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House of Commons Hansard #84 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreement.

Topics

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Mount Royal, Iran; the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, Poverty; the hon. member for Etobicoke North, The Environment.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in this House to discuss a government bill that involves much more than simply entering into an economic agreement.

Bill C-24 is an example of a bill where one questions what benefits there will be for Canadians and Panamanians and what problems it could cause. It is quite obvious that Panama has, unfortunately, a long history of money laundering. It is not the only problem with the country's reputation, but it is the most visible. Panama is famous for the huge amounts of money laundered there in order to escape the taxman and law enforcement authorities in other countries.

One has to ask what Canada will get out of this treaty with Panama. The government wants us to approve this process. The core problem is that Bill C-24 proposes a treaty without sufficient guarantee that Panama will go to the effort required to improve its situation and become a good partner from a trade, political and social standpoint. In short, a country that is making progress for its population and for good order in the world. Panama is a far cry from that.

Throughout my speech, I am going to provide facts on Panama and the relationship that it has with Canada. I am going to put things into perspective to demonstrate the dangers that this government could expose us to by entering into this kind of agreement.

Just like my colleague, the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, I serve on the Standing Committee on International Trade. Over the course of the last few months, having observed the manner in which members of the governing party have acted, I have been surprised, and even disgusted, by the government's bad faith. The government is trying to lecture us, ram through measures, and short-circuit the process of consideration without giving us an opportunity to act as equals and carefully study the issues we face. The government is trying to silence us on every issue we deal with. The government is trying to reassure us, as my colleague said previously in her speech, by telling us that it is going to negotiate in the best interests of all Canadians. The government is asking us to blindly accept what it is doing.

The elected representatives in this House and I cannot simply give this government a blank cheque. If the government really wants at least minimal approval from us, it should be amenable to debate. And I am not necessarily referring to criticism. My colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île expressed it well.

On principle, the New Democratic Party is not opposed to pursuing free trade agreements. However, as regards all the free trade agreements examined in this House, and in all the debates that have taken place here, the New Democratic Party has always made observations on various fundamental aspects that affect the interests of all Canadians.

We are certainly not asking for any preferential treatment, or anything like that. We are simply asking for a respectful debate as equals between all members from all parties, whether in committee or here in the House of Commons.

I have been watching the behaviour of government members for a number of months. The government is running away from the issues to avoid facing the real challenges, its own turpitude and the problems it is creating on a large scale. That is not too strong a statement. By running away and signing all sorts of free trade agreements with countries with which we have limited trade, compared with Canada's overall trade activity with the world's nations, the government is trying to hide the fact that it is leaving Canadians to fend for themselves.

I would remind the House that, in my riding, I was the victim of the government's reprehensible abandonment when the management of White Birch Paper brutally shut down the Stadacona plant. Now, there is a possibility that management and the workers may reach a respectful agreement as equals and that the plant will resume operations. However, through its inaction or, rather, its desire to run away from the reality of Canadians and go all over the world to engage in marketing operations, the government is putting the weight of all these new treaties on the shoulders of officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Unfortunately, we recently learned that there is a bottleneck. The government does not even care about the impact that these free trade agreements, which are multiplying for no good reason, could have. That is very disturbing.

The problem is that the government wants us to approve a free trade agreement with a country that has a very bad reputation but that seems—yes, “seems”—to want to clean up its act. Unfortunately, Canada seems content to rubber-stamp the agreement without insisting on guaranteed outcomes. France did not hesitate to criticize the Republic of Panama, and it signed a tax information exchange agreement, but Canada did not. Canada wants to sign a partnership with another country without protecting itself and without knowing what it is getting itself into or whether the Government of Panama is truly making an effort to improve the situation and become a respectful and respected member of the international community.

The absence of a tax information exchange agreement is a problem to begin with, but in the context of this agreement, it can be interpreted as an agreement to protect investors. I must say that I cannot support the government in this folly. Let me be clear. I want Canadian investors to benefit from a certain degree of protection when they do business in Panama, but how is it in Canada's interest for a Panamanian investor to be protected by this kind of clause? This kind of clause in NAFTA, in chapter 11, was really bad for us. In Canada, the rule of law prevails, and all investors, like all Canadians, can rest assured that their rights will be protected if they have been wronged.

The problem is that this type of provision to protect investors creates two classes of citizens. We have seen this with our American and Mexican trading partners and, unfortunately, we risk seeing it if we sign an agreement with our European partner. On one hand, there are the average Canadians for whom the normal legal protections are in place if ever their rights are violated and if they have the means. In fact, that is another problem—whether a person has the financial means, the perseverance and the moral capacity to use the court system. All Canadians are protected in that sense. On the other hand, there is the investor class, who have extraordinary powers to take the Canadian government, or a province or municipality, to court if they feel their rights have been violated by legal provisions legitimately passed by the House.

What is this perspective, this direction that the government wants to commit to taking? Based on this provision alone, the New Democratic Party absolutely cannot support Bill C-24. Nevertheless, it is far from being the only problematic provision. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I mentioned another problem earlier: when an agreement such as this is signed with a country like Panama, we find ourselves in a position where, to some extent, we are directly supporting that country's practices and reputation. We are telling the whole world that Canada believes that everything is going very well, or at least rather well, in Panama and that, ultimately, we do not see any problem with supporting the government's practices and we are prepared to live with the consequences if things ever go awry.

It is important to remember that this type of agreement will create strong ties with Panama—very strong ties—and that the government of Panama stands to benefit very handsomely. Such an agreement is far from benign because Canada has already signed many other international agreements, whether it be human rights agreements or agreements against illegal money laundering and tax evasion.

Canada has already made commitments to all the countries in the world, or at least with all those who have signed this type of agreement, to say that it finds certain practices to be unacceptable.

This means that, by passing this bill, Canada could find itself practically committing perjury, to use a legal term. It would be perjuring its signature, its commitment to defend rights, justice, and good behaviour and to oppose bad behaviour.

Coming from a government that claims to defend victims and uphold law and order, if this were not such a serious subject, such antics would almost be funny. However, this is definitely no laughing matter. Indeed, this means that Canada is going to earn a bad reputation by association. Any time Canadians are travelling abroad, whether for business or pleasure, wand showing off Canada's savoir-faire, they may find themselves accused of supporting tax evasion, money laundering and repressing workers who are simply asserting their right to respectful, egalitarian negotiations. Those are rights that workers in Panama unfortunately do not have.

Then, Canadians will have to say that there is no problem—it is business as usual—and that this agreement is important because of business and trade worth $149 million in 2008, which really is peanuts. Too bad for our reputation, because the important thing is that we enter into this free trade agreement. I can clearly see the media scrum with a staff member of the Minister of International Trade, where this agreement will be described as “fundamental”. We are talking about $149 million. I know that trade, without free trade agreements, is increasing significantly, but this really is a small amount. It is an insignificant fraction of all of Canada's economic activities. Are we willing to sell our reputation for next to nothing for this? To use the biblical terms, in the end, Canada will sell its birthright for a mess of pottage. This is very worrisome. I do not agree with this.

As a legitimately elected representative of all Canadians, I want to maintain that reputation. Canadians have quite often said they are proud of having a reputation that until recently was practically above reproach. We see the government frantically running, out of breath, to conclude free trade agreements with Panama and Jordan, without any serious studies, without any serious guarantees that everything will go well. At the end of the day, those countries, which have very serious domestic problems, will make no effort to correct those problems. I am sorry, but Canada is positioning itself for a future role as a has-been in the community of nations. That is not an exaggeration.

I have been interested in matters of international relations for a very long time now. I even studied international relations at Laval University. Let us not forget that in the community of nations, in terms of international relations, the actions of a country are very closely observed. I know—I am convinced—that this agreement the government is trying to conclude too quickly will forever alter Canada's reputation. Indeed, a very large number of countries, upstanding ones and good partners to Canada, are going to react quite negatively to this.

The government is on notice. It cannot count on our support and I will continue to denounce this type of hastily concluded agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments. The government members are trying to make this a black and white issue, and trying to say that the NDP is simply against free trade. My colleague has introduced many important nuances. My question and my comments will focus on a fairly central aspect of his speech, the international impact.

When I attend events in my riding, people often talk about Canada's international image. It is not just about involvement in a war or financial aid to countries in difficulty. It is also about our conduct when trying to reach agreements with other countries. What kind of dealings do we wish to promote—although it may be done in a more subtle and not necessarily direct manner—with a free trade agreement that is bad for the other country and for human rights in general?

I would like to give him an opportunity to provide more details about that and to tell us what we could do to improve Canada's reputation when negotiating free trade agreements.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Chambly—Borduas. As well, I congratulate him on his work on the ground. I know he is a very engaged member of Parliament. I would like to mention his youth, although I would not want to embarrass him. It is particularly important for him to be concerned about this issue, because—and not to suggest that I am a little old man since I too am very young—the fact remains that his generation is going to be committed for a long time to the kind of agreement the government is trying to get us into.

I recall very clearly that when I was his age, it was the era of the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Mexico and the United States. There were several provisions I was not happy with and I criticized some of them at that time. Free trade agreement or no, we will agree that there is still work that can be done, and trade, cultural and other exchanges that are happening with countries. Often, we are too easily sold on the principle of a free trade agreement as a panacea, which it is not.

Unfortunately—and I am going to engage in a little caricature—the treaties that are signed in haste and in secret are snake oil remedies that easily end up making us sick. Let us use that image. That is why we must be vigilant and there must be a full debate in this House. That is why we must use this time fully to understand the implications and examine the impacts for all Canadians.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, New Democrats have been clear that they intend to vote against this bill.

I want to address the issue of international trade. All the provinces rely heavily on exports. Exportation contributes immensely to the Canadian economy and creates thousands of jobs. Canada would benefit from freer trade among nations.

To the best of my knowledge, New Democrats have never voted in favour of any free trade agreement. If that is not the case, could my colleague give me one example of a trade agreement that they have voted for?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his particularly germane question. We have always opposed free trade treaties for very simple reasons: these treaties were signed in the most naive way with our trading partners. I would offer an example relating to NAFTA. Canada is tied in to supplying oil and gas products to the United States. Unfortunately, the American government could demand delivery, even at the expense of our own interests in that regard.

The Mexican government had the wisdom not to get involved in this, even though Mexico is a major oil producer. The Mexican government valued its autonomy. I will not conceal the fact that there has been an appalling lack of candour on the part of successive governments in Canada. Because, while Canada essentially keeps its head in the clouds when it says it is freeing its market, when it invites countries to invest freely and assures them that there will be no problems, those countries, all around the world, like the emerging nations with their very productive economies, are taking strong action and seriously protecting their domestic markets, and from now on are not going to let themselves be tricked when it comes to the massive export of good jobs, which is what we are doing here.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his interesting speech. The question raised by the member who spoke before me is very interesting, but I would like to modify it. Clearly, the NDP supports trade agreements between Canada and other countries, but not at any price and not under just any conditions.

I wonder if my colleague could talk about the conditions that must be included in an international trade agreement. Such conditions would allow us to support this kind of agreement. We must ask who wins and who loses in these agreements and if they protect those who need it. The NDP often opposes such agreements. Thus, it is important to point out what conditions must be included in agreements of this kind for us to support them.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. This is a very good time to talk about what would make it possible for the New Democratic Party to support free trade agreements. I talked about the investor protection clauses, which are utter nonsense. Let me be clear. Chapter 11 of NAFTA is pure garbage. The United States and Canada are two countries governed by the rule of law that provide full protection for investors and all citizens. Why have an extra clause to protect investors? Perhaps such a clause would be useful for Canadian or American investors wishing to invest in Mexico, but even in that case, the governments of the United States and Canada could simply ask Mexico to harmonize its domestic laws.

With respect to labour law, what are we to make of free trade agreements with Jordan and Panama if these two countries do not even respect basic worker and citizen protection principles? These countries permit the authorities to engage in the arbitrary beating and imprisonment of union leaders and workers who want nothing more than respectful negotiations between equals. Unfortunately, this element, among others, has been left out of the free trade agreements brought forward by various governments over the past 20 years. That is why the New Democratic Party will never support the Canadian government in this endeavour.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I also want to allude to the comments made by our Liberal colleague. He said that, given that we have never voted in favour of any free trade agreement, we are automatically against any effort to promote our products and our businesses. As my two NDP colleagues said so well, we do not have to conclude such agreements at any cost and under any conditions. So far, no free trade agreement has met the expectations of Canadians and those of the international community. I would like to allow my colleague to conclude his speech by talking about that.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his remarks. The blunt statements we are getting from the government and the representatives from the Liberal Party are truly deplorable. In Quebec—and my colleagues can attest to this—on May 2, we were sent a very clear message that Quebeckers no longer tolerate this type of gratuitous accusation. The New Democratic Party will continue to look at the details and make constructive proposals for all Canadians.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24, 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 co-operation between Canada and the Republic of Panama. As members of the House are aware, the Liberal Party supports this bill. The Liberal Party supports free trade and free trade agreements, and has provided leadership in that regard over many decades.

This has been an interesting bill on which to prepare my thoughts. Yes, this is a free trade agreement and we support that. In addition, Panama is the largest market for Canada in Central America, and that is significant.

It should also be noted that the Panama Canal, which is essential to international trade, is undergoing expansion to the tune of $5.3 billion. This work will create significant opportunities for Canadian companies working in construction, environmental engineering and major project consulting services, among other things.

There are some opportunities here. I want to keep in perspective in this debate that in 2009 Canada's exports to Panama totalled about $90 million. That $90 million is important to those companies that sell goods and services to Panama. I do not want to minimize that, because $90 million is $90 million. That amount could grow 30%, 50% or 100%, in which case it would be $180 million.

We support the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. It is a small positive step forward. However, I want to frame that by looking at the purpose of the free trade agreement and whether it is a good choice for Canada's resources compared with other things the government, the civil service and parliamentarians could be doing to accomplish those same objectives. My conclusion is no it is not. It is a distraction. This is yet another free trade agreement with a minor trading partner. We have seen the Conservative government ratchet up numbers with other minor trading partners to say there is another free trade agreement. It appears to be optics over substance.

I would contend that what the government needs to accomplish as its goal is a vital thriving economy that provides jobs and benefits for Canadians. That objective is not being met by the Conservative government. It is spending its time signing many small, minor free trade agreements. Where is the strategic thinking? There has been no strategic thinking. It is all optics.

The objective should be to have a strong thriving economy that creates jobs and benefits for Canadians. However, the facts clearly show that the Conservative government has a history of mismanaging our economy. For example, the government greatly increased government spending while reducing government revenues which threw the country into a deficit situation even before the onset of the recession. The government did not recognize when the recession was upon us. In fact, the government said that Canada was not in a recession and would not be in a recession. There has been a record of mismanagement by the government. One of the unhappy effects of that mismanagement is that today, Canada still has 525,000 fewer net full-time jobs than it had before the recession.

Members opposite have been throwing around job growth numbers, but they have been measuring that from the trough of the recession, which is not a metric that represents the kind of progress Canada wants to make. From before the recession to today, we want to see a country that is building jobs, building its economy and having the kind of fundamentals that allow Canadians to have jobs and feed their families.

There are 525,000 fewer full-time jobs thanks to the government's policies at a time when our population has increased by more than one million. Not surprisingly, the unemployment rate is much higher than it was when the Conservative government first took office. In fact, the unemployment rate is 7.6%, which is two percentage points higher. We are seeing somewhat of a jobless recovery. How is the free trade agreement with Panama going to help that?

Canada had $90 million in exports to Panama. What was the total exports of Canadian goods and services from Canadian businesses in and around 2009-10? It was $339 billion worth of exports, so $90 million versus some $339 billion. The exports to Panama turn out to be something like 3/100th of a percent of our total exports, which is $3 on every $10,000 that Canadians export.

Should we not be signing free trade agreements? No, that is not my point. My point is whether we are focusing on the key success factors for our economy and the job creation that is the goal of this? I see spending some three years negotiating a free trade agreement with Panama as being destructive to some of the much more significant things the government could and should be doing to accomplish that goal.

Unfortunately, we are going backwards with many of the government's policies. I will mention one other one which is the impact of the government on small and medium size businesses, which has not been positive. Industry Canada's analysis shows that in its last 20-year analysis of job creation it was not only the small and medium size businesses that created the jobs. On a net level, they created all of the net new jobs in Canada. In fact, large 5% of the jobs created by large businesses were lost on a net basis in that 20-year period up to 2003 which, as far as I know, was the last analysis of a 20-year period that Industry Canada has done.

What does that tell us? If we want jobs in Canada, we need to work with the small and medium size businesses. What has the Conservative government done? Unfortunately, it has done the opposite. The tax rates for large businesses have gone down from 22.5% to 15%, the ones that are net job losers. What has been the corresponding reduction in tax rates for small and medium size businesses? Actually there has been no reduction. There has been an increase in their costs through an increase in the EI payroll tax rate. Although the Liberals, the business community and the economists across Canada argued that taxing employment was the wrong thing to do at a time of economic challenge, in a recession, the Conservative government went ahead and did just that and added $1.2 billion in EI payroll tax increases.

We have a situation where we have a jobless recovery and we have the job engines, the small and medium size businesses, being ignored by the government. Industries that are big job creators, like tourism, have been mismanaged, unfortunately, by the Conservative government.

Tourism is an incredibly vital and important industry for the small and medium size businesses but we are falling behind. Even though Canada is recognized as the number one tourist destination, we have fallen from being seventh in the international competition for overnight visitors to fifteenth. We are losing market share dramatically. During the Conservative government's six years, we have seen a lot of that market share decline.

Why is that declining? The tourist industry representatives have some answers to that, and it is the policies of the Conservative government for the most part. Yes, there are some factors that have been outside the government's control but the government did control its decision to slap a visa on Canada's fastest growing tourist market, Mexico, with no consultation, upsetting an important trade partner and reducing the number of Mexican tourists substantially, by some 35%, through that act.

The government has been told time and again that its fees and taxes at airports make air travel uncompetitive and drives tourists to airports in the United States. It is very costly to businesses along the border in Canada. As far as I know, nothing has been done to address those cash grabs through the airports. In fact, we are seeing another addition to the cash grab at the Vancouver International Airport with an additional $5 being added to the airport improvement fee that all travellers will be paying.

In the skills and trades training, we know there is a serious mismatch between the kinds of skills and trades training happening in Canada for the jobs of today and in the future. Some of the key analysts on this issue are telling us that within about five years Canada will likely have 1.5 million jobs without people who are suitable to fill them and 1.5 million people without jobs. Where is the overall strategy to address that?

Unfortunately, the government is ideologically against having a hand in providing leadership on issues like this. It is leaving it to the provinces to solve. The government says that each of the 13 provinces and territories can battle it out themselves. The present federal government does not want to provide leadership or some kind of a framework to address a national problem that impacts national productivity and undermines Canada's prosperity, our economy and the jobs that a thriving economy can produce.

Given those challenges that the government is facing and has created, its answer is a free trade agreement with a country to which we sell $3 out of every $10,000 of our export goods and services? I would argue that if that same time and energy had been put into managing more effectively the relationship that Canada has with our most important trading partner, the United States, there would be a far greater return on effort.

We need to look at what is happening with our relationship with the United States in terms of trade. Our trade with the U.S. exceeds $1.4 billion every day. That compares with $210 million on both sides of the ledger between Canada and Panama in a year.

One would think that we would be focusing on the United States and our trade relationship, really being present where decisions are made in the United States, ensuring that our case is understood, using the department's resources that instead are doing free trade agreements with countries like Colombia, Jordan and Panama, and focusing on where it can really count. When organizations want to achieve a result, they focus on the key factors that will drive that result.

We have a government that wants to notch up some more numbers by saying that it has more free trade agreements than other governments have had. It is as if that will deliver the result that Canadians need, which is a thriving economy and jobs.

Eighty per cent of Canada's economy depends on access to foreign markets, and our largest partner, of course, is the United States; that is 75% of Canada's merchandise exports go to the United States. Panama is not even on the list if one looks at the top countries of importance for Canada's exports.

How are we doing with our U.S. exports? Canada's share of United States' imports have fallen in a great number of sectors. In furniture, we used to have a 25% share and it is down to 9.1%. In electrical equipment, we used to have a 10% share of U.S. imports and we now have just over half of that, 5.4%. In textiles, we used to have a 6.8% share that the U.S. imported and now it is down to 2.2%. Printing has fallen from 30.3% down to 17%. Fabricated metal used to be at 18% and has now dropped down to 10%. Rubber and plastics used to be at 31%, and are now down to 19.9%.

What has been happening? We have been losing market share with our biggest trading partner that accounts for 75% of Canadian export sales.

The government has had its talented people running around and organizing a free trade deal with Panama. What was the rush? Why did it not spend that time working on recovering some of our market share in the other core markets and the other core products and services?

The Prime Minister insulted the United States president and its people who wanted to take the time they needed to properly study a potential thousand kilometre pipeline on American soil that would run through some environmentally sensitive areas. Did we say that we would respect the right of Americans to study the costs, benefits and risks and make a decision? No. The Prime Minister postured and basically insulted our largest trading partner by saying that if it did not take our crude oil without any questions, we would sell it somewhere else. That was very diplomatic. That will really help. Canadians need the United States to be a co-operative trading partner. However, the government is essentially amateur hour when it comes to trade, and that has been shown from day one.

The Prime Minister has been blindsided by U.S. protectionist policies. The Conservatives were surprised by the initial buy America provisions in the 2008 stimulus package. They negotiated a solution to that, which lasted all of a year, and then buy America was back, which surprised the Canadian government's administration again.

The Prime Minister and his minister were taken off guard by the surprise announcement of a maritime commission. The commission will do research and could potentially impose fees and tariffs on U.S. goods coming through Canada at our ports. Canadians will have to pay a new border tax. These costs undermine our trade with America but we are busy doing a free trade agreement with Panama.

The complete and utter amateurishness of the Prime Minister with respect to the government's relationship with China has put Canada back about four years in terms of getting its assured destination status. This was important for tourism and we lost about four years of that tourism boost.

As a result of the kind of insults that the Prime Minister has delivered in public to the Chinese leadership, our trade with China has been languishing. Other countries are taking advantage of the great growth and the economic well-being of China while Canada has been stagnant. Canada has a four to one trade deficit with China. For every $4 that we spend buying goods from China, we only receive $1 from selling our goods to that country. Have we had a strategy focused on that key success factor for Canada's trade? No, we have not. We are busy negotiating free trade agreements with Panama and posturing about our natural resources.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member may add a few more comments in questions and comments. Her time has elapsed.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Saint-Maurice--Champlain.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

February 27th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her speech. She spoke a little about the environment when she indicated that negotiating free trade agreements with certain countries is more important to the government than improving relations with the United States.

Does she believe that this government is using this indifference towards the environment to seek out contracts in countries that do not care about the environment and people's living conditions?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the question because the environment is indeed very important. There are some very worrisome issues with respect to environmental regulations in Panama.

In fact, the United States trade representative noted in a congressional research service study that Panama faced a number of challenges in protecting its environment as it supported its economic population and growth. These concerns included deforestation, loss of wildlife, threats to water quality, et cetera. It also included the poaching on protected territory that was under the stewardship of the Embera first nations. There are some 7,000 hectares that settlers have moved in on with the Panamanian government being complicit in that.

Therefore, I ask the government this. What was the hurry? Why not try to settle some of these regulatory improvements that are needed before and have bargaining power for our free trade agreement?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I am a bit confused. The member of the third party has said that this is just a distraction and yet the Liberals will support it. I am not really sure. Are they going to support this? Are they going to support the fact that Panama is a tax haven, that there is money laundering that goes on there with drug traffickers, that by taking measures toward eliminating trade deals with tax havens, we could recoup lost revenue of tax dollars?

What I got from the member is that if the economy is a powerful one, the Liberal party is willing to get into bed with it and damn the negative aspects, just because it will bring money or economic growth. This shows where the Liberal party stands with its principles. It flip-flops. Basically, it is not willing to stand on principle for the environment, against money laundering. The Liberals are saying that they are going to support this even though it is doing bad things because it helps the economy in some way. I think Canadians are tired of this.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I am disappointed at that kind of rhetoric. We are talking about something that is important to the lives of Canadians, their jobs and their ability to support their families.

I think my debate has been clear. It is as though the Conservative government is like a chef that has prepared a very tiny snack of a few peanuts and spent the same amount of time for which that chef could have prepared a healthy meal for a family. Do we throw away the peanuts? No, we eat the peanuts, but we ask why the Conservatives have wasted their time with those peanuts when we are hungry. We wanted the meal and they could have provided it. That is what we are saying.

Free trade is positive, but we believe these resources could have been far better utilized in managing our trading arrangement with the United States, or China or managing some of the key failures of the government on the economy itself.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, the NDP actually looks at the ingredients before we prepare a meal, rather than giving carte blanche to putting whatever ingredient into the meal that is being prepared, like the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. We look at the ingredients and we look at the bad things and we make propositions.

Unfortunately, the third party and the government rejected propositions we made to this legislation in the past. These propositions would have improved the legislation in terms of the environment, which the member spoke to, yet the party does not act on it when it comes time to vote. We also made propositions on tax havens, which the third party and the government rejected. Therefore, I find it a bit rich for the member to stand and talk about peanuts and good healthy meals for Canadians when she does not look at the ingredients of the food she prepares.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, Liberals know that the member of the NDP is with a party that is ideologically against free trade agreements and will find ways to express that. I do not take very much from what the member is saying in terms of moving the debate forward.

The reality is it is positive for farmers and growers of pulses and potatoes who would like the tariffs removed that Panama has placed on those goods so they could potentially sell more to Panama. That means farmers could increase the size of their farms and profits and possibly put a family member through school. Unfortunately the member is adhering to an ideology to really think about the people.

It is useful to have free trade agreements. My view, though, is that this has been a distraction. Now that the government has spent three years doing that, why would we flush it away? It makes no sense and it is not in the interests of Canadians or the jobs that depend on those industries that, even in a small way, will benefit from this free trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I fail to see ideology in protecting the environment and workers' rights or the fact that certain countries are havens for money launderers and to make propositions to change those things. I do not see that as ideology; I see that as common sense.

I find it troubling that the third party continually flip-flops on these issues. She talks, on one hand, about helping farmers and the poor in Panama, but, on the other hand, is unwilling to implement changes to the legislation that would protect the poor families in Panama and the Panamanian environment and put pressure on that trading partner to adhere to international standards. It troubling that she is willing to write this off as ideology. That is symptomatic of the fact that when push comes to shove, the third party is willing to give up its principles for the sake of an easy buck.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that the member has reiterated his position three times now. There was nothing new in that question.

My request of the Conservative government in the debate today is to look at what it is doing to undermine small business growth in our country with its EI tax increases and why it is choosing large businesses over small businesses by giving major corporate tax reductions to the large businesses and nothing but a slap in the face to small businesses. I would ask the government to create a tourism strategy that has some actual numbers, accountability and action in it rather than vaguely referencing the problems the government has created and having no road map to fix those problems.

I encourage the government to take a look at the bigger issues around our trade-dependent country and really focus on repairing some of the damage the Conservatives have done with our important trading partners, including Korea, China, India and America, on behalf of Canadians who need the jobs and want that trade. We appeal to the government to actually focus where it counts.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-24, a bill that troubles me because of its weaknesses in addressing many issues, including tax havens, possible money laundering, lack of fairness provisions and a seeming lack of responsible policy making.

The lack of leadership of that milk toast government troubles me when I see other countries, like Australia, showing true leadership on fair trade, innovation and building an economy for the 21st century, not only for the sake of their own people but for all global citizens.

The process of this bill began in October 2008 and here we are four years later. This is a government that is interested in policy making by template, resting on its laurels. Most troubling is the blind eye that the government is willing to show toward tax havens.

I will not hide my allegiance here. The member for Outremont in our party would like to see a smarter tax system, one that eliminates illegal tax havens and ensures that our economic players play fair, in other words, that everyone who is an economic player in Canada pays his or her fair share of taxes and does not use tax havens to hide money from respective governments for personal enrichment.

Panama is a country that has refused transparent measures to ensure that money laundering by organized crime and drug traffickers does not happen. Therefore, it pains me that the government puffs its chest continually about cracking down on crime, while permitting laundering of drug funds, through tacit approval of Panama in this area, by engaging in a trade agreement with a country that permits money laundering of proceeds of drug trafficking, of illegal activity, of organized crime. The hypocrisy is pretty evident in this position.

Conservatives elsewhere in the world understand this fact of not promoting tax havens. Recently French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a speech made at the end of a G20 conference in Cannes in November, named certain countries, such as Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, among eight others, and he included Panama in the list of countries that were troubling tax havens. Sarkozy threatened that countries that remained tax havens would be shunned by the international community. Apparently Canada does not want to participate in the international community that shuns these tax havens.

Social democrats elsewhere in the world understand. Australia's Labour government has a comprehensive policy on tax havens. That is one of the reasons why the work of that government has been recognized worldwide. Wayne Swan, its minister of finance, was named the best finance minister in the world recently, making social democrats worldwide proud of our achievements.

As the opposition, we have made propositions in the past to improve this agreement. During the clause-by-clause review, we proposed 11 amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill. These included the addition of crucial concepts of sustainable development and sustainable investment and, most important, we proposed a requirement for taxation transparency. All of our proposed amendments were voted down by the Conservatives with the help of the third party. That shows where those two dinosaur parties stand on proper, responsible tax policy.

If we look in the past at former Prime Minister Paul Martin and Canada Steamship Lines, anybody in the know will know of the former prime minister's actions to avoid paying proper taxes. We see examples where members of both parties used loopholes for their own personal enrichment and to avoid paying their share of taxes.

Even worse is the Conservatives' protection of big-time organized criminals, the real drug traffickers, the big guys, the big players, by supporting Panama. Cocaine and heroin dealers can find a good partner in Panama to launder their money and the big profits they have made off the backs and misery of the cocaine and heroin addicts of this world. Meanwhile, the government is planning on punishing the small-time guy while letting the big-time organized criminals go. It leads to questions about our ports and the government's real willingness to prevent the importation of hard drugs.

For instance, the talks for this process began in October 2008, under the Torijjos government. Torijjos put Manuel Noriega's old team in place. Members of a certain age in this room will remember Manuel Noriega. He was apprehended by the Americans for complicit activities and drug trafficking. The Torijjos government put Noriega's old boys back into key positions.

Colonel Daniel Delgado Diamante, the minister of government and justice, is another example of people Noriega had worked with in the regime when the Conservatives started talks with the Panamanian government. Anyone sufficiently schooled in politics would know that it is never just a single actor who contributes to corruption, crime or criminal activities but always a team.

Trade agreements are an opportunity to brand Canada. Instead we see that the government does not understand this concept. Australia, our Commonwealth partner, understands. On November 8 last year, in the biennial Sir Alan Westerman lecture delivered by Australian Minister for Trade Hon. Dr. Craig Emerson, he asked whether free trade can be fair. His answer was that free trade can be fair. We in the NDP agree.

The Australian government knows its brand. Dr. Emerson said:

Australia's future is as a high-skill, high-wage country. It is in the interests of working Australians that we compete in the production of goods embodying high levels of skills and innovation, not on the basis of low skills and low wages.

Furthermore, he said:

The existence of people struggling on very low wages is not unfair to rich countries; it is unfair to them and the families they are trying to support. For them, free trade is fair and if we have any compassion for them we should agree.

One would think this would support the Conservatives' bill. Not at all.

Dr. Emerson talked about the World Trade Organization. He said:

Members are protected from unfair practices by other members, but non-members enjoy no such protection. The philosophy of the WTO is free trade conducted under fair rules; there's no inherent conflict between the two. But the world trading rules are far from perfect in ensuring fairness. Some countries have high tariffs while others have none. Some countries have tough quota restrictions while others have none. Some countries have many nasty non-tariff barriers in place behind their borders while others have few. Some countries have big subsidies on domestic production of agricultural and manufactured goods while others have none. Some countries dump their surplus products onto export markets at below-cost prices while others do not. Some countries heavily subsidise their offshore fishing industries--contributing to fishery depletion--while other countries do not.

Clearly, the WTO's rule book contains loopholes and has pages missing, such that trade is neither free nor fair, though it is freer and fairer than would be the case if there were no rules. The objectives of both free trade and fair trade are best served by applying rules to everyone and making sure the rules cover all unfair practices.

The idea is not to close our eyes and say everything is fine, but to propose improvements. Instead, we face the laziness and complacency of the government that sees no problem using a template from 1988 repeatedly. Free trade can be fair trade. In the words of our former leader, Mr. Jack Layton, “Don't let them tell you it can't be done”.

Here are the kinds of things that we proposed. The first was regarding sustainable development. 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 regarding the definition of sustainable investment. The amendment would define sustainable investment as investment that seeks to maximize social good as well as financial return, specifically in the areas of the environment, social justice and corporate governance in accordance with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment.

The NDP has consistently opposed NAFTA-style trade templates that focus on the interests of multinational corporations and ignore workers and the environment. These trade agreements have increased inequality and decreased the quality of life for the majority of working families. That is not fair. That is not fair trade and we need to be future forward on trade. We need to look to the future.

We strongly believe in proposing an alternative and better form of trading relationship such as the one that could be established with Panama or any other country, if we are willing to make the changes to the legislation. We need an overall fair trade strategy that provides a comprehensive common sense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrates that Canadian negotiations are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industries.

The government does not sign any trade agreements that would lead to a net job loss. Here we can look at what Air Canada did with Aveos and how we are bleeding jobs now because of this agreement that was made with a foreign company. Also we can look at the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote and protect human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been created under sweatshop conditions, forced labour or other conditions that are not in accordance with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

We will not be supporting the bill, not because we are against trade, but because it is weak on trade. It is weak on fairness and it will only serve to legitimize the activities of organized crime groups. It will fail to help the workers of Panama. Furthermore, as long as the government continues with its lazy template, we will continue to oppose free trade deals that are not fair trade deals as well.

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5:40 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that we have heard these arguments time and time again, because with every free trade agreement that comes up the NDP uses variations of them.

The NDP members are actually against trade. The member opposite claims they are not, but they are. They stand against trade at every opportunity. Every time we have had to deal with these free trade agreements, NDP members stand against them. They seem to think that it is somehow good, that they are trying to protect people with poverty. They are trying to protect them by keeping them in poverty. We do not believe in that. We believe that we should be protecting them with prosperity.

Clearly the free trade agreements that we have dealt with and have been able to bring in have protected people with prosperity. Earlier the Liberal member opposite was talking about peanuts and large meals. The reality is the Liberals did not serve Canada anything at all. They did nothing in their 13 years. We have had to step forward and begin to bring these free trade agreements into place.

I have a lot to say, but I want to ask the NDP members opposite, why do they oppose every free trade agreement? I have never heard them come to the House and say that they will support one. At the end of his speech today the member said it was all about criminals and not supporting workers. The reality is every free trade agreement that we have made has improved the lives of workers in this country and it has improved the lives of the workers in the countries we have made agreements with.

Why do the NDP members refuse to support every single free trade agreement?

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5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the answer is simple. It is because every single free trade agreement uses the same flawed template that started in 1988. That template does not truly protect workers' conditions, does not protect the environment and is not fair to the people of that country.

I am sure his constituents would disagree with the member's definition of prosperity. In some of the countries with which we engage in trade deals, workers are making 50¢ an hour. I think his constituents, if they saw the working conditions of people in these countries, would fail to see the prosperity that these trade deals are supposedly bringing to the countries.

I am glad to see that the government has finally woken up in this debate tonight. I received my first question from the government and I look forward to getting more.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not necessarily agree with the Conservative member's assertion regarding Mr. Martin or Mr. Chrétien, former prime ministers. He might want to rethink the whole team Canada concept. That was a federal Liberal initiative which brought provinces and the federal government together to travel to places like Asia to attract trade.

The Council on International Trade, 2011, was an international trade strategy for the Province of Manitoba. Peter Bjornson, who is a New Democratic cabinet minister, talked about how free trade agreements are in fact beneficial to the Province of Manitoba because they take away from some of the problems with tariffs. The concept of free trade was perceived as a positive thing.

Would the member say that the national federal New Democratic Party is different in terms of its position on more open markets which would ultimately generate more jobs for all Canadians?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, a week in my riding among my constituents has done me good.

When I am there I often wonder if the member for Winnipeg North stays here in the chamber, because he seems out of step with Canadians and his own party in seeing that the government he opposes is over there. I have given ample examples of our propositions. Maybe the member should listen instead of continuing his election campaign while here in the House.

I implore the member to go home to Winnipeg and to listen to his constituents. He asked about our free trade position. We do not flip-flop here in the NDP. We are true to our principles. The Liberals seem content to vote to support free trade, as long as it makes some sort of economic growth for somebody.

It is a far cry from the time of John Turner and his spirited opposition to free trade agreements in 1988. It seems that Liberals are supporting money laundering. I find it sad. I find it very sad.