Yes, Madam Speaker, I hope to bring some calm and unity to this debate.
It would benefit Canadian policy, all parties in the House, and the advancement of Canadian trade interests if we took some of the ideology out of trade, and actually started taking a very sober, thoughtful, researched, and intelligent approach to trade.
Over the last 10 years, perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of the Harper government was the propensity to make every issue of policy one of ideology, whether it was an exhortation that someone stands with either the government or with child pornographers, or if someone had any criticisms or concerns about a particular trade deal, that person was against Canada as a trading nation.
That kind of foolish and simplified ideology did a lot of damage to this very important issue. I hope that Parliament and all parliamentarians can listen to one another, and recognize there are pros and cons in trade agreements and, really, it is our job as parliamentarians to weigh them against one another.
It is utter folly to point to any trade agreement, and fail to recognize that there are no costs to an economy in a trade agreement. Anybody who stands in the House and tells Canadians that signing a trade agreement will be absolutely 100% beneficial for the Canadian economy is not telling the truth. On the other hand, it is also the case that trade agreements inevitably have benefits to our economy.
Once again, it is the job and duty of responsible parliamentarians to roll up our sleeves, examine these agreements, and come to a decision, on balance, on whether we think over time they will be of net benefit to Canada. That requires us to listen to one another.
Let me de-ideologize a bit of this discussion. Every member in this House understands that Canada is an exporting nation. We all understand that trade is critical to Canada's economic development. It is a very important piece, and we are all in favour of it. When any member of the House gets up and says that New Democrats do not believe in trade, that is putting ideology above common sense and intelligent debate, and it should be rejected by every thinking Canadian.
On the other hand, every party has contributed something to this debate. The Conservatives, of course, have never seen a trade deal they did not like. The Liberals have never failed to support an agreement that they did not read, and New Democrats have always brought a concept of what we refer to as fair trade to every analysis. All of those things, I was being somewhat facetious, contribute to this.
The Conservatives have been strong supporters of opening up markets for Canadians, and should be applauded for that. The Liberals have also, at times, taken a varied approach. I know that the member for Winnipeg North likes to attack the NDP, but he forgets that the Liberals opposed the Canada-U.S. trade agreement, and said that they would revoke NAFTA once they were elected.
There were periods of time when the Liberal Party was not in favour of liberalized trade, so for Liberals to make it seem like the NDP never opposes trade agreements, when they themselves did not oppose two of the marquee trade agreements in our country's history is somewhat perplexing to me.
I am going to straighten something else out. New Democrats have, in fact, supported trade agreements in the House. I was the trade critic for the official opposition when we stood in our places in the House and voted in favour of the South Korea trade agreement at third reading. Second, the NDP also supported the South Korea trade agreement with Canada, and we did that by a vote on division.
The Liberal House leader knows that full well, so I wish he would stop this disingenuous game of asking whether the NDP supported the South Korea trade agreement, when he knows that it is normative in the House for bills and issues to pass on division. It is a perfectly acceptable way to vote. That is what happened with the South Korea trade agreement.
There are a few principles that guide New Democrats' approach to trade. First, we like to examine three things that we think are of profound importance.
First, we like to examine the identity of the trade partner with whom we are proposed to extend preferential economic benefits of liberalized trade. We like to make sure that it is a country that respects the environment, basic labour rights, human rights, has fundamental democratic principles and rule of law, or at least is demonstrably moving in that direction.
Everybody in this House knows this. That is why we put sanctions on countries like Iran, which is the opposite of free trade. We actually refuse to trade with countries, when we come to a decision that their behaviour on the international stage is simply unacceptable. We like to make sure that the entity of the country we are trading with meets basic standards, basic Canadian values.
Second, we like to make sure that the economy that we are proposed to be trading with is of significant or strategic value or importance to Canada.
The Conservatives stood in this House and bragged about the raw numerical number of trade agreements they signed. Yet, who did they sign these trade agreements with? It was with Panama, Honduras, Jordan, and Liechtenstein. These are countries that, in their own rights, have some importance, but these are hardly the kinds of large significant strategic economies that really make a fundamental difference to the Canadian economy.
Third, New Democrats do what we think Canadians send us to Parliament to do; that is, we examine in detail the actual terms of each agreement itself. We cannot say that we are in favour of a trade agreement without actually understanding the terms of the agreement.
I want to go through a few reasons why we are troubled by the agreement between Canada and the EU.
First, and foremost, of course, is its provisions respecting the investor-state dispute resolution mechanism.
The NDP has been concerned about this for a number of years now. I remember three years ago, asking Steve Verheul, the chief negotiator of Canada, whether it was his opinion that CETA had sufficient protection to make sure that Canada could make decisions to regulate and legislate in the public interest without fear of being sued by corporations which might claim that their profits have been interfered with, as a result, and he said, yes.
When we read the language, the language has never been clear enough to give us that complete confidence. As it turns out, the NDP's concern has been justified by the fact that when Wallonia held up CETA in Europe just a number of months ago, it was over its concern that the investor-state provisions were not clear enough. What did the parties do? What did the EU do and what did Canada do? They clarified. Why was it necessary to clarify? If the agreement had been clear from the beginning that nothing in CETA would interfere with a state's ability to legislate or regulate in the public interest, there would be no need to clarify. However, it did need clarification.
Frankly, those concerns exist today. Canadians want more trade. They want liberalized trade. They want to facilitate the flow of goods and services, and people between jurisdictions. However, I would venture to say that Canadians would agree with New Democrats, when they say that they do not believe that a corporation's right to make a profit should ever interfere with a country's domestic sovereignty, and ability to pass regulations or legislation in the public interest.
If this chamber decides that we want to protect the Canadian environment, if we want to bring in a national pharmacare system, if we want to allow provinces to bring in public auto insurance if they want to, if we want to bring in health care programs, if we want to protect culture, if we want to take any measure in this democratic chamber that we think is important for the people of Canada, and then be accountable to the Canadian people. That should never be overridden, ever, in a private tribunal or in a foreign jurisdictional court, by people who are placing the interests of a corporation's right to make profits over that. That remains a concern.
Second, we know that CETA is going to do significant damage to the Canadian economy, in many ways.
At the end of the day, one may have a reasonable difference of opinion about whether it is worth it or not, but how do we know that? Because both governments, Liberal and Conservative, are going to offer compensation. We do not offer $4 billion of compensation to the agricultural sector, like the Conservatives did, if that was not an admission that damage would be caused.
The Conservatives offered $1 billion in compensation to the auto sector; $400 million in compensation was offered and then taken away by the Conservatives to Newfoundland for giving up its minimum fish processing requirements; and provinces have been promised compensation if and when the prices of pharmaceutical drugs in this country go up, as they inevitably will, by CETA. Who knows, maybe billions of dollars of compensation will be offered then.
CETA has some good aspects and some bad aspects. The New Democrats will continue to stand up for fair trade, in the interests of Canadians, to make sure this deal is good for Canada.