Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in this debate. I see my friend the parliamentary secretary is here today and participating in the debate. I appreciate that. The member fromCrowfoot has been here all day.
Let me acknowledge to both my colleagues, who have said that we in the NDP oppose only the trade deals that the government brings forward, that they are right.
Let me tell the House why. First, we are not debating trade policy. Bill C-46 is “An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama”. It goes on to talk about environmental and labour side-agreements. We are not talking about debating trade policy from the perspective of what we want to see in that policy. We are talking about how to implement trade policy, how to nip around the edges and tinker with this piece or that piece, adding a word here and deleting a sentence there. Fundamentally, what we are looking at is free trade, full stop.
I would say to my colleagues that if they truly want to debate trade policy with New Democrats, or with me, a member who attends the trade committee 80% of the time, then I would suggest that we debate trade policy. Let us not debate implementation of free trade, which is a fait accompli. The government is not interested in talking about trade. It is interested only in talking about free trade. Free trade is one of the many aspects of trade policy: whether it is called fair trade, which I would suggest is significantly different from free trade; whether it means trade agreements like those we see in the Mercosur that Brazil has with its neighbours; or whether it is EU trade through the EU trade division. There are a great number of agreements across this globe that we have neglected to look at because are fixated on free trade.
Why we are fixated on only one aspect is beyond the comprehension of this member. Ultimately, when we look at the stats for those who are trying to work in this country, we see the poor staying as poor as they were, getting no further ahead.
Brian Mulroney said that this country would never be recognized again if we implemented free trade. So he did. He was right. We do not recognize this country.
Members can come down to Welland and take a look at where this policy, with its promise of the return of manufacturing and replacement jobs, has now taken my town. In 13 years, in terms of earnings per worker in Ontario, it has gone from third highest to almost the lowest, courtesy of free trade.
Of course, the government and the Liberals would have us believe that we were winners under the free trade model. What do we see for middle-income workers? Their income has come down 5% over the last 15 years.
I am not sure how mathematicians make minus five a plus. I know in the old days minus five and minus five gave plus 10. All I know is that when a person has a job that used to pay $22 an hour and now that person is working for $14 and the person's mortgage is still the same, that person is not better off, but worse off. If that is the minus 5%, then workers in my riding did not benefit from free trade. Yet we insist on talking about it.
The Liberals insist that we are in the way and will always vote against it. Of course we will, because it does not help workers. It does not help average Canadians. It does not help the middle class. It only helps 1% of the richest folks in this country, who are getting richer and richer by the day.
The government and the Liberals seem to have a red-blue alliance. We might call it a coalition, but they have not formalized it yet. I would encourage both parties to bring forward an open trade debate, so that we can talk about different trade policies. Let's see if we cannot find a way to make Parliament work. Let's see if we can compromise and find a trade policy that works for everyone across this country.
Ultimately, it is not about building trade policies for Panama, Colombia, Jordan, or anywhere else in this world. It is supposed to be about Canadians. We are supposed to develop trade policy that benefits Canadians. That is who we represent. We do not represent Panamanians, or Jordanians, or Colombians. Our role is to protect our citizens, and part of that protection is the viability of the economy. Canadians need work. When folks are not working, they are either unemployed, on social assistance, or out on the street somewhere. Our responsibility is to ensure that this does not happen to them.
I would encourage the blue-red alliance to come forward with a debate about trade policy. Then we can move away from this fixation of one-size-fits-all. We are told that we are all doing well. But we are not doing well at all.
The rebuttal will be that this is not true. I invite members to look at the StatsCan reports and read the quintiles, as it calls them. They show where folks are in the economic scheme of things. It is ironic that when the Minister of International Trade spoke at an event organized by the Fraser Institute, the Vancouver Sun said that the trade minister “appeared amused at the diplomatic necessity of avoiding the term “free trade” when negotiating with the Europeans”. This from a government that comes in the House and waves the flag of free trade and says all is wonderful. Yet when the minister goes to Europe, we have to call it a “comprehensive economic trade agreement”. Why is that?
If the government is certain that free trade is the be-all and end-all, then why can't the minister go to Europe and say that, although it might not translate well into French, German, or Belgian, the bottom line is that free trade is wonderful and we should simply call it what it is. Maybe it is because the Europeans do not agree that free trade is the be-all and end-all, and they want to talk about something else instead. This raises an interesting question. If this is the case for the bigger group, why not for those elsewhere?
As we look at the free trade policy, we see, starting in 1995, the gutting of manufacturing in the heartland of this country. Anyone who does not believe it should come to the auto sector today. St. Catharines had 11,000 workers in 1993; now it has 1,800. Where did those jobs go? The vast majority went to Mexico. In 1990, General Motors employed about 2,500 workers in Mexico. By the late nineties, there were some 40,000. There were less than 20,000 in Canada. It used to be the reverse.
When we opened up free trade in the North American Free Trade Agreement, we saw an outpouring of manufacturing jobs by multinationals in Ontario and Quebec. Those of us who live there, who represented workers, and who represent workers today have continued to see it. Whether it is the manufacturing of automobiles, steel, or chemicals, that is the way free trade has been for workers. If they have kept their jobs, they have seen their wages decline. They are told they must compete with Colombians, Panamanians, Mexicans, and everywhere else that fell under free trade. Companies told workers that if they could not compete with them, their jobs would be moved.
In 2008, just prior to the last federal election, a John Deere subsidiary went to workers during bargaining and said they had to deal with free trade. I know this to be true, because it is my union that represents those workers.
The company told those workers that they needed to understand that it could be moved to the States or Mexico. The subsidiary told the workers that they had to bargain a collective agreement that showed an understanding of free trade.
The Canadian Auto Workers is a responsible union. My brother from Quebec knows this; he is a Quebec director. He knows how responsible that union is.
In 2007, we bargained a responsible agreement with John Deere that said we would protect those workers. We would make sure they were not affected by free trade and that they had offsets for the company.
What did the company do in 2008? The company closed the plant, moved to the United States and Mexico, and destroyed 800 families. What did the company get in that one year period? It managed to pay lower wages, lower pensions, lower benefits. They got a cut rate for a year and then they deserted the community and the workers.
We saw the same thing at Atlas. We saw the same thing when it came to UCAR. We saw it right across the manufacturing heartland of this country.
Free trade does not work for workers, period. It does work for some folks who bleed workers dry and then discard them.
The most recent example of how free trade works is J.M. Smucker's, a big multinational company out of the United States. It just closed.
Those who like Bick's Pickles should know that as of next year a Canadian-made Bick's pickle will not be available. The plant will be closed in 2011. What will that mean for 150 workers at Bick's? It means they will have no job. What will this mean to the hundreds of farmers in southern Ontario who supply the ingredients for these pickles: the cucumbers, the tomatoes, the onions, the cauliflower? It means they will have no market for their goods. What will they do? I guess my friends on the other side will tell them that it was free trade and it was good for them.
As we move products to free trade regimes that do not have the same food inspection standards, will we know what we are buying? The CFIA's audit says we will not know what we are getting, because there is no common standard of inspection from country to country. We have equivalency inspections with a few countries in four significant areas, but pickles is not one of them.
For those who enjoy the Bick's Pickle brand, after November 2011, I would suggest they check the label. The ingredients will not be Canadian. I would suggest checking where they come from, because they might not have gone through the same inspection equivalency. That is shameful, but that is what free trade gives us.
Is that really what Canadians are asking for? In my constituency, the answer is a resounding no.
Workers get the message on free trade. They are either working for less than they did before or they do not have a job at all.
The Conservatives keep foisting this red-blue alliance on the workers of this country. The whole thrust is that free trade is good for them, when the evidence clearly demonstrates that it is not. They are worse off than they were in 1995. It is an abomination. I do not understand how anyone can stand up and try to tell us that things are better, when those of us who represent workers know that it is not true.
Why do we do this? I am not sure. I have sat on the international trade committee for the best part of a year, and I have yet to hear a compelling argument, unless we are talking about protecting the wealthiest folks in this country and allowing big corporations to do whatever they want. If that is the argument, fine. I understand that, because it works for them.
Free trade clearly works for large multinational corporations. It works for those who service them, like trade lawyers and accountants. Large corporations need a support system to keep them alive. Ultimately, those businesses are doing okay. But the workers inside those businesses are not doing well.
So in this whole sense of keeping on doing the same old, same old, one would have thought that after we got beat up on chapter 11 from a number of places we would want to strike that out. But, no, we keep leaving it in there, the old chapter 11 under NAFTA, not chapter 11 necessarily in this agreement, not the same chapter but basically the same deal. So we can have a company such as AbitibiBowater that sues us for 130 million bucks and we give it to them. Ultimately, that is what we end up with.
Let me just give folks some background about how I used to bargain agreements and what it means when we have a side deal. When the employer and the bargaining unit sit down, the reason they do a side deal is that they actually do not want folks to find it well. That is really what it is about. That is why we do a side deal, because if we were really serious about making sure it was important to us, it would be in the main body of the agreement. That is where the important stuff is, between the first page and the last page, not stuck on the back or stuck off to the side.
Yet, again, even though we had this debate with the free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada on the importance of these international agreements for the environment and with the international labour organizations about labour, as much as our entreaty to the government was that these were hugely important and they should be back in the centre of the agreement, what happened this time? They were off to the side again, with no sense that maybe it was really important and it could be put inside the agreement, built inside. Clearly they do not believe that they are important enough to include in the agreement.
I know some folks will say that it does not really matter because they are there. It does matter. That is why we do the things we do, that is why we include things in a certain order, that is why we have definitions, that is why we have collective bargaining, that is why we do collective agreements, or that is why we do contracts. Lawyers who do them will tell us that it is important where we place them.
What do we see inside the labour agreement? We actually see the ability of the corporation to get arbitration through the Patent Act. However, through the labour agreement, which is a side deal, if workers in Panama want to go to arbitration, they cannot. Think about that. As a worker in Panama, if one cannot get to arbitration, why not? It is a fundamental right, it seems. That is something that we ought to do. Yet we are still not encouraging them to follow through so workers can actually get to a place where they can perhaps seek some form of redress, some form of justice.
If that is the case, why would we not make sure that those side agreements on the environment and on labour are struck right in the middle? Fundamentally, why do we not just simply have a debate about trade? Maybe if we did that we might find some sort of an agreement, not just with the red-blue alliance but perhaps all the way through with a multicoloured approach.