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House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Mississauga South had the floor and there are five minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. member for Mississauga South.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to complete my comments on Bill C-46, the free trade bill between Canada and Panama.

Just generally, I have had some concerns about bilateral trade deals that we have entered into. I have spoken in the past on the Colombia free trade deal. Issues at the time had to do with human rights abuses, displacing people in the cause of improving corporate opportunities, corruption of government and the judiciary, a whole host of issues that had very little to do with the benefits of bilateral trade.

In the case of Panama in Bill C-46, we do not have the same kinds of elements but we do have one that is extremely important to demonstrate that we cannot just look at trade and the benefits of trade in isolation. Our trade exchange with Panama now is very insignificant in the scheme of things, but the expansion of the Panama Canal brings some hope and promise for increased traffic through the canal and opportunities for businesses, particularly for Canada in the construction, engineering and consulting firms. Agriculture may also have some benefits.

The other area is taxation. The finance committee is now looking at tax havens and their use as instruments for tax evasion. This is a very serious problem. It is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. With regard to Panama, the committee heard by teleconference from a witness from the OECD, Mr. Owens, who confirmed to the committee that Panama was rated as in the grey scale. That is pretty well the worst concern one could have in terms of harbouring tax evaders and the secrecy that allows them to do it.

On Thursday, Mr. Donald Johnston, who was a former minister of finance for Canada in the early 1980s and a former secretary-general of the OECD, re-affirmed and confirmed Mr. Owens comments that Panama was one of the biggest problem areas in terms of promoting or at least facilitating evasion of taxes.

The current bill does not specifically incorporate any provisions to address the tax evasion problem, which is a very expensive problem for Canada. However, there are double taxation agreements in place with other countries to ensure that a Canadian, for instance, will not be taxed in one jurisdiction and also in Canada.

The other and probably equally important issue is the tax information sharing agreements. These agreements are the instruments that would allow us to obtain more information about those who have set up situations that would probably allow them to evade taxes in Canada. That is not part of this agreement. The point of my speech so far has been that, as we enter into trade agreements, we should exhaust every opportunity to establish a good faith relationship with that country so we can deal with some of our mutual problems.

I am concerned that government members have not been speaking to this bill, which is at report stage, because if a member of the government stands to speak to it they will be subject to questions by all other hon. members. They do not want that. They do not want to be held accountable and that concerns me and it should concern all Canadians.

Trade is an important issue but democracy is a more important issue.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be speaking later to the bill and will be echoing some of the concerns that the member has mentioned, particularly around the OECD and the concerns that have been raised. As he mentioned, there was testimony at committee about concerns that the OECD raised and ones that we share.

When we look at a sequential approach, one would think that issue would be paramount to deal with that issue around concerns of banking, tax havens and disclosure.

In light of the concerns that the member has quite rightly put forward and which we brought forward in committee and spoke to in the House, can the member see fit to actually support this bill or is he stating unequivocally today that he will be voting against this bill when it comes to a vote?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my comments yesterday and this morning, the issues with regard to tax havens, tax avoidance, information sharing agreements, et cetera, are not part of this bill and have not been part of any bilateral trade bill that Canada has entered into. On occasion there have been side agreements or other matters.

My point is that the government needs to recognize that these are important opportunities as we enter into trade relationships with other countries and that we must also address other mutual points of interest, such as tax evasion.

In answer to the member's question, trade is important for us to consider. I would have liked to have heard more from the government as to its justification and its affirmations about the benefits that will come out of this one. However, the government has not spoken. I do know, however, that the trade deal as it stands now is in itself and in isolation some benefit for Canada, particularly to the agricultural sector and possibly the engineering, construction and consulting areas.

I will be supporting the trade bill but I want to ensure that all hon. members realize that there are these other issues that should be on the table at the same time as we negotiate these deals and that we should consider more multilateral deals rather than dealing with the bilaterals because it is so important in many of these same regions of Panama.

I will be supporting the bill but I do share the member's concerns.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear all of the hon. member's presentation but I heard enough to understand that he wants to support this bill; his main argument is that it would be good for Canada. I want to ask him what he means by that since we know that Panama is a tax haven and that companies establish themselves there specifically to avoid the taxes that ordinary citizens like you and me have to pay.

I am therefore wondering how he can say that it is a good idea to encourage business investments in a tax haven that is on the OECD's grey list.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me an opportunity to explain to members that tax havens are not illegal. Tax haven means that there is a tax regime or a jurisdiction where the tax rates are lower in that jurisdiction than they are in Canada. A company would establish operations in that other country and be able to do some of its business out of there and pay a lower rate of tax than in Canada.

The problem is not the tax haven. The problem is not reporting that income in Canada. We should understand that tax havens are not illegal and they are not bad. They help a lot of good companies to be better and bigger than they otherwise could be in a higher tax jurisdiction.

Tax avoidance is also not illegal. Tax avoidance is in fact necessary because people are entitled to pay the least amount of tax that they legally owe but not more. Tax evasion, however, is illegal, and that is when people do not pay any tax, do not report any income and decide to take care of themselves first. That is what we are going after. The OECD is concerned that there are far too many opportunities for companies to establish themselves in tax haven jurisdictions and to evade taxes. That is the problem and that is why it should be on the agenda of the government but it has not been and it has not explained why.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I join with others in debating Bill C-46 regarding free trade with Panama. Negotiations were concluded back in August 2009 and, according to the government, there was a comprehensive free trade agreement with Panama. The agreement also includes side agreements. We saw this pattern with regard to Colombia on labour and environment. After the negotiations were completed in August 2009, there were formal signings in May 2010.

When Bill C-46 passed second reading in October 2010, it was then referred to the committee which went through a clause by clause review of it. It is important that we and all Canadians know that the NDP brought forward amendments that would deal with some of the concerns raised by a member of the Liberal Party just a minute ago, including those around tax information, exchange agreements, double taxation, et cetera. Sadly, however, they were defeated. I will, however, put on the record that they were not just defeated by the Conservatives. They had help from the Liberal Party in defeating some of those amendments, which would have passed if there had been support from the Liberal Party.

When we look at the concerns raised by the Liberals, it is important to note that when they had the opportunity in committee to deal with those concerns, they sided with the government on this. It calls into question what the Liberal Party is doing. However, I will leave it to the Liberals to explain their dynamics on this. On the one hand, they are saying that they have concerns about tax havens. I was shocked to hear one of the members of the Liberal Party say that tax avoidance and tax havens were okay because that is a way of doing business but that we want to ensure it is reported. I will leave that for them to discuss among themselves.

However, it is very difficult to understand the Liberals' position when it comes to this bill. On the one hand they say that this is terrible and that we should not be dealing with this kind of trade agreement because of all the concerns around tax havens and double taxation. The list is long and it sounds very similar to our concerns. On the other hand, the Liberals are saying that they will vote with the government on this.

It is perplexing. I know what the Conservatives' strategy is. They have decided that multilateralism is not the way to go and so they are rushing around trying to sign up anyone to a bilateral agreement, which is precarious at best. I think it shows a lack of vision in terms of where we should be going with international trade. For the record, we have stated time and again in this House that we should be going toward a multilateral approach.

My father worked for many years as a public servant dealing with the GATT. It was important at that time for Canada to deal at a multilateral level, My father would negotiate with other countries on behalf of this country on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We know what happened to that. We know what happened with the Doha round. However, the government now says that maybe it should one day get back to that but, in the meantime, it goes down this bilateral route which undermines the whole approach of multilateralism.

Let us put aside for a second the concerns we have with this deal. Does anyone really think that signing a free trade agreement with Panama will lead to the economic prosperity of Canada? Let us get real here. We need only look at how much investment there is between the two countries. What it does is it undermines that whole intention that many of us have of going down the multilateral route. It is an opportunity that costs and it also decries this notion that we should be trying to work with other like-minded countries, particularly those in the G8 that are looking toward a fairer trade regime, and saying that we all have concerns around the way trade is done and we need to work together to ensure particularly the bigger economies in the world will follow some sort of fair regime.

However, the government is not doing that. It is going off on our own, cap in hand, to anyone who will sign one of these agreements and clearly doing it for political reasons.

As I said, no one really believes that signing a trade agreement with Panama will lead to a green and pleasant land in Canada. In fact, the government will try to spin people by saying how great it is because it is signing all these trade agreements, as if that will make a difference in lives of people. It will not. What it will do, and we have seen this in the debate and the details as we have gone over them, is make it more precarious for Canadians and also for those who are concerned about issues around international banking.

In terms of disclosure of tax revenues and investments and tax havens, the government is sending a message to the international community that it is willing to sign a deal with Panama, without having had the concerns that other governments, like France, have had about disclosure. The sequence is entirely wrong. If we thought this was the way to go, we should have dealt with the concerns of the OECD with tax havens, taxation and disclosure. However, that did not happen.

What is the message? The message is basically Canada really does not care about that. The government is so concerned about looking like it has made progress on trade, which has question marks abound, that it will look the other way when it comes to the concerns with tax havens and disclosure.

I met with ambassadors from throughout Latin America. They are very concerned about the issue of narco-trafficking. One thing said was that we had to follow the money. We have to ensure we know where the money goes.

What is the message from this country? When it comes to the issue of narco-trafficking, we will look the other way if we can put something in the window for people to see we have made progress on “free trade”. It is not principled. It is not effective. I think most Canadians, if they knew what we are signing, would oppose it. That is why it is important to take the time to debate it in the House.

I join with the members from the Liberal Party, notwithstanding their challenge in having a position and then voting the other way, that the Conservative Party is silent on this. It will not talk about it. It has a “move on, there's nothing to see here” attitude. I am not sure if the Conservatives have actually read the agreement. A great poll would be to ask those members if they had read the agreement and know what is in it. It is important to highlight that.

If we are going to be signing on to these agreements, why the hurry? Why are we not hearing from all members of Parliament on this, beyond talking points from parliamentary secretaries?

If we look at the profound effect that some of these trade agreements have had, not just on Canada, but on those we trade with, it also raises an issue. I fundamentally believe, if we are to enter into trade agreements with other countries, it should be of mutual benefit. I do not see that in this case.

We should be looking at strategic kinds of agreements within sectors. We should be ensuring they are sustainable. We should be ensuring there is mutual benefit.

When it comes to the Panama-Canada free trade agreement, we do not see that. What we see is us undermining our credibility when it comes to dealing with financial disclosure, tax havens and real fairness. For that reason, we will be opposing it. I only wish the Liberal Party would find it in itself to do the same, but we will wait for it to decide on that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. He always adds to the debate, unlike the Conservatives, but that is another day.

The member mentioned that at committee the Liberals voted against NDP's proposed amendments for the tax sharing agreements and possibly the double taxation.

I rushed out to try to get the minutes of the meetings to see what the amendments were. For the record, I am advised that the amendments were unsatisfactory in their form to establish the requirements necessary. If we look at the act, even with regard to the side agreements on labour and on environment, they are quite comprehensive in terms of their content.

The only reason someone would vote against something the NDP wanted is if the solution was inoperative. I offer that for the hon. member in that there is still this concern. None of those agreements have ever appeared in any of the free trade agreements, so we do not even have a model on how they would be incorporated into a bill.

However, I can assure the member that we do support the establishment of double taxation agreements as well as tax information sharing agreements to deal with tax evasion.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the point of view of the member. I know that when the amendments were brought to the committee, two parties voted against them. I will leave it to him to look over the minutes and talk to his colleagues about how that went down.

I am curious of the Liberal member's position of accepting tax havens and tax avoidance as long as it is declared. However, if the Liberal Party is so concerned about this issue of double taxation of tax havens, we need to understand the sequence.

When the OECD reports that it has concerns regarding a jurisdiction and we do not have this kind of agreement in place, it is odd for members to say that they will support the government's trade agreement, but they would also like to see an agreement on double taxation disclosure and tax havens be realized. The sequence is entirely wrong. A principled stand would be to say that because they are so concerned about this and until such time as it is dealt with, they will not support the government on it. Does the Liberal Party believe the government will actually get that job done? It will be moving on to the next trade agreement with whomever and forgetting about that.

The problem for the Liberal Party is that it has a position, but it has not followed up with a principled position on the vote. We can have a position, we can have many positions, but if we do not vote to back up that position then, it is just words, and that is unfortunate.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments regarding his opposition to the bill. I recognize he represents an urban riding. I have the privilege of representing a riding that is largely urban but has a large farm community as well.

Is the hon. member aware that this free trade agreement will immediately eliminate tariffs on 94% of agricultural exports from Canada and will provide exporters of beef, pork, frozen potato, malt, oilseeds, maple syrup and other products free access to the markets?

I know he may not have a direct concern for farmers, but surely he could find enough support in his party for the farm community, the producers of the great products for which Canada is known, and give them access to these markets. Our farmers desperately need this access.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I actually have a farm in my riding and we can go out and visit it.

It is important for the member to know that we understand the issues of farmers. Fundamentally, farmers have always wanted fair trade. However, when they see trade agreements such as this, which have other overlays to it, they would know these compromises fair trade. If we want to support our farmers, we need to get involved with these kinds of agreements to allow fair trade back and forth.

When a jurisdiction is on the OECD radar for issues related to its financial institutions and where the money goes, it can affect every sector. I think the member knows that. I do not think he is pitting of farmers against the rest, but I think farmers care about fair trade as much as any of us.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are here this morning to debate 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.

The Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill for a number of reasons. First, this is a bilateral agreement, which the Bloc Québécois believes is ineffective. We believe that a multilateral agreement would be more effective in developing much fairer trade that respects the interests of all of the nations.

The Conservative government has decided to drop the multilateral approach to trade and is entering into many negotiations to sign bilateral agreements. There have not been any studies done by officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or at Industry Canada to help us determine whether these bilateral agreements would be beneficial to our economy. Regardless of whether these agreements are good or not, they seem advantageous, so the Conservatives and the Liberals are jumping at them. They are jumping into other bilateral negotiations before conducting any studies.

If we do not know that we will come out a winner by signing a bilateral agreement, we should not move forward. For example, the Conservative government plans on signing a bilateral agreement with China. In 2005, Canada imported $32 billion worth of Chinese products, which generated a trade deficit in Canada of $26 billion, or $1,000 per capita. When trade with a country generates five times more imports than exports, the main priority should be to balance the terms of trade and not to make them even more liberal.

The Bloc Québécois will not support these bilateral agreements until we receive a guarantee or can be convinced that they will benefit the Quebec economy.

We are told that Panama is the most industrialized country in Central America and it has the highest economic indicators in the region. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian exports to Panama consist mainly of finished products, such as machine tools, automobiles, electronic and electrical equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. Canada also exports financial, engineering and professional services, as well as information technology and communications services.

Canadian direct investments in Panama are made mainly in the banking, financial, construction and mining sectors. Every time the Conservative government comes forward with a bilateral free trade agreement, it always includes mining.

Our primary imports from Panama are metals—mostly gold—precious stones, fruit, exotic nuts, fish and seafood.

The free trade agreement between Canada and Panama will have an impact on our country. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, this deal includes eliminating Panamanian tariffs on many Canadian products.

This means that our businesses will be able to invest in Panama without any tariff restrictions. Thus, Panama will eliminate all tariffs on non-agricultural products.

The Canadian exports that should benefit the most from these concessions are fish and seafood products, construction materials and equipments, frozen potato products, pulses, beef and beef products, most pork products, malt, forest products, and flight simulation and training equipment. So far, so good.

Canada, for its part, will eliminate 99% of its tariffs on products from Panama, except certain sugar products and products under supply management, of course.

The federal government wants to ratify this agreement very quickly because, so it says, it wants to get ahead of the United States and the European Union, which have both signed similar agreements but have a much longer ratification process.

The problem for us is that Panama is a tax haven. I would remind the House about a certain prime minister a few years ago who had interests in Canada Steamship Lines and who managed to get some deals ratified with known tax havens, including a deal with Barbados, which he just slipped through right under our noses. Panama is also part of this group of countries that are known tax havens. It is even on the OECD's grey list.

The OECD uses four criteria to determine whether a country should be placed on its grey list of tax havens: no or only nominal taxation; lack of transparency; laws or administrative practices that prevent the exchange of information; and indications that the country is attempting to attract investments that are tax-driven and do not involve economic activity.

One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that there is no or only nominal taxation. I have nothing against our corporations doing business. However, I do have a problem with the fact that, because of a lack of transparency, corporations cannot say how much money they make there and do not repatriate the money. As for laws and administrative practices that prevent the exchange of information, it seems to me that I have seen this before. I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We are coming to realize that the government is using the excuse that it must protect confidential information to withhold information about money, for example about the freeze on budget envelopes, or about what it is doing with the money. It is very annoying. It means that Canadians cannot find out what is being done with their taxes, and government officials cannot determine how much profit has been made in other countries. This issue of laws or administrative practices that prevent the effective exchange of information is tiresome.

Then there are the indications that the country attracts investments that are solely tax-driven and to not involve economic activity. We must remember that, in some countries, certain Canadian corporations have a dismal record when it comes to mining, among other activities. How will we ask questions to obtain information about what is happening? This is a problem for the Bloc Québécois.

Furthermore, the right-wing government has passed a repressive bill that, in theory, could criminalize workers. It has agreed to review the law but we are not sure that it will do so.

In short, the Bloc Québécois does not support this bill.

We do not know enough about it, and there are not enough guarantees and safeguards. It is a bilateral agreement that completely ignores human considerations and does not demonstrate the openness that should be the hallmark of such agreements.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening closely to my colleague and I was wondering if she could elaborate on the impact this might have on Quebec and its industries, for whom trade and exports are of capital importance.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, 30% of exports to Panama come from Quebec. As far as imports are concerned, Quebec's share is under $2 million.

We are all for trading with Panama and exporting to that country. Nonetheless, we do not want to be involved with these rogue states that use freer trade and making money as an excuse for violating environmental laws and workers' rights established by the International Labour Organization. These things are extremely important to Quebeckers. Even though Quebec does business with Panama, if such agreements are concluded, Quebeckers will not forget how important these two concepts are for Panamanians.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement first and then ask the hon. member from the Bloc to comment.

Under NAFTA, Canada has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees and compensation to U.S. investors who felt aggrieved by Canadian decisions. Let us say that after the Canada-Panama trade deal is ratified, Panama continues to be problematic on the tax shelter front and Parliament puts in place legislation to give Panama a deadline to clean up its act or face sanctions. Canadians banks could be restricted from transferring their money to Panamanian affiliates, for example. Article 9.10 of the Canada-Panama trade act says:

Each Party shall permit transfers relating to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay, into and out of its territory.

Moreover, article 10.6 says that Canada will always allow Canadians to purchase financial services from banks operating in Panama.

Does the hon. member from the Bloc share my concerns in this regard?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Some aspects of this agreement are still flawed, including the one the hon. member just mentioned. It is all well and fine to ratify agreements very quickly, but we have to make sure the agreements are not missing anything before we open the floodgates.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a pretty minor treaty. It is not a large bill by any means. The trade between Canada and Panama is fairly limited, some might even say “insignificant“. Certainly when compared with the daily trade between Canada and the U.S., it is not significant at all.

However, as a proposition, these treaties are important because they establish a legal framework, particularly with the reduction of tariffs and the freeing-up of trade. They are the beginning of the establishment of a legal framework for contractual relationships between countries and between corporations and persons. They are a small step in international law. However microscopic the steps might be, as a general proposition, it is a good idea to enter into these trade agreements. Members of the Bloc, my party and the NDP have rightly criticized the modesty of the agreement. That is what I wish to talk about while I have time in the House.

The side agreements with respect to labour and the environment are at least a step in the right direction. They are rather modest, hardly robust, but a step toward developing a legal framework between the two nations.

Last Wednesday I had the good fortune of listening to a lecture by Mr. Justice Ian Binnie at the University of Ottawa law school. His starting point was that if there is going to be an international economy, as there is, as nations trade more with each other and if they are to have economic relationships with each other, we must have and continue to develop our legal relationships with each other. In other words, at some point, somehow, somewhere, people who have grievances need to be able to redress them in some fashion or other, regardless of the merits. Frankly, I agree with Mr. Justice Ian Binnie, as I am sure you would, Mr. Speaker, that there is quite a gap between the development of economic relationships and the development of legal relationships.

A treaty is a modest step. As members may know, I was the sponsor of Bill C-300, which was a modest attempt to bring to Canadian corporations a degree of accountability with respect to their funding received from the government and the people of Canada.

It was ironic to me that the proponents of this Panama treaty were simultaneously very vigorously opposed to Bill C-300, when in fact all of this is the creation of a larger legal environment so that relations between people and corporations might be properly regulated. Had the government embraced Bill C-300 and, possibly, other forms of engendering corporate social responsibility, a treaty such as this might actually have been an easier pill to swallow for those who are opposed to treaties as a general proposition.

I want to quote Justice Binnie. He stated:

It is beyond question that companies have the ability to significantly influence human rights around the world for good or for ill. Sometimes influence implies obligation. In light of mounting evidence of “corporate complicity” in human rights abuses, there is, at the very least, an obligation upon the legal community—

—and I would add, upon the parliamentary community—

—to clarify the obligations of transnational companies as a matter of national and international civil and criminal law.

He then favourably cited John Ruggie and the work that he has been doing at the United Nations.

The big issue is access to justice. I do not profess to be an expert on Panamanian law, but as a general proposition I can say that the access to justice and the satisfaction one might receive from a court in a developing country is somewhat less than satisfactory.

It is quite clear that a lot of these courts are not robust, that corruption is rife, and that people seeking redress for very legitimate claims, be they regarding human rights abuses or forms of civil remedy, be they regarding environmental degradation or expropriation, do not receive satisfaction. From time to time it is Canadian corporations that are involved in these human rights abuses and there is no place for the individual to go.

If a Panamanian had a complaint with a Canadian company and wished to sue in a Canadian court, that individual would be precluded from doing so by the rule called forum non conveniens. It is a simple concept. Regardless of the merits of the individual's claim, regardless of how aggrieved the individual might be, regardless of the quantum of the individual's damages, that individual is cut off from access to Canadian courts by virtue of the fact that Canadian courts will say they are not the place in which the individual can sue for that particular grievance.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We could quite easily insert into a treaty such as this one the ability to modify in certain circumstances this rule of common law so that Panamanians in this particular instance would have access to Canadian courts so that they too could receive justice and redress from Canadian corporations.

I refer again to Mr. Justice Ian Binnie who said that a very practical level, domestic law reform is needed if domestic courts are to play a useful role in remedying international human rights abuses. He said:

For example, statutes of limitation are often unduly strict on their face or as interpreted and applied; statutory and common law obstacles to corporate veil-piercing exist and these may inappropriately shield parent companies from liability in respect of subsidiaries. There can be inordinate difficulty establishing...jurisdiction (especially where liberal use is made of the doctrine of forum non conveniens).

Justice Binnie said that in some cases there will be a good reason to limit or deny the possibility of civil recovery. However, as a general matter the state duty to protect means that a concerted effort be made to eliminate barriers to recovery that are unnecessary or arbitrary in their operation.

It is a pity that the government did not take this opportunity to open up a justice system on both sides which would allow Panamanians and Canadians access to a justice system which has some opportunity of receiving redress not only for states but for individuals and for corporations. The reason this is important is that not only does it affect the individual potential litigants, those who have been on the receiving end of human rights abuses, but it also affects us as Canadians and our reputation abroad.

I regret to say that our reputation in the last number of years has not been enhanced by the activities of some Canadian mining companies. I can literally take members on a world tour, from Mexico to Guatemala to Honduras to Peru to Venezuela to Colombia, over to various African countries, et cetera. In all of these instances people in those countries are alleged to have had some grievance with Canadian companies. There is no effective remedy for those grievances. For better or for worse, the Conservative government has cut those folks off from having access.

This could have been an opportunity to open up a legal system that is fair and just and one where there would be an opportunity for people to receive redress. Regrettably, the government chose not to do that and that is to our detriment and ultimately to the detriment of our national reputation which has been suffering around the world.

In conclusion, I see this as a minor treaty, but I also see it as an opportunity lost.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is disappointing when we talk about establishing bilateral trade agreements that are so important for a trading nation like Canada that we have to descend into a discussion that once again impugns the good name of Canadian mining companies, companies like SGS operating in Lakefield in my riding, which work with mines around the world.

The member continues to talk about Bill C-300 which specifically targeted jobs not in other countries, but jobs in this country. He impugns the good name of Canadian mining companies and would limit their ability to compete around the world. Mining is one of the most important sectors in this entire country.

It is terrible that we cannot talk about a bilateral agreement, something important to Canada, without having a member stand up and impugn the good name of Canadian mining companies. I am disappointed.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pity that even at this stage, after two years of debate on Bill C-300, the hon. member has not read or does not understand the implications of the bill.

Contrary to what he says, this actually would have been an opportunity for any company that he cited to have a full and fair grievance resolution process. However, he would rather take along with the mining companies their chances in the public media, and so our reputation continues to be degraded.

We continue to have to deal with this in a fashion that we bear the price. It has come to the point in some countries that it is not a good idea to identify oneself as Canadian. That has happened under the watch of this government and it is regrettable to the extreme.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find it grievous as well that the member continues to impugn the names of Canadian mining companies. If the member were honest with himself and accepted factual evidence, he would find that Canadian mining companies that operate abroad operate under a much higher standard of environmental concern than any other mining company from any other country in the world. I am almost embarrassed that he would continually impugn the name of our Canadian mining companies when we set worldwide such a tremendous example for other companies from other countries to follow.

He should be ashamed of himself. The member should reflect on the fact that his own leader did not stick around to vote on his bill. Perhaps he had misgivings about it himself.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am embarrassed by the member's level of ignorance about what is going on in the world. Does he want the world tour? Does he think it is a great idea that our own Governor General is embarrassed in Mexico with Mexicans saying, “Canada go home”? Does he think that it is a great idea that Canadian mining companies have difficulties in Guatemala and Honduras?

I agree with the general point that many Canadian mining companies try to operate at the highest level, but some do not. This was a very modest attempt to bring those that do not into some level of compliance with internationally recognized human rights standards.

It is incontrovertible that Canadian mining companies and large international corporations have a huge impact on human rights. The sooner the member and his party wake up to that reality, the sooner we will get on to developing a legal framework which will give fair redress to those aggrieved.

I feel bad for the hon. member. He has been in the chamber for many years, but he seems to continue to fail to get that point.

International TradeStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, many of the businesses in my constituency are talking about our Conservative government's ambitious free trade agenda. Local businesses in these small towns are anxious to take advantage of the new markets we are opening around the world.

Canada's economy remains our government's top priority. With the economic recovery still fragile, we can create jobs and economic growth by expanding our international trade opportunities.

Over the past five years, our government has concluded new free trade agreements with eight countries. Today we are engaged in discussions with two of the world's largest economies: the European Union and India.

The agricultural industry stakeholders I represent are excited about their prospects in the future as we secure freer trade with many nations. Farmers in my riding are anxious to meet the demands in these new markets.

We are proud of the high-quality foods we produce. We know the world is hungry for our products. We know that we can fill their orders.

Citizenship and ImmigrationStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, on December 23, the Grinch was out to steal Christmas. The Conservative government cut $53 million from programs that offer support and integration services for new Canadians.

The Conservative government's cuts to settlement services have hit my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville and the region of Peel hard. We have been able to confirm that over $2.5 million was cut from the region of Peel alone.

These agencies offer language and skills training to help newcomers integrate into the workforce and the community so that they can become contributing members of society.

Where are the government's priorities? How can the Conservatives sleep at night when they cut $53 million from some of Canada's most vulnerable people and at the same time give corporations a $6 billion tax cut?

If the government is looking for ways to pay off its unprecedented $56 billion deficit, it needs to look elsewhere. Settlement services provide essential services and programs, and the Liberal Party will do whatever it can to maintain their funding.

Vanessa GrenierStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, Vanessa Grenier is a name to remember. A native of Johnville, Vanessa is an 18-year-old figure skater. In December 2010, she won the Skate Canada Eastern and Western Challenge. In January, she placed seventh in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, which means that she will move on to compete in the next world junior championships in South Korea.

Quebec senior champion in 2008 and 2009, Canadian junior runner-up in 2007, eastern Canadian junior champion in 2007—the list of awards she has received is long, and this does not even include the medals she has won at international competitions. Last May, Vanessa was even awarded the prestigious Josée Chouinard trophy by Quebec's Fédération de patinage artistique.

Vanessa's talent and perseverance make her an inspiration to all Quebeckers. I wholeheartedly hope that she will achieve her dream of participating in the Olympics.

We are proud of you, Vanessa!