Mr. Speaker, I first want to say that I understand completely the efforts on the part of members of the other opposition parties in expressing the concern regarding human rights. I indeed applaud them for ensuring that this is such a significant part of the debate.
I want to stress that we as Liberals share all of those same concerns. This is one of the ironies of this debate, and I would suggest that this is true for most members of the House in its entirety, that we are all very concerned about human rights, that we all want to see significant improvement in human rights for all Colombians.
I suggest that the differences lie not in our collective desire to see improvement and our collective concern for human rights but our views on how to accomplish that, and in this case in particular for Colombians. It comes down to a difference of approach, whether we support the approach of using walls as opposed to windows, of avoiding versus engaging, and engaging in criticism as opposed to providing support.
I completely agree with the members of the opposition parties about human right in Colombia. We know that respect for human rights is a problem in that country. The Liberal Party wants to see change, and I believe the same can be said for most members in the House, no matter which party they belong to.
We know that there are problems and of course we want to find solutions for Colombians with respect to the human rights situation, but the question is how. How can we really help Colombia? Is it better to use walls or windows? Is it better to criticize or to provide support when that country takes action to improve the situation? Is it better to deny there are problems or engage in fixing them?
I want to speak a bit about those three different approaches.
If we talk about walls versus windows, is it better for the people of Colombia to have Canadians says that this is a problem, that we disagree with it, that we see human rights as a big problem so we will not participate? Is it better to tell Colombia to put up its walls so we will not see what goes on behind them? Is it better to say that windows are a better approach so we can see through them, so they will shed daylight on what goes on, so they can be opened and allow in fresh air?
These are serious issues. These analogies may seem somewhat simplistic, but they do make the point, in my view, of whether it is better to raise walls and hide behind them and pretend that we do not see what goes on, or whether it is better for Colombia to have an opportunity to open those windows to allow the light in, to allow us to participate in a dialogue.
Is it better to criticize, or is it better to support Colombia? We could say no to this free trade agreement thereby limiting our economic engagement with Colombia. We could say from that perspective that we do not agree with what happens there, that it should be changed, but it is all just criticism.
The alternative is for Canadians to provide support, and the only way for us to support Colombia is to engage with Colombia. It is absolutely a difference between a philosophy of trade and an opportunity to engage, as opposed to some people unfortunately viewing trade as somehow encouraging behaviour that we do not support.
I stand here on not only a very personal basis, but on behalf of the Liberal Party as well. We feel very strongly that trade gives us the opportunity to participate and support the government of Colombia, the businesses in Colombia, the Colombian people when they engage in activities that further human rights as opposed to us standing back and criticizing. I would venture that it is all too easy for us to sit back and criticize rather than get involved, do the work and provide support when it is needed.
The other option is avoidance versus engagement. We could just avoid the problem, or we could engage.
As one of my colleagues said a little while ago, if we do not sign this free trade agreement with Colombia, we could all go home and pretend that the problem never existed. However, what on earth would Canada and Canadians be able to do to further human rights and enhance them if this agreement goes off the table? If anybody in the House believes that Canadians and Canada will have any further influence, that there will even be any attention paid to the challenges faced by Colombians, then he or she is naive, with all due respect. It will simply not be part of the discussion any longer.
On the contrary, if we engage, if we sign this free trade agreement, if we involve Canadian businesses with Colombian businesses, if we involve Canadians with Colombians, then it would give us the opportunity to work on a regular basis with the Colombian government, Colombian businesses, Colombian non-profit organizations, Colombian labour movements and the Colombian people to move the whole issue of human rights further. It would give us the opportunity to enhance economic activity, which we believe is fundamental to improving human rights, and to continue, rather than avoiding, rather than having it disappear from anybody's radar screen.
Thanks very much to my colleague from Kings—Hants, we now have an amendment to the agreement that would force an additional level of engagement specifically on some of these issues.
I have full respect and admiration for all of my colleagues who have engaged in this conversation, because this is an issue about which we are all concerned. It is a difference of approach.
I will therefore be supporting this bill, specifically because in our view those concerns warrant a much greater level of engagement than simply saying that we are not interested any more.
The Liberal Party truly believes that fuller economic engagement will allow Canada to exert its influence over Colombia in terms of the human rights situation we are currently debating.
Since the election of President Uribe in 2002, Colombia has made progress in reducing violence and human rights violations despite an armed conflict fuelled by the drug trade.
This progress is largely due to close collaboration with international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Progress has already been made because international organizations have become involved and people are participating in commercial enterprises.
I will stop there because I want to answer my colleagues' questions. We have to decide if we want to build walls or windows; if we want to criticize and deny the problems or become engaged.
In order to truly improve the human rights situation in Colombia, I choose engagement. I will be voting in favour of Bill C-2.