Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to discuss Bill C-24 to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.
First, I would like to point out that, once more, this motion is subject to time allocation. This is the 25th time this year that we have had to put up with a motion of that kind.
I am going to make a somewhat lengthy comment about the level of absurdity that this Parliament has reached by being constantly constrained by the party in power. This week—actually for two weeks—we have watched the heights of contempt for this Parliament being scaled with Bill C-38. The Conservatives refused to split up a budget bill of more than 400 pages that has impacts on all kinds of departments: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Agri-Food, not to mention Human Resources and Skills Development because of the employment insurance issue that affects fisheries and tourism and that got a very poor reception from most Canadians. The provincial governments are angry. Another concern, and not the least of them, is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
All of this is in a huge bill on which we were muzzled. The hon. members opposite are constantly throwing numbers at Canadians: 50 hours, 70 hours. Those numbers cannot really be weighed by someone who is not in the House. They do not accurately reflect the time that members would normally have required to share information and hear from witnesses in committee on such dense bills, had the work of Parliament been respected by the current government in this House.
Another aspect of Bill C-38 is completely mind-boggling. Just thinking that we were muzzled on it is astounding. There were decisions to eliminate organizations. Division 33 of part 4 repeals the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act and allows the government to take the necessary measures to do away with the centre. We are gagged on fundamental issues dealing with the elimination of organizations that have been very important to the development of Canadian policies.
On the Experimental Lakes Area, Mr. Del Giorgio, a professor of biology, said:
This is a disaster of proportions...that are hard to describe. It is not just the Canadian scientific community that is completely outraged; people from all over the world are sending petitions.
The government is shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area, not just slashing its budget.
For two weeks, we were simply gagged on that as well.
Here we are with Bill C-24 before us, a free trade agreement. This is not some minor information that can just slip through. This is a potential free trade agreement with a country in the Americas. That is important. Has this bill received unanimous support? If the bill had unanimous support, we could perhaps better understand why a gag order was imposed again, but no, we have before us a bill that does not have unanimous support.
Todd Tucker, from Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, has conclusively demonstrated that Panama is one of the worst tax havens in the world and that the Panamanian government has deliberately allowed the country to become a tax haven.
Despite requests from the Canadian government, Panama refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This point is very important. At some point during the whole free trade agreement process with Panama, the Canadian government asked for a tax information exchange agreement. Why? First, Panama has some serious problems with illegal money and money laundering associated with illegal drugs.
There is something I do not get at all. There are members here who brag about being tough on crime. They are in the middle of negotiating with a small Latin American country that has a serious money laundering problem associated with drugs and, suddenly, it is no big deal.
The Conservatives want to be tough on crime with a 16-year-old kid who makes the mistake of growing a few pot plans in his basement, but they do not have the courage to apply their own tough on crime logic, in an international agreement, to a problem as serious as money laundering associated with drugs. That makes no sense at all.
My NDP colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster moved a motion to stop the implementation of a trade agreement between Canada and Panama until Panama agrees to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This motion was rejected by the Liberals and the Conservatives. But in light of this situation, it made sense to resolve this issue first. Other countries, including the United States, that came to agreements with Panama signed similar agreements.
I will repeat, because this is a very important point. Why did a so-called tough on crime government disregard the very idea of a tax information exchange agreement that could have covered all types of trade agreements? This could have perhaps covered the problems related to money laundering. How could this have been excluded from the negotiations and not remain central to the agreement? I do not understand it.
This is not a unanimous bill, and so it is not a bill that should be muzzled. Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress testified that although the minimum labour standards of the International Labour Organization are cited, the agreement is still weaker than it should be. Moreover, as Ms. Healy pointed out, the current Panamanian government has become increasingly tough on unions and workers in recent years.
Some things having to do with workers' rights and fundamental human rights have not yet been resolved.
Muzzling debate about Bill C-24 amounts to muzzling debate on tax evasion and workers' rights. This is not trivial; it is really not trivial.
Panama is not Norway. You need to show a good dose of bad faith to throw the name Panama in the middle of existing agreements with northern European countries. That is what I heard two or three times from colleagues on the opposite side of the House. You cannot put Panama on the same list as Norway and Switzerland without showing bad faith.
A fair trade policy can be realistic. For instance, from the beginning of our discussions with emerging countries, we should demand standards regarding human rights and tax ethics that are in line with Canadian standards. It would be simple. We would not have any surprises or any appendices to add at the end, but rather just the fundamental principle whereby all trade agreements must protect and promote human rights. We should be talking about this from the beginning, imposing it, and prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any products considered to have been manufactured in deplorable conditions that do not meet international standards. This notion should be imposed at every stage of the negotiation process. Ensuring that all trade agreements respect sustainable development is a notion that this government cannot seem to grasp or assimilate.
The agreement includes side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. These side agreements are not in the main body of the text. Someone probably suddenly realized that a bare minimum should be done in order for this to be acceptable. Why is it not simply in the main body of the text?
More than one-third of Panamanians live in dire poverty. Free trade agreements should guarantee that better living conditions and working conditions will result from the agreements, rather than the potential exploitation of the poverty there. Although the agreement appears to protect the environment on the surface, it does not include any really strong measures or any mechanisms to resolve disputes.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which someone mentioned earlier, Panama is a major financial conduit for drug trafficking and money laundering activities. Under those conditions, there is no way anyone can guarantee a better way of life for the people of Panama.
Trade between Canada and Panama is currently worth $150 million. Why the urgency, especially since we already do $150 million worth of trade with this trading partner? How can the Conservatives justify ramming another free trade agreement down our throats as quickly as possible, using another closure motion, when the agreement does not even ensure that Panamanian tax laws will not encourage tax evasion?
I congratulate the government on one thing: in this agreement, Canada has kept over-quota tariffs on supply managed goods such as dairy, poultry and egg products. That is very good.
What is deplorable about this bill is the failure to address human rights and tax evasion. I have been talking about this from the beginning. Every time we fail to address such fundamental issues in our international agreements, we somewhat deride the work of our most courageous predecessors in Canada. They struggled to move the country forward, while constantly working to improve our fundamental rights. We must never lose sight of that.