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.