Madam Speaker, I am honoured to participate in this debate which I consider to be critical in terms of the sovereignty of our nation and the future for many public policies that are in the interests of all Canadians. I want to thank my colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who has worked very hard to ensure that this matter not only was addressed by the committee, of which he is a member and serving there as the trade critic for the New Democratic Party, but also ensured, with today's motion for concurrence, that this very important matter is addressed by all of us.
I think it was a Liberal member speaking earlier who asked what was the purpose of this debate, what are we going to achieve? This allows for an issue, often dealt with behind the scenes away from public exposure and away from parliamentary debate, to be brought out into the open, to be discussed by parliamentarians, and to serve as a way of informing Canadians across the country about a critical issue. It gives us a chance to try to convince the government of the day to take action on an important public policy issue, not to hide behind the rhetoric of free trade, because that is fundamental, but to actually take a moment and assess the implications and consequences of a policy that has been at work since 1994.
The opportunity for this debate comes in the most serious form imaginable. It is a question regarding the right of a government in this country, the province of Quebec, to legislate in terms of what it deems to be in the best interests of its citizens, to ban pesticides in terms of cosmetic use. That is a fundamental health and safety issue. It affects all of us because we know that there are governments in this country which allow for the use of 2,4-D in cosmetic spraying of lawns, knowing that there are serious health consequences, knowing that there is an impact on children's health, the health of pregnant women and many other citizens. It is fundamental that we address this issue because of health but also in terms of the right of a government to legislate what it deems to be in the best interests of its citizens.
We are dealing with this issue because we have a trade agreement that allows for a foreign company to challenge a government of this land about policies which it makes on the basis of what is in the best interests of the public and based on science. Those in the House who stand and say this is about a government making a decision willy-nilly, without cause for concern, without reflecting on the science, I say to them that they are wrong. In fact, the precautionary principle, which is at the heart of this matter, comes out of science. It says that when there is science that shows a particular product, chemical or substance has an impact based on preliminary research studies on individual health and well-being, then that is enough of a cause for concern to say that this matter should be put on hold, it should not be allowed to go forward until we have the complete science, the complete understanding.
It is the simple precautionary principle to do no harm. It is the role of government to ensure that the food we eat, the drugs we take, the water we drink, and the air we breathe is safe beyond a reasonable doubt. If something is developed and becomes known to us that it may have a detrimental effect on health and well-being, then it is the job of government to assess and to put on hold in order to stop the spread of that dangerous substance until such time as the producers of that chemical or that substance can prove that it is safe beyond a reasonable doubt. That is what is at the heart of this matter.
We have a trade agreement that allows for a company like Dow AgroSciences to actually challenge a government in this country because of a policy that it has adopted in the best interests of its citizens.
That is from an aspect of NAFTA, chapter 11, which allows foreign investors to challenge governments, whether it is the province of Quebec or the Government of Canada. It allows a company to challenge our right to make decisions based on what is in the best interests of every citizen of this land regardless of where they live and how much money they make.
Chapter 11 is one of those egregious aspects of NAFTA which must be revisited. If there is anything that comes out of this debate, there must at least be agreement to do that. Maybe we could convince the Conservatives, before this debate is done, that we need to rethink chapter 11.
My colleague from Welland raised the full range of issues under NAFTA. He made a very good point when he said that NAFTA as a whole may not have served this country the way others in this chamber suggest it has, and that it has not been of the great benefit to workers and to ordinary families that Liberals and Conservatives have touted for years.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that my colleague may be on the right path when he says that we should actually look at NAFTA from the point of view of fair trade and whether or not it has actually accomplished what Canadians had hoped it would.
Numerous studies have been done suggesting that there are problems with NAFTA. We should not hide those problems under a bushel just because it has suddenly become not kosher to talk about the problems with NAFTA. We should let them out in the open and talk about them to see if there is legitimacy to those concerns and whether or not we need to reconsider our approach to trade in this context.
The work of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is exemplary in this regard. I do not think anyone in the House would doubt the work of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives when it puts out studies authored by the likes of Carlo Salas, who holds a Ph.D in economics and currently is a professor of regional development at El Colegio Tlaxcala and who is also a member of the board of directors at the Instituto de Estudios del Trabajo in Mexico City.
I do not think we would question the credentials of Bruce Campbell, who is the executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. I do not think we would question the work of Robert Scott, who holds a Ph.D. in economics and is the director of international programs at the Economic Policy Institute.
These three individuals did an extensive study a few years back just assessing what the impact of NAFTA has been on workers. They concluded that workers have suffered more than they have gained as a result of being governed by this trade agreement.
I will not go into all the details, but I will reference what my colleague from Welland has put out in real terms as he sees and experiences these problems in his own constituency where workers have lost their jobs, have been at the whim of the marketplace, and feel little benefit from NAFTA.
The study that I have just referenced by the Centre for Policy Alternatives says the following:
NAFTA promised Canada increased economic growth, income, and employment across all sectors, regions, and income groups; closure of the longstanding productivity gap with the United States; the creation of a more diversified, efficient, and more knowledge-based economy; and, an economy that would maintain and strengthen the generous Canadian social model.
However, the authors of the study found that those promises, that golden age that would come as a result of NAFTA, have really not materialized. We have seen the whole nature of the workforce change to become one where employment is precarious, where people have to resort to many jobs in order to make a living, and where the very labour unions that try to protect the jobs and the working conditions of those workers are threatened under NAFTA.
However, enough said about NAFTA, in general, because in fact what we are really talking about today is chapter 11, the provision in NAFTA that allows for foreign companies, foreign investors, to challenge governments.
I am not saying as my Liberal colleague, the member for Kings—Hants, has suggested, that we should ignore the issue of national treatment. I do not dispute that for one moment. In fact, I think we need a mechanism that would allow us to return to the days when it was a question of government-to-government dialogue and deliberation, in terms of the issue of national treatment. I do not think there is a credible author in this country, in terms of economic and trade policy, who would suggest that having a mechanism that allows for foreign companies to challenge governments is in the best interests of any one of us, or that it in fact does anything but challenge our very ability to operate as a sovereign nation. The experts have all pointed out the problems. The research branch in the Library of Parliament has made it clear that under the national treatment provisions it must be proven that the alleged measure is less favourable to the foreign investor and that the foreign investor and domestic investor are in like circumstances.
Frances Russell, who has written about this extensively in the Winnipeg Free Press and who has incredible in-depth expertise in this area, has said very clearly in an article that she wrote on March 5, 2008:
Before NAFTA, private investors' grievances were adjudicated on a government-to-government basis. But NAFTA allows foreign capital to sue government directly.
And sue they have—for tens of millions of dollars—challenging the public's right to regulate the environment, culture, agriculture, natural resources, jobs and health and safety. As of Jan. 1, 2008, there have been 49 investor-state claims under NAFTA: 18 against Canada, 17 against Mexico and 14 against the U.S. So far, Canada has paid $27 million in damages and Mexico, $18.7 million. To date, investor claims against the U.S. have been dismissed.
That is just a sample of the expertise and the research out there, in terms of the effect of chapter 11 on this country and our ability to make decisions that are in the best interests of the greater good or the public as a whole.
Nowhere is that more apparent than when it comes to health care. And this is what I want to insert into this debate. If we allow Dow Agro to proceed with its claim for damages in the province of Quebec, and if the Government of Canada sits back, does nothing and ends up paying damages, we create an open door for similar corporate interests. This is not just about a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides. It in fact has implications for the entire health care system.
Let us just stop for a minute, in terms of pesticides. I think the question was raised earlier, what about all those other jurisdictions, the City of Toronto and other municipalities, that have moved to ban the use of 2,4-D for cosmetic care of one's lawn? The question was, why was Quebec picked on and not the rest?
I think the answer is clear. The industry picked the most advanced state to make its case with the hope that once it wins, it will then have the wherewithal to pursue similar actions against other municipalities. So, the door is in fact open to the challenge of wise decisions made by local governments in the best interests of the citizens they serve.
Now, if we look at the broader issue of health care, I think it is probably fair to say that if NAFTA had been in place 25 years ago and if chapter 11 had been around when medicare was formed, I do not think we would have seen medicare reach fruition.
That is not just my opinion. That is the opinion of many experts in this country. I want to read from a chapter of a book entitled Medicare: Facts, Myths, Problems, Promise, edited by Bruce Campbell and Greg Marchildon from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
This particular chapter is by Scott Sinclair and is entitled “Protecting Medicare from Foreign Commercial Interests”. He says the following:
Underlining this concern, Jon Johnson, one of Canada's leading trade lawyers, bluntly informed the Romanow Commission that, if the NAFTA expropriation provisions “and the accompanying investor-state dispute settlement mechanism procedures had existed in the 1960s, the public health system in its present form would never have come into existence”.
He goes on to say:
This sobering reflection stands as a warning that the power of modern trade treaties—whose scope has expanded well beyond traditional trade matters to interfere with the ability of governments to limit and regulate commercial interests—must be contained in order to safeguard the future of...medicare.
The experts in the field say that if chapter 11 had existed back in the 1960s when Tommy Douglas and others with him struggled to bring us medicare, we probably would not have been able to achieve it.
Let us just go back 25 years, since this is the anniversary of the Canada Health Act, and consider the fact that we may never have actually accomplished such innovative legislation if such a trade treaty, with chapter 11 provisions, had been in existence.
Scott Sinclair goes on to say:
The principles that underlie Canada's medicare system are at odds with the thrust of modern trade treaties. By establishing a public-sector health insurance monopoly, and by regulating who can provide health care services and on what terms, the Canada Health Act and the medicare system cut against the grain of trade and investment liberalization treaties.
We can see that on a regular basis. I do not know how many people in this place will remember the very vigorous debate we had in this place about six or seven years ago when the Alberta government threatened to bring forward a private hospital, under what was known as Bill 11. We stood in this House every chance we could get to try to convince the Liberal government at the time that in fact the acquiescence to the development of a private hospital in Alberta would open up the doors to private investors right across the board, in the same way that they have stood in the House today and agreed with us that in fact these provisions threaten the right of a government in this land to ban the use of 2,4-D for health reasons.
If only we could have gotten the Liberals back then to understand this, we might not be in such bad shape today, but the fact of the matter is that it is not too late. We still have what some would consider to be one of the best health care systems in the world, which is largely publicly administered on a not-for-profit basis. There is some encroaching privatization, that is true, but it is the opening of that door in any significant way that in fact hampers our ability to maintain a public, not-for-profit system.
As living proof of this, and just to bring us to a current attack on our system as a result of chapter 11, I want to refer to a situation in British Columbia where an Arizona health care entrepreneur is challenging the Canadian government because he believes his plans to build a private surgical centre in British Columbia are being thwarted, and he is seeking $155 million in redress from the Canadian government.
I have just begun with the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to be said in terms of chapter 11 and its impact upon health care, upon our model of medicare system. We have to be vigilant every step of the way.
I want to conclude by saying that every government should have the right to make decisions that are in the best interests of citizens, and when foreign investors, for reasons of profit, interfere with that right and suggest that we are impeding their right to make profits, and we thereby in the process put the public interest at risk, we are doing no one any favours.
We must stand firm against chapter 11 and we must find a way to ensure that this current situation in Quebec is dealt with immediately.