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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

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

September 30th, 2010 / 3 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Conservative Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to taxes for the Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition, they only go higher and higher. Under the coalition, businesses would be the enemy and taxpayer wallets the target. They reach for more of Canadians' hard-earned money to fund their fiscally irresponsible schemes, such as a 45-day work year.

Our Conservative government will not let that happen. We were the only party to vote unanimously against the coalition-backed Bill C-308.

Would the finance minister inform the House of a major step announced today?

Employment InsuranceOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Whitby—Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Jim Flaherty ConservativeMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Miramichi for the question. The beautiful Miramichi, as informed people know, is the home of Canada's largest Irish festival. The evidence is that it says so on the water tower right there in Miramichi, so it must be true.

Yes, it was a good announcement this morning for jobs and for the creation of jobs in Canada. As the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said:

As a result of this decision...employers will have a greater incentive to keep workers and add to payrolls. Workers will have more take-home pay and will be more inclined to spend.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please.

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of a parliamentary delegation from Ghana, led by ministers: the Hon. Kwaku Agyeman-Manu; the Hon. Likpalimor Kwajo Tawiah; and the Hon. Amadu Seidu.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know throughout the House that tomorrow is a special day and the last day of the week. It involves the swearing in of the new Governor General. Many members of Parliament will be participating in that event tomorrow.

I would like to ask the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons what the business is that he envisages for the following week, starting next Monday.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you that when the leader of the Liberal Party named the member for Ottawa South as the House leader of the Liberal Party I was asked many times, “How do you feel about this? Are you looking forward to working with him?” I said to each and every one of them that I was every bit as looking forward to working with the member for Ottawa South as I am sure he was looking forward to working with me.

In all seriousness I can report that the Liberal House leader and I are working well together. I am even working well with the Bloc House leader and with the House leader of the New Democratic Party.

We are all working hard to make Parliament work.

Today I can tell the House that we will be continuing debate on Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, another key economic initiative as part of Canada's economic action plan, a plan to create jobs, build growth and opportunity for all Canadians across the country.

It is, though, with deep regret that yesterday I learned the NDP moved a six-month hoist motion on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. As the House knows, the only purpose of moving such an amendment is to obstruct and delay the progress of important legislation.

On Friday, my good friends in the NDP moved a concurrence motion obstructing and delaying the passage of Bill C-22, protecting children from online sexual exploitation, another key part of our government's tough on crime agenda.

I say to my NDP friends, let us work together and make Parliament work. I hope we will not see any more of this.

Tomorrow, as the member opposite has said, we will be having question period and leaving early for the installation of the new Governor General in the Senate chamber.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the government will call the following bills for debate: Bill C-22, protecting children from online sexual exploitation; Bill C-21, standing up for victims of white-collar crime; Bill C-30, the response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Shoker; Bill C-39, ending early release for criminals and increasing offender accountability; Bill S-6, serious time for the most serious crime; and Bill S-9, tackling auto theft and property crime.

On Thursday, it is the government's intention to begin debate on the second budget bill, sustaining Canada's economic recovery act, just one more key economic action plan legislative initiative.

Canadians have told us they want us to focus on creating jobs, building growth and opportunity. They have told us that they want their government to have a robust legislative agenda, to get tough on crime, and that is exactly what we are delivering.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among all parties and I believe you will find unanimous consent for the following motion.

I move that the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning the membership of the special committee on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan be deemed tabled and concurred in.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege with respect to the premature disclosure of a private member's bill.

On September 22, 2010, the hon. member for St. Paul's gave notice of a bill entitled, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census).

On September 23, 2010, the hon. member for St. Paul's posted a copy of her draft bill on her blog, the website of which I cannot name in this House because it contains the member's name.

The hon. member for St. Paul's only introduced the bill this morning in the House of Commons. I will provide the Speaker with a copy of the draft bill, which is available on the member's blog.

Rulings clearly state that the premature disclosure of a bill on notice is a clear breach of privileges of this House. On March 19, 2001, the Speaker ruled:

The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent role which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.

On November 5, 2009, the Speaker ruled:

Prior to giving notice of a bill, a minister or a private member developing a legislative initiative is of course free to discuss the proposal with anyone, but the House has the right to have first access to the text of the bill once it has been placed on notice. The specifics of a bill, once it has been placed on notice, should remain confidential until the bill is introduced.

A premature disclosure of a confidential bill on notice by the hon. member for St. Paul's is an abuse of the privileges of the House. Members will know that the colleagues of the hon. member for St. Paul's have repeatedly emphasized the importance of this matter.

On October 22, 2009, the hon. member for Beauséjour stated that the premature release of a bill is a “fundamentally unfair contempt of Parliament” and “a very serious matter”.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River stated:

The issue raised here, with respect, is not about embargoed copies....It is about...pre-empting the role of Parliament...about a bill before it is introduced in the House.... We in Parliament cannot let that happen.... [H]opefully, an appropriate committee can deal with this if, Mr. Speaker, you feel you cannot.

On October 27, 2009, the hon. member for Wascana expressed concern about the premature release of bills encroaching on the privileges of members.

The matter I have brought before the House, in my view, constitutes a clear question of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, if you find that there is a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the advice.

I think in 2010 it ought to be possible for members of Parliament to put a draft of what they are thinking about on their website for feedback from their constituents and from experts.

I will take it under advisement, but I think it is time that we moved into an era of consultation with our constituents. This was merely a draft that we placed on my website in order to get feedback at that time.

I will take it under advisement with the House leader. If the Speaker would like me to remove it from the website so that it does not predate the different bill that had my name on it this morning, then I will take the Speaker's advice.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing to take under advisement. The rules are clear. It seems that the hon. member for St. Paul's is arguing that there should be two sets of rules: one for the rest of Parliament, and a separate one for the Liberals.

It seems that the hon. member for St. Paul's is arguing that they are in effect above the law of this place. It seems that the hon. member for St. Paul's is arguing that the Liberal Party should be entitled to its entitlements.

Practices and procedures of this House apply to all of us equally, not just to the Liberal Party and certainly not just to the hon. member for St. Paul's.

There is nothing to be taken under advisement. The facts are clear. The precedents are clear. I ask for your ruling expeditiously on this matter.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues, factually, is probably whether or not this bill was on notice or not in the House.

I am sure all agree that the purpose of the House is to call the government to account, so the procedural rules involving government bills should be subscribed to religiously. I am quite sure it is not the role of the House to call individual private members to account.

There may be in the interpretation of the rules some need to distinguish and some appropriateness in distinguishing between private members' business and government business.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, building on my colleague's comments just moments ago, I think there is a distinction to be drawn between government bills and private members' bills as he has rightly pointed out.

There is the outstanding question of notice and when that took place in fact. There is also the question that stands in terms of the accuracy of the text in two places that the member has cited.

With respect to your ruling and your examination in this matter, Mr. Speaker, I would also put to you, it has been the practice of the government to, for example, release financial updates on a regular basis outside of the House of Commons. Since their arrival in government, the Conservatives have been releasing documents as a matter of course in town halls, in public places outside of the House. It builds on a tradition which that party began in the province of Ontario when it released budgets in car parts factories, for example.

We have to take a look at this in the fulsomeness and the wholeness of the pattern of conduct in the House. Mr. Speaker, I put it to you that you might want to consider some of these points in your deliberations.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. opposition House leader for his comments, but I will have to correct him in two places.

Mr. Speaker, you yourself ruled on November 5, 2009 that not only a government bill but a private member's bill must be tabled in the House before it is released to the public.

Also, the opposition House leader seems to indicate that there is a difference in the text of what appeared on the website of the member for St. Paul's and the text of her private member's bill that was tabled in this House just today. I have copies of both, which I will bring to your attention. They are identical. What was contained on the member's website was the bill that she introduced today. That cannot be allowed to occur.

Again I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to please carefully examine this and to make your ruling as expeditiously as possible.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from my friend from Ottawa South. He mentioned releasing economic updates, the action plan and the like, outside of this place.

Of course, the motion adopted by this House, moved by the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, and coincidentally seconded by the member for St. Paul's, said that on the condition that the government table reports in Parliament no later than five sitting days before the last allotted day in each of the supply periods ending March 26, 2009, June 23, 2009 and December 10, 2009, and obviously we are past that. That is why it was not tabled in the House.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to inform you that when the bill was placed on my website, it was for feedback and input. It was not in its final form. My name was not on the bill. It was a draft, as we had hoped. Today we tabled a bill very similar but in its final form today. It was not last week. It was out for consultation.

Premature Disclosure of a Private Member's BillPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I will be glad to see the papers that the parliamentary secretary is bandying about on this subject and examine them. If I can find the website in question, I will see if I can look at that. I am not good at this sort of thing, but my staff can assist in that. I will try to get back to the House as expeditiously as possible to cheer everybody up on this subject.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas had the floor before question period and he has 15 minutes in the time remaining for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to resume my remarks on Bill C-46.

I was going to provide a description of the current situation of trade between Canada and Panama. As of 2007, the two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Panama totalled a modest $149 million, including $128 million in exports from Canada to Panama, and $21 million in imports to Canada from Panama. Panama at the time was Canada's seventh largest export destination in Central America and the Caribbean and Canada's 12th largest source of imports from that region.

As for the export category, what Canada sends to Panama, the key piece in the last years has been flight simulators and parts. Next would be medications and other pharmaceutical products, then machinery and equipment and electrical/electronic products, followed by agricultural goods and food products, malt, pulses, potatoes and meat, and finally paper products and aircraft.

The imports that Canada received from Panama in 2008 were heavily concentrated in a couple of areas. The key one was crude oil and refined petroleum products. In 2008 more than one-half, 55% or $11.7 million, of Canada's imports from Panama consisted of refined heavy oil. In recent years crude oil has made up as much as 86% of Canada's imports from Panama. After crude oil and refined products imports, Canada has imported small amounts of tropical agricultural products such as bananas, melons and coffee and some silver ore. Those were the key imports from Panama to Canada.

Panama is not a major destination for Canadian direct investment abroad. Canadian direct investment in Panama totalled $111 million in 2006, falling from $143 million in 2005. Panama's modest source of direct investment in Canada with foreign direct investment stocks was $50 million in 2008. With regard to services, trade in services between Canada and Panama is negligible.

That gives us some sense of the trade situation currently between Canada and Panama. It is not a big player in terms of our export business, or imports to Canada.

There are some particular problems with the deal between Canada and Panama that we are being asked to ratify in Parliament. One of them is labour standards. We have heard a lot about that in the debate so far.

Panama's record on labour standards is not great, to put it mildly. The International Labour Organization, the ILO, has raised concerns about whether workers in Panama's export processing zones actually have the right to strike, even though unions and collective bargaining are permitted. The laws establishing and regulating these export processing zones in Panama do not include arbitration or specified procedures to resolve labour disputes. There are some problems with the existing labour laws in Panama and they need some attention.

Furthermore, there has been a record of violence against union organizers, union members and labour leaders in Panama. Labour leaders have been assassinated while demonstrating and working for workers' rights. Notably, in 2007 two members of the construction union were killed. Just this past summer anti-union repression escalated in Panama with the result that several workers were killed, over 100 were injured and 300 were arrested. There is a serious problem with anti-union and anti-worker violence in Panama.

This free trade agreement with Panama would provide a maximum government fine of $15 million for labour violations to the side agreement on labour. However, these fines are likely to be very difficult to collect and even if they are collected, they are paid to a joint commission to improve labour rights enforcement in Panama, which could also allow them to be funnelled back to the government of Panama.

A fine for the violation of labour rights in this scenario is then to be used to help the government do what it should have been doing in the first place. It does not seem like much of a punishment for the failure to respect labour laws and workers' rights to be forced to pay oneself a fine, essentially, and do what one should have been doing in the first place. This is an ineffective mechanism to enforce this side agreement on labour that is part of this agreement.

In this House in the past, when we were debating the Canada-Colombia deal, we talked about the side agreement on labour but that deal amounted to nothing more than a “kill a trade unionist and pay a fine” kind of agreement. It seems that this deal is no different as it follows the same pattern as the Canada-Colombia deal.

There are very serious problems with recognizing labour rights, respecting the rights of workers in Panama and providing any effective mechanism to uphold what has been negotiated as a side agreement. As we have pointed out many times, if labour rights and the recognition of workers' rights in Canada and Panama are important to these deals, then they should be part of the main agreement and not hived off to a separate side agreement with ineffective enforcement procedures in place.

There is also a concern about child labour in Panama. Poverty is a huge issue in Panama. Many people have very low income; a dollar a day in many cases. The United Nations radio reported that 55,000 children have dropped out of education to go to work because of extreme poverty. That report came out earlier this spring. Many children in Panama are not in school and the prime cause of that is the need for them to go to work. They leave their education and go to work at a very early age.

The Panamanian government reports that 114,168 children between the ages of 5 and 17 are working in Panama, most often in agriculture. In a country of just over 3 million people, over 114,000 children between the ages 5 and 17 working because of the poverty in which their families live is a huge number. This has increased from 2008 when 89,767 children in this age group were working.

Clearly, the efforts that the Panamanian government have agreed to undertake to make universal education available to children and to ensure that child labour is no longer an issue in Panama is not working. The efforts to get children out of the workforce and into school are not working.

We need ask whether that is the kind of country with which we want to enter into a trade deal. Is that the kind of country that we want to reward with special trade arrangements when it is not making progress on this kind of very serious child labour issue?

We have also heard a lot of serious concerns raised in the debate about entering into a free trade agreement with a country that is a notorious tax haven and a centre for money laundering. Panama is regarded as a tax haven by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, as well as several other countries, including the United States. In 2008, Panama was one of 11 countries that did not have a tax information exchange agreement signed or enforced. Panama is one of only three states, with Guatemala and Nauru, that would not share bank information for any tax information exchange purpose.

This situation led the OECD, back in 2000, to blacklist Panama as an unco-operative tax haven. In response to being blacklisted, the Republic of Panama wrote to the Secretary General of the OECD in 2002 with a commitment to meet the OECD's standards for transparency and information sharing so that it would no longer be considered a tax haven. The OECD has responded to that commitment and, I think, has bumped Panama off the blacklist and onto the so-called grey list. However, Panama has not followed through on that commitment.

Panama has not, to date, substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard to which it committed in 2002. That standard would have obliged Panama to share information upon the request of other countries such that those other countries could effectively implement their domestic tax laws.

Panama has gone from the blacklist to the grey list with a commitment to improve things but has done nothing about making those improvements. I have to wonder whether or it is not destined to be back on the blacklist before too long.

This has been an issue for the American Congress, which is looking at a trade agreement with Panama as well, and where that deal has also been delayed because of problems with the deal. U.S. Congressman, Michael Michaud, put it this way. He said:

Panama's industrial policy is premised on obtaining a comparative advantage by banning taxation of foreign corporations, hiding tax liabilities and transactions behind banking secrecy rules and the ease with which U.S. and other firms can create unregulated subsidiaries. According to the State Department, Panama has over 350,000 foreign-registered companies.

The congressman points out a very serious problem with the legislation in Panama that allows it to be this kind of tax haven.

We need to ask whether we really want to be signing a trade agreement with a notorious tax haven and centre for money-laundering.

Again, the U.S. Department of Justice notes that Panama is a major centre for money-laundering related to the drug trade and in fact there have been very serious concerns raised about the Colon Free Zone in Panama being linked to trafficking of drugs and other illicit substances.

The International Monetary Fund notes that the Colon Free Zone is a centrally located transit area for drugs. It is a very serious accusation coming from a respected international agency and one that we should be taking into consideration as we look to negotiating a deal with this country, in a sense rewarding the country with this kind of deal. There is no doubt that the government of Panama will trumpet its success in obtaining a deal with Canada and, given the very serious problems, do we really want to make that something easy for it to do?

I think all Canadians believe that the wealthy and big corporations should not be able to avoid contributing their fair share to the development of this country. They should be paying their taxes. Should we be dealing with a country that makes it possible for them to avoid paying taxes by operating as a tax haven? I am sure that most Canadians would answer very clearly that it is wrong and that we should not be entering into an agreement with a country has not cleaned up its act on that score.

There is not a word in this agreement about the tax haven situation and not a word about correcting this failure to exchange tax information with other countries. Today in question period we heard the Prime Minister say, very clearly, that the government had no tolerance for tax havens. I have to say that we would not know it by the fact that we have this agreement before us. The government is proposing that we enter into an agreement with a well-known and notorious tax haven in the Republic of Panama and it has put this agreement forward without any mention in the agreement of dealing with that issue. It is a very serious problem.

New Democrats are not opposed to trade. We are not opposed to fair trade deals. We want to ensure that Panama meets its international commitments and that it continues to develop, but this trade deal is not the mechanism to ensure that. We are not talking about ending our relationship with Panama. We are not talking about ending the trade that exists there or looking for other opportunities to expand that trade. We are not talking about ending diplomatic relations with Panama. However, what we are saying very clearly is that this deal does not meet the kinds of standards that Canadians would want us to uphold. Canadians would want to ensure that it was a fair agreement for Canadians and for Panamanians. Unfortunately, this agreement does not meet the test and, therefore, we cannot support it.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague outline the problems with this existing trade deal.

The issue here is that Canada has such a role to play internationally and with trade in terms of setting benchmarks, that we can actually begin to see development happen in many countries with troubled pasts, such as Panama and Colombia. We can do that by entering into trade agreements where we actually set some basic principles that have to be met, because it would certainly be in a country like Panama's interest to get the legitimation of a trade deal with Canada.

I am very concerned about the attitude of the Conservative government, which is a complete laissez-faire, roll over for whatever capital wants. In previous trade agreements it has turned a blind eye to the environmental devastation and to the horrific murders, for example, in Colombia of trade activists. In Panama, we have the issues of tax havens and the very dodgy banking practices that the government claims Canada does not support but has made no effort under this trade agreement to push back.

What does my hon. colleague think the implications are of Canada legitimizing an agreement with a country with excessive banking secrecy and the known money laundering that goes on, and how that plays out in terms of actually being able to develop a progressive agenda for a country like Panama?