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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

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague who sits on the agriculture committee as the NDP agriculture critic does a wonderful job on behalf of farmers across this country.

Farm trade policies are probably one of the most difficult pieces of trade policy we can enter into because it is food. There is intrinsic value to that, obviously, because it is something we all need. Some of us may not need a car, but we certainly need to eat. So the policy becomes extremely difficult. What happens is that we do not have the ability to work back and forth. It is not just us in this country who make impediments; we see them across the world. When we develop those types of policies, there always seem to be winners and losers.

Ultimately, for some small countries, in the fact that we are larger than them, especially small countries such as Panama, et cetera, there is the potential for them to be a loser, just as we have been a loser in some of the free trade deals that have come at us from the bigger countries.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Calgary Southeast Alberta

Conservative

Jason Kenney ConservativeMinister of Citizenship

Mr. Speaker, what we see here is yet again the unmasking of the NDP's real agenda on the economy and trade. We sat here for dozens of hours listening to the NDP invent bogus facts about the supposed systematic human rights violations in Colombia.

I went down for the inauguration of the new president of Colombia last month in Bogota. The NDP has continually talked about assassinations of union leaders. I learned from the United Nations human rights representative in Colombia that most of the labour union assassinations were people such as local teacher union leaders assassinated by the FARC, the communist far-left guerrillas.

What this demonstrates is that the NDP was not really concerned about human rights in Colombia, because it is not raising human rights in one of the more relatively stable democracies of Central America, Panama. It is opposed to trade. The real question is this: why is it that the NDP refuses to raise the living standards of people in these developing countries who know that the best way forward to higher living standards is access to external markets?

Why is it that the NDP criticizes our dependence on the United States' export market but opposes every single effort to expand and diversify our export markets through additional trade agreements? Why?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his question. I did hear it and I appreciate his comments.

I said at the beginning that we were not opposed to free trade, if he wanted to talk about trade policy. We said, basically, that we do not believe in the model the government presents to us, which is a free trade model. There are other models of trade out there that we would be happy to sit down, investigate and discuss.

Clearly we understand we are a trading nation. We understand that we need to continue to trade. We are saying there are other ways to do it besides the free trade model, and we would like to explore them on this side of the House.

The government, in its wisdom, if we can call it that, has decided with its friends in the Liberal Party that the only model it wants to look at, the only model it would use for a template, is the free trade model constructed in 1988 by Brian Mulroney. That is the decision the government has made.

We are asking government members to bring forth some others that we have suggested and let us explore them. Why not do that? It seems to me that if this is a House that wants to make Parliament work and wants to cooperate, let them bring those forward and let us sit down as part of the trade committee and actually have a discussion about trade models. Why is it always assumed that the one model fits all situations and somehow it is good for all of us, all of the time? No one lives their life that way. There is not one of us in the House who does the same thing every day, all the time, always. We do not do that, but we seem to be struck in this rut when it comes to free trade.

I suggest that the government bring forward another model that we have suggested we might want to look at, and perhaps it will find an agreement from this side.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak to Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama bilateral free trade agreement.

We all know that in August 2009, the present government concluded negotiations with the Republic of Panama for a comprehensive free trade agreement designed to augment a previous agreement, the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, called FIPA, that was signed between the previous Chrétien Liberal government and the Panamanian government in 1998.

The agreement before the House for debate includes service trade liberalization, principles and government procurement provisions, as well as one of the government's favourite processes, which is to sign side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. I will say that we New Democrats are proud to say that those two things ought to be in the main text of any agreement, not in a side part of any agreement.

On September 23 of this year, the minister tabled the implementing legislation, Bill C-46. It behooves us to review the four main components of this, which include: free market access in goods and services, and that includes government procurement; investment protection provisions; labour agreement sections; and then an agreement on the environment.

I hasten to point out that we in the New Democratic Party are all eager to support trade agreements that benefit a majority of Canadian workers, farmers, small businesses and consumers. We all want trade agreements that work to achieve the larger societal goals of economic justice, poverty alleviation, healthier communities, pollution reduction, human rights and a healthy environment.

Unfortunately, my review of this documentation and the facts that surround it lead me to conclude that the Panama free trade agreement does not meet these goals.

I will review a couple of general thoughts before I go into some of the details.

First, it is important to point out that this deal is not about trade. I hear many members on the other side of the House comment that if one opposes this deal, one must therefore be opposed to trade. That is simply a red herring and it is a strawman argument. That is not the case at all and anybody who has any intellectual honesty will recognize that at once.

Canada trades with many countries of the world. We trade all the time. We trade with Panama and have been for a long time. The statistics that we have covered many times in this House show that we have an annual trade allotment of about $140 million a year with Panama. That is a small amount, of course, but it shows that trade is going on between the two countries.

Trade goes on between Canada and many countries.

The issue before this House is one of to whom we should advance the preferential concept of free trade. Let us pause and just reflect for a moment about what free trade really means. Free trade means the mutual elimination of tariffs on goods and services between the two countries. It allows goods and services to flow across the border into each other's country with no duties whatsoever attached to them.

In my view and in the view of the New Democratic Party, we have to take a very considered and judicious approach when we consider to whom we should advance such a powerful and preferential concept as free trade. We should decide very carefully with whom we will have this relationship because, of course, these agreements do not operate in a vacuum. They do not operate in theory. They have tangible, practical effects that would actually affect the lives of Canadian businesses and consumers.

I want to talk a bit about why I personally oppose this agreement.

First, there is the concept of understanding Panama's current labour situation. This past July there were reports of a new wave of anti-union repression in Panama. This resulted in several workers killed, over 100 injured and over 300 trade unionists arrested, including leaders of the SUNTRACS and CONATO trade unions.

This followed the government of Panama's reaction to protests against new legislation that restricted the right to strike and freedom of association, and that sought to enact provisions that would lead to jail for up to two years for any workers who took their protests to the streets. I am going to pause here. That is a country which, this past summer, enacted legislation that said it would jail its own citizens if they protested a governmental action peacefully in its streets.

I have heard some talk about how Panama is an emerging democracy. I have not heard any member of the opposite side explain how a government that is pursuing legislation that jails its citizens for expressing their views in their communities is a country with which we should hasten to do business.

The fact that that happened while this negotiation was going on, I would argue, does not bode well toward thinking that any labour protection that is in this agreement would provide any real protection of labour rights in Panama, as it lacks any effective mechanism for enforcement and the Panamanian government, quite clearly, intends to ignore it. Despite what it may have said or paid lip service to, its actions this past summer certainly cause one to think that its actions may not be consistent with its words.

According to the OECD, Panama is an offshore banking centre and is considered one of the most notorious tax havens in the world. Nothing in this agreement deals with the tax haven or the lack of transparency issue. A NAFTA-style free trade agreement would broaden the effects of FIPA and increase the corporate incentive for tax evasion. It would also provide multinationals with additional tools and incentives to challenge Canadian regulations.

I am going to talk for a minute about why that might be important to us on a societal level as opposed to on a financial level.

I am the New Democrat critic for public safety. I am engaged in many discussions with all members of this House, but particularly with my hon. colleagues on the government's side, about the need to have safe communities. I have done a bit of research on this issue. I would like to share that with my colleagues in the House and I hope they will pay attention to what I am about to say.

I did some research through the Library of Parliament and found out that a study was done and it was published this year by Cornell University, not by a trade union group or a left-wing think tank. This is an academic study that was published by Cornell University. It quotes research which says that some 75% of all sophisticated drug trafficking operations use offshore secrecy havens. The studies also show that drug money, and not the Euro market, was the principal cause for the phenomenal growth of the Caribbean havens in the 1970s and 1980s.

The study says that it is evident to all who have studied the offshore banking business that the growth has been fueled by the phenomenal increase in cash from the U.S. drug trade. Of the criminal cases identified by IRS investigations, that is the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, from 1978 to 1983 that occurred in the Caribbean, where, I would point out, Panama is located, 45% involved illegal transactions derived from legal income, that is tax evasion and otherwise legitimate trade. In the other 55%, illegal income was involved and 161 cases dealt with drug traffic. Of those, 29% involved the Cayman Islands and 28% involved Panama.

The government, stands in this House every day and lectures everybody sanctimoniously about caring for communities and cracking down on drug trafficking, just proposed in this House a free trade agreement with a country that is the number two launderer of drug money in the Caribbean. I have not heard any member say anything about that. The government wants free trade with drug traffickers. Of course, anybody who reads the paper would have known that, because Manuel Noriega, the ex-president of that country, is still serving time in jail after being convicted of massive narco-crimes.

That is the country with which the government wants to hasten to sign a free trade agreement and says that we are just opposed to trade. No, we are not. I am opposed to trade with drug havens and tax evaders, where drug money from drugs sold on the streets of the United States and Canada ends up in Panama, gets laundered and sent back here, and the government wants to make it easier.

I read something else that I want to share with my hon. colleagues. I read what this agreement does. Under the investment transfer provisions of this free trade agreement, it specifically says that nothing should impede the transfer of funds, either into or out of each country, from investments covered by this agreement.

Therefore, money between Panama and Canada under this agreement would actually flow without any controls whatsoever. Has anybody considered that if we sign this agreement, we will be making it easier for drug money to flow between these two countries? Are there any facts I have stated that any member in the House would dispute? Do they dispute that Panama is a known tax haven? No. Do they dispute that drug and narco-traffic occurs in Panama and it is one of the major sources for that in the Caribbean? No, I do not hear that. Do they dispute Cornell University academic research? I would be interested to hear their arguments about that.

I also want to talk a little bit about agriculture because I heard some members opposite talk about how this agreement would be good for farmers. When I read this agreement, it states that Canada would not eliminate over-quota tariffs on supply managed goods such as dairy, poultry and eggs. Additionally, Canada would not eliminate its tariffs on certain sugar products. Therefore, when it comes to dairy, poultry and eggs, this agreement does not even deal with that issue.

Nothing in this agreement will affect tariffs between the two countries on those issues at all. It is a complete red herring to mention that this agreement has anything to do with increasing or improving the lives of farmers because the agreement does not cover it. It retains the tariffs. If members want to sign an agreement that removes tariffs, they can do that, but this one does not.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Not on supply management.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Not on dairy, poultry and eggs. Dairy, poultry and eggs, I might point out, are three of the major sources of income of many of the farmers across this country.

I also want to talk a little bit about free trade, the concept in general, and this is about the relative labour market. When we allow products to come from one economy into another, it behooves us as parliamentarians to ensure that our businesses and workers are competing on something like a level playing field.

The average wage in Panama is $2 an hour. If people are making goods and setting up businesses in Panama and they want to export products, the archetypical widget, into different countries, where would they set up that business? Would they set it up in Winnipeg, in Saskatoon, in Vancouver, in Toronto or in Kitchener where they might pay $15, $16 or $20 an hour, wages that Canadians need to raise a family, or will they set up that business in Panama where they pay $2 an hour?

I was in the private sector for 16 years working for a union and we dealt with hundreds and hundreds of private sector employers. I listened at bargaining tables many times as those business people explained their businesses. I will tell the House exactly where they will set up their business. They will set up their business in Panama. Something else those businesses would say to me, because they have said it to me many times, is that they cannot compete with businesses that are setting up and paying their workers $2 an hour.

I want to hear someone from the government explain how Canadian businesses, which are expected to pay living wages, workers compensation premiums, employment insurance premiums, private pension contributions and training costs, leaving their wage costs to be probably up around the $20, $30 or $40 an hour mark, sometimes more, will compete with Panamanian businesses if we allow products from Panama to come into our country tariff-free?

That is why New Democrats oppose this deal. It is not because we are opposed to trade. By all means, let us continue trading with Panama, but let us not give up the important social policy tool, the economic lever of putting tariffs at the border on certain goods that are coming in so that we can ensure that our Canadians businesses and our Canadian workers are competing on a level playing field, because that is all they want.

Canadian businesses and workers are some of the best in the world. We do not need preference. We do not need hand-outs. All they ask for and all we ask for is a level playing field or something similar to that.

My colleague in the Liberal Party said that if that were the case, we would never sign a trade deal with anybody because nobody pays those kinds of wages. Actually, many countries in the world do. All of the EU countries do. We should be looking to the many countries in South America that are bringing their standards up. We could also be looking at a phased in reduction of tariffs. As those countries start bringing up their labour standards, their wages and their environmental protection, we can start phasing down our tariffs.

There are many other mechanisms and policy levers that I refer to as “managed trade”. Some of my colleagues have called it “fair trade”. I believe those concepts are prudent, conservative, moderate and they give our economy time to absorb goods and services that come from very different economies. It also acts as an incentive to those other countries to raise those standards.

I want to talk briefly about what this agreement says about the environment. It says that both Canada and Panama would be required by this agreement to not weaken their environmental regulations. I have done a bit of research and the environmental legislation and regulations in Panama are, and I will charitably say, not world-setting. Its environmental standards are weak and all this agreement does is obligate it not to weaken them further. Does it require that country to improve its environmental regulation? No, but it could.

Under a New Democrat proposal, sitting at a trade table, that is exactly what we would do. We would sit down and say that we would talk about giving the country preferential access to our market on a number of conditions, and one of the conditions would be that it work with Canada and we would both commit to improve our environmental standards.

What kind of agreement asserts progress when it just says that we are not going to get any worse? That is not progress. That is the status quo. That is stagnancy.

One of the excuses the Canadian environment minister and the government uses for not implementing the Kyoto accord, or any of these numbers, is that they cannot do it unilaterally if the rest of the world does not do it. The government will not do it if China and India do not do it.

Why then does the government sign a trade agreement with a country that does not obligate that country to raise its environmental standards? One would think that would be the logical trade policy the government would take if in fact its rhetoric about not improving our environmental standards were true.

Coming from a prime minister who said that Kyoto was a socialist plot, I am not sure I believe the government has any real commitment to climate change amelioration, or any real attempt to improve the environment of this world.

I want to conclude by talking a little about Canadian businesses and what trade policy should consist of.

I come from Vancouver where we have a vibrant, healthy business sector with many small businesses that are actively engaged in trading goods and services around the world, primarily in Asia. I talk to these businesses on a weekly basis. They explain to me what their challenges, ideas and dreams are. What they want is managed trade. I do not have any business person coming to my office saying that he or she wants a complete tariff-free agreement with a country.

Tariffs have been around in this world for a long time. The reason they have is because they serve a purpose. Tariffs allow us to use policy levers to encourage good behaviour and punish bad behaviour. To sign an agreement in an organic world, a dynamic world, one would want to maintain those levers.

I encourage the government to utilize those levers for the kinds of issues and policies with which I think all Canadians agree. We want to improve the standard of living for Canadian workers and their families. We want to improve the business opportunities for Canadians, particularly the small and medium business sector so they can compete on the world stage. However, I want them to compete on a fair basis, not on one that is based on untrammelled access to our markets where we have to rely on the good graces of a country that has a poor record on just about every measure we can think of, and that is Panama.

I encourage all members of the House to think seriously about this agreement and to vote in a manner that encourages our workers and businesses to prosper on the world stage.

Notice of Time Allocation MotionCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of 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.

Under provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I will address some of the disappointing comments that the member from the NDP has raised not only about free trade with Panama, but also free trade in general. The NDP seems to always approach these issues as a zero sum game, that somehow by helping other countries it is to the detriment of Canadians. In fact, when countries work together, it benefits everyone. It is a non-zero sum, when the rising tide raises all boats.

The best economic choices that Canada can make is through free trade. This was demonstrated spectacularly with the free trade agreement with the United States, which the NDP opposes still to this day, in spite of everyone recognizing that it was good. The NDP also fails to recognize that not only do Canadians benefit by trading with countries like Panama, but the Panamanians benefit. The best social policy, the best foreign aid is to invest in countries like Panama to help those people improve their quality of life. The best environmental program, the best foundation for democracy is economic development. This is simply what the free trade agreements do around the world.

Will the NDP members recognize this is an ideological issue for them, that they do not support free trade with the United States, Panama or anyone else and it is harmful to the entire world? We would end up all poor if we follow the NDP philosophy.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my great disappointment that a minister who is responsible for democratic reform would not be concerned about or address his comments to the fact that this summer the Panamanian government proposed legislation that would jail citizens for protesting policies in the streets. That does not sound very democratic to me and it certainly is not consistent with what I think is the minister's mandate, which is to try to pay attention to improving the democratic conditions in our country and around the world. That is the point.

The minister talks about ideology. I have not heard a more ideological commentary than I just heard from him. The Conservative government has been pursuing what can only be described as an ideological approach to trade. It is not really interested in improving the lives of people in different countries. What it is interested in doing is signing free trade agreements with countries whose ideologies it supports.

I will quote the Prime Minister. This is from the prepared text of his speech when he was in Panama. He said, “You talked about the need, especially during these difficult times, to open doors to neighbours and allies”. The Prime Minister is the one who is seeking out trade agreement with allies. What does that have to do with establishing human rights? What does have to do with establishing trade agreements with countries if the real goal is to raise the living standards of people in those countries?

This is really about, and Canadians are not fooled, the Conservatives are picking countries to sign trade agreements with to bolster their ideological relations. That is why they picked Panama with a right-wing government. It is why they picked Colombia with a right-wing government. I do not see the government proposing a free trade agreement with Venezuela or Bolivia. Maybe it should look at that.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the very first lesson we learn in economics is normative and positive and that the rule of economics is not to describe what should be, but only to describe what is. Yet whenever we stand in the House and describe what is, the Conservatives say that the New Democrats are spoilsports because we talk about the murders of union leaders, environmental devastation and the fact that Panama is one of the dodgiest drug havens on the planet. They tell us to believe in free trade and everything will be all right.

It is the Conservatives' blind faith, as G.K. Chesterton said, in the horrible mysticism of money. As long as money can travel around the planet, as long as capital gets what it wants, we are all supposed to believe that things will be better. However, we have said consistently, time and time again, that for a trade deal to work, we have to look at the effects of that trade deal and we have to look at whether it actually works on the ground. Economies should be about that. We should be looking at what really is, not what Conservatives think should be in their neo-con Milton Friedman flat earth society in which they live.

Having seen this group week after week, month after month, year after year with its failed ideology, how can it have the nerve to lecture anyone else about the economy? Could he comment on that?

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

That was very astutely put, Mr. Speaker. Let us talk about accountability because this is a word that the government tends to use a lot, but I am not sure it knows the meaning of it.

The neo-liberal policies of the government, which were put in place by the Liberals in the early 1980s, has really been in place in North American for the last 25 years, for a generation. Therefore, let us take stock. Let us hold them accountable for those policies.

What has happened in 25 years. The gap in wealth distribution in Canada is wider, and that is a fact. The government does not like to talk about facts. It is more about ideology and argument, but check the facts. If any member on that side can tell me that I am wrong, show me the numbers. Statistics Canada and every reputable economic group will tell us that more people are poorer today than they were 25 years ago and the rich are richer.

Also, there is no question that the average industrial wage in 2008 was lower in per capita terms and lower in real terms than it was in 1980.

I worked for a trade union until 2008. I know what people made in 1992 and I know what they made in 2008. In some cases they made less money. In most cases, even with their minor increases in real terms, Canadian workers are worse off today. To boot, and this is the third factor, most Canadians in 2008 worked more.

We work longer, for less pay and the distribution of wealth in the country is worse. That is the record of 25 years of neo-liberal economics.What I have heard today from the government was said 25 years ago. It did not work then and it does not work now. Let us hold the government accountable.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the NDP talk about free trade, and I appreciate the intervention by my hon. colleague. This the reality, and it is quite simple. That party has never supported a trade agreement. Free trade, fair trade, it all means no trade to the NDP members. They are not interested in jobs and opportunities for Canadians. They are not interested in raising the standard of living for their fellow Canadians. They are interested in keeping everyone in poverty and in the dark. That way those members get a host of people who actually believe that misinformed and ill-informed rhetoric. The only thing worse than the misinformation and the rhetoric is the condescension and the patronizing tone that delivers it.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the lowest form of argument is an ad hominem attack, where all the member does is use rhetoric and attack the other member and characterize the argument, instead of using facts and figures to show where the debate does not make sense.

I did not hear one fact in the hon. member's comments to dispute a single thing I said.

I would like Canadians to hear that intervention and hear the intervention of my speech and determine which party really sounds like it is trying to take a back faced logical approach to this trade agreement. I hope the members take a more thorough, sober and realistic view of the facts than he just did.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues, who have held a very important debate in the House of Commons and have spoken very eloquently on many of the trade issues we have with these very difficult countries the Conservative Party has chosen, in its wisdom, to work with.

Once again we have another free trade agreement on the discredited NAFTA model of trade and investment that enshrines investors' rights over democratic processes. The country, of course, is Panama, a real model of progressive and enlightened government.

In a February 2009 letter to U.S. President Obama, 55 members of the House of Representatives warned of the danger of getting into a free trade agreement with Panama. The representatives said:

We also believe that Panama is not an appropriate U.S. FTA partner. A Government Accountability Office study identified Panama as one of only eight countries—and the only current or prospective FTA partner— that was listed on all of the major tax-haven watchdog lists. Panama has long been the key target of both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other tax transparency entities for its resistance to international norms in combating tax evasion and money laundering. Indeed, Panama is one of few countries that has refused to sign any tax information exchange treaties.

The representatives go on to say that they support designating Panama an offshore secrecy jurisdiction under U.S. law, which would place restrictions on the use of this country by American corporations as a way of avoiding taxes. The representatives end their comments by pointing out that Panama is one of the top locations in the world used by multinational corporations to avoid taxes.

This agreement would make it easier for a Canadian company to avoid taxes by simply setting up a shell company in Panama. I am sure that the Prime Minister's business friends give two thumbs up to this type of arrangement so that they can quickly move into these types of tax havens. Let us allow the rich to avoid paying their fair share of the taxes in this country. Why not?

What else is Panama well known for? It is the second most important country for flags of convenience. Panama does not pay attention to the importance of maintaining secure and proper ships around the world. Instead, it allows companies to register their ships, which may or may not be rust-bucket, single-hulled oil tankers that are a danger. Panama has a habit of doing things that are not in the interests of the civilized world but are in the interests of the corrupt side of the corporate world.

What is the government thinking by getting into bed with this type of government at this point in time? We should be reaching out for fair trade agreements with South American countries that want to build better lives for their people. We should be supporting that kind of effort.

Most South American countries would not get along with the kind of agreement being proposed here. Most countries in South America want control of their own resources. They want to build their own states. They are a little tired and turned off by 30 years of imperialism on the economic front throughout South America, which quite clearly has led, in many countries, to democratically elected governments that are now saying that they want their right to control their resources and economies. They want to make the right moves so that their people can move ahead. That is the nature of the South American movement.

It is quite clear, when we talk about getting into arrangements with larger countries in South America, that they are not interested in these types of free trade arrangements. They want to protect their people and build their countries, as we should be doing.

Today in the Calgary Herald, Premier Brad Wall talks about the Potash Corporation takeover. He is starting to realize what we told him months ago, which is that this deal is not what it is made out to be, that when we give up control of a resource to a huge multinational corporation, it has the ability to transfer taxes out of this country. Mr. Wall said:

We don't have the final estimates yet, but there's a real risk in terms of a substantial, potential decrease in corporate income taxes. We will balance the desire that we have for a positive investment climate with also the need to think long term.

What good words from the premier of Saskatchewan. How does that fit together with what is going on in this investment deal with a major tax haven in the world?

Perhaps we are on the right track looking for a hoist motion on this particular free trade agreement. Perhaps the world is changing. Perhaps there is a consciousness developing among other parts of our political society. Perhaps people are beginning to realize that the free trade arrangements they have counted on as a panacea for our development are not as good as what they thought they were going to be.

When we postponed moving this free trade agreement forward, just as we worked so hard to forestall the free trade agreement with Colombia, we are trying our best for Canada. We are trying our best to move past the type of thinking that characterized the eighties and nineties and to move toward the type of thinking that most resource rich countries are now taking toward their resources.

Canada is the only energy-exporting country in the world without a national presence in its own energy field, in its own oil and gas industry. This is just another example of where we are as a country in terms of where the rest of the world thinks it has to go. Bright, intelligent people around the world know, in this day and age of declining resources, the importance of holding onto those resources. That does not speak well for free trade agreements that have been the dominant ideology for so long in this country.

In 1991, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Uruguay negotiated a regional trade agreement. They wanted a common market in South America. They wanted to work together in that region. Why are we not supporting that effort? Why are we not reaching out to those countries under the conditions they want to put forward and that they see as important? These are bigger markets.

The Mercosur pact represents 270 million people. It is a massive market, but we have to go to that market on its terms. Those countries have made that part of their development. Cleverly and carefully, those countries have created their own ideas about trade. If we want to participate with them, we have to do so through their own ideology.

The NDP works hard in the House to stand up for Canada, to stand up for things that we see as important for our economy. I respect what the Conservatives have tried to say. I wish they would respect our point of view as well and recognize that the world is changing and that we must adapt to that change.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am always interested in listening to my NDP colleagues talk about trade, but I am never quite sure what they are arguing about the economics of it.

Is my colleague arguing that the Panama trade deal will be bad for Canada's economy, or is he arguing that the trade deal will be bad for Panama's economy?

If he is arguing that the agreement would be bad for the economy of Canada but Panama would gain from it, then it would be good for Panama's development as a third world country. If he is arguing that Canada would gain from it, why does he think I should vote against the economic interests of my constituents, since agriculture will be the predominant beneficiary of the reduced Panamanian tariffs, thereby permitting better access and more competitiveness for Canadian agricultural products?

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would say that this agreement would play in the direction Panama has already established for its economy, which is that of a state that promotes quasi-legal and illegal activities under the guise of its tax laws and shelters and the way it treats many of the issues in front of it.

What Canada is doing with this agreement, really, is playing into an illegal operation in Panama. That is unfortunate.

If the hon. member thinks that the role of the Canadian government is to continue to foster the development of these illegal and improper activities in world markets, he should be fine with this agreement.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, as members will recall from my participation in the debate yesterday, one of the big concerns I have about this free trade agreement is that labour rights, in fact, are part of a side agreement only.

Earlier today I heard members of the government side say that this is all right; a side agreement is still part of this free trade deal, so all is well.

In fact, all is not well. First of all, the side agreement is completely inadequate, because it simply asks governments to acknowledge the labour laws in their own countries. Under those labour laws, we know that just this last summer there was more anti-labour repression in Panama during which workers were killed, 100 were injured, and 300 more were arrested. Clearly, Panama's labour laws are not up to either Canadian standards or international standards.

The big problem with side agreements has been demonstrated in a different kind of labour context. In my own hometown of Hamilton, Local 1005 of the Steelworkers had a side agreement with a company, which they thought the company would honour, in much the same way the government has faith that its side agreements will be honoured. In that side agreement, cost of living increases were guaranteed to pensioners, steelworkers, who had worked hard all of their lives, had bargained pensions, and were counting on those cost of living increases to make ends meet.

However, the company decided unilaterally that since it was only a side agreement, it would ignore those obligations. Pensioners now are not getting the cost of living increases.

I want to ask the hon. member for Western Arctic whether he agrees with the government that side agreements are good enough to protect workers' interests or whether those side agreements are not worth the paper they are written on.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, coming from a region of the country that relies on the federal government to set the deals for resource extraction in my region, I know perfectly well how difficult it is to achieve results, whether they come from side deals or are straightforward.

In many cases, it is simply that money talks. The deal works out in this fashion: people who do not have the advantage lose out. To me it is clear that what one has to look at is the good intent of the government one is dealing with, whether one is talking about one deal or another.

It really comes down to the track record of the government one is dealing with. What is the best indicator of future performance? It is past performance.

What we see in Panama is a past performance that is pretty straightforward. What will future performance be? It will be somewhat similar.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise as well to speak in favour of the hoist motion, specifically because of the extremely inadequate side agreement on the environment.

We went through this whole dialogue on the free trade agreement with Colombia and yet again we are having the same inadequate documents tabled before this House. Since the serious issues raised about both the side agreements on labour and environment that were held in this House, there has been not one second of public dialogue or debate on what direction we want to go in our trade agreements with other countries.

Quite some time back, when Canada entered into the NAFTA, the three countries decided that they would not, at that time, incorporate labour and environmental considerations into the text of the binding trade agreement. Since that time, a number of governments, including the U.S. in the last U.S. election, and some Canadians have raised the bar and said that maybe it is time to revisit that, that if countries are going to claim that environment is as significant as development, maybe they better step up to the plate and actually put them on par in the balance.

I have taken the time to look at the side environmental agreement and I have to say that it is beyond shameful.

This place actually brought forward a trade agreement with the United States and Mexico but it has a lot of problems. The environmental provisions should have been incorporated into the NAFTA or at least within the side agreement, which is called the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. This was an effort to create a genuine independent body with a budget and with some senior leadership that y would further the dialogue with the trade partners to try to incorporate environment into trade.

We have seen in the trade agreements that the government has brought forward that it absolutely does not believe the words when it stands in the House and says, “We must balance environment and development”. Nothing is clearer to this House than this free trade agreement that the government has tabled before this House. It has told us clearly how significant it thinks environmental factors are in trade and development.

As I have mentioned, there is significant downgrading from the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, simply in the structure. Under the North American agreement, there is a council of the environment ministers of the three countries. In the Panama agreement, it is a committee of representatives. Who are they? Are they lower echelon bureaucrats? We do not know yet. We can guess who they will be because we have seen what has happened in Colombia. There is no full-time commission, no budget and no independent secretariat. Who is going to lead this so-called dialogue with the public? If the public requests that there be a dialogue on some of the environmental implications of this trade agreement, who will lead this topic?

We know that in our country it is a time of restraint. Are we to believe that Panama has surplus dollars, that its government can come up with the millions of dollars necessary to further these open dialogues on the environmental implications of trade and development?

There is no joint public advisory council. In the North American side agreement, it created a public advisory council and appointed people from industry, public interest groups and trade unions to the council of ministers. So much for participation and so much for the Conservative Party grassroots governance. There is no joint public advisory committee and no national advisory committee to our government on our relations with Panama under this agreement. Unlike the deal with the United States and Mexico, there is no duty to hold public meetings with the committee. Everything is behind closed doors.

The main argument for bringing forward the side agreement on environment in the NAFTA was that we needed to ensure that none of the partners in these trade agreements watered down their environmental laws to have an economic advantage. That is the whole purpose of incorporating environment and trade.

In this agreement, the word “enforcement” does not even exist. The government has taken out entire parts of the side agreement. Missing from this agreement is the obligation on the parties to ensure effective enforcement of their environmental laws. It is not in this side agreement.

In the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, there is an entire framework of how we deliver effective environmental enforcement. That framework has been endorsed by the World Bank , the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Circumpolar Institute on Environmental Law and the International Network on Environmental Compliance and Enforcement which our government belongs to.

In the Panama agreement, it has been replaced with two pathetic provisions. The government has pulled out of this framework at least 15 factors that are necessary for a country to have effective environmental enforcement and, instead, we have that the parties will encourage voluntary best practices of corporate social responsibility. It would be up to the corporations to decide if we are going to care about environment in Canada and Panama from now on.

Second, we have that the countries will promote voluntary-based measures. That is absolutely reprehensible. There are no investigative powers. One of the most important aspects of the North American agreement is the power of the secretariat to look into allegations of failed enforcement. There is no investigative power and no right of the citizens of either country to raise concerns and ask for an investigation.

There is also no article, which is in the North American side agreement, where the countries hold each of the signatories accountable for an ongoing pattern of failure to enforce environmental law. That is absolutely critical to the credibility of any fair trade agreement.

Perhaps it is understandable that the government would be fearful of committing to a process where it could be held accountable for effective environmental enforcement when, almost daily, it is being taken to court for the failure to enforce its laws. Just a few weeks ago, we had two first nations and two national organizations, for the fifth time, suing the Minister of the Environment for failure to comply with his own legislation on endangered species. I cannot even begin to count the number of cases brought by citizens against the federal government for failure to comply with the federal Environmental Assessment Act.

It is the same with public participation. All the strong measures in the North American side agreement are missing. We have the nice preamble but nothing is binding. The government has essentially eviscerated any kind of commitment to environmental protection in trade through this agreement. What is worse is that it has not taken a progressive forward-looking measure but has taken these measures and incorporated them into the body of the trade agreement.

I need say no more. The government has clearly stated its position. It does not believe that environment is part of trade and development.

Second ReadingCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It being 5:30, the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-509, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise in this House and to represent my constituents, the 228 good people of Crowfoot, who have contacted me with regard to the library postal rate, the 228 concerned Albertans and concerned people from my riding, who have asked the government to ensure that the rights that the libraries have appreciated and enjoyed over the years would continue.

It is a pleasure to thank the member for Brandon—Souris for bringing forward this very good private member's bill.

Before the summer break, I had the opportunity to speak to this bill for 8 or 10 minutes, so I only have 2 minutes left. In the meantime, I would like to thank our government for moving. This past summer was a time when members from all parties were able to approach and lobby the government to keep the postal rate for libraries, recognizing how important it is for every rural library and northern library to be able to access resources that people appreciate in the cities.

What is that loud shout going out across the country? It is the shout of people saying that our government listened. Perhaps the shush after the loud shout is the librarians telling everyone to quiet down. However, there is not too much of that because people are very happy.

I congratulate the member for Brandon—Souris. All parties have come toward this bill and have now accepted it and our government is accepting it.

Since 1939, libraries in Canada have been able to exchange books at a reduced rate, historically known as the library book rate. This Conservative government has said that it will continue. I want to thank the member for Brandon—Souris for making it possible.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise with pleasure to participate in the discussion on this private member's bill, Bill C-509.

I, too, thank my hon. colleague, the member for Brandon—Souris, for his numerous introductions of the bill and his commitment to this cause. I realize that he has introduced this bill several times since 2007, and his tenacity needs to be commended.

I have worked with the member in his capacity as the chair of transport, infrastructure and communities committee. He has always shown fairness in his rulings and has a strong understanding of procedure.

As my party's critic for crown corporations, I will be supporting the bill at second reading and have suggested that my caucus do the same. My party does support greater service for and more affordable access to library materials for Canadians, Canadians in rural areas, in remote areas and seniors, and Canadians with disabilities. We support a reduced postal rate for all library materials and we support the new definition of library materials to include modern media.

I do, however, have a few concerns that I will address later.

The substance of the bill is two-fold. First, that Canada Post receive approval from the Government of Canada prior to any increase in the library book rate; and second, that the library book rate include the shipping of new media materials, such as CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs and other audio-visual materials. I will be addressing both issues in that order.

First, I will deal with maintaining the library book rate. I have a letter from the Canadian Library Association, CLA, dated May 14 of this year. In the letter the association shows its full support for the bill, and rightly so. It goes on to explain its reasoning, and I could not agree more.

Over 2,000 libraries across Canada rely on the library book rate for transferring materials back and forth. Canadians from coast to coast, especially students, the disabled, seniors and those living in rural areas, should be able to take full advantage of this system. Quite simply, the fact that libraries can share hard copy materials with one another at an affordable rate allows people to obtain information on a more regular basis.

As we know, information is king, knowledge is eternal and we in the Liberal Party stand for lifelong learning. As the CLA pointed out, it is imperative that we retain the library book rate for many reasons. Without a sustainable library book rate, the CLA has the following concerns: First, that it would create a two-tiered service for Canadians; simply those who can afford to borrow material and those who cannot.

Second, that material would be difficult to obtain if it were not regularly transferred between libraries. This would make things very difficult for the elderly, students, the disabled and rural residents.

Third, that it would put added pressure on libraries to reckon costs and remain viable due to lower supply and, ultimately, fewer visitors.

Finally, that it would strain smaller libraries. Their ability to loan would be in jeopardy due to lower supply and lead to diminished lending.

Those reasons alone are good enough for me to support the bill. However, another concerning issue in the CLA's letter is the fear that the current library book rate is scheduled to end unless it is renewed by the end of the year. If this is true, we as parliamentarians must do what is right and extend the library rate without hesitation. The timing of the bill is impeccable and it is the perfect vehicle for doing so.

As the member pointed out in his opening statement in his speech back in May of this year, the library book rate has been in existence since 1939. Libraries have become dependent on the rate and it has allowed them to transfer materials affordably around the country. Although Canada Post has kept the rates at reasonable levels through the years, it has periodically increased them in order to keep up with inflation or for other economic factors.

The bill addresses the concern that Canada Post could, ad hoc, increase the library rate by requiring it to obtain a mandate from Parliament prior to doing so. I am in agreement with this notion but once again I have some concerns with costs.

On the matter of sustaining the library rate and costs, I would like to get some friendly clarification from the member for Brandon—Souris, which I will seek at the conclusion of my time. The second half of his bill deals with the addition of modern media, such as CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs and other audio-visual materials to the library book rate.

I am in full agreement that as technology advances, Canadians will have a desire to keep up with current trends. The need for advanced information grows.

It is imperative that our libraries are well stocked with modern media. Without such measures, the growing concern is that this material might be hoarded at larger metropolitan libraries and not shared with smaller rural libraries, because they simply cannot afford to transfer them. Smaller libraries would definitely suffer as a result.

In this modern day of Internet, speedy file transfer, email, social media, and large broadband, it is refreshing to know that I can still walk into a library and borrow or lend a tangible item like a book, a newspaper, a music CD, a movie DVD, or even an ebook.

I know that my constituents feel the same way. For this reason, we have a responsibility to maintain this fundamental right for all Canadians.

I have spoken in favour of this bill and will continue to support it. However, I have some concerns regarding the sustainability of the library book rate, its effectiveness, and compensation measures and subsidies.

For the benefit of speedy passage of this bill to committee, I will not be putting forward any amendments today. However, I would like to express my thoughts as this bill continues to move forward through committee.

First, I ask the hon. member if he has considered ensuring that Canada Post maintains a library book rate in perpetuity.

Second, how often can Canada Post seek an increase in the library book rate? What is the time frame? When will this bill confirm that Parliament's approval is necessary before the rate can be increased?

Third, I want to address compensation to Canada Post for the loss in revenue. In speaking to representatives of Canada Post, I have learned that it currently loses $5 million to $6 million per year as a result of the reduced library rate. While I agree that this is a cost of doing business, a small cost to pay for maintaining such an important aspect of our society, I would like to know if the hon. member has considered compensating Canada Post for the losses through an order in council.

Finally, we need to look at the matter of subsidy. Has the hon. member determined the value of the subsidy that Canada Post provides to libraries? This important question was raised in the first hour of debate last spring.

Once again, I will be voting in support of Bill C-509. I have urged and will continue to urge my caucus colleagues to do the same. In fact, I urge every member to follow suit.

Before I end, I need to voice one final concern. This concern has to do with party principles and policies.

To my knowledge, the question of the library book rate came to light in 2006. While I commend my friend, the hon. member for Brandon—Souris, for taking the lead on this issue, I do not understand why the government would not simply have addressed the issue of the library rate in a more responsive and timely manner.

Why has it taken four years? Many options were available to them: adopting it as a government bill, making a regulatory change, or seeking an order in council.

Unfortunately, this speaks volumes about the government's lack of connection with average Canadians, as well as their lack of direction and execution.

The hon. member for Brandon—Souris has my full support for this bill at second reading and for sending it to committee. I look forward to seeing the bill in committee and raising the concerns I have mentioned.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of the library book rate, specifically Bill C-509, which amends the Canada Post Corporation Act to protect the reduced postage rate for library materials.

I commend the member for Brandon—Souris for bringing this important bill forward and for his tenacity in pursuing it ever since he was first elected in 2004. I wholeheartedly agree with him that maintaining the book rate is crucially important for a whole host of reasons, some of which I will enumerate shortly. I hope the member will understand that I also have to put this bill into the larger context of this government's record on issues related to Canada Post, learning, and literacy. While that context does not in any way detract from his personal efforts to do the right thing with this bill, it calls into question whether this bill, even if passed, will meet its desired objective.

By way of background, for those who may have just tuned into the debate, I should explain what the book rate is. Since 1939, libraries in Canada have been able to exchange books at a reduced postage rate. That is what is known as the library book rate. It allows all libraries in Canada to access one another's reading materials at relatively low costs, so that smaller libraries, for example, have access to the larger collections that exist primarily in urban centres. That is critically important.

First, the book rate ensures that we do not end up with a two-tiered library service, one for those who can afford to pay for access to information and one for those who cannot. This would jeopardize the access of Canadians to the resources necessary to learn, innovate, and prosper in the information economy of the 21st century. Access to library materials should not depend on the size of one's wallet but, rather, on one's thirst for knowledge.

Second, Canadian students, persons with disabilities, and residents of rural communities would be particularly disadvantaged, since they rely heavily on their local library's ability to share resources with larger centres.

Third, it would severely reduce access to books for people living in rural and remote parts of Canada.

Fourth, it would reduce the level of service libraries provide, possibly forcing the program to operate on a cost-recovery basis, with patrons and learners having to bear the costs. Such user fees would discourage many patrons from making mail-based borrowing requests.

Fifth, smaller libraries would stop providing lending services and, in turn, would only borrow materials.

Sixth, it would deprive the rest of the country of the ability to access the unique information resources often preserved in our local libraries.

Seventh and last, it could easily result in denying access to library materials for people who are homebound.

For all of these reasons, it is imperative that there be some control on increases to the book rate. I applaud the member for Brandon—Souris for using this opportunity to ensure that from now on the library book rate would also apply to the shipping of CDs, CD-ROMs, DVDs, and other audiovisual materials. This is important for keeping pace with the changes in technology that have allowed us to access information in new formats, and in fact these new formats may over time actually reduce the cost to Canada Post since CDs weigh far less than books.

In the end, however, Bill C-509 does not prohibit an increase in the book rate per se. Instead, it simply says that any such increase must receive approval of the Government of Canada. The bill suggests that it is the Governor in Council who must okay an application for a rate increase by Canada Post, and the Governor in Council is the cabinet.

I am sure the member for Brandon—Souris made this proposal in good faith. Indeed, when he spoke to the bill he said that it would ensure that Canadians' voices will be heard on this sensitive issue before any rate changes occur. However, if that is truly his intent, why would his bill not stipulate that requests for increases to the library rate must be approved by Parliament instead of the Governor in Council? It is in the House of Commons that the voices of all Canadians are heard through their elected representatives.

The same is not true of the cabinet. Yet the viability and vitality of Canada's public libraries is, or at least should be, of keen interest to every single MP in the House. It is unfortunate that Bill C-509 excludes a review by all of the elected members who have libraries in their communities, and, as a result, it needlessly circumscribes the scope of the arguments that ought to be brought to bear on any request by Canada Post to raise the library rate.

I know that some members of the House will suggest that I am being alarmist and that the distinction of whether it is the cabinet or the House of Commons that must give its sign-off is one of mere semantics, but I suspect most of those members would be from the Conservative benches. Only in their caucus must members act as they are told by the Prime Minister, without any ability to bring independent thinking to the decision-making process. Indeed, that has been the hallmark of the Prime Minister's administration.

Let us recall what the government's track record is with respect to both literacy and Canada Post.

Let us begin with the latter. Just before the end of the last session of Parliament, the House was dealing with Bill C-9, the government's budget implementation bill. What do we find in that bill? We find an attack on Canada Post's exclusive privilege to handle international letters.

I have twice before had the privilege of speaking on this issue in the House, so I will be brief today.

At the heart of the issue was that international mailers, or remailers as they are commonly known, collect and ship letters to other countries where the mail is processed and remailed at a lower cost. In doing so, they are siphoning off $60 million to $80 million per year in business from Canada Post.

Yet Canada Post needs that revenue to provide affordable postal service to everyone, no matter where they live in our huge country. In fact, one ruling by the Court of Appeal for Ontario stressed the importance of exclusive privilege in serving rural and remote communities and noted that international mailers are not required to bear the high cost of providing services to the more remote regions of Canada.

Canada Post won this legal challenge against the remailers in the Supreme Court. What did our law-and-order government do in response? It stood up for the international mailers, who are currently carrying international letters in violation of the law.

The Conservatives are allowing them to siphon off business from Canada Post, and they sneaked the enabling legislation into the budget bill.

What does that have to do with the library book rate? There is an integral connection. Canada Post would raise the book rate as a way of increasing its revenue stream so that it can continue to meet its mandate. This revenue crunch is now becoming a reality, because the cancellation of Canada Post's exclusive privilege to deliver international letters is taking a $60 million to $80 million bite out of the corporation's coffers.

Why would we trust a government that is hell bent on leading Canada Post down the road to privatization to safeguard affordable rates for access to library materials? It does not make sense.

We know that private corporations are driven solely by profit motives, and subsidies for things like the library book rate detract from that bottom line.

Similarly, the notion of trusting the government to protect access to library materials as an important tool for improving literacy in our country flies in the face of the government's record on the issue.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, one of the first things they did was cut $1 billion from critical programs, including literacy and skills training. Yet there was and is a preponderance of evidence to prove that education is critical to achieving a just and prosperous future.

Even the C.D. Howe Institute, which is hardly an NDP think tank, has repeatedly noted that Canada continues to under-invest in education, especially since research shows that the impact of functional literacy on productivity and GDP is three times that of capital investments.

In spite of that evidence, the Conservatives cut their support for literacy training and left to fend for themselves the 42% of Canadian adults who have, by international standards, an inadequate functional literacy level.

In light of that record, it is far too much of a stretch to suggest that the government would act decisively to protect the library book rate on behalf of Canadian families. In fact, the opposite is much more likely to be true.

Therefore, while I have no quarrel with what I believe is a sincere desire on the part of the member for Brandon—Souris to safeguard the library book rate from arbitrary increases imposed by Canada Post, I would ask him to go just one step further. Do not give cabinet the responsibility for final approval. Make the issue come to the floor of the House of Commons and allow the views of all Canadians to be brought to bear on this crucial issue. Only in this way can we be assured that the collections of all libraries are recognized as national assets that must be accessible to all Canadians, so that they can support education and lifelong learning and help to enhance Canada's global competitiveness and productivity.

I know that all members of the House would support that laudable goal.

Canada Post Corporation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the member of Parliament for Brandon—Souris, for working so diligently for so many years on the library book rate. I congratulate him for finally being able to get up in the draw and have his bill brought before the House, which has been so wildly endorsed by our government and by all members in the House.

I also thank the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for his support and understanding in working with the member for Brandon—Souris in developing the bill and ensuring we are addressing the needs and the concerns that have been expressed by our libraries across Canada.

Bill C-509 seeks to enshrine the library book rate in the Canada Post Corporation Act by including the definition of what library materials should be in the act and by giving Canada Post the ability to regulate the rate charged to libraries for shipping these materials, subject to Governor-in-Council approval.

The bill is very straightforward and to the point. First, it would expand the list of library materials. Second, it would give Canada Post the power to regulate the rate. Third, it would provide for the Department of Canadian Heritage to enter into an agreement with Canada Post to continue the library book rate. I will speak to these three points.

First is the expansion of the list of library materials. As currently offered, the library book rate is only available for books. There is a historical reason for this. Back in 1939, and for most of the last century, books made up the lion's share of the collections in all our libraries. New material, such as CDs, DVDs, books on tape and other media, are relatively new developments in the course of history. When the rate was first established, these materials were not even envisioned. For the past couple of decades, the library community, including in my riding, have been calling for this rate to be expanded beyond books to include all this new technology media, which are increasingly important as part of their collections.

While library material other than books are being shared and sent between libraries right now as part of the parliamentary inter-library loan system, they do not qualify for the library book rate. The rate is significantly discounted by up to 95% of the regular parcel rates available to all Canadians at a Canada Post counter. Not surprisingly, libraries would like to take advantage of these great rates for all the materials that they provide to their clients and libraries.

The libraries in Selkirk—Interlake are telling me that if they did not have access to the library book rate, what right now only costs them a few thousand dollars a year to access the great collections across the country and bring those collections into their libraries would cost them tens of thousands of dollars a year. That is not acceptable. Our libraries need to keep those dollars to invest in their programs and their facilities to accommodate the increased usage that we see in our libraries.

As public institutions, libraries are always seeking ways to minimize their costs at every opportunity, while maintaining their important services to all Canadians. As we all know, cost savings in one area mean more money for another. This would enable our libraries to increase their investments in educational services or in their collections through increased acquisitions.

Rural libraries are totally dependent upon being able to access the greater collections in larger centres such as Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa and bringing those books into the rural communities for our clients.

Our constituents are seeing the value in having access to these materials, whether they are books, CDs or books on tape, which is really expanding and growing in our area. My rural libraries are telling me that they are seeing a real increase in usage. In some cases, they have seen, over the last five years, usage within their libraries go up almost fourfold and that has put an increased burden on them to bring in more products, more books and new media to satisfy the ever-growing appetite of constituents for new material. This is something that has impacted upon their budgets and they have told me that we have to ensure that the library book rate is available indefinitely.

What we are seeing is a real mix of users. We have youths coming in who are making use of the computer programs. They love this new media that they cannot necessarily go out and get at the store. We are seeing students doing their continued research through their library systems, as well as accessing huge collections to feed their ferocious appetites. My own kids have great reading appetites and like to have access to a number of different series of books, which they do not have to go out and purchase themselves if the library provides them with their membership.

Seniors are not only there to access books, but they love this new media as well. Books on tape are becoming an ever-increasing need and desire for my constituents.

Second, the bill seeks to give Canada Post the power to make regulations to prescribe a discounted rate of postage for library materials. This is in line with a number of regulation-making powers that Parliament has given to the corporation, including the ability to make regulations prescribing what is a letter, what is mailable and the rates that it charges for these different items.

Canada Post has been continuously offering a highly discounted postage rate for library books for over 70 years. Even after Canada Post was made a crown corporation in 1981, the rate has remained significantly lower than commercial rates, and this is as an unregulated rate and unrecognized in its enabling legislation. Clearly, Canada Post understands the importance of this rate to libraries and all Canadians and the role that Canada Post plays in contributing to Canada's public policy goals. Bill CC-509 would help ensure that this would be instituted in the Canada Post Corporation Act.

Third, the bill would allow Canada Post to enter into an agreement with the Department of Canadian Heritage to continue the library book rate subject to Governor-in-Council approval.

Given the importance of this rate to libraries across the country and to the development of literacy and other essential skills in our population, an agreement between the federal government and Canada Post to continue to offer this rate certainly makes great sense and good policy. After all, this rate has been continuously offered for the last seven decades and the government has had a longstanding interest in its provision. Therefore, an agreement would be useful in ensuring that the delivery of the rate is in line with the government's overall policy objectives for literacy and other related areas. In its ongoing maintenance of the library book rate, since the previous agreement with the Department of Canadian Heritage has expired, Canada Post has assumed this responsibility itself and have ensured in this way that these objectives have continued to be pursued.

The library book rate has played and continues to play an important role in the development of the Canadian library system, facilitating the sharing of books between communities, regions and nationally for decades. The availability of this rate has been a constant for libraries for generations and has therefore shaped both their financial and acquisition planning. Knowing that this rate is available to them, libraries have been able to pursue collection and funding strategies that are in some ways founded on the library book rate. It is great that we are able to enshrine this now in legislation.

The key to adult literacy proficiency and the development of literacy in their children seems to be reading at home. It increases an individual's proficiency through engagement in literacy activities, such as reading books, magazines, manuals or newspapers.

Libraries play a fundamental role in providing access to all Canadians to a wide range of reading materials and literacy activities. With the help of Canada Post's library book rate, libraries are able to dramatically increase rural and remote library users' access to a consolidated Canadian collection of around 465 million items.

Efforts to create future readers and learners, to engage current readers and to help all Canadians build and maintain their skills are vital to our economic development and growth as a nation. Libraries and literacy programs are fundamental to our future for this very reason. The library book rate has played an important role in the sharing of books across the country, especially in rural and remote locations. The support that it has provided to libraries and their communities cannot be overstated.

Given the importance of Canada Post's library book rate in support of literacy, our government supports promoting literacy and competitiveness across the country.

I again thank the member of Parliament for Brandon—Souris for bringing forward this great bill, for supporting our libraries across Canada, supporting our readers and users of libraries. They are all going to continue to benefit from the library book rate. The book rate itself will be expanded to include so many different items that we can all enjoy.