Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. Even before we started, it was pretty clear what we were going to face from the government across the way, with the help of its supporting choir in the Liberal caucus.
There is not one member of this caucus who does not fully understand and support the notion that we are a trading nation. Our survival depends on our ability to trade. The issue is not whether one believes in or supports trade. If we did not support trade, we would not have much of an economy.
When we are defining the rules of engagement for Canada in trade agreements, the question really is whether they are only going to be about the bottom line. Is that the only thing that matters? If that is the case, then the Conservative approach, supported by the Liberals, is exactly the right approach. In fairness to the Liberals, I acknowledge that once the government gets into this deal, it is going to start working magic somehow and doing things that are not in the agreement.
The Conservatives have been clear: as long as an agreement makes money, it is a good deal. We in the NDP do not agree with that attitude. We think there is more to a trade agreement than just the bottom line. We have said on many occasions that our trade policies should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade.
Where I come from in Hamilton, that sounds very much like Canada. That is who we are, or at least we used to be like that. When there were issues of labour rights or environmental protection, not to mention a host of other issues, it used to be that Canada was always seen as the cavalry. If we were not leading in making improvements and changes, then Canada was one of the first countries to be called upon to add support.
I have said many times that we do not have influence in the world because of the size of our economy or the size of our military or the size of our population. Our geography, both in size and in its proximity to the United States of America, makes it pretty clear that any trade agreement would have to improve our bottom line, or why bother? However, to leave it at that is not Canadian. It is not the Canadian way.
It is no longer the case. Those of us who travel to international forums and so on and run into other parliamentarians around the world are always being asked what happened to Canada. Where did the Canada that was respected go to, the Canada that was prepared to say it is not just about dollars, that there is more to it?
We do give a damn about what happens to workers in other countries that we have trade agreements with. We care equally about the environment, because there is only one, and it is not decided by national boundaries.
In my opinion, we in the NDP have taken the approach that the majority of Canadians want. We did not tell the government not to do any trade agreements. Hon. members across the way ask us to show them one trade agreement that we have ever supported; I ask them to give us one that would actually meet Canadian standards, and then we would gladly support it. We in the New Democratic Party will not just roll over and forget about human rights, labour rights and the environment. That we will not do.
I was not at committee. I am not a member of that committee. However, I do know about some of the presentations that were made, and I would like to read a couple briefly into the record.
The first was from Dr. Teresa Healy, who is a senior researcher in the social and economic policy department at the Canadian Labour Congress. Dr. Healy said:
However, the Canada-Panama agreement does not include specific protection for the right to organize and the right to strike.
If I can speak as an aside, given what is going on in this place right now with the pending legislation, it should not really surprise anyone that given the government's view of its own workers, its view of Panamanian workers would be even lower.
I will continue with the quote:
It provides instead for the “effective” recognition of the right to collective bargaining. On trade union rights then, the agreement is weaker than previous agreements.
On labour issues, fines are small; there are no countervailing duties; there is no provision for abrogation or any other such remedy; and yet again, labour provisions remain in a side agreement rather than in the body of the text.
That is for a purpose, Mr. Speaker.
The problem is, and the point that I am making about the way Canadians view free trade agreements and whether they are free or fair, suggests the government cannot just leave the issue alone. It had to come up with these side agreements.
Although I am not a lawyer, we can be assured that those side agreements do not carry more power than the main agreement. If the government were serious about protecting the rights of Panamanian workers and the right to have a sustainable environment, it would be in the main body.
Dr. Healy goes on to say:
Let me speak a bit about the context of labour rights in Panama. Panama is a country with a population of about 3.4 million people. It is currently recording relatively high growth rates, but it is the second most unequal society in the region: 40% of the population is poor and 27% is extremely poor, and the rate of extreme poverty is particularly acute in indigenous populations.
Unfortunately, that sounds familiar.
Dr. Healy goes on:
Although the country has endured extensive structural adjustment, liberalization, and privatization in recent years, this 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 Ricardo 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 intere, it banned mandatory dues collection from workers, it allowed employers to fire striking workers and replace them with strike-breakers, it criminalized street blockades, and it protected police from prosecution.
The severity of this attack on labour rights was met with strikes and demonstrations. The police were exceedingly harsh in their response—and this was just the past summer. At least six people were killed, protesters were seriously injured, and many were blinded by tear gas and police violence. Three hundred 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.
That is one quote.
I would like to read a second one if I could. This is from Mr. Todd Tucker, who is research director at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He said:
I have two central points. First, Panama is one of the world's worst tax havens. It is home to an estimated 400,000 corporations, including offshore corporations and multinational subsidiaries. This is almost four times the number of corporations registered in Canada. So Panama is not just any developing country.
Let me elaborate on the first point. What makes Panama a particularly attractive location for tax dodgers and offshore corporations? Well, for decades the Panamanian government has pursued an international tax haven strategy. It offers foreign banks and firms a special offshore licence to conduct business there. Not only are these businesses not taxed, but they're subject to little to no reporting requirements or regulations.
You have to be kidding, Mr. Speaker—one minute? My, time flies when having fun. Let me then get at least--