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House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was countries.

Topics

He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the NDP amendments to take out certain key portions of Bill C-46, which is the implementation legislation on the free trade agreement with Panama.

The reason why the NDP is opposing this agreement, as many of the witnesses who came before the standing committee can attest, is because this is just another symbol of what has been a pretty dysfunctional trade strategy from the government.

Over the last 20 years, the middle class has been gutted. We have seen reduced incomes for most Canadian families and increasing inequality. Inequality in Canada is at the same level as it was in the 1920s. A lot of this is due to a series of bad right-wing economic policies that have been put forward, first, by the Liberal government and continued by the Conservative government. One of the components within that is how the Conservative government approaches trade strategy.

We will hear Conservatives in the House talk about how this is a fantastic opportunity and that Canadians will prosper. Canadians have heard that line in agreement after agreement. The government said the same thing about the softwood lumber sellout. It said the same thing about the ship building sellout. It said the same thing about the buy America sellout.

However, we have seen the contrary. We have seen middle class incomes eroding, poor Canadians getting less and struggling harder to make ends meet. In part, it is because the government signs these agreements without due thought to the consequences.

This may be surprising, but the Conservative government does not even do impact studies before it signs these agreements. It just goes ahead from the back of a napkin, hoping and praying that everything will turn out right.

It is fascinating to actually look, in real terms, at the export figures. Every time we have signed a bilateral trade agreement, our exports to those markets have actually gone down and not up.

We will hear some bafflegab from Conservatives later today and they will use a very clever trick. Instead of using real dollars, they will use current dollars. As we know, if we use current dollars, we can throw out anything and show that people are earning more money because the inflation rate and devaluation that takes place is not taken into consideration in that purchasing power. It is the same thing with exports. In real terms, in constant dollars comparing apples to apples in the markets that the Conservative government has signed these bilateral trade agreements, our exports have gone down. That is a statement of fact.

The Conservatives will try a lot of bafflegab, but a real reason why their trade strategy is so dysfunctional is because they have not done their homework and checked the figures. In fact, the NDP did the research through the Library of Parliament because, after asking DFAIT month after month, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was unable to give the actual real-term constant dollar value of our exports to those markets.

I will cut to the chase. We have a dysfunctional Conservative government with a dysfunctional trade strategy. The government is making most Canadians poorer because it is not giving due thought to the impacts of what these trade agreements are and has a rabidly right-wing approach on trade agreements generally.

We have signed a trade agreement with Panama, but what is the problem with Panama? In a study from the Internal Revenue Service of the United States, tax havens and criminality are mentioned as well as what happens in Panama because of its encouragement to launder dirty money. The study says that 75% of all sophisticated drug trafficking operations use offshore secrecy havens like Panama.

I will cite from Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works by Ronen Palan. He states, “It is evident to all who have studied the offshore banking business that its growth has been fuelled by the phenomenal increase in cash from the U.S. drug trade”.

The IRS states that of the investigations it has conducted, 45% involved illegal transactions derived from legal income and about 55% of cases actually dealt with illegal income from drug trafficking. The IRS cites the offshore money laundering havens where this takes place, which is very interesting. Leading them all is Panama and the Cayman Islands. The sites named by the IRS account for 85% of all cases involving transactions of illegal income.

It is not simply a process of signing a trade agreement with just any country. We are talking about the leading money laundering dirty drug money tax haven in all of the world tied with the Cayman Islands. The the government has a trade agreement with it.

I will not have time today to go into the labour violations, environmental standards or treatment of aboriginal people in Panama. However, I know my NDP colleagues will be mentioning this over the next few hours and days of debate. Instead I will focus on the issue of the money laundering of dirty drug money.

The Conservatives know full well the fundamental issue that has come up and stopped Congress in the United States from moving forward with a trade agreement with Panama. It apparently has higher standards than the Conservative government. One would think the Conservative government would then say that it would negotiate hard on behalf of Canadians, that it would put a stop to the money laundering of dirty drug money and that it would demand a tax information exchange agreement with the Panamanian government. It did not do that.

It sent a letter last year and the Panamanian government did not deign to respond for a long time. However, because the Conservatives are soft on the crime of money laundering dirty drug money decided they wanted to move ahead with the trade agreement, despite the fact it had absolutely no commitment from the Panamanian government to clean up the mess.

What response did they get? We will hear Conservatives say that they got a commitment from the Panamanian government to clean up all the money laundering of dirty drug money that takes place in Panama. That is what they will tell parliamentarians and the public, but they do not have a tax information exchange agreement. Even something minor like a double taxation agreement only deals with legal funds. It does not deal with the money laundering of dirty drug money that takes place in Panama as I speak.

The Conservatives did not get any of those assurances. However, there is a clause in the bill. What does the clause in the trade agreement actually say? It says that nothing should impede the transfer of funds in or out of the country. I guess what the Conservatives are saying is that not only is having a tax haven okay, which they are fine with as they are soft on the money laundering of dirty drug money, but it also says that they cannot stop the flow. If the Hells Angels decides it wants to money launder in Panama, I guess that means the trade agreement says that is okay, too.

These are the fundamental points about which people who voted for the Conservatives in the past should be concerned. We are not talking about economic development or progress. This dysfunctional trade policy has actually put the lie to those pretensions.

We would not be seeing most family incomes and exports to those bilateral markets go down in real terms, despite the bafflegab where the Conservatives try to magically produce, on the basis of current dollars, some kind of magical formula that does not take into consideration the fact that exports have gone down because the export strategy, pretty pathetically, is dysfunctional and failed. It is not just that. The agreement itself allows that protection and comfort for the money laundering of dirty drug money.

This is fundamentally hypocritical. It is appalling to me that a Conservative government that is so soft on white collar crime and so soft on the laundering of dirty drug money, if it is trying to push an election at the same time, would actually bring this bill forward. Over the next days of course we are going to be raising these issues, and of course Conservative voters would be the most concerned about this hypocrisy from the Conservative government.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the speech made by my NDP colleague. I think that he highlighted the problem with this free trade agreement. He talked about money laundering, whether it is being done by drug dealers or people who launder illegally obtained money. The public often wonders why our laws are not harsh enough for cases like that. But here we are talking about an agreement with a country that is a tax haven and that encourages such practices. These examples show the public how it is possible for regular people and criminals to do this right in front of the police, because it is allowed. These people can do this in countries like that.

I would like my colleague to expand on that.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain for his question.

He understood correctly. The witnesses we heard in committee were very clear about this. There is absolutely nothing to prevent the money laundering that is still happening in Panama. Moreover, if past practices are any indication, Panama is one of the worst offenders in the world in this regard.

I was surprised. I thought that the Department of International Trade would hold a press conference with Mom Boucher to promote this bill. However, as understand it, Mom Boucher is not available at the moment. I find this type of situation absurd: if you are a drug dealer, criminal or money launderer, then you have a friend in the Conservatives. They are proposing an agreement that will serve only to increase money laundering and illegal drug operations.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, since my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas raised the issue of his party having done an impact study, and also because he and I both served on the transport committee, I wonder whether he would be prepared to share with us what impact the development of the Panama Canal would have on the transportation routes resident in our Pacific gateway strategy, most specifically with the ports in the Lower Mainland, and with some of the commerce that flows from that.

I wonder if he would share with us whether his impact study would give us an indication that the free trade agreement would compensate for the loss of the transportation services that would accrue to the Pacific gateway ports.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I did not say that the NDP had done an impact study. I would like to state for the record and for the member for Eglinton—Lawrence that what I was saying was that it was surprising to me that the Conservative government, regardless of the agreement it tossed on the floor of the House of Commons, never does its due diligence. The Conservative government never does its homework. It never does the homework that is required to actually present the case to Canadians.

Now the Conservatives will do a lot of cheerleading. We will hear it this afternoon. We know exactly what they are going to say, that It is all about economic prosperity. However, hard-working Canadians who are working harder and harder for less and less are seeing jobs going overseas. They are seeing the kinds of deals that actually encourage the laundering of dirty drug money. I think those Canadians are very skeptical now about the kind of vacuous cheerleading we hear from the Conservatives on this.

The Liberals are not obliged to support the Conservatives on this, and we hope the Liberals will be on board with voting against this bad deal.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to this bill. I did not expect to be speaking to additional NDP amendments to the bill, but I can honestly say I am not terribly surprised.

Without question these amendments are dilatory, obstructionist and unnecessary. They are a thinly veiled attempt to kill the bill, nothing more, nothing less. Worse yet, in my opinion, they disrespect the committee process because all committee members had ample opportunity to put forward all of their amendments at committee stage. We had lengthy debate and heard numerous witnesses, yet here we are debating four amendments that have nothing to do with the substance of the bill. They are only here to kill the bill.

I am happy to speak to Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, and am privileged to do so.

We need to recognize a few facts, because the previous speech was pretty short on facts.

Panama is a strategic hub for the Americas. It is an important nexus of commercial activity throughout the region. It is already an important market for Canadian businesses. In 2009, two-way merchandise trade between our countries totalled $132.1 million. Panama is a market with great potential, and this free trade agreement would help Canadian businesses take advantage of the opportunities that it offers. I have a personal example.

There is an engineering firm in my riding that specializes in the oil and gas sector. At the present time it is looking at some contracts in Panama. In order to fulfill those contracts, because of the duty, the company is better off to use its subsidiary business in Mexico and ship straight from Mexico to Panama. If this deal goes through, those jobs will stay in Canada.

This agreement would also establish a level playing field so that our companies could maintain or improve their competitiveness in a market where strong competitors, such as the United States and the European Union, have or are seeking preferential access.

A Canada-Panama free trade agreement would result in tangible benefits for Canadians. For example, it would be of key importance to Canadian merchandise exporters.

In 2009, two-way trade between Canada and Panama in non-agricultural merchandise amounted to $104.2 million with Canada's non-agricultural exports to Panama totalling $68 million. The hon. member wants to ignore the numbers as if they did not exist, but we have substantive trade between Canada and Panama now. It begs the question: why would we not include clearer rules to establish beneficial rules-based trading with a country that we are already trading with, that helps Canadian businesses and helps Canadian jobs?

Key Canadian non-agricultural exports to that market have included pharmaceuticals, machinery, vehicles and electrical and electronic equipment. Once implemented, our agreement with Panama would immediately eliminate tariffs on 99.9% of recent non-agricultural imports from Canada. The agreement would eliminate tariffs ranging from 5% to 11% on Canadian pharmaceutical exports to Panama, which amounted to $10.8 million last year.

Canadian machinery and automotive exports to Panama are currently subjected to tariffs as high as 15% to 20% respectively. Under the free trade agreement these barriers would be eliminated.

In these challenging economic times, when our manufacturing sector benefits, the country benefits.

In the forestry sector the Canada-Panama free trade agreement would eliminate tariffs as high as 15% on a range of wood and paper products, creating new opportunities for Canadians in the export of lumber, plywood, books, packaging materials and other products.

Here at home the forestry industry accounts for approximately 12% of Canada's manufacturing GDP and directly employs 230,000 Canadians. As the Forest Products Association of Canada has said, it is the economic lifeblood of over 200 communities in our country. Our government is working to ensure that industries like this one that contribute so much to our economy have access to growing markets like Panama and have the ability to make the most of the opportunities there.

In terms of our agricultural trade, Canadian producers exported $23.6 million of agriculture and agrifood products into Panama in 2009, and there is room to improve.

Panama currently applies tariffs on many agricultural products, some as high as 20%. Once implemented, the free trade agreement would immediately eliminate tariffs on goods accounting for 94% of Canada's agricultural exports to Panama. This would benefit Canadian farmers countrywide, including exporters of frozen french fries, pulses, malt, oilseeds, beef and pork products, maple syrup and Christmas trees.

Canada Pork International has gone on record that Panama is one of the Canadian pork producers' top 15 markets. Approximately $5 million worth of pork products are exported there each year. They support the Canada-Panama free trade agreement and have emphasized the importance of moving ahead with this agreement to take advantage of entering a market ahead of our largest competitors.

The benefits of having access to the Panamanian market do not end with our agricultural and non-agricultural goods, producers and exporters. A free trade agreement with Panama would also improve access for Canadian service providers looking to enter this dynamic and growing market. Panama is a services-oriented economy and some in Canada's service sector have already established operations there.

In 2008, our commercial services exports to Panama totalled $12 million. This includes those providing financial services, engineering and professional services, information and communication technology services, and others.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would help Canadian service providers expand their operations, pursue new opportunities, and keep pace with their competitors.

In its services negotiations, Canada obtained access beyond Panama's World Trade Organization commitments, particularly in areas of export interest to Canada, including mining services, energy services and environmental services. This means preferential access for Canadian service providers in sectors where Canada has expertise to share.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would also establish new rules to govern trade in services, ensuring the secure, predictable and equitable treatment of service providers from both countries.

This is to ensure that a company such as SNC Lavalin, which is leading a consortium to build a $4 billion copper mine in Panama, owned by Inmet, a Canadian mining company, will directly benefit from this agreement.

We are making our way through some difficult economic times. Many hard-working Canadians are looking for us to show leadership on the economy, promote sustainable economic improvements, and create opportunities for job growth. Our government has made a commitment to do just that, to help Canadians capitalize on their expertise and expand into new and exciting markets.

Canada's producers, exporters and service providers are constantly faced with fierce competition, and we must do what we can to ensure they compete on even ground with their competitors.

We must continue to reduce barriers to trade and negotiate competitive terms of access in global markets. We must show the world that Canada's businesses are second to none.

A free trade agreement with Panama would help to do this.

For all of these reasons, I call on all hon. members in this House, including the members of the NDP, to support Bill C-46.

In the time remaining, I would like to summarize some of the highlights of this bill. There are a couple that we cannot ignore.

We cannot ignore the increased traffic that will go through Panama after it is finished twinning the Panama Canal. We can look at that as an obstruction, a challenge, or we can look at that as an opportunity. Quite frankly, I look at it as an opportunity. There is no reason that increased flow of traffic cannot feed our container ports on the west coast and east coast of Canada.

We simply do not have to wait for the European Union or the United States to sign free trade agreements before we come in a day late and a dollar short. We are leading the way, we are promoting Canadian businesses, and we intend to continue.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I do have a question with regard to taxes. A number of concerns have been raised by a number of colleagues about the tax haven issue, the worry that Panama provides some opportunity for tax havens.

Now, I will be the first to say that these tend to be taken advantage of by the people who do not actually follow the rules, and there is no indication that increased trade would actually allow any increased activity in this regard. However, there has been some effort of the part of the Canadian and Panamanian governments to enter into some form of a tax agreement, whether it be a double tax treaty to avoid double taxation or a tax information exchange agreement.

I wonder if my hon. colleague could speak a bit to where those negotiations stand.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Madam Speaker, it is an important question. It is also one that certainly merits some discussion.

I appreciate the hon. member's comments that we do not expect that everyone doing business with Panama is looking to launder money. That is something that we need to address. Certainly, by far, 99.99% of all Canadian businesses doing business in Panama are there for legitimate and correct reasons.

On the issue of co-operation with the finance department and Panama, our Minister of International Trade has been in contact with his appropriate counterparts in Panama. We expect Panama to live up to all of its obligations under the OECD.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, in trade deals, the government has a propensity to make side agreements. In particular, I am talking about, in this case, as in others, the side agreements on labour and environmental issues. Of course, the biggest problem with that is enforcement, as there is no enforcement mechanism.

I have a question for the parliamentary secretary. I am wondering if he agrees with me that if these agreements were not side agreements but actually in the body of the trade agreement, and therefore enforceable so that disagreements could be worked out between the two countries to ensure that labour and environmental rights were protected, whether this would go a long way in this place toward getting more agreement on this sort of deal.

I wonder if he would like to make a comment on that.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. It is a reasonable and responsible question.

The issue here is quite simple. We are actually dealing with a trade agreement. We are not dealing with an agreement that is specifically on labour or on the environment; we are dealing with an agreement on trade. The trade agreement has an appendix with an agreement on labour and an agreement on the environment along with it, because of the importance we place upon proper labour laws, rules and regulations and proper environmental laws, rules and regulations. Therefore, we penned an appendix to the trade agreement.

However, it is a trade agreement. It is not a separate agreement on labour or a separate agreement on the environment. We appreciate the importance of both issues and have included them within the bill.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, the bill should be called “Drug traffickers: You can keep the proceeds of crime act”, because that is exactly what the current government is presenting. “Send the proceeds of crime to Panama” is what the government is saying.

I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary, because he has just not dealt with any of the witnesses who spoke to this issue, why is he saying the IRS is wrong in investigating so many cases of dirty drug money laundering in Panama?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Madam Speaker, what this bill should be called is “Opportunity”. There is opportunity here for Canadian businesses. There is opportunity for Canadian services. There is opportunity for the non-agricultural sector. There is opportunity for the agricultural sector.

I would ask one more time for the NDP to withdraw its position, to back up and actually support this piece of legislation.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, first, I must talk about the amendments proposed by my colleague. He is asking that numerous clauses be deleted, yet he said that they are key clauses. Frankly, that is a problem.

He is asking that clause 7 be deleted, but that clause sets out the purpose of the bill. If the description of the purpose of the bill is taken out, I think that poses a bit of a problem. He is also asking that clause 10 be deleted. That clause contains institutional and administrative provisions. Without these kinds of clauses, there would be no bill.

He is also asking that clause 12 be deleted. This clause deals with panels, working groups and other people involved in administering this bill, particularly in terms of labour and the environment. I know that those topics are extremely important to my colleague. In addition, he is asking that clause 63 be deleted, but that contains the coming into force provision. Without these clauses, there is no bill, and frankly, I feel that my colleague is playing games here in the House. We have already discussed these issues in committee.

I will now say that we will not support the amendments, and I would like to take a bit more time to talk about the bill, as currently drafted.

I just briefly explained why we do not support the amendments proposed by my colleague. In effect, they were already proposed and dealt with in committee, and were they to be put into effect they would effectively destroy the bill. As much as I respect my colleague, I find this a bit of an abuse of time in the House of Commons; it really is playing games. I would rather we dealt with the substance of the legislation, the implementation of a free trade agreement with Panama. I am pleased to say that the Liberal Party is in support of this particular bill.

I will provide members with some statistics. In 2008, Panama had one of the highest real GDP growth rates in the Americas, at 10.7%. Despite the global economic downturn, Panama posted positive growth in 2009, at 2.4%, a trend that was expected to continue in 2010. We await confirmation of those numbers.

The expansion of the Panama Canal is currently under way and slated to be completed by 2014, at a projected cost of $5.3 billion. This expansion alone is expected to generate opportunities for Canadian companies in such areas as infrastructure and construction, as well as environmental, heavy engineering and consulting services, capital projects, human capital development and construction materials. Like the free trade agreements between Canada, Chile and Costa Rica, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the free trade agreement proposed with Jordan but not yet ratified for a number of reasons, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes side agreements on labour cooperation and the environment.

Panama is indeed a relatively small economy. We would prefer that Canada were able to pursue multilateral trade negotiations through the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, those negotiations have come to an effective standstill. We do support the efforts to engage in negotiations for bilateral trade agreements, including with Panama.

Although Panama is a relatively small economy, in 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to that country, which maybe is not as much as to some trading partners, but it is fairly significant for those enterprises, the agricultural, agrifood, construction, and a variety of other sectors in that country. The $90 million is a significant amount of business, and this trade deal stands to significantly increase that figure.

Panama is also a stable country that has made significant progress in recent years in development and democracy, which Canada is well placed to continue to encourage. This is a significant aspect of our trade philosophy.

Freer trade encourages a freer flow of information and a freer flow of ideas. Rather than building walls, freer trade opens windows through which light comes through, and opens doors through which Canadians can engage on all sorts of levels with others. If we isolate countries, our capacity to engage on human rights or to discuss issues, such as the one we and others have raised today, the issue of tax havens, we only reduce our ability to engage with and help those countries improve.

Panama has engaged in significant efforts through the OECD to enhance its activities and its reputation internationally. I believe we stand in a very good position to encourage rather than discourage that effort.

We support this bill. Despite concerns about the current lack of a double taxation treaty and a tax information exchange agreement between Canada and Panama, we should support this bill.

I want to emphasize the fact that the Canadian and Panamanian governments have already begun to work on a tax agreement. Panama has asked that we implement an agreement to avoid double taxation, while Canada would prefer an agreement about exchanging tax information. However, the two governments are in talks to set up a tax agreement.

Although there have been some concerns raised about the suggestion that Panama acts as or provides a tax haven and money-laundering opportunities, the Government of Panama and the Government of Canada have worked very hard so far to establish an agreement on the exchange of tax information.

In the first instance, Panama asked Canada to enter into an agreement to eliminate double taxation. Canada responded by asking instead for an agreement on the exchange of information with regard to taxes. Panama came back and said no. It said that it would prefer a double tax treaty. It should be stressed that the traditional OECD model of a tax treaty, which is the one Canada always signs, has a full article dealing with the exchange of tax information.

We support the bill for two reasons. First, it would provide significant improvements to opportunities for Canadian enterprises and therefore encourage Canadian jobs. Second, because Panama does not have a trade agreement right now with the United States, we heard a number of witnesses at committee stress how the United States is worried about Canada signing this deal because of the significant competitive advantage that it will provide to those very Canadian enterprises. I will include agriculture, agri-food and construction. Earlier in my speech, I outlined a number of the areas in which we would stand to benefit.

That significant competitive advantage for Canadian enterprises, given the lack of a similar agreement so far with the Americans, given the pressure on the American government to sign such an agreement and given the fact that the Canadian and Panamanian governments have been working toward a tax agreement of one kind or another that would provide information on the exchange of tax information, has strongly provided the basis for our support of this bill and for the conclusion and ratification of the free trade agreement with Panama.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I happen to agree with the member for Willowdale that deleting clause 7, which deals with the purpose of the bill, would somewhat take away from the bill. However, she also spoke about the benefits that Canada would get from this bill.

Given some of the demographics we are experiencing in Canada today, there is no question that we will need to compete very much on high value-added services. Having been an employee for SNC-Lavalin at one point in time, I do know the value of the engineering services and the $5.3 billion for the construction of the Panama Canal, plus the mine that the parliamentary secretary referred to. Could she just elaborate a little more on what this means for us in exporting value-added services and what it means for the growth of a strong workforce in Canada?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, Canadian enterprises of a variety of sorts would absolutely stand to benefit. The expansion of the canal is only one aspect. Of course that includes companies like SNC-Lavalin, but also a whole variety of other companies that engage in construction, provide construction materials and provide consulting services. Environmental technology services are in high demand and Canada is highly regarded internationally as a source of that kind of consulting service.

However, I also want to stress that we heard many witnesses at committee from the agricultural and agri-food sectors. Farmers in many regions of the country have been having a very tough time. We also know that many Canadians in the manufacturing sector have been having a very difficult time. There absolutely is benefit in engaging in greater trade with countries like Panama because the more opportunities we have to export products, services, knowledge and ideas, the more the people in Canada who are involved in producing, creating, and participating in those activities benefit. So it absolutely would be a net benefit to Canadian enterprise, Canadian farmers and Canadian jobs.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, what everyone can assume is that the position of the Liberal Party is not to worry about the money laundering of dirty drug money because somehow this trade agreement will magically wave it all away.

As everyone will recall, that was the Liberal position on the Colombia trade deal and since the Liberals worked with the Conservatives to ram the Colombia trade deal through, we have tragically seen an increase in the number of murders by the secret police and military and paramilitary forces in Colombia. It is the same line that we had from the Liberals on Colombia, that somehow things magically would go away. It was false and it is false on Panama.

I would like to ask the hon. member if she would not prefer to simply come clean with the Canadian public and say that her party was wrong on Columbia and that maybe they are wrong on Panama and perhaps should vote against it.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I find it a little challenging to have an allegation that somehow we are responsible for deaths in Colombia.

In any event, I am extremely proud of the fact that my Liberal colleague from Kings—Hants worked incredibly diligently with the Colombian and the Conservative governments to add a piece to the Colombia free trade agreement specifically dealing with human rights. We are, as Liberals, extremely proud of that fact.

It is nonsense to suggest that we somehow support the idea of tax havens and money laundering. As I said in my speech earlier, the people engaged in money laundering and looking for tax havens, whether they be in the Caymans, Panama, Switzerland, Liechtenstein or any number of places, are people who break the law. These are people who will not be paying attention to whether there is a free trade agreement in place. We do not support that.

I reiterate that I am very encouraged by the efforts of both the Canadian and Panamanian governments to move forward on an agreement with respect to taxes. Canada stands in a very good place to encourage countries that are moving forward. Panama is working very hard to move forward with the OECD regulations. This is an opportunity for Canada to encourage that kind of behaviour rather than to discourage it.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois at this stage of Bill C-46.

Amendments have been proposed, and some of our colleagues have claimed that they gut the bill. It is exactly for that reason that we support these amendments.

This bill would implement a free trade agreement with Panama, which is not a good agreement. Many people, both Conservatives and Liberals, have spoken about the economic advantages. However, we cannot deny, and I believe we must acknowledge, that Panama continues to be a tax haven in the eyes of the OECD. Panama has not been taken off the OECD's grey list of tax havens.

Apparently, Panama has taken steps to be removed from this list, but that has not yet happened. Panama still has to conclude agreements and tax treaties with certain countries. Canada would be able to verify or monitor tax evasion by Canadian citizens if it signed a tax information exchange agreement with Panama.

When the bill was being studied, we heard that the Minister of Finance or the Minister of International Trade, I do not remember which one, had written to his counterpart in Panama about negotiating and signing such an agreement. The committee asked different witnesses on a number of occasions if Panama had agreed. To date, we have not been given an answer. We even heard a representative of the Government of Panama tell us, at the Standing Committee on International Trade, that it was not in the interests of his government to enter into a tax information exchange agreement with Canada.

If it is not in the interests of the Government of Panama, why is the Canadian government so intent, despite everything, on going ahead with this free trade agreement and passing an implementation bill, when that would mean giving away all our bargaining power with respect to Panama?

It is because we have given in to Panama. We have given in and will allow it to have free rein so that Panama can tax Canadian businesses. It has said that it wants to sign a double taxation agreement, which really means a no tax agreement. Canadian businesses will be able to repatriate profits to Canada, tax-free, and pay minimum tax in Panama. That is absolutely unbelievable.

The Canada Revenue Agency cannot even say estimate how much tax revenue it will lose because of such an agreement, how much tax leakage the middle class will have to make up through their work and their own taxes.

It is absolutely incredible that we are moving forward with such an agreement. That is why the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the proposed amendments. At least some attempts have been made to improve the bill. In committee, it was proposed that Canada and the Republic of Panama ratify a tax information exchange agreement, based on the OECD model agreement on the effective exchange of tax information, that would not cause Canada to lose tax revenue.

The Conservatives and the Liberals voted against that idea. They could at least have said they want to conclude a free trade agreement with Panama. As many have pointed out, such an agreement might not be such a bad idea.

However, if we end up losing revenue and promoting tax evasion and money laundering, I think that ethically speaking, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Should we continue to move forward with this? The Bloc Québécois says no. We absolutely must wait and see whether this possible agreement could be used as a negotiating tool and as a way to put pressure on Panama to get off the OECD's grey list of tax havens and sign a tax information exchange agreement with Canada. That would be fairer for Canada.

I want to come back to the testimony of Richard Montroy, a Canada Revenue Agency senior manager who testified at the Standing Committee on International Trade on November 17. We asked him whether companies could still bring tax-free profits back to Canada when there is a tax information exchange agreement in addition to a free trade agreement. He said yes.

In other words, there will always be companies bringing money back home no matter what. However, if we had all the tax information on Canadians and their investments in certain countries, we could recover some of the money that is eluding the Canada Revenue Agency.

That is not the case. The government has given up. The Bloc Québécois thinks we absolutely must support these amendments, go back to the drawing board and wait until Panama does its homework before moving forward.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member that, although the witness did say that it was not in Panama's interest to sign a tax information exchange agreement, what he meant was that the country would rather sign a double taxation convention. Panama has asked Canada twice to sign a tax information agreement. It is not that Panama does not want to sign an agreement but that it wants to sign a more comprehensive one.

I would like to ask the hon. member this: How will this help Canadian farmers, businesses and individuals who are currently able to export more goods to Panama? How would they benefit if the agreement were not signed?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, the hon. member raised two points. She spoke about the testimony that the representative of the Panamanian government gave in committee. Although she was there too, I do not share her opinion that the representative clearly stated that it is not in the Panamanian government's interest to sign a tax information exchange agreement. To me, it seems obvious that a tax information exchange agreement associated with a double taxation convention, or no taxation for one of the countries, is much more comprehensive. When one of the two parties involved in such an agreement refuses to exchange tax information, it is because the party in question has something to hide. It is obvious. A tax information exchange agreement would allow both countries to know the value of the investors' assets and investments. Panama has rejected this completely. To me this is obvious.

With regard to the hon. member's second question about farmers and business people, clearly, postponing an agreement gives everyone the opportunity to adapt and it puts pressure on Panama. However, that does not mean that farmers cannot continue to profit from the situation.

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's input at the Standing Committee on International Trade. I disagree with his position on Panama, but I have a question on which we may be in agreement.

The issue is fairly simple. Canada and Panama are already trading substantially, hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars' worth of trade. How could it hurt to put clear rules around the trade that already exists and reduce tariffs and barriers for Canadian businesses? How could that hurt Canadians?

Motions in AmendmentCanada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, in response to my colleague, I would say that we do not need a free trade agreement to define some clear rules. We could very easily start by creating a tax information exchange agreement and then negotiate a double taxation agreement, if necessary. We do not need to sign an agreement first.

The main problem now is that we are doing things backwards. When a country is recognized as a tax haven, we should sign a tax agreement before signing a free trade agreement. But that is not the case here.

Foreign AffairsStatements by Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, our government is concerned with the recent wave of executions in Iran. According to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, at least 66 people were executed in January 2011. Among those was the Dutch-Iranian, Zahra Bahrami, who was hanged before the legal process against her was completed.

We are particularly concerned about Saeed Malekpour, a prominent resident of Canada, who was condemned to death when the software he created was allegedly deemed to be offensive by the regime. Mr. Malekpour is but one of the many Iranians who face disproportionately harsh punishment for dubious offences.

This government will continue to hold Iran accountable for meeting its international and domestic human rights obligations, including fair treatment and due process to all those in its prisons and before its courts.

Entrepreneurs in the Kedgwick AreaStatements by Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, on Saturday, January 29, I had the pleasure of attending the annual entrepreneur appreciation night organized by the Kedgwick Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The annual banquet is an opportunity to pay tribute to the region's entrepreneurial community. This year, the Kedgwick Regional Chamber of Commerce highlighted the work of four individuals. The honourees for 2010 were: business of the year—Michel Damphousse, Pharmacie Kedgwick; female entrepreneur—Rina Couturier, Cantine Yum Yum; volunteer of the year—Donald Gagnon; young volunteer—Kerry-Lyne Savoie.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the time and effort they have put into their own success and that of the community. Their leadership and drive make them remarkable people.

Once again, I offer my congratulations and say to them, the people of Madawaska—Restigouche are very proud of you.

Gaëtane VernaStatements by Members

February 3rd, 2011 / 2 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, La Presse recently focused on 15 people who are shaping Quebec's artistic landscape.

I am particularly proud to say that Gaëtane Verna, director and chief curator of Joliette's art museum, is included on that list. The article lists the many successes of this dynamic woman, including the publication of a guide to the museum's collection and her commitment to renovating the museum.

The day after this article was published, Ms. Verna used the opening of the first exhibit of 2011 to acknowledge the work of her team, without whom, she says, she never would have made it on the list.

Ms. Verna, who has headed this Lanaudière institution for five years, stated that an institution such as the one she runs would be nothing without the volunteers, the artists, the board of directors, the partners and, of course, the public.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I want to congratulate Ms. Verna and show our admiration for the high-calibre contribution she brings to the cultural life of Quebec.