Mr. Speaker, on May 15, 2007, I had the opportunity here in the House to talk about why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill , which is identical to Bill . Today, therefore, I will talk about how international treaties are now typically drafted with no regard whatsoever for democracy.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois wants all treaties to go through the House of Commons. The current way of doing things completely disregards democracy. Bill , which provides for the coming into force of tax conventions, shows how important international treaties are to our daily lives. These days, treaties are brought before Parliament only when they require enabling legislation.
In Canada, Parliament and parliamentarians play a minimal role in negotiating and ratifying international treaties. The federal executive controls all phases of the process. The executive is also responsible for what takes place in negotiations, which are, for the most part, secret. This secrecy is an important part of the federal government's negotiation strategy. Next to nothing, and sometimes nothing at all is disclosed before the parties sign an agreement in principle on the content and even the wording of the treaty. Even though the provinces are usually kept abreast of negotiations for trade agreements, they participate very little in the process and, with few exceptions, are totally excluded from the decision-making process.
Where international treaties are concerned, democracy is totally absent. There is no complete compilation of such treaties. Governments release them when and if they see fit, and people cannot be sure they are all being disclosed. The treaty section at the Department of Foreign Affairs does not even have a list of signed treaties to consult. The government is not required to table treaties in the House of Commons. It does not even have to inform the House or the public that it has signed or ratified treaties. The House does not get to approve treaties. The government can sign and ratify any treaty it wants without consulting the representatives of the people. At the very most, treaties requiring legislative changes are brought before Parliament before ratification.
In Quebec, since 2002, a vote in the National Assembly is required. Being in no way involved in the negotiation of treaties, the House of Commons cannot consult the public. It is therefore not surprising to see people increasingly expressing their opposition in the streets. In fact, there is no other place for them to be heard. The government is not required to consult the provinces either, even though it cannot implement treaties that concern areas of provincial jurisdiction and the provinces are not bound by the federal government's signature. It is totally absurd that no formal consultation mechanism is in place.
The government is preventing the provinces from being able to act internationally by controlling their international relations and by not allowing them to reach treaty-like agreements. This is unacceptable.
It used to be that international treaties governed relations between states and had little or no impact on how society functioned or on the lives and rights of citizens. At the time, it was acceptable for the government to unilaterally sign or ratify treaties.
Now, however, international treaties, especially trade agreements, affect the power of the state, the workings of society and the role of citizens. Furthermore, they often have an even greater impact than many bills. The Canadian treaty ratification process is not in line with this new reality. The people's representatives must be involved in decisions that affect the people they represent.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives promised to bring treaties before the House prior to ratifying them, but they still have not kept that promise. Recently, the government signed an investment protection agreement with Peru. This agreement is based on chapter 11 of NAFTA, which has been criticized by many. Yet the government concluded it without putting it to the House. When the House presses the government to honour its international commitments, as it has done in the case of the Kyoto protocol, the government does what it pleases, with no regard for the will of the people or the promise it made when it signed the treaty.
As was the case when Bill was passed, the fact that Bill will be passed quickly is an opportunity to show the government that democracy is not something to be feared when concluding fair treaties. The government must honour its promise to submit to the elected representatives any treaties that it intends to ratify, as it is forced to do here today with the three tax treaties. Once it has ratified them, it must honour them, as we hope it will honour the tax treaties we are discussing here today, and the Kyoto protocol, which the House is pressing it to honour.
This failure to involve the representatives of the people is an anachronism. It is impossible to tell from the division of legislative powers provided in the Constitution Act, 1867 which level of government, federal or provincial, has authority to sign a treaty with a foreign government. No provision is made in the Canadian Constitution for a jurisdiction anything like external relations or international relations. This is understandable, however, because when the Constitution Act, 1867 was passed by the British Parliament in London, Canada was still a colony of the British Empire. In 1867, the British Parliament reserved for the British Crown the power to represent the Dominion of Canada internationally and to enter into treaties with foreign countries on its behalf.
Under section 132 of the Constitution Act, 1867, however, the federal government was given responsibility for implementing, in Canada, treaties entered into by the British Crown, where these were applicable to this country.
In 1931, pursuant to the Statute of Westminster, Canada, as well as several other dominions of the British Empire, acquired full independence and, along with it, the authority to act with all the attributes of a sovereign state on the international scene. It was then that the federal government acquired jurisdiction over external affairs. Considered a royal prerogative when the Constitution was written, this authority was transferred to the government which, as the sovereign's representative, exercises it alone and without involving Parliament.
Once the governor in council approves an agreement reached between Canada and a foreign country, no matter who negotiated the treaty, that agreement becomes an international treaty. The representatives of the people do not have a say in it because the federal government has simply inherited a royal prerogative dating back to the British Empire.
Parliament only becomes involved when the ratification of a treaty requires an enabling statute. Canadian legislation may have to be amended because of the treaty. The legislative implementation of these treaties is the only occasion when Parliament has a say in the entry into force of a treaty in Canada.
It should be pointed out that many treaties requiring the Canadian state to adopt specific standards are not presented to Parliament for the adoption of enabling legislation. In such cases, the government believes that the Canadian legislation already conforms to the international obligations adopted or that the subject of the treaty does not require the adoption of new legislative provisions.
Consequently, no amendments are made to existing laws nor is a new law adopted by Parliament. For example, Parliament did not adopt legislation to implement or approve the ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. In such cases, the treaty never goes before Parliament.
In short, Canada is less democratic today that in was in the 20's. In June 1926, Prime Minister King introduced a resolution that was unanimously adopted by the House of Commons. It read as follows:
|| Before Her Majesty's Canadian ministers recommend ratification of a treaty or convention involving Canada, Parliament's approval must be obtained.
In 1941, Mackenzie King reiterated his commitment to this formula:
|| With the exception of treaties of lesser importance or in cases of extreme urgency, the Senate and the House of Commons are invited to approve treaties, conventions and formal agreements before ratification by or on behalf of Canada.
Over the years, approval by resolution has been sought less and less. During the cold war, the government dropped the convention of seeking Parliament's approval before signing treaties or engaging in military intervention on foreign soil.
The government even stopped tabling treaties in Parliament. Except for the Kyoto protocol, not one treaty has been approved by resolution since 1966—over 40 years ago—and that was the Auto Pact. As for Kyoto, the government has refused to honour it. So much for democracy.
Furthermore, Canada is less democratic than the rest of the industrialized world. Most other major industrialized democracies support greater involvement of their parliaments in ratifying treaties. For example, the constitutions of France, Germany, Denmark, Italy and the United States require legislative approval of some types of international agreements prior to ratification.
Some countries that share constitutional traditions with Canada have tried to enshrine their parliament's role in examining treaties.
In the United Kingdom, a convention established in the 1920s, the Ponsonby Rule, requires the tabling of international agreements in both Houses of Parliament at least 21 days before they are to be ratified. This gives parliamentarians the opportunity to debate them before the government ratifies them, even though these debates are not binding. This kind of thing does not exist in Canada.
More recently, in 1996, Australia changed its procedure for concluding treaties. Under this procedure, treaties must be tabled in parliament at least 15 sitting days before any binding decision is made by the executive branch; a national interest analysis of the expected impact of the treaty obligations must be done, for each treaty, and tabled in parliament; a standing joint committee on treaties must be established to examine potential treaties and report on them. There is nothing of the sort in Canada.
As usual, Canada trails Quebec.
In Canada, the provinces pass laws in their constitutional fields of jurisdiction. As the British Privy Council ruled in 1937 in the labour conventions case, the provinces' legislative authority also extends to the implementation of international treaties.
As soon as a treaty or part of a treaty involves a provincial jurisdiction, the provisions in question can be implemented only by the provinces. Since 1964, Quebec has concluded some 550 international agreements involving many fields of jurisdiction for which it has full or partial responsibility, such as culture, economic development, drivers' licences, international adoption, the environment, science and technology, and communication.
For a major agreement to be binding, the Government of Quebec must first submit it to the Quebec National Assembly for approval. Only then will Quebec be bound by an international agreement entered into by Canada and agree to pass legislation to implement the agreement. Furthermore, under the legislation, Quebec's Department of International Relations must list and publish all of Quebec's international agreements. There is nothing of the sort in Canada.
The Bloc Québécois has introduced three bills on treaties to modernize the entire process for concluding international treaties.
The Bloc Québécois bill on treaties was designed to build transparency and democracy into the process of negotiating and concluding international treaties. Since such treaties have an increasingly large impact on our lives, it was more important than ever to make such a change. Moreover, the bill required that the federal government respect the provinces' jurisdictions.
The bill provided for five changes: all treaties were to be put before the House of Commons, the House was to approve important treaties, a parliamentary committee was to consult civil society before Parliament voted on important treaties, treaties were to be published in the Canada Gazette and on the Department of Foreign Affairs website and the government was to consult with the provinces before negotiating a treaty in an area of provincial jurisdiction.
The treaty bill came to a vote only once, on September 28, 2005. All the federalist parties voted against it.
No strangers to contradiction, the Conservatives made two promises about international treaties during the last election campaign. They promised to put international treaties before the House prior to ratification and to give the provinces a role in concluding treaties pertaining to their jurisdictions. Both these promises were broken.
Since they were elected, the Conservatives have amended NAFTA. They have signed two investment protection agreements based on NAFTA chapter 11, one of which has been ratified. They have concluded a military cooperation agreement to authorize British soldiers to train in Canada. They have signed cooperation agreements on higher education, even though education does not come under Ottawa's jurisdiction. They have concluded an agreement to facilitate technology transfers from Canada to China. And they have amended the free trade agreement with Chile.
Aside from the amended NATO treaty, which was brought before the House at the last minute for a mini-debate and vote, none of these international treaties has come before the House.
And where is the nation of Quebec in all this? The federalist parties say they rejected the Bloc Québécois bill because of two clauses, 4 and 6.
First, clause 4 provided for a mechanism for consulting with the provinces:
|| Canada shall not, without consulting the government of each province in accordance with the agreements entered into under section 5, negotiate or conclude a treaty
||(a) in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces; or
||(b) in a field affecting an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.
As for clause 6, it recognized the validity of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine:
|| Nothing in this Act in any manner limits or affects the royal prerogative of Her Majesty in right of a province with respect to the negotiation and conclusion of treaties in an area under the legislative authority of the legislatures of the provinces.
The clause on consulting Quebec and the provinces is nothing revolutionary. When the federal government discusses, in an international forum, the text of a treaty having an impact on the provinces, then it consults the provinces beforehand.
Under an agreement concluded in 1975—and still in effect—between the Trudeau government and the provinces, Ottawa consults the provinces at every stage of the negotiation of treaties involving human rights.
Every federalist party in Ottawa is more centralist than Pierre Elliott Trudeau on the issue of international relations.
It is not just a Bloc Québécois bill that the federalist parties have rejected, it is a Quebec law. Section 22.1 of the Act respecting the Ministère des Relations internationales requires the consent of the Government of Quebec with respect to the signing, ratification or adherence by the Government of Canada, before the latter acts internationally on any agreement concerning matters under Quebec's constitutional jurisdiction.
As far as the section recognizing the provinces' right to negotiate and conclude international treaties in their jurisdictions is concerned, it was simply a recognition of the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine which every Government of Quebec has been following since 1965.
The Gérin-Lajoie doctrine is closely linked to Quebec's independence: the provinces are completely sovereign within their jurisdictions and they must exercise their authority over the entirety of their jurisdictions, which includes signing and ratifying international treaties.
In closing, these are some of the arguments in favour of more involvement by parliamentarians in the negotiation and ratification of international treaties for the good of democracy.
Mr. Speaker, this is also the second time I have spoken on this bill. As we already know, from what my colleague from has said, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill in principle.
Passing this bill will mean that Canada can ratify the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States and join the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
Because I will be making frequent reference to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the name is a little long, I will call it simply the centre in my speech.
Bill incorporates the requirements of the convention into domestic law, two reasons being to ensure compliance with arbitral awards and grant the immunities that the centre and its staff need. The centre was created by the World Bank in 1965 under the Treaty of Washington. At present there are 156 member countries. The centre is responsible for arbitrating disputes between a state and a foreign investor.
There are two potential kinds of conflicts: first, there are disputes relating to compliance with bilateral foreign investment protection agreements, and second, there are disputes relating to agreements between governments and foreign investors. These are agreements of the kind that the Government of Quebec and other governments regularly enter into to encourage foreign investment, with the promise, for example, to supply electricity at an agreed price.
Canada’s membership will have no impact on the provinces and Quebec, other than that they will also be able to allow for recourse to the centre when they enter into agreements with investors. The bilateral treaties signed by the federal government already provide for recourse to arbitration by the centre, but by way of the supplementary arbitration mechanism rather than a regular mechanism, which is available only to countries that have ratified the convention.
In fact, the only thing that Canada's joining the centre will change is that it will be able to participate in negotiations to amend the centre's convention or by-laws and will have the assurance that it may participate in appointing arbitration tribunals. There will therefore be direct participation in the centre. Ultimately, the centre is merely a tribunal, and the problem is not the tribunal, but the bad investment protection treaties that Canada signs.
The Bloc Québécois supports signing investment protection agreements as long as they are good agreements, obviously. It is entirely reasonable for an investor to try to ensure, before making an investment, that he or she will not end up losing his or her property, and will not be discriminated against. That is the situation that foreign investment protection agreements are intended to govern. This is not a new phenomenon. The first known agreement containing provisions relating to the protection of foreign investments was the agreement between France and the United States signed in 1788, over two centuries ago.
In May 2007 there were over 2,400 bilateral investment protection agreements in the world. If we add the tax conventions dealing with the tax treatment of foreign investments and income, there are about 5,000 bilateral treaties relating to foreign investments. The Bloc is in favour of signing agreements like this and recognizes that they promote investment and growth. These agreements are all based on more or less the same principles.
The first principle that could be mentioned is respect for property rights regardless of the owner's nationality. Second, there can be no nationalization without fair and prompt financial compensation. Third, there is a prohibition against treating property located within a country's territory differently depending on the owner's origin. Finally, there is free movement of capital resulting from the operation and the disposal of investment.
In every case, when these rights are violated, states may submit disputes over compliance with an agreement to an international arbitration tribunal. In the majority of cases, investors themselves may submit the dispute to an international tribunal, but only with the consent of the state. In many cases, the international arbitration provided in the agreement takes place before the ICSID. By belonging to it, as Bill provides, we are also agreeing to an international order in the field of investment.
In the investment protection agreements that they sign, only two countries, Canada and the United States, systematically grant investors the right to appeal directly to international tribunals. This is a deviation from the norm. By allowing a company to operate outside government control, it is being given the status of a subject of international law, a status that ordinarily belongs only to governments.
The agreements that Canada signs contain a number of similar deviations, giving multinationals rights they should not have and limiting the power of the state to legislate and take action for the common good. Take, for instance, the now infamous chapter 11 of NAFTA, which provides that a dispute can go to ICSID. There are, however, three things wrong in that chapter: the definition of expropriation, the definition of investor, and the definition of investment.
The definition of expropriation is so vague that any government measure, except for a general tax measure, can be challenged by foreign investors if it diminishes the profits generated by their investments. Indeed, a Kyoto implementation plan which would have large polluters such as oil companies pay dearly could be challenged under chapter 11 and result in government compensation.
American companies have majority interests in Alberta oil companies. Chapter 11 opens the door to the worst kind of abuse of process. The definition of investor is so broad that it includes any shareholder. Anyone could therefore take the state to court and seek compensation for a government measure that allegedly cut into a company's profits.
As for the definition of investment, it is so broad that it even includes the profits that investors hope to derive from their assets in the future. In the case of expropriation, not only does the state find itself forced to pay fair market value, but it also has to include future revenues that investors expected to draw. This would make nationalizing electricity, as Quebec did in the 1960s, impossible.
Take the example of SunBelt, a corporation with one Canadian shareholder and one Californian shareholder. This corporation closed its doors when the Government of British Columbia removed the right to export water in bulk that it had been granted. Under Canadian law, the Canadian shareholder received compensation equivalent to the value of his investment: $300,000. Under chapter 11 of NAFTA, the American shareholder included in his claim all potential future revenue from the sale of water, for a total of $100 million. For better or for worse, the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount that is not likely to ever be disclosed.
Given the amounts of money at issue, chapter 11 acts as a deterrent to any government action, particularly with respect to the environment, whose effect would be to reduce the profits of a foreign-owned corporation. The dispute settlement mechanism allows corporations to apply directly to the international tribunals to seek compensation, without even having to obtain the consent of the state.
Is it conceivable that a multinational corporation would be able, on its own initiative, to instigate a trade dispute between two countries? And yet that is the absurd situation that the chapter of NAFTA on investments allows. Given these flaws, chapter 11 of NAFTA reduces a state’s ability to take action for the common good and to enact environmental legislation, and amounts to a sword of Damocles that can come down at any moment on any legislation or regulations that might have the effect of cutting into corporate profits.
In 2005, the United States changed some of the provisions of their standard investment protection agreement. In 2006, Canada did the same. Because the two countries have now recognized the harmful and extreme nature of chapter 11 of NAFTA, the time is right for the government to act quickly to initiate talks with its American and Mexican partners to amend chapter 11 of NAFTA. We have to say no to bad investment protection agreements.
In addition to chapter 11 of NAFTA, and despite universal criticism of how extreme it is, the government has signed 16 other bilateral foreign investment protection agreements that are carbon copies of it. All of those foreign investment protection agreements are bad and should be renegotiated.
In 2006, the government gave some indication that it recognized that these agreements were bad. The Conservative government copied the changes made by the Bush administration the previous year, and in fact made changes to Canada’s FIPA program to fix some of the most glaring problems. It clarified the concept of expropriation by specifying that a non-discriminatory government measure designed to protect health and the environment and to promote a legitimate government objective should not be considered to be expropriation and should not automatically result in compensation.
It is too soon to assess the actual impact of that clarification, but at first blush it seems to be an improvement. It has narrowed the concept of investment by specifying that the value of property is equal to its fair market value. This puts an end to the madness of adding in all of the potential profits the investor hoped to earn from his or her investment. For the rest, the standard investment protection agreement continues to be modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA.
The government must continue to improve this standard agreement, particularly as it relates to the dispute resolution mechanism. Multinational corporations must be brought back under public authority, as any individual is.
As well, the government should submit international treaties and agreements to the House before ratifying them. That is what we are being promised and it is what I referred to earlier, but is the purpose really to have a substantive discussion? Is it really a discussion to learn the benefits, the opportunities, perhaps, or the harm that might be caused to certain industries in Canada and Quebec?
Yesterday, the government seemed to be saying that the question of ratification was up for discussion and study, but is it going to ratify without the House having really come down for or against a specific agreement?
Early last year, the government issued a press release announcing that it had just ratified a new foreign investment protection agreement with Peru. Parliamentarians and the public learned about the agreement when they read the release. Parliament was never informed about it. It never approved it. That is completely anti-democratic.
In the last election, however, the Conservative election platform was clear: the Conservatives committed to submitting all international treaties and agreements for approval before ratifying them. That is not what we heard yesterday in this House: what was said was that they would be presented to the House and the House would be made aware of them, but the Conservative members, including the minister, never said that the House was to ratify them.
Since the Conservatives came to power, Canada has ratified about 26 or 27 international treaties. Except for the amendment to the NORAD treaty, which was the subject of a brief last-minute mini-debate and a vote, none of these international treaties were brought before the House.
These days, international agreements can have as great an impact on our lives as laws. Nothing can possibly justify the secretive, unilateral ratification of these agreements by this government without the participation of the representatives of the people.
In the past, the Bloc Québécois introduced bills to restore democracy and ensure respect for the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces in the ratification of international treaties. Given that this is something the government promised to do, we did not bring it up again. However, today we see that a Conservative promise is not worth much.
So the Bloc Québécois will once again take this matter up and will make proposals to bring democracy back into the ratification of international treaties. The government must have an obligation to submit to the House all international treaties and agreements it has signed before ratifying them. The government must be required to publish all international agreements in which it is involved. The government must also allow the House to vote on and approve all major treaties, following study by a special committee responsible for reviewing international agreements, before ratifying them. The government must also respect the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces throughout the treaty-making process at the negotiation, signature and ratification stages.
In conclusion, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes is needed to ensure that States are treated fairly in their dealings with multinational corporations. We must also ensure that the agreements Canada signs are good ones that respect all stakeholders.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today at third reading on Bill . The NDP is opposed to the bill and I will outline some of the reasons that we are opposed to it.
This is a bill that, on the face of it, looks fairly innocuous. It deals with a dispute mechanism. It involves the World Bank. It involves the status of multinational corporations when they are dealing with investment in foreign countries and ensuring there is a dispute resolution process.
On the face of it, it looks fairly reasonable, but when we dig a little bit deeper we find that this just skims the top in terms of what the bill represents in terms of a global regime that has seen over the last 20 years a massive transfer of power from governments to multinational corporations under the World Trade Organization under these trade agreements.
I would note that the Deputy Speaker, the member for himself, as a member of the House, has played a very active role. Mr. Speaker, I know you have been very involved with the NDP over the years when we fought the multilateral agreement on investment and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in Quebec City. Now we are dealing with the so-called security and prosperity partnership agreement that involves Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Mr. Speaker, I know you are very familiar and have a lot of credibility and a long record on dealing with these massive trade agreements that impact and undermine the democratic rights of Parliament and other states, and creates an enormous gulf in terms of the ability of citizens to organize themselves to have an impact on how these agreements come about and how they are dealt with in terms of disputes and the decisions that flow from them.
When we looked at Bill and had discussions in our caucus, we came to the conclusion that we could not support the bill.
The ICSID, as it is called, is part of an international trade and investment regime that has come under very harsh criticism from civil society because it does confer unprecedented powers to multinational corporations through bilateral investment treaties.
One of the concerns that I raised earlier today is that through this agreement there is no place for third party testimony. There is no accountability, no transparency and no openness or disclosure that would allow local organizations in an affected community or a labour union to come to the table and be part of the dispute resolution mechanism that is contemplated in this agreement unless there is consent by both parties involved in the arbitration, which is probably very unlikely. It makes it very inaccessible to local communities and third party stakeholders who would be impacted by the decisions being made. We believe that is a problem with the bill but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
A question was asked in the House yesterday by a Conservative backbencher who was congratulating the on his announcement that Canada has now concluded a free trade agreement with Peru. The Conservative member for was asking the whether the agreement with Peru would now provide labour rights protection in Peru. Not surprisingly, the stood in the House and crowed that the trade agreement with Peru would deal with an improvement in labour rights, that everything would fine and that we should not worry about it. The Conservatives were patting themselves on the back.
I raise that issue because it is a very current example of the nature of these agreements and how they completely violate and undermine labour rights. They do nothing to be proactive in protecting very serious labour situations.
Yesterday the claimed in the House that this international trade agreement with Peru will give protection to labour rights. On January 18 information came from the Peruvian workers' union denouncing the fact that over 3,000 workers have been dismissed in that country for organizing trade unions. Labour rights are virtually non-existent. Something is not right with this picture.
Ministers are trying to assure the public that people's basic human rights around labour, child labour, the environment and social standards are being protected and yet we have very concrete examples to tell us that in places such as Peru, which is just one example, there are very serious situations. Workers in that country are being undermined and their rights are being violated all the time.
In October 2007 the International Trade Union Confederation prepared a report for its general council and reviewed trade policies in Peru. This is a very current report. It is quite clear about the fact that there are very serious problems in that country. The recommendations in the report made it very clear that the government of Peru should amend its legislation to conform with the International Labour Organization's conventions 87 and 98. Convention 87 has to do with the freedom of association. Convention 98 has to do with the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining.
I find it contradictory that on the one hand a minister of the Conservative government is trying to assure us that everything is okay and that he has negotiated something that is going to protect those workers and yet the representatives of workers in that country are portraying a completely different reality. That is something of concern to the NDP.
We in the NDP believe that as parliamentarians we have a responsibility to not only uphold these international conventions that protect labour, human rights and the environment in our own country, but we also have a responsibility to speak out in the international community to make sure that those rights are upheld. We expect the Government of Canada to do the same. We expect the Government of Canada to show leadership on those questions.
To come back to the bill that is before us today, that is the very reason we find it to be very contentious. It is the very reason we find this bill to be completely missing the point about what is taking place on a global scale.
The members in our caucus have participated in many forums, discussions and educational workshops. It is quite incredible, given this global situation of opening up the floodgates to the transfer of capital with virtually no rules, that citizens have taken it upon themselves to become informed and educated as to what it is that is going on. These are not easy matters to get a handle on. These are very complicated agreements set up under the WTO. We learned that from the MAI. We are learning that now from the security and prosperity partnership.
We know that agreements are put together in secret. They are done at places like Montebello where leaders meet behind closed doors. The connection to the public, the ability of civil society to have any input or to be able to say anything is limited. In fact, security forces go to great lengths to ensure that kind of dialogue does not take place.
Our caucus has a lot of experience in dealing with these agreements. We understand the implications they have for a democratic society. Fundamentally, we express our concern in the House as well as in the community that we see it as a shift from making decisions in a democratic process in Parliament to a secretive process where we have no access. We do not even have access to that as members of Parliament.
If Canadians were asked what is the purpose of government, what are we here for, our constituents and members in our community would say that the purpose of government is to protect them. The purpose of government is to ensure that they have health care, education, income security and that the country is safe.
Over the years under these neo-liberal and neo-conservative policies, we have seen a massive shift in the role of government. That power has been transferred from government into the hands of undemocratic, unelected, unaccountable, non-transparent multinational corporations. These trade agreements have facilitated that process.
We should be standing up very strongly against these kinds of agreements. What we are most concerned about right now is the security and prosperity partnership that is taking place between the countries on the American continent: Canada, United States and Mexico.
We have been very outspoken. The member for , our trade critic, has done an amazing job. He has travelled across this country. He has already gone to 12 communities. He is travelling to another 12 communities where we are holding public hearings on the SPP.
There is so much deep concern in the community about what that agreement will do and the fact that the government, as the previous government did, is signing on to this agreement with virtually no public disclosure. It will impact every aspect of domestic life in Canada. It will impact on the ability of Parliament to do its job. It will impact on the delivery of services. It will exacerbate the privatization of services. It will exacerbate the deregulation that is taking place in our society. At the end of the day these are things that begin to affect the quality of life. It becomes a race to the bottom.
We recognize the connection that this bill has in dealing with the dispute mechanism and its attachment to the World Bank, how it is completely complicit and tied into this move to globalization that is shutting down the democratic process. We strongly object to that. We intend to do everything we can not only in Parliament but in the broader civil society to see that these agreements are opened up, changed, that they are refuted.
We understand that trade is obviously going to happen. Trade is an important part of our economic activity in life, but we want to see fair trade. We want to see trade that is based on agreed to and implemented around core standards that set out labour rights, that set out environmental rights, that set out a social contract and social conditions so that the workers in the south are not being exploited and that Canadian workers are not losing their jobs as a result of these trade agreements.
We have seen a loss of over 300,000 manufacturing jobs. The Canada-South Korea trade agreement is under development. All of these things are taking place with virtually no debate or understanding. All this takes place behind closed doors.
The bill before us today is at third reading, but we believe it is not a good bill. It does not deal with realities that are before us in terms of what is happening with these trade agreements. We have to be incredibly skeptical about what the Conservative government is doing and what its agenda is.
I will use another example. Yesterday in the House we heard a minister of the government say that international treaties will be brought before the House which will be tabled, discussed and debated. On the face of it, it sounds reasonable, but if we go back a couple of years to September 2004, the then leader of the official opposition, who is now the , actually made a commitment with the other opposition leaders, including the and the , that international treaties should be voted on in this House.
That was an actual commitment. It was part of a package that was brought forward in that first minority Parliament. We agreed that there should be a vote in the House of Commons on international treaties. Already we have seen the Conservative government break its promise just by its announcement yesterday that there will not be a vote, that there may be some debate or notice. That is a clear violation of the commitment made in September 2004.
I will close by saying that members of our caucus have reviewed the bill very thoroughly. We have debated and discussed it with our partners in the labour movement, in the Canadian Labour Congress and other places with members of civil society. There is no question that the approval of the bill would reinforce a regime of trade and international practice that gives massive powers to multinational corporations at the expense of the democratic process in places like the House of Commons.
On that basis we cannot support the bill. We urge other members of the House to also show the strength of representing the public interest, because that is what we are here to do, to represent the public interest, and to vote down the bill.