Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-85. It is a great honour to speak in this brand new chamber for the first time. As always, I am grateful for the opportunity.
At the outset, let me begin by thanking the Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, for his hospitality and outstanding efforts in encouraging all members of the Knesset to get involved in building relationships with other nations, particularly Canada. I know my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence will agree that Speaker Edelstein exemplifies statesmanship in our time. He is also a man who has endured unbelievable hardship, suffering in the gulags in the U.S.S.R. as one of the last refuseniks.
Canada and Israel are the greatest of friends and the most natural of allies. Since its founding in 1948, Canada supported Israel in its right to live in peace and security in one of the least stable regions of the world.
There may be no better friend to Canada than Israel, with which we are bound together by a shared belief in freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This renewed agreement is not only another step forward for Canada and Israel economically, but also with respect to our ever-important diplomatic alliance and personal friendships.
It was in May 1961, under Conservative Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, that Canadians first warmly welcomed Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to our country. It is fitting that in 2014 another Conservative prime minister was the first Canadian to be invited to speak at a session in the Knesset.
In that speech, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized the fundamental relationship that was so important. He stated, “Canada supports Israel because it is right to do so. This is a very Canadian trait, to do something for no reason other than it is right even when no immediate reward for, or threat to, ourselves is evident.”
Canadians are proud to do what is right, regardless of reward or threat, because that is the Canadian thing to do. That is why our Conservative government sought to actively support the people of Israel and the Jewish diaspora domestically and in the international arena. Indeed, from 2006 to 2015, the Canada-Israel relationship grew stronger than ever.
In November 2010, Canada hosted, in Ottawa, the conference on combatting anti-Semitism, which was an important international discussion, with representatives from over 50 countries, on addressing rising anti-Semitism in the world. Part of that discussion on anti-Semitism includes ensuring that we do our part to ensure that the atrocities that were committed against Jewish people during the Holocaust are never forgotten.
Our government pushed forward on fighting anti-Semitism and educating Canadians about the horrors that the international Jewish community had faced. We partnered with B'nai Brith to develop the national task force on holocaust research, remembrance and education.
It was former Conservative member Tim Uppal who brought forward the National Holocaust Monument Act as a reminder to Canadians and all those who visit our capital.
However, as the House acknowledged last year, Canada is not innocent when it comes to anti-Semitism. The MS St. Louis remains a dark chapter in our history, when Jewish refugees arrived in Canada after being turned away in Cuba, the United States and South America. We turned them back to Europe, many to face their death in Nazi concentration camps. As far as the Government of Canada at the time was concerned, none was too many.
In January 2011, alongside the Canadian Jewish Congress, former minister of immigration, Jason Kenney, revealed the Wheel of Conscience at Pier 21 in Halifax to commemorate the tragic journey of the St. Louis. The Wheel of Conscience serves to remind Canadians of the underlying attitudes that led to the St. Louis being turned away. The polished stainless steel wheel incorporates four interlocking gears, each bearing a word to represent factors of exclusion: anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism and hatred. The back of the wheel bears the passenger list of the St. Louis, including the names of those who died at the hands of the Nazis upon their return to Europe.
Let that monument be a reminder of how far we have come. Truly, as a country, we have gone from darkness to light, thankfully.
The tragic events surrounding the St. Louis are just one reminder of how important it is for Canada to work with Israel to support the Jewish people's homeland and ensure it remains a vibrant and prosperous country that lives in peace with its neighbours, and, just as important, how important education and dialogue are to ensuring the horrific events of the Holocaust never happen again.
However, supporting the Jewish community means much more than recognizing the failures of the past. It also means moving forward in a way that supports its right to self-determination and to its homeland, and our government made landmark steps towards ensuring that the Jewish state would be able to continue to find prosperity and provide a safe home for its people in an increasingly complicated and dangerous world.
In 2009, our government cut funding to UNRWA, whose ties to Hamas and anti-Israel activities that threatened the lives Israelis and Palestinians alike were unacceptable.
In 2012, our Conservative government signed a new agreement on energy co-operation with Israel that advanced the interests of Canada's energy sector. This agreement also increased collaboration on renewable energy and improving practices for responsible development and reducing environmental impacts.
In 2014, our Conservative government signed the Canada-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, which laid the groundwork for greater economic and diplomatic co-operation to ensure new levels of growth, prosperity and security for our two countries. This framework, which was laid out in 2014, led to a new Canada-Israel air transport agreement to the benefit of Canadians and Israelis alike. It also, of course, led to this modernized free trade agreement that sits before us today, an agreement that was negotiated almost entirely by our Conservative government.
In January, 2014, our government and the Israel government agreed to a partnership to help launch the grand challenges Israel initiative, which promoted global health innovation and fostered scientific and technological innovations to solve health problems in a developing world.
In June, 2015, we announced the Canada-Israel health research initiative to fund up to 30 research projects with a focus on neurosciences and neurological disease.
In January that same year, our government signed the Canada-Israel Joint Declaration of Solidarity and Friendship to outline the path forward for our two countries. Canada committed to supporting Israel's right to live in peace with its neighbours, and we committed to fight any international efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel, and we kept our promise.
Time and again, our previous Conservative government stood up for the right of Israel to exist and to defend itself. While tyrannical regimes in Iran, Syria and other countries sought to delegitimize and dismantle the state, the international community repeatedly sought to unfairly single out Israel as well. Our government rejected what could only be described as targeting of the Jewish state.
Ultimately, if we wish to be a country that promotes democracy, human rights, innovation, freedom, those values that are so important to us as Canadians, then we must continue to forge closer ties with and support nations that embody those same values. This free trade agreement is a significant step forward in continuing our support for our friends in Israel and in promoting those values we share.
We cannot risk abstaining from votes at the United Nations either. These votes unfairly single out and target Israel. Motions from any country in any form that seek solely to undermine Israel's legitimacy and ignore the atrocities being committed by other countries cannot go ignored and must be challenged.
I have been involved in Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Friendship Group since I was first elected to this place. I served as the chair from 2011 to 2015, and I continue to be an active participant in the ongoing dialogue between our Parliament and the Knesset as a vice-chair.
In our many meetings, we have heard and discussed the important role that Canada has played internationally and how much our allies appreciate our efforts, but also how important it is for Canada to remain vigilant.
I have also been fortunate enough to travel to Israel on several occasions, including with former Prime Minister Harper, former Governor General David Johnston, with parliamentary delegations and on personal voyages. Across all of those journeys, it is the people of Israel throughout history; from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who travelled from Ur, the Chaldeans, which is now today's Iraq, and came to the promised land; to Joseph, who saved Israel by going to Egypt and ensuring the famine did not consume his brothers and his father; to Moses, who led Israelis into freedom from their bondage of slavery; to Joshua, King David, the prophets; to the Maccabees, and we celebrate Hanukkah today because the Maccabees were proud enough and strong enough to take back the temple that was being desecrated; to those who kept the Jewish flame alive throughout the years of anti-Semitism; to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust; to David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir; and to the Israelis today that has remained resilient against all odds and hardship. This amazes me the most.
I would like to highlight one more quote from Prime Minister Harper's address at the Knesset. He spoke about the story of Israel:
It is a story, essentially, of a people whose response to suffering has been to move beyond resentment and build a most extraordinary society. A vibrant democracy. A freedom-loving country with an independent and rights-affirming judiciary. An innovative, world-leading “start-up” nation.
If that is not the kind of country we want to grow our ties with, a country that believes in the rule of law and human rights, a country that is innovative, a country that serves as the only stable democracy in the region, then I do not know what country we should align ourselves with.
However, we also must address the domestic impacts of this agreement.
In light of the ongoing trade disputes with the United States, the potential fallout from China during this extradition dispute and the uncertainty in the European Union with Brexit, Canada must continue to look for new opportunities to get our goods to foreign markets.
Our caucus supports free trade. We are a party of free trade. We support a more competitive and prosperous Canada. Free trade is crucial to promoting competitiveness at home and getting Canadian goods to foreign markets.
Being the representative from a region that has been hit particularly hard by steel tariffs put in place by the American administration, I have heard from so many about the need to diversify our trading practices, and this renewed Canada-Israel agreement is a good start.
Between 2006 and 2015, our Conservative government secured access to over 50 countries, and this renewal imitative with Israel was a Conservative one that the government launched in 2014.
Our government negotiated the vast majority of this deal. I would like to thank the hon. member for Abbotsford, who worked tirelessly to finalize not only this agreement, but also the trans-Pacific partnership and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union, as well as the various other agreements that he was largely responsible for.
Our Conservative government negotiated an updated dispute settlement mechanism, which brought in new levels of efficiency, effectiveness and transparency. It was our government that negotiated reduced tariffs and new market access for Canadian goods, including agricultural and seafood products. We negotiated a new chapter on the environment to ensure that both countries pursued greater environmental protection alongside more liberalized trade.
New electronic commerce and intellectual property chapters, again negotiated by our Conservative government, commit both countries to not introduce barriers to commerce and to protect intellectual property rights.
New standards for food safety protect the health of Canadians and our food supply, while new labour standards ensure international norms are respected and workers in both countries are treated fairly.
Finally, initiatives to reduce red tape and barriers to trade will empower Canadian businesses to grow in Israel and for Canadians to benefit from greater access to Israeli goods.
Obviously our side is glad to see this important legislation, which we negotiated, finally coming through the House so it can be implemented, but quite frankly, it has taken too long for the Liberals to finally wake up and begin reacting to the many threats that our country faces.
As I have already said, free trade is an important aspect of ensuring our international competitiveness, but the Liberals are still forcing reckless and anti-competitive taxes and regulation down the throats of Canadians.
Under the Liberals, small businesses, which the Prime Minister believes are tax cheats, have seen their taxes go up and up, and the Prime Minister's new carbon tax is making it even harder for Canadian businesses to compete internationally against competitors in countries where the governments want to see their economy and their businesses grow and thrive.
Ultimately though, despite the poor economic path that the Prime Minister and the finance minister are taking us down, implementing this trade agreement, a final remnant of our Conservative government, will be an important and helpful step for both Canada and Israel.
I look forward to voting in favour of Bill C-85 and continuing to support a strong economic relationship with Canada and Israel.
I must reiterate that this trade agreement is so much more than an economic arrangement. This agreement is particularly important at this time when a new wave of anti-Semitism, weakly disguised under the veil of a supposed legitimate criticism of Israel, is emerging in Canada and across the world.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, as well as the so-called Israeli Apartheid Week, are based at their very core in anti-Semitic and racist undertones that seek to do nothing more than spark hatred against Jews in their homeland. I have seen this locally in the city of Hamilton, on the campuses at McMaster University, and it is very troubling.
This agreement is a statement by the Parliament of Canada that in this time of rising anti-Semitism, Canadians will not tolerate the actions of groups that promote hate and prejudice. lt is one more denouncement of the efforts of those who seek to undermine our allies and their citizens. lt is a rejection of the terror that groups like Hamas and Hezbollah seek to instill in the Jewish people and it is repudiation of the tyrannical regimes that finance them. It is a rejection of the efforts of those on the West Bank that would litter children's curricula in schools with hatred towards Jews. It is an indictment against those who would name soccer fields and recreational centres after terrorists and suicide bombers.
Most importantly, it is a declaration of the bond between the Canadian and Israeli peoples, the friendship that has done so much for our countries.
Finally, in Solomon's Book of Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, at 17:17 it says, “Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.”
To my friends in Israel and the diaspora here in Canada, through fire and water we will stand together.