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.