This will not create more jobs.

We want globalization to be fair and equitable, as defined by Joseph Stiglitz—a former adviser to the President of the United States—in several books, which I invite all members of this House to read. They are not necessarily leftist readings, and I invite all members to read them.

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11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has spent a great deal, and quite rightfully so, on the rights of workers, fair trade and fair labour conditions.

My question is related to the support in the bill for the International Labour Organization's declaration on fundamental principles and rights of work. It talks about child labour, occupational health and safety, compensation for injuries on the job and so on.

We have a commitment to the International Labour Organization's declaration by all parties to this agreement and there is a provision where a panel of last resort would be established to hold a hearing on a particular violation to the agreement.

With all the issues he has mentioned about occupational health and safety, children's rights and so on, is it not better to have an agreement that would invoke a multilateral organization, like the ILO, with a provision that there would be compensation back to those very people who he is concerned about, those who are exploited under present conditions? Would it not be better to have this agreement that would address those kinds of issues in Panama?

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11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for this question.

However, I do not necessarily agree with his position, and I will tell you why. In recent months, Panama has been shaken by a wave of anti-labour repression. I say it is recent because in 2010 there have been several deaths, between two and six depending on which source you consult, and about a hundred people injured during a violent demonstration following the June 2010 adoption of Law 30, which some are calling the “sausage law” because it contained such diverse reforms, notably to the labour code and environmental legislation.

When the public protested, the crackdown was severe. And in that context we, as Quebeckers or as Canadians, cannot sign agreements with countries that do not respect working conditions and environmental standards. This issue always comes back to haunt us, putting pressure on our own environmental laws and our own workers.

I know that the Conservative government does not seem to care about respecting the environment—

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Abbotsford has the floor for questions or comments.

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very disappointed with the member and the Bloc for not supporting this free trade agreement. Canada is one of the great free trading nations of the world. We heard earlier today that in order to grow our economy to ensure our future prosperity it was critical that we continue to find new trading relationships.

The member has highlighted certain concerns about this agreement as well as some of the issues taking place in Panama. Why would he not at least allow the bill to go to committee so there can be a thorough review of it to ensure there are the protections that he would like to see in the bill?

My guess is it is simply a matter of ideology. He does not share the ideology of the present government of Panama. Is that not correct?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again I would like to say that we live in a democracy where I can express my feelings and also say that I do not necessarily agree with the ideology of the Conservatives who sit across from me in this House.

As I mentioned in my speech, the issue is always to improve competitiveness through free trade agreements and to accumulate more wealth, but we have seen that these types of agreements do not make our population richer. Since we have started signing free trade agreements, the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. The statistics prove this. Let us not kid ourselves.

I would like the Conservative member to answer this question in his speech: How can we say that doing business with a country that generates five times more imports than exports will help our workers and improve our living conditions, and all of this in a country that allows tax shelters?

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11:25 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am saddened to rise in the House on Bill C-46, which could be more aptly called the drug pushers, money laundering act. It is absolutely shameful what the government has brought forward.

Panama is ranked as one of the top drug pushing, money laundering, tax havens in the entire planet. The Panamanian government has done nothing to resolve that. There is absolutely nothing in Bill C-46 to deal with the drug pushing and money laundering that the Conservatives are promoting. It also would do absolutely nothing to address the tax haven status.

People who watched CBC or heard Radio-Canada last night would have seen the impact of tax havens and money laundering and how that impacted on our social programs in Canada. It impacts how we as Canadians can deal with some of the fundamental issues.

This widespread money laundering and the use of tax havens so drug pushers and folks who earn money illegally can get around existing tax laws are not small issues.

Hard-working middle-class Canadians, poor Canadians, work very hard and they pay their taxes. They do what they must do as Canadians to support our society. Yet the Conservative government is going to shamefully sign an agreement with a drug pushing, money laundering tax haven paradise without even addressing one word of it in this agreement. It is absolutely shameful. It is a symbol of what is dysfunctional about the Conservative government on trade policy. The NDP is the only national party to stand up in the House against this completely dysfunctional trade policy of the Conservatives.

We have seen the kind of bills the Conservative have brought forward. They brought forward the softwood lumber sellout. As a result, two thousand jobs were lost in my riding. Tens of thousands of jobs right across the country were lost as the Conservatives deliberately shut down the softwood lumber industry. It was appalling and incompetent. People from the industry, except the CEOs who wanted to take their operations across to the United States, told the government very clearly that it would be disastrous. The NDP was the only national party to rise in the House and say that it would be disastrous. The Conservatives rammed it through, with the support of their Liberal cohorts, and we saw the results.

We saw the results with the shipbuilding sellout. Shipbuilding workers from British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec all said that this would have a negative impact on the shipbuilding industry. As a result, hundreds of jobs have been lost in the shipbuilding industry.

In the springtime, after what was an appallingly ridiculous debate, the Conservatives and the Liberals pushed through the Colombia free trade deal, essentially putting an X on Canada's reputation of standing up for human rights.

This present deal would provide a stamp of approval on the drug pushing, money laundering, tax haven paradise. This deal says that it would be okay to do this kind of activity, that it would be okay to have whomever, Hell's Angels, drug pushers, getting around Canadian income tax laws by having their money in Panama. Panama has strict rules about ensuring that Canadian authorities cannot find out a wit about the illegal money laundering taking place. The Conservatives say that is okay.

Each member of the Conservative Party, each member of Parliament who has made a great speech about cracking down on crime, is now going to stand and give his or her stamp of approval to a government that has not cracked down on fighting money laundering and drug pushing, one of the worst in the world.

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11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

You should be embarrassed.

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11:25 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hear the Conservatives reacting, as they normally do. None of them have read the agreement. There is not a single word in the entire text that deals with money laundering or the tax haven status. It is appalling. This is a symbol of a completely dysfunctional trade policy pushed by the Conservatives and supported, as we have seen every time, by the Liberal Party of Canada.

The Conservatives will say that by doing this they are actually contributing to the growth of our export industries.

The NDP has pushed for fair trade rules. We are the only national party speaking out against the hemorrhaging in our manufacturing sector, the loss of half a million good-paying manufacturing jobs. We are the only national party speaking out against the chronic under-financing of our major exporting industries.

I am pleased to say that this week some of the export associations have finally heeded our call. They are actually going to go to the government, with the support of the NDP, to get substantial increases in product promotion support.

Why? Because Canada, quite frankly, just plays lip service to exports. We have a trade minister who loves to cut ribbons and sign fancy agreements that do not deal with the fundamental issues.

Let us compare what Canada invests to support our export industries abroad with what other countries spend. We spend $12 million to $13 million in product promotion. Australia spends half a billion dollars. The European community spends $125 million for their wine export sector alone. That is 10 times what we spend for all industries right across the board. For the United States market, our most important trading partner, we spend $3 million or $4 million, which is the equivalent of promotion support for marketing a medium-sized enterprise in the lower mainland of British Columbia. We do that as a nation for the entire U.S. market.

The Conservatives, on the one hand, love these camera opportunities and these signatures but have done absolutely nothing to stimulate export growth.

What has been the result? If the Conservatives say that, although their actions might encourage some money laundering and drug pushing and use of tax havens, they are really doing this for exports, then they are going to have to explain that in this House. They have been mute so far in this debate. They have not spoken to these issues at all. In fact, it appears that they do not want to stand up and defend this deal. This should indicate to the public, those who are looking for work but have taken a brief break and are tuning in to CPAC today, that if the Conservatives are not willing to speak to the issue it is because they know that they do not have a leg to stand on, that they simply do not have any basis for supporting this dysfunctional deal.

If we look at the export figures, what do we see? If we move from the realm of inflation-devalued current dollars to constant dollars, which actually reflects a constant value over time, what we see is that after we sign these bilateral trade deals our exports actually go down. Let me cite a few examples.

With Israel, before we implemented a free trade agreement, we had exports of $270 million a year. In 2003, seven years later, we had gone from $270 million to $239 million in exports. What is wrong with this picture?

It was the Liberal government at the time that starved our export industries. But at the same time they had the big song and dance about how this was going to be terrific for our export industries. What happened? There was a decrease from $270 million to $239 million.

Let us look at another example.

I can see the Conservatives waking up now. They are saying, “Gee, nobody told us that. Gee, we should have done our homework., Gee, we should have actually looked at the export figures Maybe we'd know what we were talking about if we actually compared the figures”.

I am the glad the Conservatives are waking up, because these are important issues. We are talking about lost jobs. We are talking about half a million manufacturing jobs lost. We are talking about an actual net decrease in income for most Canadian families. The Conservatives have not understood that; the Liberals certainly did not. For 20 years, this so-called free trade regime has proven very costly to the average Canadian family.

These are important figures. I am glad they are taking note.

Look at Chile. We had $467 million in exports, before the implementation of the magic free trade agreement. Well, the exports to that market have gone from $467 million to $433 million. That is after the FTA, after the song and dance, after all of the pretensions about how this was going to stimulate our export industries, even though Liberals and Conservatives have done nothing to stimulate our export industries beyond the photo ops and signatures on bad trade deals. With Chile, after 10 years of free trade our exports were down.

Let us move on. I could continue. I will not cite the EFTA figures, because we already had this debate. It was the famous shipbuilding sellout. Since we signed that deal, our exports have gone down. There has been a huge decrease in the EFTA market, and yet we had Conservatives and Liberals standing in this House and saying this was going to be a magical day for Canada. Our exports went down the toilet.

At the same time, we opened up our shipbuilding industry, and it lost a large number of jobs. Here again is an example of the dysfunction and incompetence of the Conservative government when it comes to trade policy. It is dysfunctional.

They are not reflecting Canadian values. They are selling out human rights, our softwood industry, our shipbuilding industry. Then, as we sign the bilateral agreements, we see a decrease in exports to these markets .

The final bilateral agreement I will mention is the one with Costa Rica. We have talked about the others; let us talk about Costa Rica. I think it is an important one to flag.

There again we saw a decrease. We had $77 million in exports before the implementation of the deal. Seven years later, in 2009, we had gone from $77 million in exports to $73 million.

I rest my case. The Conservatives have strange pretensions. It does not matter about endorsing money laundering. Forget about that, Canadians. Do not worry about drug-pusher tax havens, and these fiscal paradises for the wealthy, where they do not have to pay taxes as ordinary Canadians do. Do not worry about that, because we know what we are doing.

Clearly, they do not. In case after case, our exports to those markets, after we sign these FTAs, go down, not up. They fluctuate up and down, it is true. However, in case after case, we see that in constant dollars our exports to those markets have gone down.

The Conservatives might even be forced to admit that the exports went down, and that we are selling out human rights and the softwood industry. If so, however, they are giving a rubber stamp to drug-pusher money launderers.

But what about Canadians' incomes? They have gone up, right? Well, unfortunately, even that is not true.

Statistics Canada has essentially told us what has happened to middle-class and poor Canadians since 1989, since these free trade pacts came in, which in almost all cases have led to a decline in our exports to those markets.

We have the most recent figures. What has happened to the poorest Canadians? The poorest Canadians, viewed in terms of market income, have neither gained nor lost. Fortunately, that is because of the advocacy of the NDP, which has worked to ensure that some social programs have been maintained.

What about the middle class, the hard-working people who support their families and pay their taxes? Well, the second-income category has actually seen a 5% reduction in real income over the last 20 years. What is 5%? It is like going without a paycheque for a couple of weeks a year. This has happened on the watch of the Liberals and Conservatives over the last 20 years.

We were told that these so-called free trade agreements would not be costly to the Canadian middle class and poorer Canadians. It would not be costly for manufacturing jobs. It would not cost us a bit. Well, it has been extremely costly. It has hit middle-class Canadians hard. Even the upper middle class has seen a net reduction in real income.

If we think about that, it is very sobering. We have heard all the pretensions, spin, and flim-flam from Liberals and Conservatives about their having some idea of how to make sure we stimulate export growth and family incomes. Then we look at the hard facts. None of these facts have been studied by Liberals or Conservatives, because they do not even track this stuff. They do not track going in what the economic impacts will be on these trade deals, and they do not track going out what has actually happened. There is no tracking at all. It is simply a photo op.

We have a trade agreement that is negotiated badly, written badly and does not deal with any of the real issues. Then there is a photo op and the minister goes on his next little trip. There is no evaluation, no homework, and no sense of what the real impacts have been on ordinary Canadians.

There is, however, one group of people that has benefited over the last 20 years. Their income growth has skyrocketed by 25%. Corporate CEOs and lawyers now take 52% of all income in the country. Income has gone down for the middle class and stagnated for the very poor, but the very rich are taking a huge and ever larger piece of the pie. A hefty 52% is now going to the very wealthy. Yes, they will support these trade agreements. They move their money offshore. They invest in low-wage factories. They can afford to. However, government should be looking to stimulate the Canadian economy.

Government should be looking to make sure middle-class Canadians are taken care of. They say that through hard work poor Canadians can raise their living standard, that over time there will be progress, and that we can build local economies where small businesses thrive as we forge a national economy where nobody is left behind. But exactly the contrary has occurred over the last 20 years, because Conservatives and Liberals in the House are simply not doing their homework.

What have we in the NDP been proposing? We have been making proposals like many of our allies in places like the U.S. Congress, which now has a fair trade act before it. It was interesting to note the comments of the Minister of International Trade in Europe when he said free trade was looked down on there. He is right, because Europe is trying to move to a more progressive trade model.

This is perhaps a discussion for another day, but we have a completely dysfunctional approach to negotiations with the European Union. We went to them and said we were going to sacrifice supply management. Supply management is on the table. We sold out the softwood lumber industry in northern Canada, northern Ontario, and B.C. We sold out our shipbuilding industry on both coasts. What can we sell out this time? Let us sell out the prairie farmers in the west, farmers in Ontario and Quebec, rural Canadians. We have a dysfunctional trade approach with the European Union, and we are saying that this time it is farmers who have to pay.

We in the NDP are saying a fair trade model has to be put into place. We are saying that what we need to do is economically boost all Canadians and make sure nobody is left behind.

This Panama trade deal, this drug-pusher, money-laundering, tax haven, fiscal paradise act does not do it. The government did not do its homework. It shows a complete lack of regard for the valuable opinions of the Canadian public. We have a dysfunctional government that is trying to foist a bad policy on Canadians without having done its homework. That is why in this corner of the House we will be voting yes for the hoist motion and no to this bill.

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11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hyperbole coming from the member is breathtaking. Canadians have seen why they elected a Conservative government to protect the economy and prosperity of this country and why the NDP has no hope of ever leading Canada.

He suggested that our government does not track the figures of our free trade experiences with other countries around the world. Let me quote Statistics Canada. Regarding our free trade agreement with the U.S., after 10 years there is 150% growth in bilateral trade with that country; with Israel, 133%; Chile, 250%; Mexico, 157%. I do not know where he is getting his statistics, probably from far-left think tanks who continue to spout these untruths.

My question for him is this: how can he stand and defend protectionism when the G20 arrived at a consensus that protectionism was going to ruin economies around the world?

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11:45 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Abbotsford cannot get me started on the billion dollars the government wasted on the G20 with the fake lake and thousands of dollars spent on bug spray. It was absolutely irresponsible

However, it is interesting to note that the Conservatives are again trying to spin the figures and not put them in constant terms.

The member is right that, over time, we could have a growth in trade if the dollars are worth less, which is a little trick the Conservatives have used yet again from their talking points. They want to pretend that a dollar now is worth the same as a dollar 15 years ago but not one of them has actually tracked it. I know this because we asked the people at International Trade about it and they said that they do not do that. We had to commission a study. That is why we now have apples compared to apples, constant dollars, and we see a net decrease in exports.

Again the Conservatives have not done their homework. Canadians are owed more than just that ridiculous spin from the Conservative PMO.