moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, this has been quite a journey. We are close to the end of that four-year journey and hopefully we will move to a vote fairly quickly.
If I spent all my time thanking everyone who has helped us over the previous four years, I would use up all of my time, so let me confine my thanks to a select few who have helped us from Bill C-423 to Bill C-243, and from Bill S-216 to now Bill S-211.
We would not be here without Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne and her tireless efforts on Bill S-211 and Bill S-216, along with Jérôme Asselin-Lussier from her office and Shawn Boyle from my office, as well as the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River for his willingness to give up his preferred place in the Private Members' Business slot to me, for which I thank him.
I also want to recognize the very helpful contributions of two law firms, Dentons and Gowling, which have shepherded through the many iterations of this bill over the four years.
Finally I want to take note of World Vision, as it is aptly named. Over the past 10 years, World Vision has used its considerable resources to call attention to this international scourge, where Canadians play an unwitting role in enabling the distribution and consumption of slave products.
Before I turn to the bill itself, I want to offer a few comments on slavery in Canada.
As we know, prior to Confederation, Canada was really a collection of British colonies and as such was governed by the laws of Westminster.
In 1787, William Wilberforce, who, in my opinion, is the greatest member of parliament that the British Westminster system has ever produced, embarked on a mission to have the slave trade abolished, reasoning that if the slave trade was abolished, the abolition of slavery itself would surely follow. He was right.
To give us some context, 30% of the British Empire's GDP was dependent upon slave products. If ever an MP engaged in a formidable task, this was certainly it.
Twenty years later, the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807 and then 26 years after that slavery was formerly abolished in the British Empire on July 26. Wilberforce died three days later.
A committed evangelical Christian, Wilberforce was motivated by a deep conviction that the enslavement of another human being was a sin and an offence against God and mankind. As we know, deep moral convictions do not mean much in a parliament unless we can mobilize resources to push a bill to royal assent.
William Wilberforce showed his parliamentary and political genius in two ways. First, he was able to organize, rally and participate in probably the first citizens' movement that brought massive pressure on the Parliament of Westminster. Second, he was able to manipulate the legislative system to, over time, produce the desired outcome.
In fact, William Wilberforce gave a master class in British parliamentary procedures, strategies and tactics, which should be required reading for all parliamentarians.
The citizens' movement was pure genius. He took a ragtag group of quarrelsome evangelicals and attached to them some of the most committed abolitionists of the time. This was possibly the first time a group of deeply committed citizens confronted a deeply entrenched establishment and won.
For his efforts, William Wilberforce was branded as a traitor to his class. When he won, of course, we all won.
The laws of Great Britain applied to Canadian colonies. While some would argue that it is more complicated than that, and I might in another context agree, I would argue that it is a big improvement over the way the Americans handled the same issue.
Why a history lesson when we have an exceedingly modest Bill S-211 in front of us?
First, Bill S-211 is the product of a citizen's movement. World Vision and many others have pressured the parties to be proactive and commit to the legislation. Ultimately, this has resulted in both the Liberal and Conservative parties putting this kind of commitment into their platforms.
Second, getting worthwhile initiatives across the line is exceedingly difficult, especially from the weak position of a private member's bill in a minority Parliament.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the members for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, Peace River—Westlock and Shefford, as well as Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne and the table officers of both houses for getting us here today.
With my remaining time, I want to talk about what Bill S-211 is, what it is not and what it could be.
Bill S-211 is a supply chain transparency bill. Companies of a certain size would be expected to examine their supply chains annually and certify that they are free of slave products, or if they are not, what are they going to do about it. Powers would be given to the Minister of Public Safety to examine the filing, and if not satisfied, cause an investigation to be made.
We expect that the mere existence of the bill will create a high level of compliance as companies worry about their reputational damage, government investigations, consumer disapproval and increased financial costs for non-compliance and additional financial risk.
Keeping it simple is the essence of this bill: examine our supply chains; certify there is no slavery; and if there is, tell us what they are going to do about it.
Why Bill S-211? The moral argument is blindingly obvious. No Canadian should be buying slave products, period.
The economic argument is equally blindingly obvious. Canadian workers cannot compete with slaves. Not only are people beggaring their neighbours by depriving them of a job opportunity, but Canada creates its own supply chain vulnerabilities by becoming dependent upon slave nations to produce critical products.
This is dumb on dumb. In our feverish and immoral desire to get the cheapest product any time, any place, anywhere, we deprive ourselves of business labour and economic opportunities. Stupid is an inadequate description.
Bill S-211 is not a due diligence bill. Failure to comply will not expose a negligent company to a human rights lawsuit.
There are two examples of due diligence legislation, Germany and France. The German threshold is 3,000 employees. The French threshold is 5,000 employees. We estimate that instead of the thousands of companies that would be captured by Bill S-211 under our transparency bill, fewer than 100 companies would be captured by a due diligence bill.
Our reading of due diligence legislation is that it has a limited upside with a massive non-compliance on the downside, in effect trying to run before crawling or walking. It may be that the government will in time move in that direction, but Bill S-211, a transparency bill, is what is in front of us for a vote.
I do not want to be presumptuous, but I believe that Bill S-211 enjoys support in the House, as it did in the Senate. Looking ahead, and I know that is dangerous, I do not want this to be a Potemkin bill, a bill that looks good on paper, but is ineffective because the bureaucracy finds all kinds of reasons to not be ready for the implementation date.
We have enjoyed the support of the four ministers to date, and I want to applaud them for following through on the platform commitments made by both the Liberal and Conservative parties in the last election. It will now be up to them to ensure the compliance is as easy as it is effective. Lessons can be learned from the U.K. and Australia, both of which have similar legislation.
This bill would transform Canada from laggard to leader in this space. It would compel all governments to adhere to the same standards that we expect from Canadian businesses. We can hardly impose these standards on businesses, and yet give governments in Canada a free pass.
I know that businesses are gearing up. I can tell from both my emails and my telephone calls. I would hope that Canadian governments will be as diligent in their preparations for the implementation of this bill. As I have said, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Models for the practicalities of this bill exist in other jurisdictions, and the minister can shape the demands of this bill to produce first-class data and first-class compliance.
In addition, I would encourage the Government of Canada to seek out other governments, in particular the governments of Australia and the United Kingdom, in order to maximize the collective opportunities. A three-nation web of mutually complementary reporting is far more effective than three nations operating individually.
As we can see, this bill is more carrot than stick. I hope that the stick of fines, investigations, naming and shaming will not have to be used too frequently. I am hoping that the carrot will create a high level of compliance deep into the business community to the benefit of us all.
While due diligence legislation may be ultimately the way to go, it is not what is on offer today. Properly executed at this time, I am prepared to trade a high level of compliance from a massively greater number of companies in exchange for a low level of compliance from very few companies.
Finally, this is what others have said about this legislation.
Matt Friedman, CEO of the Mekong Club, who has been in this business for around 30 years, stated, “The importance of this legislation is that it will educate Canadian companies/government agencies about this issue; help companies to look deeper into their supply chains to better understand their potential vulnerability; and ensure that those involved do what is needed to keep workers safe all over the world. It will also allow consumers to see which companies are stepping up to address this topic.”
Michael Messenger, president of World Vision, stated, “Canadians don’t want to be inadvertently contributing to the child labour crisis every time they shop. As child labour and risky imports continue to rise,—”
They have over the four years that we have been on this file.
“—supply chain laws are imperative to Canada’s efforts to protect and promote the rights of boys and girls around the world. With supply chain laws in place, consumers, companies, and the federal government will be able to work together to ensure every purchase in Canada is an ethical one.”
Stephen Pike, a partner with Gowling WLG, stated, “Bill S-211 has made outstanding progress to date through the legislative process. The House of Commons should take this unique opportunity right now to advance the interests of Canada and all Canadians in the fight against forced labour and child labour in supply chains.”
Lastly, Chris Crewther, the MP for Mornington in the Parliament of Victoria in Australia, stated, “When I was a Federal Member of Parliament...I instigated, led and undertook the Inquiry into Australia establishing a Modern Slavery Act, produced the recommendations in 'Hidden in Plain Sight', and brought about Australia's Modern Slavery Act....”
“It has transformed the way Australian businesses, organizations and society looks at the crimes of modern slavery, resulting not only in entities paying attention to and reporting annually on modern slavery in their organizations...but working more deeply to actually look into, eliminate and remediate modern [supply chain] slavery....”
“...I've always adopted the saying: 'don't let the perfect get in the way of the good.' Thus, I encourage Canadian parliamentarians to see [this Bill] through....”
Madam Speaker, this bill is timely, it is broadly supported, it has ministerial buy-in and it puts our nation in a position of leadership. I recommend it to you and to our colleagues.