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House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was labour.

Topics

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan shares my profound concerns about this free trade agreement. In fact, it is one of the reasons that so many of my colleagues in the NDP caucus have taken the time to put our position on the record today and in days past.

The member raises an important question. Sustainable investments and sustainable development are really at the core of what is at issue in this trade agreement. They are the reasons why organizations like the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace are so engaged in free trade issues, particularly in the global south. We should not be engaging in trade if we are not able to respect human rights, environmental laws and labour laws.

We have seen a whole slew of bilateral free trade agreements brought to the House by the Conservative government, be they with Panama, the trade agreement we are talking about today, or Colombia, which is clearly also the case. The amendments that were moved by our colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster are absolutely crucial to restoring some integrity, and they really do go to the heart of corporate social responsibility.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the many members who have spoken on this issue. I think a good debate adds to the availability of trade for our country.

I would like to ask my colleague from the NDP for her viewpoint on this particular fact: About 45% of our gross domestic product comes from exports. That staggering number only goes to show how important these trade agreements with other countries are, and how important it is to reach out. It was the very foundation of trade that helped develop our country.

I would like to ask my colleague why she would be opposed to having an improved trade environment between countries that would allow, for example, Canada to have some impact upon the labour situations in other countries and allow Canadian companies to expand and grow and continue to contribute to the gross domestic product of our country?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question allows me to say quite clearly that New Democrats are not against trade. What we do stand for is fair trade and not free trade at all costs. That is really the issue here.

The member perhaps exaggerates the importance of Panama to us even as a trading nation. The trade that we have with Panama is slightly in excess of $100 million, which is simply a drop in the bucket in terms of our overall Canadian trade.

Panama is a country that is in complete defiance of the notion of sustainable investment or sustainable development. We have an obligation as global citizens to ensure that we protect the same rights in countries abroad, where we want to do business, as we would do here at home.

Why is it okay for the member to suggest that it is all right for us to ignore labour laws, environmental laws and human rights in other parts of the world, when I know for a fact that she would never condone corporations taking those kinds of actions here?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to speak on behalf of my party to Bill C-46.

I commend the member for Hamilton Mountain on her intervention. It struck me, as she was answering questions, that the Liberal member stood in the House and basically said that it was trade at all costs. The reality for our country is that human rights and labour laws are the defining set of principles. To hear that kind of intervention from a party that proclaims human rights struck me as strange. It is not trade at all costs. As the member just indicated, our trade with Panama is around $100 million. That is an awfully cheap price to give up on the rights that Canadians believe so much in.

I want to go through a bit of the chronology on this bill. The Conservative government concluded the negotiations in August 2009. This agreement, by the way, as has been indicated by previous speakers, is very similar to the one with Colombia. We, of course, opposed the Colombia free trade agreement for weeks on end in the House because we felt that it was beneath Canada's dignity to be signing a free trade agreement with such a reprehensible government.

This agreement was signed May 14, 2010. On the same day, the government tabled side agreements in the House on Bill C-46. The NDP is opposing this bill for a number of reasons. In committee, compelling testimony was heard from witnesses regarding the tax haven situation in the Republic of Panama, as well as the poor record of labour relations in the country.

The previous speaker from the NDP, our labour critic, talked about the lack of labour rights in Panama. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster moved motions and amendments in committee that would have addressed some of the glaring failures in this agreement. Sadly, the record will show that they were opposed by the Conservatives and supported by the Liberals.

We do have issues with the free trade agreement. For example, despite requests from the Canadian government, Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This is very troubling considering the large amount of money that is being laundered in Panama, including money from drug trafficking, similar to Colombia. Panama's complete lack of taxation transparency has led the OECD to label the nation as a tax haven.

Just before the clause by clause review of Bill C-46, the member for Burnaby—Douglas proposed a motion to the committee that would have stopped the implementation of the Canada-Panama agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. Again, his motion was defeated by the Conservatives and the Liberals who argued that the double taxation agreement Panama had agreed to was satisfactory. We do not agree. Unfortunately, the double taxation agreement only tracks legal income, while tax information exchange agreements will track all income, including money made through illegal means. That was as proposed by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Considering Panama's history and reputation on such matters, it should be clear as to why such an agreement is necessary before signing the deal. Again, we hit a roadblock with both the Liberals and Conservatives on that point.

Subsequently, during the clause by clause review, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed nothing less than 11 amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill. These amendments included the addition of the crucial concepts of sustainable development and investment, a requirement for taxation transparency and provisions, and to corporate in the bill the protection of labour rights, including the right to free collective bargaining.

Other amendments would have required the Minister of International Trade to consult with labour and trade unions, as well as work with human rights experts and organizations in order to create impact assessments for the trade agreement. It is one thing to sign these agreements but it is quite another thing to follow up and see what the impacts have been on both the country we sign with and in our own industries and businesses that are part of the agreement.

A final amendment would have required Parliament to vote to extend the provisions of the act beyond the first year. All of these amendments, once again, hit that same wall and were voted down by the Conservatives with the help of the Liberals.

The committee heard testimony from Todd Tucker of the Public Citizens Global Trade Watch. Mr. Tucker made a very compelling case when he said that Panama was one of the world's worst tax havens and that the Panamanian government had intentionally allowed the nation to become that tax haven. Obviously there are benefits for a government seen in such a thing.

To summarize Mr. Tucker's testimony, he said that the tax haven situation in Panama was not improving under the current government nor under the conditions today in Panama. In addition, a trade agreement with Canada, in his opinion, would worsen the problem and could cause harm to both Panama and Canada.

Another major issue for myself as a former labour leader is the status of labour rights in Panama and the complete failure of this trade agreement because these are pending agreements. They are like letters of intent in a collective agreement that have no legal weight. These side agreements on labour rights fall far short of what is needed.

Two of the amendments put forth in committee by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster would have protected trade union workers in Panama. The member for Hamilton Mountain made a point a few minutes ago regarding Bill C-300, as well as labour rights. Why would we sign an agreement with a country and not demand, as part of that agreement, equal rights in that country to the rights we have here in Canada. As the principal representative of Canada on the joint Canada-Panama commission, the minister should have consulted on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian labour and from trade unions both here and in Panama.

Like all other amendments, those amendments were also defeated by the Conservatives with their friends the Liberals. Unfortunately, this creates a free trade zone that belittles the rights of labour, a serious problem that is already prevalent in Panama.

Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress spoke to the committee studying the bill regarding the agreement. She testified that while the ILO's, the International Labour Organization, core labour standards had been invoked in the agreement, the agreement was still weaker than it should be. As well, the current Panamanian government has been increasingly harsh on labour unions and workers in recent years.

In addition, two amendments regarding definitions were proposed by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. By the end of the day, people will know the member for Burnaby—New Westminster who sits on this committee for our party.

The first amendment was with regard to sustainable development. The member for Nanaimo—Cowichan spoke a few moments ago in debate on this. The amendment would define sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as set out in the Brundtland report, published by the World Commission on Environment and Development.

The second amendment was with regard to the definition of sustainable investment. The amendment would have defined sustainable investment as investment that seeks to maximize social good as well as financial return. Again, that is a principle in this country of Canada that we should be sharing with any other countries with which we have agreements, specifically in areas of environment, social justice and corporate governance, in accordance with the United Nations principles for responsible investment.

In addition to those issues with the Canada Panama free trade agreement specifically, there is also the fact that this agreement is just another step in the massively flawed Canada-U.S. strategy of pushing serial bilateralism in the form of NAFTA-style free trade agreements.

The NDP prefers a multilateral approach based on a fair and sustainable trade model. Bilateral trade deals amount to protectionist trade deals since they give preferential treatment to few partners and exclude the rest. This puts weaker countries in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis larger partners. A multilateral trade model avoids these issues while protecting human rights and the environment.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the question as much for my curiosity as for some of the members in the chamber who are newer members and might not know this either.

Could the hon. member list one after another which trade deals his party did support?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that prior to being a member here in 1988 I fought against the Canada free trade agreement. I am very proud to have done so because that free trade agreement ultimately failed Canadian workers. That trade agreement cost Canadians.

I see the Liberal member sitting there laughing at the fact that 504,000 Ontario workers lost their jobs because of the Canada free trade agreement. I do not think they are laughing.

As we look at the subsequent agreements, yes, the investment community may have done well in these but family after family across this country were practically destroyed by those agreements.

I am proud to say that I fought the trade agreement in 1988 and that I fought it again in 1993 when the Liberals said that they would not support NAFTA and turned around and sold out Canadian workers.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for speaking so clearly about why we are opposed to certain agreements in this House.

I only need to turn to the softwood lumber agreement to talk about a rotten agreement. On Vancouver Island, our mills are still closed, by and large. Some of them are only gradually reopening after years of a softwood lumber policy that has devastated the forestry sector throughout this country.

I think it is incumbent upon us to stand up and defend Canadian workers and Canadian jobs. I certainly agree with the member opposite that I will not apologize for doing that.

I want to touch on fair trade just for a moment. The member ably outlined the fact that New Democrats do support agreements where fair trade is involved. There are a couple of elements in fair trade that are really important: that forced labour and exploited child labour is not allowed; that producers receive a fair price, a living wage; for commodities, farmers receive a stable minimum price; that buyers and producers trade under direct long-term relationships; that producers have access to financial and technical assistance; that sustainable protection techniques are encouraged; that working conditions are healthy and safe; that equal employment opportunities are provided; and that all aspects of trade and production are open to public accountability.

I wonder if the member would comment on what he sees is important in a fair trade agreement, not a free trade agreement?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I said in my remarks is that the NDP supports multilateral agreements, but we also support sectoral trade agreements. An example of that would have been Auto Pact, which served Canada well for years and, to a great extent, the surrounding industries. The parts industries were all sustained by that particular agreement that was allowed to lapse in recent years. That was an example of sectoral trade. We do not need to put all our eggs in the one basket of the free trade agreement, particularly in a relationship such as we have with the United States. In those famous words that a free trade agreement is great, like an elephant with a mouse, until the elephant decides to roll over.

We saw that in the capitulation of the present government in that softwood trade deal to which the member referred. We were winning time and again at the World Trade Organization. We were up for what would have been the next win. Everybody was sure that would happen so they signed the deal.

I toured B.C. with my pensions tour and in community after community workers from those mills came forward telling us how they had lost their pensions because of that particular side agreement. In the famous words of the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, “the softwood sellout”.

In many instances, the trade agreements that we have been signing as a country have sold out human rights and have sold out the workers in the countries with which we are partnering. We should not be standing, as a country for anything less than equal human rights for all workers in both countries.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of Bill C-46, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

Canada and Panama signed this agreement on May 14, 2010, and the bill has made quick progress through all stages to get to the third reading, since it was only introduced on September 23 of last year.

The international trade committee concluded its study on the bill in late December before the House recessed. After careful consultation with stakeholders, the committee concluded that the agreements were satisfactory, and now Bill C-46 has come back to the House.

Freer, more open trade with our neighbours benefits everyone. Through trade agreements, we strengthen our economy, increase wealth, protect labour and human rights and help ensure environmental protection.

Our country relies on trade. In fact, 80% of our economy depends on trading with our neighbours. That is why I support any initiative that improves market access for our Canadian businesses. Canada is a trading nation. Our trade roots date back to the 1600s. Indeed, our country is founded on trade.

This is why Liberals are concerned that for the first time in 30 years, Canada now has a trade deficit. Export amounts to 45% of our gross domestic product, so we definitely need to have a good trade relationship. We need successful trade policies that build and sustain relationships with our existing partners, while also securing opportunities for other nations.

However, it seems our country takes one step forward and two steps back. Consider the United Arab Emirates, for example. We are all familiar with the diplomatic negotiations with the United Arab Emirates over airline landing rights. The U.A.E. is an important trading partner for us, with $2 billion every year in trade. This dispute was about six extra flights every week. However, because it was so poorly handled, we were told to leave Camp Mirage, a military base in Dubai that has been our forward operating base for our mission in Afghanistan. It will cost taxpayers at least $300 million just to close it and who knows how much to set up a new base somewhere else. That is how important trade relationships are.

In emerging markets, for example like China and India, we have delayed or missed opportunities. In the coming years, China and India will generate some 900 million new consumers and spend some $4 trillion on new infrastructure. Yet in 2006 and 2007 our exports to China barely kept pace with the growth of the Chinese economy. In the same period, the U.S. increased its trade by some 60%. We are not only falling behind the Americans. Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, and Australia are all getting a bigger piece of the Chinese import market than we are.

As I stated earlier, the Liberals are very supportive of fair open trade and Bill C-46 does make progress in that direction. However, we are falling behind in securing the biggest emerging markets in the world. If we are to compete tomorrow, we must open up opportunities not only in Panama, but in China, Russia, India, Brazil, and other emerging markets.

Even though Panama is a relatively small economy, there is much potential. In 2009 Canada exported around $90 million in goods to a small country of just under 3.5 million people. The country is relatively stable. It has made important strides in recent years with its development of democratic institutions. Through the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP still managed to grow at 10.7% in 2008, making it one of the hottest economies in the Americas. It is forecast to grow 5.6% for 2010.

Most of our exports to Panama include machinery, vehicles, electronic equipment and pharmaceutical equipment. Our service industries provide financial services and engineering, as well as information technology support. The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would include open market access for goods, cross-border trade and services, telecommunications, investment, financial services and government procurement.

At the moment, Panamanian tariffs on agricultural products are around 13.4%, but in some cases they can reach as high as 260%. Removing these tariffs would generate many opportunities for the Canadian agricultural sector.

Atlantic Canada also stands to benefit very much from this free trade agreement. It accounts for 10.9% of Canadian exports to Panama.

In late January, early February of this year, 12 Atlantic Canadian companies participated in a trade mission to Panama, building on past trade missions to that country. From Newfoundland and Labrador, four companies participated in the trade mission: Blue Oceans Satellite Systems of St. John's, Cartwright Drilling of Goose Bay, Labrador, Compusult Limited of Mount Pearl and Marine Industrial Lighting Systems of Mount Pearl.

Compusult is a global leader in geospatial interoperability. Its scientific applications support environmental data gathering and management. Marine Industrial Lighting Systems was formed in 1999 and one of its Panamanian projects includes explosion proof submersible floodlights for the Panama Canal.

Panama will be expanding its strategic canal route which connects the Atlantic and the Pacific. This project is valued at over $5 billion and will provide Canadian companies significant opportunities in a wide spectrum of goods and services. The expansion of the canal will allow for increased container traffic, some of which will access ports in Atlantic Canada.

As with Canada's other free trade agreements, Chile, Costa Rica, NAFTA and Jordan, there are side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.

The Canada-Panama agreement on labour co-operation recognizes the obligations of both countries under the International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It requires that each country ensure its domestic laws, regulations and practices protect fundamental labour principles and rights at work.

The Canada-Panama environment agreement would allow any person who resides in either country to request an investigation of alleged violations of that country's environmental laws.

This free trade agreement contains sufficient protections for labour and the environment, ensuring that they are not compromised for the sake of trade.

As for the future, Canada needs to focus on emerging markets, Panama and the Americas, as well as India, China, Russia and Brazil. We must do so with haste and ensure more available markets for Canada's goods and services.

I hope my colleagues in the House will join me in supporting Bill C-46 so Canadian business and the people of Canada and Panama can benefit from freer, more open trade.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member and I are not on the same side of this issue in terms of how we are finally going to vote when the amendments come before the House. I presume we are not going to be on the same side either when the bill comes before us at third reading. However, we can agree on one thing, and that is this is another trade agreement the Conservatives have really rushed to the House.

As a result of that, would the member comment on this? Is she aware of any labour organizations, any environmental organizations, any civil society groups or any individual citizens for that matter being consulted before the Canada-Panama free trade agreement was signed by the government? Does she not believe it is equally important to hear from such labour, environmental, civil society groups and individual Canadians as it is to simply just consult with the business community?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's concern with this agreement. As I said in my speech, there are a number of side agreements such as the Canada-Panama agreement on labour co-operation as well as the Canada-Panama environment agreement. I am sure my colleague is familiar with this as she sits on the committee.

I assume there was an opportunity to call witnesses before committee. The bill has now come from committee and we are debating it in the House.

Like my hon. colleague earlier this morning, I also indicated that we would ensure that the side agreements on labour and the environment worked properly and effectively. The House will hold the government accountable for those agreements. The fundamental principles and rights at work will be upheld. The declaration will be upheld. Issues around the environment will be considered as well.

It is important that free trade occur in our world and that we can have access to other markets. It is important that Canada reach out and ensure that the fundamental principles around labour organization and the environment that we hold dear are also held dear in other locations.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her support of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement and the side agreements that go with it.

In listening to the criticism coming from members of the NDP Party, I am a bit perplexed. They have never supported a free trade agreement in any way, shape, or form. I do not know what they do support in the House because they seem to be against everything they talk about.

What are the advantages to the hon. member's home province of Newfoundland and Labrador in having more extensive trading relationships within the Americas?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador has only been in Confederation for 60-some years. However, the province dates over 500 years and we have had trading relations around the world.

More recently, we have had a lot more trading relationships with South America and Central America. One can look at some of the relationships we have had with Brazil around the oil and gas industry. There are a lot of Newfoundland and Labrador companies spending time in Brazil. I have named a couple of companies that are already doing business in Panama, reaching out to take advantage of some of the work that is being done on the Panama Canal. We have relationships, for example, with Chile in regard to aquaculture and the imports and exports of that trade.

From my home province's perspective, we have long since known the benefit of trade. We have long since reached out to the world. We have long since recognized that exports drive the development of our economy, businesses and employment in our community. We are certainly supportive of continuing to do that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House to take part in such a critical debate, not just about the Canada-Panama free trade agreement but about how we move forward as a country, our relationships at the international level and how we see our role as promoters of trade and growing relationships within the Americas.

However, as I stand here, I am also very proud to be a member of a party that has stood for the kind of trade that prioritizes the concept of fairness, fair trade, a party that reaffirms its vision for a fair trade policy that puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public sector social programs and the elimination of poverty at the heart of an effective trade strategy.

In fact, when we hear Canada speak out at the international level, we hear of the concepts of mutual growth and improvement of living conditions. However, when we look at the specifics of the kinds of trade agreements that the government is promoting, we see an approach that strays from those kinds of ideas, certainly from the values that we in the NDP hold dear and go against the idea of wanting to contribute to the benefit of people in these countries, not just corporations or certain people, but people in general. That is the question in the House when it comes to Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

As my colleagues have expressed in the House, we have grave concerns that this bill has come forward in a hurried fashion, with a real desire by the government to pass it without the in-depth examination of what might be challenging pieces. Certainly there has been critical debate at committee, but there are some key points that I am sure many Canadians would be shocked to find out the government is trying to push through. They require more debate. Members deserve a chance to sit down and ask whether this really is what Canada wants to be promoting on the international stage.

We have heard much talk about the idea that this trade agreement would exacerbate the inequalities in Panama, that it would allow Canadian companies and Canada to be part of scenarios where labour rights are disrespected and abused or environmental rights are disregarded. We have heard that the fact that there are side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment is supposed to deal with these concerns and dynamics that we in the NDP think such a trade agreement would foster in a country like Panama.

The existence of such side agreements is simply not what is going to prevent such abuses from taking place or what is going to prevent such trade agreements from truly looking at how trade could make Panamanians and Canadians better off. There are a couple of reasons why NDP members feel the side agreements and Bill C-46 are inadequate in trying to reach the point of truly contributing to the well-being of Panama and Canadians.

At committee, compelling testimony was heard from witnesses regarding, for example, the tax haven situation in the Republic of Panama as well as its poor record of labour rights. It was noted that Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement, something that is troubling considering the large amount of money laundering in Panama, including money from drug trafficking.

Panama's complete lack of taxation transparency has led to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to label the nation a tax haven. It has been referenced that a double taxation agreement would somehow resolve such a concern, but the double taxation agreement only tracks legal income while a tax information exchange agreement would track all income, including that made through illegal means.

The tax haven situation in Panama, as witnesses expressed in committee, is not improving conditions under the current government in Panama. A trade agreement with Canada would only worsen the problem and could cause harm to both Panama and Canada.

Another critical area a side agreement would not deal with and the source of such concern would be in the area of labour and the respect of labour rights. It is a tenet of who we are as a democracy and as a country that has believed that people's well-being depends on their freedom to organize, on their ability to be part of unions and on their ability as working people to fight for a decent wage, to fight for proper health and safety and to fight for that dignity that we would all hope for in any country around the world.

However, we recognize that these rights are not respected in Panama the way we respect them in Canada.

Another major issue is the status of labour rights in Panama and the complete failure of this trade agreement to ensure that these rights are not denied to Panamanian workers as they have been in the past.

When Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress spoke to the parliamentary committee regarding the agreement on labour co-operation, she testified that while the International Labour Organization's core labour standards are invoked, Bill C-46 is still weaker than it should be. As well, she pointed out the current Panamanian government has increasingly been harsh on labour unions and workers, especially in recent years.

It was noted, for example, that over the last few years a number of measures have come into play that have exacerbated the wealth inequalities in a country like Panama. While recording relatively high growth rates, it is the second most unequal society in the region. Forty per cent of the population is poor; 27% is extremely poor; and the rate of extreme poverty is particularly acute in indigenous populations. The country has endured extensive structural adjustment, liberalization and privatization which has not translated into economic benefits for the population.

In response to the international perception that Panamanian labour laws were rigid and a disincentive to foreign investment, President Martinelli announced unilateral changes to the labour law in the summer of 2010. The law ended environmental impact studies on projects deemed to be of social interest. It banned mandatory dues collections from workers. It allowed employers to fire striking workers and replace them with strikebreakers. It criminalized street blockades and it protected police from prosecution.

These are the kinds of measures that we are in fact not just approving of by continuing to approach this trade agreement as a positive sign and looking to side agreements as though they were going to put a stop to such an agenda put forward in Panama. Canadians would not want to think, would not want to know that we are complicit in encouraging what is fundamentally an attack on people's right to organize and people's right to speak out and fight for a decent living.

The severity of this attack on labour rights seen in Panama has been met with strikes and demonstrations. The police have been exceedingly harsh in their response and that was just this past summer. At least six people were killed; protestors were seriously injured and many were blinded by tear gas and police violence. Some 300 trade union leaders were detained before the president withdrew the labour provisions and called for a national dialogue of moderate trade union leaders and business leaders.

We are pointing out that a side agreement on labour co-operation, as it is termed, is in no way sufficient and certainly does not make a strong statement by Canada that such action is unconscionable.

The NDP is saying trade agreements must respect the tenets of fairness, but also must respect the values that we hold dear as Canadians, whether it be in terms of labour rights, transparency or on the environment. Canadians would demand nothing less.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the province of Manitoba alone employs over 1,000 people in the potato industry and processing.

Given that the Manitoba NDP government's website makes reference to Panama as consumers of our processed potatoes which provides thousands of jobs, would the member agree it would be in Manitoba's best interest to see freer trade?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from my province and I welcome him into the House.

My role as a member of Parliament in the federal scene is recognizing and speaking to the values that many Manitobans hold dear, which is of free but also fair trade, something that we are not seeing as a result of this agreement. We know that Canada engages in trade with many countries around the world, including Panama. However, what we are talking about here is a deeper, certainly more developed agreement. It is an agreement that goes against the basic rights that we as Canadians would demand not just in our country, but would like to see respected in any country around the world.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Churchill ably pointed out that members of the Canadian Labour Congress appeared before committee and talked about the fact that this agreement simply did not cut it.

The member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed some amendments and one of them would have been to protect trade union workers in Panama by offering the right to collective bargaining, as well as requiring the Minister of International Trade to consult on a regular basis with representatives of the congress.

I wonder if the member could comment on why that amendment was defeated at committee.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

2 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, Canadians know the right to collective bargaining has existed for many years. That we would deny that right to other countries we are hoping to enter into a relationship with is not the way to move forward. It is not the way Canadians would like to see us play a leadership role. Free trade must be fair trade and these rights must be respected.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I must interrupt at this time. The hon. member for Churchill will have two minutes remaining in questions and comments when the House returns to this matter.

InternetStatements By Members

February 7th, 2011 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Internet is integral to the daily lives of all Canadians. We rely on the Internet in ways we could not have imagined even 10 years ago.

In my riding of Kitchener—Waterloo, the Internet is the lifeblood of creativity and innovation that puts us on the cutting edge of the knowledge economy. Our research institutions are world leaders in discovery. Our entrepreneurs are breaking new ground in high tech industries and using the Internet to increase productivity and fuel growth.

That is why I am pleased that our government has rejected the usage-based billing decision that would limit consumer choice and stifle competition. Our government is committed to forward-looking policies that recognize the critical importance of the Internet, and anticipate new developments and applications.

An open Internet, like an open mind, will broaden our horizons and create opportunities for all Canadians now and into the future.

Human RightsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, on January 26, David Kato, a gay human rights activist, was brutally murdered in Uganda.

At his funeral, a statement from U.S. President Barack Obama was read in which he described Mr. Kato as “a powerful advocate for fairness and freedom”.

The police in Uganda have tried to say that Mr. Kato's murder was a botched robbery even before an investigation has been completed. It is a final insult to the memory of David Kato and thousands like him.

From newspapers publishing the names of gay Ugandans on their front pages to institutionalized discrimination by the Ugandan government, the lives of gays and lesbians in that country are at risk every day. It is inconceivable that in this day and age gays and lesbians must endure daily threats of violence, discrimination, and suffer the loss of their lives simply because of who they are.

All of us must stand up and ensure that our voices are heard as we demand that the government of Uganda and institutions within that country cease their vicious and intolerable assaults upon gay and lesbian citizens who deserve to live their lives in freedom and safety.

Stéfane BougieStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, I am pleased to congratulate Stéfane Bougie, an animal carver from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield known locally and internationally.

He won the 2010 Reynald Piché award, which recognizes the outstanding work of artists in the region in their respective fields of expression.

Since he completed his first works, Mr. Bougie has won prestigious awards at major international competitions and has been recognized three times by the best in his discipline.

His works are held in various public and private collections in eight different countries. His art can also be seen closer to home at the Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

I am extremely proud to acknowledge Stéfane Bougie's extraordinarily creative work. I encourage him to continue pursuing his artistic expression and I especially want to thank him for his contribution to promoting the cultural wealth of our region.

Congratulations, Mr. Bougie.

Volunteer Service MedalStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Lance Corporal Joyce Robertson.

This coming Friday, February 11, Mrs. Robertson will be presented with the Canadian volunteer service medal. As we know, the Canadian volunteer service medal was created to honour those citizens who gave of their time and in many cases their lives for Canada during World War II.

Mrs. Robertson was one of the original individuals who, many years ago in 1943, posed for the Canadian volunteer medal. To this day her image still appears on the far right of the medal. Now, at 85 years of age, Joyce Robertson herself will receive the volunteer service medal in a ceremony at the Stoney Creek Legion which is located in my riding of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.

I take great personal pride in being able to stand in this House to offer, on behalf of the constituents of Hamilton East—Stoney Creek and all Canadians, our thanks to Mrs. Robertson for her service to Canada.

The EconomyStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, forecasters predict Canada's economy will continue to grow in 2011. Our government's focus on a low tax plan is creating jobs and providing a stable investment climate. According to Statistics Canada, over 460,000 jobs have been created since July 2009, the strongest job growth in the G7.

In our recovery, we continue to play a key role in international trade and are opening new markets for agricultural products such as cattle and grain. Canadians continue to benefit from low interest rates and low taxes, while the government remains on track to balancing its budget by 2015.

However, opposition coalition members, given the opportunity, would implement a high tax agenda that would jeopardize the financial security of hard-working Canadian families.

While our economy remains fragile, I stand proudly among the hard-working members of this side of the House, knowing that the responsible measures taken by our government has Canadians looking toward a brighter future.

Salvation ArmyStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the appointment of a Canadian woman to the head of a renowned international organization.

Linda Bond, who is from my constituency of Cape Breton—Canso, was named the new world leader of the Salvation Army. She is the fourth Canadian and only the third woman to hold this top post in the charitable and religious organization.

Ms. Bond is a coal miner's daughter from Glace Bay. She is the last of 13 children born to Charlie and Winnie Bond. She followed an older sister into the Salvation Army and has never looked back.

Ms. Bond has served in many capacities throughout her career all around the globe. For the past two and a half years, she has led the church's work in the eastern Australian territory. When she assumes leadership in April, Ms. Bond will become the head of one million Salvation Army members from 123 countries along with 100,000 employees.

On behalf of the constituents of Cape Breton—Canso and all Canadians I offer congratulations and best wishes to Linda Bond as she embarks on this very important journey.