Mr. Speaker, I rise today 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 Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama. The title of this bill, which suggests this legislation will provide excellent economic spinoffs for our country and for the country with which the agreement was reached, is somewhat misleading. Over the course of my speech, hon. members will come to understand what I mean by that. They will also understand that, for obvious reasons, my party and I are against this bill.
Let us begin with some background. Bill C-24 came out of the 2010 negotiations between the Government of Canada and Panama. At the time, Panama was still considered to be a tax haven under OECD tax haven criteria. Does wanting to conclude a free trade agreement with such a country not strike my colleagues as questionable? Let us not forget the problems related to tax havens.
Each year the Government of Canada loses $9 billion in taxes to tax havens. Obviously, this $9 billion is not being spent on programs and services for Canadians. By signing agreements with countries like Panama, the government is indirectly encouraging the rich and corporations to avoid paying their fair share to Canadian society, which means Canadians lose money. Clearly, that forces the middle class and the poor to make up the difference. Where is the logic in this?
The Prime Minister is also making cuts to several programs, organizations and services, such as Rights and Democracy, employment insurance, old age security, the experimental lakes program, the Canadian fisheries sector, and the list goes on.
An application for a lousy $12,000 to install a ramp for the disabled was denied recently in my riding on the pretext that the government has to tighten its belt and make cuts. The application was rejected in spite of the fact that it met all the eligibility criteria set by the minister. This application was denied at a time when $9 billion is being lost to tax havens. Again, where is the logic in that?
Evidently, cuts are often made to services that benefit the middle class and the poor. The government justifies that by saying that there is not enough money in its coffers, when on numerous occasions it could have replenished the government coffers, as is currently the case.
Of course, the government will say that Panama no longer meets the criteria because it signed 12 tax information exchange agreements with France. That is what the minister of state just told us. I would like to remind members, however, that that is the minimum number of agreements to get through the crisis. So, evidently, the government is expecting the minimum. What kind of logic is this?
This is not evidence of the Panamanian government's genuine intention to resolve these issues because these problems are due to the fact that Panama is a tax haven. All this demonstrates is Panama's desire to no longer be labelled a tax haven, because otherwise I would imagine that Panama would take a number of other steps to ensure that it in no way meets the four criteria for tax havens.
Furthermore, the New Democrats and many people in my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and that of my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord—who was unable to speak because closure was invoked by this government—as well as people in the 308 ridings in our country, cannot believe that Canada would enter into a free trade agreement with a country that refuses to sign a tax information exchange agreement, given Panama's reputation.
The government believes that the double taxation convention is enough. Let us be serious. Given that Panama engages in many illegal financial activities such as money laundering, it is quite naive to be satisfied with a convention that requires Panama to disclose only its legitimate revenues. Come on.
It is as though the government were unaware of the importance of money laundering to the country's business and unaware that Panama's tax haven policies make it a place that cannot be ignored.
As Todd Tucker said in November 2010, when he appeared before the committee studying this matter, “major Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, as well as Colombian illegal armed groups, use Panama for drug trafficking and money laundering purposes. The funds generated from illegal activity are susceptible to being laundered through Panamanian banks, real estate developments, and more.”
The government does not seem to realize that by doing business with Panama, it is encouraging this whole industry. That is what the Conservatives want. Well, no. They are muzzling us in order to hide the truth from Canadians and to make sure they get this agreement, no matter what the consequences. They are invoking closure to ensure that the opposition does not say anything embarrassing.
The government cannot remain indifferent to these facts, for as Françoise Héritier said, “Evil begins with indifference and resignation.” We in the NDP still believe that fair trade is possible and that we do not have to remain indifferent to the challenges that exist in other countries in order to create economic agreements that are sound and beneficial for all parties involved.
Another key point in this bill that prevents the NDP from supporting it is the notion of respect for workers' rights. There is absolutely nothing in this agreement to protect the fundamental rights of workers. There is nothing to ensure that these rights will not be denied in the future, as they were in 2010, when collecting mandatory union dues was prohibited, when the boss could fire striking employees, when roadblocks became illegal and when the police were protected from all criminal charges, legitimate or not. There is no protection against this.
The Conservatives seem to think that we can enter into an agreement with Panama and everything will magically work itself out, unless the Conservatives do not like workers' rights and are not really interested in them. Who knows. Clearly, I could talk about other questionable aspects, but there is not enough time.
At least I had time to speak. Many of my colleagues have not been able to represent their constituents because of the Conservatives' time allocation and closure motion.
I repeat: the NDP believes that it is possible, and desirable, for an effective trade strategy to make room for social justice, public-sector social programs and the gradual elimination of poverty.