Mr. Speaker, we were debating this bill before the House was suspended for the government to recalibrate. The bill was formerly known as Bill , and now we have brought it back as Bill . At this second reading, I want to participate in debating the bill on behalf of my party and to add a few a comments that do not directly affect the bill itself, but deal peripherally with it as a result of some of the comments made today during debate. The minister's response was a low blow in terms of our position as Liberals and was uncalled for, if I may say.
Here we are as the official opposition standing in support of the free trade agreement with Colombia. Yes, the hon. member from the Conservative Party is acknowledging that. Maybe what he should do is tell the to be a little more polite in his response, because we are not going to allow the new Conservative Party to give us a lesson on human rights. We are noted as the party of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, unlike that party, which had to change its name not once and not twice, because Canadians were literally scared of them. However, I am going to get to the essence of the bill.
Last week I held a round table discussion with Ms. Adriana Mejía, a senior minister from Colombia whom we were very fortunate to have visiting with us. She is the deputy minister of foreign affairs in Colombia. In light of the concerns about the human rights situation in Colombia, I thought it would be a great opportunity for us Canadians to hear what the minister had to say, to hear of some of their initiatives and, of course, to question the minister.
I am very pleased to report to the House and Canadians that we had a packed house. There were members from the government, the Liberal Party, the Bloc and there were no members from the New Democratic Party. Well, we might say that maybe they did not know about it, but they knew because I went out of my way to invite them personally. I am very disappointed they could not find one member in their caucus, especially if they were so concerned, to be there and ask questions of that visitor of ours. Nevertheless, the minister went into a very in-depth presentation. She had a deck with her that I will go through and point out certain initiatives they have undertaken to address some of the concerns that we have and other members of the international community and, of course, the UN have.
However, before I go there I want to remind members that last May, before our summer recess, I chaired the committee on international trade and our guest was President Uribe of Colombia. The gentleman was very gracious and gave us a lot of latitude. Whereas initially the Colombians had said no to having any cameras or anyone else there, the president then said, yes, invite the media and people in and let them hear, as we have nothing to hide.
Of course, there were some very constructive yet tough questions put to him. I thought the questioning by the NDP was rude, given that we had invited a head of state of a foreign country. We might agree to disagree, but Canadians are a very well mannered and refined people and in a forum like that, we should ask the tough questions, but politely, civilly and in the Canadian way, and that was not done. I just wanted to put that on the record today.
Canada signing free trade agreements is nothing new, whether by that party or our party, basically the mainstream parties, if I may say, who have governed this country. It is maybe no coincidence that the New Democratic Party has never governed and most likely will never govern. Thank God, they never governed, as there has not been one trade agreement they have supported.
What leads Canadians to believe, with all this huffing and puffing, that they would even sign this agreement? Nothing does. Sometimes the viewership out there puts more credence into what people write as opposed to what politicians say. I will quote from an article:
|| The MPs should also press for an independent human rights impact assessment--
--which we have--
||--as the Commons trade committee has already urged.
--and we are moving forward on that--
|| But at the same time they should challenge critics of the deal who argue that Canada would set back the cause of human rights by signing a pact. That has yet to be shown. The pact is broadly modelled on others Canada has signed with the United States, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Costa Rica in the past 15 years.
This agreement is patterned around similar agreements that we have made with our other trading partners. I have named some of them. What leads Canadians to believe that we are going to sway from the terms that we have set in the past? Are we going to make worse deals? No, I believe we are going to make better deals because we have learned from the past.
It is not that Colombia is going to make or break our economy, on the contrary. My attitude and the attitude of the Liberal Party is that if there is any kind of business that can be had for Canadians, whether they be Conservatives, Liberals or otherwise, let us go out and get it.
I am not going to go into the details on CAFTA, the Central America free trade agreement. For whatever reason, the Americans were off the starting block much faster than we were. They ratified it by one vote. Who ended up being hurt? Canadians got hurt. The Canadian pork industry got hurt. The beef industry got hurt. Various other sectors in our economy were damaged because the Central American countries signed the agreement with the U.S. and then our leverage as a country was diminished.
I do not want to see that happen here. I am not standing up to defend the government. I am standing on behalf of my party to defend Canadians, Canadian farmers, Canadian workers, Canadian manufacturers and Canadian producers. That is what it is all about. I and other members attended a luncheon and were very impressed when the minister used a PowerPoint presentation to walk us through the concerns that some of these parties are outlining with respect to other countries.
The European Union, an organization made up of 27 countries, is signing an agreement with Colombia. We know very well that European Union has very rigid guidelines as to its trade agreements. Spain is also signing bilateral agreements with Colombia.
With respect to unions, trade union leaders and workers numbered about 800,000 in 2002. Today, the number has doubled to just over 1.5 million. Who is preventing people from forming unions or associations in Colombia? They have doubled in number. With respect to trade union leaders and workers, in 2002, there were 99 trade unions and in 2009, there were 164. That is an 80% increase. To me, these numbers do not indicate that Colombia is taking away the rights of people to form associations or unions.
I will move on to talk about homicides. In 2002, there were just under 29,000 homicides. In 2009, there were a little over 15,000. We can see the concerted effort that has been made to address the concerns that not only the outside world has, but that they have as well.
In 2002 there were 2,882 kidnappings in Colombia, and in 2009 the number was down to 213. I think that is progress. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.
An hon. member: It was not 213.
Mr. John Cannis: Maybe my colleague from the NDP who made a comment should have been at the luncheon. Maybe he should have heard the minister. If he thought that the minister was lying, he would have had every opportunity to confront the minister, as the president was confronted last June by the NDP. Again I stress how tolerant the president, the head of state, was when he was literally bombarded with comments which I felt was an unprofessional approach. Nevertheless, the gentleman stayed, took the questions and he was gracious enough to respond.
Maybe those members do not like it when I present the facts, but I have to deal with facts. That is what Canadians must know, not the huffing and the puffing that comes from people on the extreme left who, if they had their way, there would be no way.
With respect to victims of massacre, in 2002 there were 680, and in 2009 there were 147. That again is progress.
In 2002 there were 1,645 terrorist attacks, and in 2009 there were 486. I believe they are going in the right direction.
With respect to displacements, there were close to 440,000 in 2002, and in 2009 there were 114,000. That is a success story in itself. Is the number of 114,000 all right? No, even that number is too high.
What these stats are showing us is that they are working on addressing this most serious problem.
I was visited by a gentleman by the name of Frank Pearl, who works with a government program that is investing millions and millions of dollars to reintegrate combatants into society, to reunite them with their families and retrain them so they can become progressive, constructive people within their society and work for a living as opposed to doing other unacceptable acts.
With respect to women's rights, there is an entire section on how they are addressing violence against women. On December 4, 2008, they approved law 1257 for raising awareness, preventing and penalizing forms of violence and discrimination against women. It is not as though they have neglected their responsibility towards women.
With respect to internally displaced persons, I have talked about how they have been reducing those numbers consistently.
I met Mr. Frank Pearl who was kind enough to share some information with me.
Let us turn to children, on whom we put such value here in Canada. I have often said in this House that unless we address the needs of our young men and women, their proper upbringing and early education, then our country will obviously miss out on the future. They are our future. Colombia is doing the same thing. They realize that as well. They are investing heavily in their young men and women.
Let me give an example regarding free education. As of October 2009, resources transferred to schools to subsidize education costs for vulnerable groups have provided benefits for 5,230,446 children. The goal established for 2009 was 4,670,000, so they have in essence exceeded their goal.
The Colombian government, as difficult as its past has been, is making a genuine effort to address the problems we are concerned about.
The way I see it that nation is going to trade with Europe. If it is not Canada today, it is going to be some other country tomorrow.
At the end of the day, my attitude personally, and I know I speak on behalf of my other colleagues on the Liberal side as well, is that we have a unique opportunity not necessarily to benefit by doing trade, not necessarily to go in there and sell them more goods and buy some of their goods as well, as that is secondary to me. We have a unique opportunity to go to this troubled spot, if I can describe it like that, a country that understands its shortcomings but wants to do the right thing. It is dealing with difficult circumstances. The most important thing I see for us is that we have an opportunity as a nation to go there and show them the Canadian way.
If we had taken this very aggressive attitude that we are hearing from the New Democratic Party and from the Bloc as well, we would not be doing any trade with China. We would not be trading anything with China. Just imagine how many jobs Canada would have lost over the years.
What did we do? We know now that human rights, labour violations, et cetera, have been addressed in China. Twenty or 30 years ago, we would not have been able to say that, but we went there. As former prime minister Chrétien used to say, “I will go there”, and he did go there. He did engage with China and he did create jobs and opportunities. Most important, we showed them that there is a responsibility to everything and that it is not just a matter of producing goods and services and making money. It is a combination of things. This is what we are trying to do with Colombia as well.
We were ready to sign the Central America free trade agreement. I would be misleading Canadians and my colleagues here in this honourable chamber if I said that there were no violations in Central America. I am not going to name countries because that would be unfair, but I will just talk about the region. We know very well there are some troubled spots in almost any country in that region, but we were not prepared to go there. By not going there, we hurt our textile and garment industry, our pork industry, our beef industry, and many other industries that have lost out. We could have been there and showed them how we do things here in Canada.
I mentioned Mr. Pearl who was here to visit. The president himself was here and came before the committee, which I chaired, and the senior minister that I referred to was here. It shows us two things. It shows us that Colombia is not walking away. It is not saying it does not have problems. They are the first ones to say, “Yes, we have problems and we want to address them, but we also need help”. If there has ever been a country on this globe that knows how to help, it is Canada. We have an opportunity to put our stamp on Colombia by engaging in this deal.
The United Nations has also put forth certain prerequisites. The United Nations is monitoring this engagement with Colombia very closely. It is not as though the UN is saying, “Go off and do your thing”. That is not how it is. That is how it is being portrayed right now by the NDP, and that is totally unfair and inaccurate. I do not like to use the word “lies”, but it is totally inaccurate, because the UN is on top of it. If the UN is there and if we do not respect it, we are also saying that we do not respect the UN.
I look forward to answering questions from my colleagues. The government's side, the and the secretary of state know what our position is. There is no room for low blows or rhetoric at this stage, given that we are more than prepared and happy to work with them to do the right thing.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today, yet again in opposition to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. This time it is Bill .
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I will say a word about the process. This is the second time the government has had to introduce the bill. It has been unable to pass it in each of the last two sessions of Parliament as a result of the staunch opposition to this agreement by the NDP caucus and by the Bloc, but in particular, because of our critic for international trade, the member for .
Unfortunately, the Liberal members of the House have been as keen to get the bill passed and out of the public limelight as the Conservatives have been. They know that when it comes to human rights, environmental and labour issues, this is a seriously flawed agreement, but their friends on Bay Street are pushing them hard to support the bill. Just as they have done on so many other occasions, they have completely rolled over.
In theory, therefore, the bill should have passed a long time ago, but the member for has almost single-handedly out-organized them. Recognizing that people right across the country, and indeed around the world, are opposed to this trade agreement, he has built a coalition that will do anything in its power to stop this deal from coming into effect, and we in the NDP caucus have been representing those views in the House. I think every one of our members has spoken on the bill. Many of us more than once. We are doing it because the only tool opposition members have at their disposal to stop a bill from passing is to debate it until there is no time left at the end of the session for the bill to get to a vote. We have done that twice now, once in the spring session of last year and once again last fall.
Now we are dealing with the bill a third time, and we are prepared to go to the wall again. What is at stake is nothing less than the protection of human rights, environmental protection and labour rights.
Let me address each of these concerns in turn. Since we are on the eve of Earth Hour, let me start with the environment.
To the extent that free trade agreements result in increased investment, there are often corresponding issues of environmental degradation. This danger comes in one of two forms: a lack of adequate monitoring and enforcement of existing environmental regulations; and shortcomings in domestic environmental policies.
The issue of monitoring and enforcement relates directly to the conflict in Colombia. The Colombian government does not have an effective presence in all parts of the country. As a result, its capacity to perform functions such as enforcing environmental regulations is limited and business compliance with these regulations is low. As free trade increases investment activity, there is a corresponding increase in the likelihood of significant environmental damage.
The second issue is that Colombia's existing environmental policies and regulations are simply not sufficiently well developed. Environmental groups in Colombia point to the fact that Colombia has some internationally recognized environmental legislation and is a signatory to nearly all major international environmental treaties. However, they go on to point out that there was a struggle between two visions in Colombia, economic and environmental. Many sectors in Colombia have seen environmental laws softened or made of secondary importance to economic sustainability.
Much more work needs to be done to build stronger environmental policies and to strengthen evaluation and monitoring standards. For example, Colombia needs to adopt policies to protect sensitive areas and to guard against environmental threats. The Colombian government has not taken any steps to identify environmentally sensitive areas to protect from oil and gas exploration.
Similarly, the issue of deforestation of the jungle in Colombia to make room for large-scale agricultural plantations is also of great concern. Nearly 200,000 hectares of natural forest are lost in Colombia every year due to agriculture, logging, mining, energy development and construction.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement completely ignores these facts and fails to enforce environmental protection. The environment issue is addressed in a side agreement with no enforcement mechanism to force Canada or Colombia to respect environmental rights. The process is seriously flawed. It is just a smokescreen.
We have seen in the past how these side agreements are unenforceable. We just need to look at the North American Free Trade Agreement. There has not been a single successful suit brought under the NAFTA side agreement.
Let us be honest. The Colombian market is hardly a top tier market for Canada. Only 0.15% of Canadian exports actually go to Colombia. As Glen Hodgson, vice-president and chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada, has pointed out:
|| Our annual trade with Colombia is about the same level as with South Dakota, and it is actually smaller than with Delaware or Rhode Island. Compared to some other markets that are much closer, Colombia is not really a major player...80% of Colombia's imports to Canada are actually duty-free already, so the gains from free trade are probably not as great as they would be in other cases.
So why is this free trade deal such a priority for Canada? It has nothing to do with trade and has everything to do with investments. Since this agreement would contain investment protection provisions, it would help Canadian investors in Colombia, particularly in the mining sector.
If past agreements are any indication, the investment protection provisions in the Canada-Colombia agreement would contain provisions that would allow an investor to directly sue a foreign government if it adopts regulations that diminish the output on its investments. That means progress on environmental and labour laws would be actively constrained by the very language of the free trade deal. It puts the interests of Canadian investors ahead of any improvements in the Colombian standard of living. So much for the Conservative government's contention that this trade deal would actually encourage and facilitate improvements to human rights and environmental and labour standards.
If I am right that this deal has much less to do with trade than with protecting the interests of investors, then it all comes down to politics. However, I would like to remind the government that concerned citizens in Canada far outnumber Canadian mining operations in Colombia and those citizens have made their opposition a clarion call to action.
The would be well aware of the literally thousands of postcards he has received from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. I am proud to have a particularly active chapter in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. It has gathered signatures from petitioners of all ages, calling on the government to live up to its commitment on corporate social responsibility.
Its message to the Prime Minister is clear: “At the June 2007 G8 meeting, you stated that the implementation of the recommendations from the National Round Tables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries report would make Canada a leader in corporate social responsibility. One year later, more than 200,000 Canadians told you that they want to see these recommendations implemented. Little has changed. Farmland, forests and water resources are contaminated or destroyed by some Canadian mining operations. People are denied access to and control of the natural resources they need to live in the just, dignified manner to which all are entitled...Standing with the people of the Global South, we insist that you develop legal mechanisms to hold the Canadian mining companies accountable for their actions abroad”.
Here is the line that the really needs to hear: “We're not going away!” That is the real political message. Faith groups, labour groups, environmental groups, indigenous groups and human rights groups are all not going away, and neither are we in the NDP.
Let us look at some of the other concerns that are germane to this debate. As the labour critic for my party, let me go next to some of the issues raised by the Canadian Labour Congress when its president, Ken Georgetti, appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade on behalf of over three million workers from across our country.
In essence, he argued that the signature of a free trade agreement with Colombia would condone the country's deplorable human rights record and implicitly endorse the Colombian government. Rather than sullying its own image through its close relationship with Colombia, Canada should work to uphold its reputation as a human rights leader in the international sphere.
It is worth quoting Ken Georgetti at length, particularly since he addressed the question of whether the labour co-operation agreement provides for an open and robust dispute resolution process, which is the key to protecting labour rights. This is an excerpt of the CLC's submission. It states:
|| After close examination, we find no evidence to suggest that the Labour Cooperation Agreement, which accompanies the trade agreement, will increase protections for workers in Colombia. The CLC fully agrees with the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers' statement that:
|| “(T)rade agreements are not written to improve labour standards and there is little evidence that such agreements can become vehicles for the enforcement of labour rights.
|| While some improvements have been made in the Canada-Colombia agreement, the essential structure of the labour clauses found in previous trade agreements (the NAFTA, Canada-Chile and Canada-Costa Rica), FTAs remain largely unchanged”.
All of these labour side agreements exhibit the same deficiencies. First of all, provisions are found in side agreements rather than in the main text of the trade agreement. They focus on the enforcement of existing domestic labour laws rather than on raising labour standards. Enforcement mechanisms are slow and cumbersome. The dispute resolution mechanisms remain entirely at the discretion of the signatory governments. They are premised upon a model of political cooperation among the signatories and hence, the complaint process is not transparent as it should be and depends on bureaucracies of the parties rather than by independent or even quasi-judicial bodies.
The dispute resolution mechanism is in stark contrast to the rules established for disputes of investment in that the agreement offers no trade sanctions, such as the imposition of countervailing duties or the abrogation of preferential trade status in the event that one of the parties commits a violation regarding labour rights and standards.
Again, our long experience with NAFTA is instructive. Of all complaints submitted during the 15 years of NAFTA, all have ended with consultations among ministries of labour. Not one case has proceeded to an arbitration panel.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is different from previous labour provisions related to Canada's trade agreements in a number of respects. It contains a chapter on labour that is internal to the main agreement, as well as a separate labour cooperation agreement, LCA, or labour side deal. The substance of the labour rights and obligation is found in the side deal, not in the main text.
In less than 500 words, chapter 16 of the CCFTA sets out general statements and objectives with regard to labour. They recognize their obligations under the ILO and affirm that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by weakening or reducing protections afforded in domestic labour laws. Other than that, the labour chapter simply states that parties will obey their own labour laws and will administer the labour cooperation agreement.
In article 1 of the Canada-Colombia labour cooperation agreement, the parties agree to ensure their laws embody ILO principles. The LCA begins by affirming the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, while two commitments refer to the ILO's decent work provisions. This is an important improvement over previous LCAs. However, the obligations outlined in article 1 do not compel governments to make specific improvements in labour law. Rather these basic commitments are basically a statement of good intentions.
In acknowledging basic ILO obligations, the side agreement goes beyond the NAFTA generation of labour provisions. Because Canada and Colombia are already obliged to follow these principles due to their membership in the ILO, however, this is not a particularly laudatory advance. As described in the ILO's follow-up report:
||[According to the declaration] all Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions, namely: (a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; (b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; (c) the effective abolition of child labour; and (d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
The parties agree that they will not waive labour laws in order to encourage trade or investment. This is a positive step. The problem, however, is that the word investment is deleted in all subsequent references to this goal in the complaints process. In other words, the LCA will not pursue a complaint that the labour law was not applied in order to encourage international investment. As well, the article allows the parties to waive labour laws for any other reason.
Neither is an egregious one time violation of the commitment to enforce labour law subject to sanction. Even if a party is charged with not enforcing its labour law repeatedly, or in a systematic way, then it is acceptable for that party to defend itself by saying it simply decided to allocate resources to some other pressing labour need. Thus it shall not be considered in violation of the agreement and complaints can be dropped.
Articles of the LCA provide for submission, acceptance and review of public communications, which may lead to ministerial consultations between the parties. A review panel may be requested, not by the complainant but by the other party and then convened.
If it considers that the matter is trade related and the party under review has failed to comply with its obligations under the agreement a report is issued. If a party refuses to comply with the report, the panel may then impose a monetary assessment of not more than $15 million U.S. annually, which is paid into a fund to be expended on appropriate labour initiatives in the territory of the party that was subject of the review.
This is the only penalty for labour rights violations under the agreement. To paraphrase, the shocking reality is that in the event of the murder of a trade unionist in Colombia, labour protection simply means that the Colombian government would have to pay money into a development fund. Kill a trade unionist, pay a fine.
Over 2,200 labour activists have been murdered since 1991 and the hunt for trade unionists in Colombia will go on if the price is right. Such is the Conservative government's concept of labour protection.
The penalty for killing a trade unionist was capped at $15 million in any one year paid by the Colombian government into a development fund. To put this in perspective one year's maximum payment of $15 million equates to $5,628 per trade unionist already killed.
How would Canadians feel if the agreed to the same kind of treatment of those who intentionally set out to kill labour organizers within our own borders? This is an outrageous lack of appreciation of human life and it is no labour protection at all.
For all of those reasons the Canadian labour movement believes that the labour side deal will not guarantee labour rights and freedoms because even the weak laws that do exist are not enforced nor will they be enforced as a result of this labour co-operation agreement.
Labour rights are not respected. Workers are not protected. There is a lack of social dialogue and violence is being used deliberately against the trade union movement to eliminate it as an effective defender of workers' rights.
The labour side deal provides no enforceable rights for workers. It is subordinated to the main text of the agreement. There are no mechanisms for independent action by trade unionists and the offending governments have wide sway over what happens in any proceedings that are brought by the other party.
Simply issuing a fine when other trade and investment conflicts are dealt with in all seriousness through investor-state arbitrations, judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, and the party-to-party dispute resolution system, indicates the cynicism embedded in this agreement.
To the question of whether the labour co-operation agreement would be considered an historical advance in defence of workers' rights, the CLC clearly says that it is not.
I know that my time is winding up and I have not even had a chance to address the myriad of other well documented human rights abuses whose victims are primarily human rights advocates, journalists, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and, as I said earlier, members of unions.
Such abuse is rampant in Colombia. Let me paint a quick picture of what is happening in Colombia. The Uribe Colombian government has one of the worse human rights records in the world. There are 3.8 million internally displaced people, 57% of which are women. The UN calls this the worst humanitarian disaster in the western hemisphere, and it is growing. Nine hundred and fifty-five cases of extrajudicial executions by the army over the last five years have been documented, and the numbers are rising.
Colombian soldiers are accused of executing peasants in rural areas and passing them off as leftist rebels killed in combat, a practice that is known there as false positives.
Sixty-two mafia-like ex-paramilitary, drug-trafficking criminal networks control economic activities and political institutions in 23 of the 31 provinces and are vying with guerrilla groups for control of the drug trade. Despite the demobilization of over 31,000 paramilitary death squad members, abuse and insecurity prevail in the countryside.
Over 60 lawmakers, including senators, governors and mayors representing the president's political coalition are under investigation by the country's attorney general and supreme court for alleged relationships with paramilitary chiefs and collusion and elections fraud. Seventeen are in jail together with Uribe's former head of secret services and campaign manager and high ranking military officials.
Given our knowledge of what is happening in Colombia, it is essential that Canada wield a stick to encourage improvement in Colombia rather than offering Colombia rewards. Rejecting the free trade deal would send a strong signal to the Colombian government that human rights are a vital key to gaining legitimacy in the international sphere.
At a minimum, before ratifying and implementing an agreement with Colombia, we must develop and implement a human rights impact assessment to ensure that there are binding and enforceable protections for labour and human rights within the framework of fair trade.
In fact, both the Canadian and Colombian governments should welcome such an independent and impartial assessment, after all, they claim that conditions have improved and human rights violations have decreased. However, in reality they know that the situation in Colombia would never pass such scrutiny and, if they know that, they must stand in the House and vote against the free trade deal between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.
Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time I have spoken to Bill .
I sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade, and before the agreement was signed I was also in Colombia as part of a delegation to meet with unions, various NGOs, women's groups, labour groups, businesses and members of the government, in order to assess whether this agreement was valid or not.
At the time, it was the Standing Committee on International Trade that was studying this agreement. The government sent us to Colombia at great expense to observe the situation. However, before we could issue our report and recommendations, following our meetings with members of the government, unions, labour representatives and various groups involved, the government signed the agreement. It is unbelievable.
I was truly shocked to see that a government could be so irresponsible and waste public money that way. Sending a delegation of members of Parliament to Colombia to meet with stakeholders costs money. If the government had any respect for the democratic process, it certainly would not have signed the agreement before reading the recommendations of the Standing Committee on International Trade. But it did sign the agreement and we made recommendations afterward. It is a nice file that probably ended up on a shelf somewhere in the Library of Parliament.
The government went ahead with this agreement. Everything the members who are against this agreement have said in the House is in the recommendations and the observations that were made during our visit to Colombia.
The Conservatives often complained about the debate being hijacked. According to them, too much importance was being placed on the issue of human rights, because this was a trade agreement.
In a recent comment, I thought I heard the Liberals say that they wanted to propose an amendment to the Standing Committee on International Trade, to monitor the evolution of the situation in Colombia.
For two or three years, Colombia has been negotiating different agreements with Canada, as well as the United States and European countries. For the most part, they are opposed to this agreement being signed, because of human rights violations in Colombia. The situation has not improved, and I do not see why it would change.
If I were a representative of the Colombian government and wanted to sign an agreement, I would have done everything I could to make my country more democratic and to solve the problems related to violence and crimes against unionized workers. At least 30 government representatives are currently under investigation for criminal offences.
I would have also taken action to avoid the number population displacements. Mining is the primary activity of some Canadian companies in Colombia, and their practices leave thousands of Colombians homeless. They currently live in ghettos outside of Bogota.
We saw these ghettos, and the situation has not improved. Many unionized workers and union representatives are still being assassinated. Since mining companies must mine in new areas, entire populations continue to be displaced, and they are not left with any resources or means to survive. Statistics show that Colombia is not doing enough to improve the situation.
The United States is, by and large, against signing this agreement, as is Belgium. A press release from Belgium said that the government in the Flemish region also refused to ratify the Belgium-Luxembourg investment agreement with Colombia. Colombia is known for its violations of human, social and environmental rights. Belgium will also oppose the signing of this agreement.
In Canada, however, the Conservatives plan to ratify the agreement with the help of the Liberals, who intend to propose a so-called amendment, but that does not mean much. They will not necessarily vote for that amendment in the House. As we have seen this week, they are perfectly capable of voting against their own amendment.
The Conservatives, with the help of the Liberals, are determined to sign an agreement with a country that does not respect human rights.
We do not support this bill. Our position has not changed since the last session despite the amendment that the Liberals plan to present to the Standing Committee on International Trade.
This amendment is absolutely ridiculous in light of the changing situation in Colombia as reported in the media. Furthermore, statistics show that the number of murdered unionized workers is rising sharply. Violence against workers defending their rights has not diminished. No new environmental standards have been adopted to make mining companies demonstrate greater respect for the environment.
The Liberal amendment will not change a thing because the measure will be overseen by both parties to the agreement. According to the amendment, the governments of Canada and Colombia will be the judges and the judged when it comes to assessing respect for human rights. That is absolutely ridiculous.
Everyone is aware of the situation in Colombia. For the past several years, the country has been struggling with the longest-lasting internal conflict South America has ever seen. This long, seemingly endless conflict has resulted in countless human rights violations, including kidnappings, targeted killings and massive internal displacements that have relegated entire populations to ghettos.
During the Standing Committee on International Trade's mission, Liberal, Conservative, Bloc and NDP members saw all of this for themselves.
I do not recall if my Liberal colleague was with us on that mission, but I am sure that if he was, he saw the situation for many displaced people who had been kicked out of their homes and off their land.
During free trade negotiations, the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly displaced and that union leaders and union members are frequently the targets of violence and murder should be particularly worrisome. Yet this does not seem to bother the Conservative and Liberal members. They truly believe that we must enter into a free trade agreement that will have little impact on the Canadian economy, and this has been pointed out on many occasions. In fact, this will help protect the investments of mining companies in Colombia and the people who are making money there. The economic spinoffs for Quebec and Canada are often minimal. Furthermore, these numerous human rights violations are taking place with the complicity of the Colombian government.
I see a member of the Liberal Party is exiting the House. Perhaps he can no longer bear to hear such things, but this is the reality.
The Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, is saying that the political situation and security have improved considerably in Colombia. I do not know where they are getting their facts and statistics. According to documents obtained by the Bloc Québécois, the situation does not appear to have improved. I also heard some of our NDP colleagues attest to the same documents and the same facts. They agree that the situation has not improved.
La Presse and other international newspapers have reported that many other countries did not want to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia for this very reason. The Conservatives and the Liberals are doing some reading, but I do not know where they are getting their facts.
The free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States was drafted a few years ago, in 2006. We have been talking about an agreement with Colombia for two or three years. The United States has been debating it for four years. However, it has been delayed because the Americans do not want to sign it. Americans are not the most progressive when it comes to social and labour conditions. And yet, they are saying that they cannot sign the agreement because of the lack of respect for human rights. Fair trade requires rules and respect for environmental as well as labour standards. Colombia does not currently respect these standards.
In a speech, the Liberals stated that signing an economic agreement would lead to an improvement in the human rights record, and would help Colombians raise their standard of living as well as improve their living conditions. Let us not be fooled. We know very well that the simple signing of a free trade agreement with this country will not lead to a better distribution of wealth or make the country take better care of the least fortunate, especially when about thirty members of the current government are facing criminal charges.
Will wealth be redistributed? Will they fight social inequality? Will they restore the livelihoods of those who have lost their land? No. We will not swallow it hook, line and sinker. Quebeckers will not believe all that. Quebeckers often say that something can always be done, but everything has its limits.
I think that this agreement has crossed the line. We are not complete imbeciles, yet that is what I am hearing in the House: skewed versions of the social, political, economic and cultural realities in Colombia and, above all, the reality of crime there. Neither the Liberal Party nor the people of Colombia seem to be taking the situation into consideration. They simply want to protect the investments of mining companies in that country. And those companies often undertake their activities without any respect for environmental standards.
In Canada and Quebec, 80% of imports have no tariffs. So this agreement would not significantly improve trade, given that 80% of imports are not even regulated by tariffs. We saw it in terms of international trade.
The President of the United States, Mr. Obama, repeated that he has no intention of signing this free-trade agreement with Colombia. He once again spoke of the terrible working conditions and the Colombian government's lack of respect for workers' rights. Add to that the fact that the government in Belgium's Flemish region does not want to ratify an agreement of this kind either. In Canada, however, the Conservatives and Liberals do not seem to be very preoccupied with or worried about respecting human rights.
It is disturbing to see political parties sign these kinds of agreements. These parties have governed in Canada and, unfortunately, they still have an impact on Quebec's economic development. We are still paying half of our taxes to Ottawa. These parties still have some influence on our social and economic policies. This goes against the values of Quebeckers. Working conditions, respecting the right to strike, respecting workers, unionized workers, women, democracy and justice, are all fundamental values in Quebec. However, this agreement seems to deny these values of solidarity and greater justice for citizens.
Human rights conditions have not really improved in Colombia. Last year, 49 union leaders were assassinated in that country, compared to 46 in 2008 and to 39 in 2007. Through their amendment, the Liberals want to keep track of what is going on in Colombia. I just provided a few figures. I hope that some Liberals will take note of them, because these numbers show what is happening.
Colombia wants to sign an agreement with Canada and with other countries, but the human rights situation is not improving at all.
According to a Human Rights Watch report released in February, illegal armed groups in Colombia have not been demobilized effectively and they continue their intimidation and violence campaigns.
We always get a little carried away because these are critical issues for the future.
In each bilateral trade agreement, it is important to know the reality in the county with which we are doing business. We should take the time to assess the consequences of our decisions, as much for us as for our partner country. Moreover, we should not take into consideration just the commercial aspects of the agreement, but also the human rights situation.
In the case of Colombia, I think that such an agreement—particularly because of the chapter on investment protection—is very worrisome and could affect even more Colombia's ability to protect its population's needs and interests.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill , and I want to thank the member for for his presentation. I did have a question for him.
A month ago, he and the member for and I were on a congressional visit in Washington and this topic did come up in some of our meetings. Even though the U.S. bill has been before the United States Congress since 2006, as the member just indicated, it did not pass Congress while George Bush was president and has not passed Congress since Barack Obama has been president, and it will not pass Congress anytime soon. We were told in our meetings by Republicans who support President Uribe and the free trade agreement that they knew it was dead. We were not getting this from Democrats, but Republicans.
It makes one wonder about a group, the government and the Liberal opposition, that tends to follow the United States like little trained seals, like little puppy dogs who follow the Americans and do not do anything the Americans would not do. It seems rather strange that somehow they have quickly put together a little agreement here to get this deal on its way.
The question is, why? How does this deal made here benefit the Liberals? What do the Liberals have to gain from this? This whole agreement has caused them a lot of grief within their own party. Under the previous leader, they were onside asking for a human rights assessment. Then all of a sudden the leadership changed, the critics changed, and they flipped totally the other way and now support the government.
We managed to remove this bill by our efforts last year, and the only way it could possibly have been brought back was with the Liberals' compliance. The Liberals have now made an arrangement and put an amendment that is acceptable to the government.
The question is, for what? After all the grief they had put up with in their caucus, and we are promising them much more grief as the days progress, there must be a lot at stake here for the Liberals to be doing this. I do not know what the government had to promise them to get them onside. Perhaps it was nothing, but I just see a lot of effort being made here for very low returns.
It was pointed out by one of the speakers in the debate earlier today that this bill is nothing more than a red carpet for mining companies. Currently there is $1.3 billion in trade between the two countries. That trade will not be affected by a free trade deal. If we do not pass the free trade deal this year or next year, the $1.3 billion in trade will continue, so what is this trade deal supposed to accomplish?
Do we have projections? Has anyone seen any projections? I think I asked the question last year if anyone had seen any projections from the government of what two-way trade will be next year and the year afterward. We have not heard anything from the government on that. We have not heard any speeches from the government in the last two days. We have not heard much from the Liberals either.
It reminds me of that old song, I think by Peter, Paul and Mary, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? I just substitute the word “Liberals” there. I hear some comments from their bench, but the fact of the matter is that we have a lot of issues, a lot of bills, a lot of things to be addressed and done in this Parliament, and I have questions here.
The government talks about its tough on crime agenda incessantly, saying it is something that has to be done. It is, as Mulroney used to say, the sacred trust. What does the government do? It prorogues Parliaments and wipes out all the bills. So much for the sacred trust.
Now we get back into Parliament. Does the government bring back the crime bills? No. It wants to talk about free trade with Colombia.
Clearly, there is an agenda, one that certainly I do not understand. I do not know that we are really clear about it either. However, members of the Bloc, the previous speaker and others, have alluded to the fact that this is a red carpet for mining companies and big business, that this is all to support investment. They are presumably friends of the other two parties because I have not been lobbied lately by any big mining companies.
Most of the details of this agreement, in terms of why we should not sign it, have been spoken to by other members. For example, Colombia itself is not a significant trading partner with Canada. It is only our fifth-largest trading partner in Latin America. We have dealt with the whole issue of 2,690 trade unionist having been murdered in Colombia since 1986 and that the number in 2008 was up substantially the previous year. One Liberal said that it had been reduced so we were clear to go now.
However, I do want to talk about fair trade. Whenever the NDP opposes one of the Conservatives' free trade deals, they ask us what sort of deal we would support and what it would take to get the NDP to support a free trade deal. In response we say that it has to be a fair trade deal.
The fact is there are more people than the government thinks waking up to the possibilities of what could be in a fair trade deal. We only have to look at the co-operative movements. Even Starbucks sells fair trade coffee. I think the younger people growing up are getting a good education as to what fair trade is all about, as to opposed to “free trade”.
Free trade is all about exploitation, multinational exploitation, essentially flooding, for example, the Colombia agricultural market with cheap agricultural products, displacing farmers who have been on the land for hundreds of years, putting them out of work, forcing them to go to cities where more problems are created and then they become dependent on foreign food.
How could that possibly be a good idea? The whole idea is to develop products in one's own environment and not import things. Trading is great. We cannot grow bananas in Manitoba, so we have to import those from somewhere. However, if we could grow them there, we should grow them there. We should be self-sufficient. Communities should be self-sufficient wherever they are and they should always strive for that.
We are certainly in favour of trade, but we want to have fair trade. We do not want to be flooding markets with cheap products, putting people out of work and ruining the environment in the process. When the environment is ruined and all of the damage is done to the environment, the companies simply walk away and let the government clean up the mess. That is great for investors. If they can buy shares at $20.00, then they go up to $100 and they can pocket the gains, I am sure they will support that type of economic activity. However, we in the House are supposed to think a little more deeply about the matter than simply holus-bolus rolling over and accepting what some corporate group wants us to do.
On that basis, the question is this. What do we mean by fair trade? We mean new trade rules and agreements to promote sustainable practices, domestic job creation and healthy working conditions, while allowing us to manage the supply of goods, promote democratic rights abroad and maintain democratic sovereignty at home.
From my information, tomato farmers in Mexico were put out of work by the thousands when the free trade agreement was expanded to Mexico. Those workers are basically out of jobs. People are no longer able to support themselves on their farms, and they have to buy cheap imports.
How can we promote fair trade? We can promote it by making speeches in Parliament, but the best way is by educating the public to the elements of fair trade so they can in turn put pressure on their MPs and not grow up and develop the way government MPs have. To that extent, we will show some progress but it will take some time.
New trade agreements should encourage improvement in social, environmental and labour conditions rather than just minimize the damage of unrestricted trade. Federal and provincial procurement policies should stimulate Canadian industries by allowing governments to favour suppliers at home. Supply management boards and single desk marketers like the Canadian Wheat Board could help replace imports with domestic products and materials.
The Wheat Board has been under constant attack from the very beginnings of the Reform Party. The present government continues to take whacks at it. It seems the Wheat Board is one of the Conservatives' pet peeves, particularly if they get a majority government.
This is yet another reason why we should never allow the Conservatives to form a majority government. If the Conservatives had four years of a majority government, we would not recognize the country. That is why the public has not given them a majority government. The public will never give them a majority government because Canadians know, at the end of the day, that the Conservatives would do something they could not tolerate.
Another way to promote fair trade is by having local community and individual initiatives to buy fair trade imports and locally produced goods. We see local community and individual initiatives. People in my community are offering fair trade coffee. It causes people to think about this, and that is what we have to do.
If we cannot beat the Conservatives at the boardroom level, and I guess we will never be able to do that, or beat them in advertising, we will have to beat them on the streets. At the end of the day, that is what we will have to do.
Why fair trade and not free trade? Fair trade policies protect the environment by encouraging the use of domestically and locally produced goods. There is less freight, less fuel, less carbon. Why would we ship a product across the continent? It makes no sense to me to send truckloads of produce across the continent when the product can be produced locally.
The environment is a huge issue. Some companies hide behind free trade agreements. They can get into a jurisdiction and hide behind a structure that does not require them to take care of the environment. If they can use all sorts of pesticides without the proper controls, then they essentially gain in the long run because they make more money. At the end of the day, they pollute the environment and perhaps sell a product that is not as healthy as it should be.
Free trade policies, even those created with the environment in mind, do little to impede multinational corporations from polluting the environment, which I have already indicated.
The environmental side agreement of NAFTA, for example, has proven largely unenforceable, particularly when compared with other protections for industry and investors.
A system of fair trade can encourage the growth of Canadian jobs, both in quality and quantity. Fair competition rules and tougher labour standards will put Canadian industries on a level playing field with our trading partners and slow the international race to the bottom, which has resulted in the loss of Canadian manufacturing jobs. We have seen over and over again manufacturing jobs leaving North America and moving to other countries because of the “free trade” deals.
Free trade rules, on the other hand, have hurt Canadian job quality. Since 1989, most Canadian families have seen a decline in real income.
Fair trade can also protect labour rights by fostering the growth of workers' co-operatives and labour unions. Like the environmental side accord, the NAFTA labour agreement has gone mostly unenforced, giving industries that are willing to violate workers' rights incentives to relocate Canadian jobs. Fair trade policies which favour co-ops, unions and equitable pricing will protect workers in the developing world who might otherwise be exploited and take away reasons for Canadian producers to export the jobs. That is all part of rebalancing these agreements, making them more fair than where they are right now.
Fair trade rules will also protect societies and human rights around the globe. That is certainly the big issue we are dealing with in Bill , the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, although not the only issue.
Although some predicted a human rights benefit from unrestricted free trade, and we heard that from the member for over and over again, this has yet to be seen. In contrast, conflicts between locals and multinational corporations in such places as Peru become violent. A fair trade policy that aims for benefits for all parties can protect the most vulnerable from human rights abuses.
That is what it is all about. We have already dealt with this issue, with many people saying that this is a minor trade agreement in the whole scheme of things. I do not know why the government would drive it to the top of its agenda and have the Liberals roll over the way they have, but I guess they are used to that. This is tantamount to putting lipstick on a pig.
The member for has dressed it all up and he is happy to go along with this, but members in his caucus are not so happy. I do not know how members will vote because the other day we saw two or three Liberals, as a matter of conscience, vote against their own motion and a number of others skipped the vote.
I really do not know what will happen with this vote because several members in the Liberal caucus will proudly vote with us in the NDP. Some members in that caucus will probably miss the vote because there is more to be gained by not being here or voting against than standing up and voting for it.
The previous leader of the Liberal Party and the previous critic had it right two years ago when they were on the international relations committee. They opted for the review that we all wanted. What is wrong with a review? If there are no human rights abuses in Colombia, then why are they afraid of an independent human rights examination. If there are no abuses, it will pass with flying colours and we are on our way.
To have the Liberals simply change leaders and critics and flip their policy is very strange. It has certainly aided in the divisions that currently exist in the Liberal Party. The NDP Party will be happy to watch the drama unfold over the next few days and weeks to come.
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking in the House of Commons today to denounce Bill , the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. There are many reasons why I disagree with this bill as it has been introduced by the Conservative government.
My colleague from made some good points about human rights and spoke about the ineffectiveness of parallel agreements. In my speech I will touch on these issues as well.
For Quebeckers and the citizens of Vaudreuil-Soulanges, certain arguments have come to the forefront of this debate: environmental protection, respect for workers' rights and respect for the most fundamental human rights of the Colombian people.
I would like to explain why I am worried that Bill will pass. The Canadian government's main motivation is not trade. It is looking to make life easier for the Canadian investors, particularly in mining, who will invest in Colombia. The desire to protect Canadian investments abroad is legitimate. However, it seems obvious to me that this must not be done at the expense of the fundamental rights of Colombians.
I am worried that this agreement would be detrimental to the development of the people of Colombia. We must understand that increased trade should not be the government's only motivation. An agreement such as this must also contain provisions that allow us to establish a position of strength and, through negotiations, to work toward both implementing social measures that would benefit Colombians and establishing rules that respect the environment and laws that improve the living conditions of workers.
Judging by all the investment protection agreements Canada has signed over the years, the one that would bind Canada and Colombia seems ill conceived. All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue the local government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment.
To be more specific, we feel that these provisions could be harmful for a country where labour laws, environmental laws and respect for the people are uncertain at best. While attempting to protect our investments, the Canadian government is putting itself in a situation where it could increase the risk of delaying social and environmental progress in a country in great need of such progress.
I would like to point out that my colleague from referred to some of the organizations that have reported on the situation in Colombia. I thank him for doing that. Colombia's human rights record is one of the worst in the world and certainly in Latin America.
The government of Colombia has the right to adopt, and should adopt, legislation to protect its environment and improve the quality of life of its people. We must determine whether it has the means to implement such measures and the means to fulfill its ambitions.
Yes, this regulation could cause companies that have invested in that country to lose some profits. We need to have some protection against nationalization without compensation, I do admit, but we also must include some provisions that will allow Canada to put pressure on the Colombian authorities.
The Bloc Québécois cannot support the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, as it stands.
Under no circumstances should the Canadian government swap its ability to pressure the Colombian government to respect human rights and protect the environment for guaranteed profits from investments by Canadian companies abroad.
I would point out that ratification of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement is also being delayed, particularly because they are trying to clear up concerns over human rights abuses. It is a matter of justice.
I consulted a number of people in my riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. I cannot support the bill in its current form until Colombia brings in stricter legislation to protect minimum labour standards and the union movement, as well as stricter legislation to protect the environment.
The advantage of establishing a trade agreement with a country lies in the ability to develop a partnership with it. When economic barriers are reduced, trade between the two countries can increase. That is what one would hope to achieve with an agreement between Canada and Colombia. The likelihood of that happening in the near future is pretty low, though, considering the means being used.
When we look at the figures for imports and exports between Canada and Colombia, we can see that, not surprisingly, the vast majority of Canadian investments are in the excavating industry, specifically in mining. In 2007, imports in that sector accounted for nearly 31% of all imports from Colombia. In dollar figures, this represents almost $138 million. Canada buys only primary commodities from Colombia. We import $155 million worth of coffee, $72 million worth of bananas and $62 million worth of cut flowers. Adding agricultural and agri-food products brings the total to $387 million. Foreign direct investment in Canada is approximately $1 million, while Canadian investment in Colombia is approximately $1 billion.
Here are the aggregate trade data. In 2008, Canadian imports were rising and totalled $644 million, as were Canadian exports, which totalled $704 million. The pace of growth is quite varied, just as we predicted during the debate in the last session. In Quebec, imports amounted to $88 million. That is a 0.5% decrease from 2007. Quebec imports into Colombia represented about 14% of Canada's total imports. Exports amounted to $120 million in 2008 and accounted for about 17% of Canadian exports to Colombia. Quebec exports increased by a little less than 2% between 2007 and 2008.
Canada has other trading partners in Latin America and the Caribbean that rank higher than Colombia. In recent years, trade between Canada and the other Latin American countries has increased considerably, which has meant a smaller share of trade with Colombia than with other countries in the region.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia is growing exponentially. To create a predictable environment and ensure that foreign investors will not be dispossessed of their property or have it nationalized without compensation, countries conclude treaties protecting investment. That is standard procedure and the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this kind of treaty.
The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States had a chapter on protecting investment—chapter 16—and was the first agreement in the world to include a dispute settlement mechanism which both countries could use. The FTA worked very well. No cases of discriminatory measures against foreign investors were reported and none were taken to the arbitration panel. During the five years the FTA was in effect, the value of Canadian investments in the United States increased by 41%.
However, things went downhill with chapter 11 of NAFTA. By virtue of chapter 11 on investment, foreign investors can go directly to