Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure and conviction that I rise again to speak to Bill .
Once again, the environmental and labour issues are being dealt with in side agreements, which aim for the minimum requirements established by the country with which we are signing the agreement rather than promoting the environmental and labour rights and laws in that country. Every free trade agreement always contains a section on investment. We agree that there should be a minimum of protection for foreign investment and that it should be properly regulated. However, there must be limits on the powers given by agreements, for example NAFTA's chapter 11.
We are in an era of innovation. We must innovate not only in the sciences, social sciences and business, but also in free trade agreements. We are discussing bilateral agreements. We must be innovative and promote environmental rights, labour rights and, in some countries, human rights.
This innovation could start today, in the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru, simply by our telling the government to redo its homework. The government must do it again and innovate in terms of bilateral free trade agreements, as in this case.
An aside, if I may. The Bloc Québécois strongly advocates multilateral agreements. It must be pointed out that, in this sort of agreement, the same set of rules applies to everyone. Even the WTO must protect human rights, labour rights and environmental rights. That is the end of my aside.
The government talks of liberalizing trade. An American author said that increasing the freedom of trade index by 1% could and would increase trade. Hence the mad race by all countries to establish agreements with other countries to liberalize trade. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that freedom must also rhyme with responsibility. When the government makes an agreement with another country it must be responsible for its actions and for the decisions and agreements it makes. They can create a multitude of problems for people in emerging countries who want to improve their situation.
We see this responsibility clearly in the mining sector, among others. At the moment, Canada's mining companies operating abroad cause damage to the environment and displace many people. They are responsible only under the environmental laws of the other countries. This agreement does not promote environmental rights strongly enough to ensure our mining companies are responsible. Their responsibility is voluntary, to all intents and purposes. It is why a significant number of mining companies from around the world incorporate in Canada, for then they are not responsible for their actions abroad.
Thus they can save a lot of money. But they create catastrophes as well, and they should be responsible for them. If I have the time, I will come back to the subject of mines.
In my remarks, unlike in the speeches we often hear, I would like to return to the testimony given before the Standing Committee on International Trade. This testimony was heard long after the agreement was signed and long after the parties had indicated what stands they would take on this bill.
I have notes on a number of witnesses, but not all, because I could have spent an entire day on it. A number of things were said in committee that most of the Liberal and Conservative members did not hear, unfortunately. Perhaps it would be a good idea to tell them that this might be the perfect opportunity for this agreement to become the model of agreements for Canada in the future. We oppose this agreement and hope to have the support of the majority of members in this House in order to innovate. Although we would prefer multilateral agreements, when bilateral agreements are made, they must be made in the best possible way.
For example, I will quote a witness who appeared in committee on May 7, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which is the largest agricultural association in Canada with over 200,000 producers. In Quebec, there is an expression that the witness used at the beginning of his testimony. He said that this agreement ce n'est pas le Pérou, meaning that this agreement is not perfect, it is not a cure-all for all of the current trade problems or irritants. But it is being signed with Peru.
The president said that it is obviously not perfect, far from it. But he and his producers would still like it to move forward as quickly as possible. He also criticized the negotiators. I would make a distinction. There are negotiators who negotiate. Often, the negotiators negotiate what the government asks them to negotiate. The negotiators focus on things chosen by the government. The negotiators also negotiate by leaving out some aspects, because the government has asked them to leave them out. The government asks the negotiators to sign, at any cost, almost any condition, whether or not it is favourable to the people, to entrepreneurs and to businesspeople. He criticized the negotiators because, according to him, if we compare this agreement with the one signed with the United States, the reduction was faster in the United States than in Canada. The quotas were also much larger and there was no most favoured nation clause. He said that some sectors benefited more—grains, wheat, barley and pulses. Of course, some sectors lost out. We never saw an impact study from the government or the negotiators. According to them, some sectors stand to gain, and others stand to lose. However, we have never seen an impact study and projections of these impacts, not only for the business of people who export, or for the benefit of some who import, but also for all workers in Quebec and Canada.
Impact studies would tell us what will happen in a given industry or in a given sector and what the gains and losses will be. We should also ask ourselves what our priorities are and why. We never had impact studies on free trade agreements. We are not asking anyone to tell the future by looking into a crystal ball. In fact, it is obvious that there are not too many crystal balls around. I know a government that went from a zero deficit to a $50 billion deficit in a span of a few weeks or a few months. So we do not really need a crystal ball.
There are various other products, but I will not name them.
Of course, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture was aware of deficiencies with regard to labour and environmental laws. He still argues that even though our farmers do not enjoy the same treatment as American farmers and even though progress is slow, we should sign the agreement. Again, there has not been any impact studies on producers and farmers, nor on the population as a whole whose quality of life we must look to improve to a certain extent. For example, to show the difference, in the United States, the tariff on certain products, including pork, will be eliminated within five years. However, in Canada, it will take 17 years. So the difference is quite substantial.
The president of the federation told us also that the federation agreed to multilateral negotiations. That being said, he kept repeating that negotiators would have to adjust, but also that ,in turn, it would be mostly up to the government to adjust.
We heard from other witnesses, including the Canadian Wheat Board. The wheat sector is obviously among the biggest winners.
I mentioned pork. I want to show the relative importance of that agreement for Canadian pork, for instance, on international markets. Director General Jacques Pomerleau said:
Knowing that we would never get what the Americans received, our negotiators became very creative in ensuring that we would still get some benefits. They accepted a longer tariff elimination period, 17 years instead of ten, but they were able to get for us a duty-free quota that will allow our exporters to better position themselves at the very beginning. We have to admit that this quota of 325 tonnes, that will progressively extend to 504 tonnes over 10 years, is relatively small for an industry that exports over one million tonnes every year.
There are little aberrations like that. Others, like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, are very much in favour. The only thing, really, is that we do not want to be overtaken by other countries that could sign a FTA with Peru, among others. The same holds true for other agreements. Because Colombia and the United States were negotiating an agreement that did not get Congress approval, Canada raced like mad. It was intent on signing and implementing an agreement before the United States did. This was crucial to the government, even if it meant doing so at the expense of Colombia or human rights. Globally, a mad race was on, with businesses from all countries trying to globalize, as we do. Soon, every country on this planet will have bilateral free trade agreements with the 199 other countries. Naturally, variances and differences will develop. Why not focus primarily on multilateral agreements? I think it would be the most sensible way to go.
I was talking about environmental laws earlier. The Canadian Environmental Law Association was represented in evidence given before a committee on May 26, 2009. Ms. McClenaghan, executive director and counsel in that association, criticized the fact that investors can access the states. She said it was a serious problem. Particularly when we talk about investors, we must of course refer to the investment agreement that echoes chapter 11 of NAFTA whereby investors have access to the state, which could be problematic. We know that investors can sue countries for various reasons under the major heading of expropriation, which includes two elements. There is direct expropriation, that is, in the true sense of the word, and indirect expropriation, which, no matter what happens, relates to a business' loss of anticipated profits.
To give an example of such a free-trade agreement, Ms. McClenaghan referred to the agreement between Australia and the United States whereby no investors had access to the state. It was also a model of social and environmental protection. In terms of labour laws and occupational health and safety, Canadian businesses are operating in a country where little attention is paid to people's rights.
I must briefly come back to the topic of mining. Regarding mining companies and corporate responsibility, we have motion M-283, moved by the hon. Liberal member for , and Bill introduced by the hon. member for . The Bloc Québécois supports both items—the motion and the bill—because their goal is to make mining companies accept greater responsibility in countries like Peru and Colombia. If the Liberals are to be consistent with their bill and their motion, they must also, for that reason, vote against the . I therefore call on all Liberal members, including those from Quebec, and all members to vote against this implementation act.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning to voice my opposition to Bill .
One of the things I was reminded of as I sat here is that in the early to mid 1980s we started a free trade agreement with the United States. I recall that a certain Conservative member said it was like sleeping with an elephant and if the elephant rolled over we would be in some difficulty.
That particular debate went on, and ultimately the free trade agreement was signed. Then the elephant rolled over and from 1988 to 1990 Canada lost 524,000 manufacturing jobs. We have progressed, some people might say, to NAFTA, and the repercussions are still being felt.
What I see as a change in this proposed agreement is that we are somewhat of a dominant partner in this one. With that dominant partner status comes a responsibility. As a nation, we could have been taking the lead on the environment and labour rights in this particular country. We know that many of the South American countries have some tremendous problems in the area of human rights. The records are disastrous down there.
Bill is a bill to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Peru, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Peru and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Peru. With regard to labour cooperation, we had an opportunity to enhance the labour standards in this country by setting benchmarks that should have been in the agreement.
Nobody in this place will dispute the necessity of trade. We all understand that Canada is a trading nation. Canada has taken a leadership role in human rights in the world for many generations now, and it is highly regarded and respected. This is a lost opportunity. We had an opportunity to similarly move the benchmark forward in the negotiations around the free trade agreement with Colombia. As we know, Colombia has the worst human rights record on the face of the earth. Some will say, and I am sure they are sincere, that by having trade and having an agreement with Colombia, Peru and other countries, that this will enhance and bring forward their human rights. Personally, I believe we should have been pressing for human rights prior to even entering into negotiations.
Members may recall that there was a report prepared on the corporate and social responsibility. In fact I believe the member from commented on it in his remarks. Well, that particular report never made it to this House. That report was returned to the government a year ago last November. It was talking about situations, particularly of Canadian enterprises operating in South America and other countries.
There has been a question in our communities as to why that was never tabled in this House. Why was that document not brought forward? The NGOs, the civil society and other people came together across this country to prepare it. I think the evidence is now here as to why the government would not want the corporate and social responsibility document tabled; it is because it would directly impact on these two agreements.
From time to time in our offices we are visited by guests from other countries. Just last week we had a young woman, Yessika Morales, who visited us from Colombia. Yessika's father was shot and killed by the paramilitaries in 2001. She came to us with her concerns about that particular trade agreement with Colombia.
They have a great fear in that part of the world. In no way am I suggesting Canadian companies are directly complicit, but in South America, if a corporation from any part of the world working there were to be something like King Henry when he said, “Will nobody rid me of this troublesome monk?” and Thomas Becket died, in a similar fashion, if the executive board or the executives of a mining corporation or other enterprise were to suggest that there is any kind of problem with a labour leader, that labour leader would be gone.
The example is Colombia, where 2,690 trade unionists have died since 1986. Some people ask how I know that is part of that; it's because in the same period about 17,000 people died. Amnesty International's Human Rights Watch and others have documented these cases.
We had a great opportunity with this dominant position that I referred to before to take our place as an international leader on human rights, to sustain that position and to move forward to help countries like Peru. We failed to do it.
In the particular agreement, once again, labour rights and environment rights are side agreements. I come from the labour movement, and in my time I was part of the negotiations between Bell Canada and the union, on the union side. During negotiations in 1988, and then again in 1990, we went to the employer with our list of our proposals and the employer would have a list of their proposals. It is interesting that ours were called demands and theirs were called proposals, but that is another issue. At some point in the negotiations we reached a place where we said we could not resolve this. But we had to have something. In that case, the employer wrote a letter of intent.
That was all well and good. When the collective agreement was signed and we were back in the workplace and workers' rights seemed to be impinged, we went to the union and said we wanted to grieve. The union said it was sorry it could not because that was only a letter of intent; it was not binding.
These side agreements are exactly the same thing as this letter of intent. It is a nice way of masking that we do not have any powerful, sustainable actions we can take to protect the environment in Peru, or protect the workers' rights, or the workers' lives, in many cases. It is very troubling when we look at an agreement of this nature.
I will give some credit to the government, because it has moved somewhat away from the Bush agreements of the past. We would probably find that some of those have been getting a very rough ride in the Congress of the United States, but it has moved somewhat past that. Still, it does not do what is needed to protect the workers of this country. As we demean or lower the rights of any nation in the world, it takes the rights of all nations and lowers them.
It is important to consider who will benefit from trade agreements of this nature. I will give an example of one company, the Bank of Nova Scotia, that will be moving to higher investments in Peru. I am sure that on the investment front there will be some reciprocal trade that happens, and it is to the benefit of the countries involved.
I must point out, Peru is not a major trading partner with Canada to begin with. Our two-way merchandise trade between the two countries only reached $2.8 billion in 2008, and Canadian imports were over $2 billion, of which 50% was from Canadian gold companies operating in Peru.
I go back again for a moment to corporate social responsibility. That highlights the importance of having a framework of the responsibilities we expect of Canadian companies when they operate in a nation like Peru, whether we have a trade deal or not.
With that initial trade deal, the negotiations were started as far back as 2002, under Mr. Chrétien and the Liberals at the time. They first held discussions with Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Our trade minister in 2007 launched the formal trade talks with Peru, and the government signed in May 2008.
There are critics around the world on trade issues and trade agreements. Mary Tharin, from the COHA, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was talking about the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement, and she suggested the agreement has given the president of Peru the excuse to start dismantling labour rights and what regulations they do have on the environment in Peru.
From my perspective, the good news is that since the president started doing that, his approval rating has dropped or has almost vanished. However, we are not talking about a democracy like Canada when we are talking about the impact that would have on him and how that might sway him not to proceed to a greater degree of damaging those particular rights.
In the United States in 2007, there was a considerable debate and, as indicated, some compromise was made and it approved a free trade agreement with Peru designed to drastically reduce import-export tariffs, hypothetically putting an end to protectionism on both sides.
We hear the government saying that we cannot have a buy Canadian strategy because that would be protectionist in this worst of times. As the member from Winnipeg pointed out earlier in his remarks, in 1927 the United States undertook protectionism, if we want to call it that, but it was buy American where procurements of local governments and state governments were intended to spend their taxpayer money on, heaven forbid, American goods, which is, in my opinion, precisely what we should be doing in this country.
The approval for that free trade agreement in the United States has been delayed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives due to concerns, mostly on the part of the congressional democrats, I would say, about Peru's environmental and labour standards. It took quite a while for that to ultimately get resolved.
Despite the free trade agreement's conditions, which state that labour standards must not be lowered, a number of President Garcia's recent decrees have put the country's public service workers in jeopardy. In May, the Federation of State Employees got to the point where they felt desperate enough to organize a strike.
The whole problem is that these agreements are about trade at all costs. We should think about that for a moment. Yes, I said in my opening remarks that trade is important, and we all accept the necessity of trade, but Canada as a country has always been a country that took principled stands, a country that stood up for human rights and for the values that are necessary to sustain a healthy country.
Tomorrow there will be a demonstration outside of this place by a group of labour unions and labour activists. As we close in on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, we are reminded how the veterans of this country fought in the war against Nazi Germany to have Canadians sustained and have the right to demonstrate outside of this place.
Canada has gone far and wide to protect the rights of citizens in other countries and in our own country and has done a wonderful job in doing so. However, when we move to agreements with nations with questionable human rights records and questionable records on the environment and we fail, as the dominant partner in those negotiations, to improve areas of the environment, environmental regulation, labour laws and rights, then we fail as a nation.
I am really troubled that in the two agreements, the agreement with Peru and, more particularly, the agreement with Colombia, I think our government has failed us. In the particular case of the free trade agreement with Colombia, I am quite ashamed of the fact that we would even negotiate with a government that is as tied to the drug trade as that nation is.
Mr. Speaker, I am very interested in participating in the debate on Bill , but I also have some serious concerns.
When we look at the debate surrounding this free trade agreement with Peru, it is clear that there are few things that are specific to this Latin American country. In other words, this agreement is part of the trade policy the federal government has been pushing in the Americas for the past few years. So, some of the criticisms I will make today will sometimes be similar to criticisms I could make of the agreement with Columbia, which we saw recently.
In both cases, the Conservative government presented Parliament with agreements that had already been signed and negotiated before Parliament even had a chance to examine them and make recommendations or changes. That is a disgrace. I participated in a mission to Columbia with the member for . We met with unions, community groups, grassroots groups, business leaders and others and they made a number of important comments. If the government had really taken the time to examine this agreement and the report put out by the Standing Committee on International Trade, I am not sure that this agreement would be before the House today.
On January 28, 2008, the federal government announced that it had signed a free trade agreement with Peru, once again presenting parliamentarians with a fait accompli. As representatives of the people of Quebec and Canada, we cannot accept this sign of contempt, this negligent attitude toward democracy that the Conservative Party demonstrates when it presents us with this sort of agreement that has been signed without any substantive debate.
In my opinion, this contempt for institutions is certainly not the best way to serve democracy. I deplore the fact that the Liberals sanction such behaviour by the Conservatives. They want to take over the government in the next election, so they should know that we cannot accept this sort of thing.
That said, the Bloc Québécois is strongly opposed to this implementation bill because it does not meet a number of criteria and objectives that, in the Bloc's view, must be met before free trade agreements are signed, especially with developing countries.
In the interests of international solidarity, we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to condemn bilateral free trade agreements that go against workers' rights, the environment and even some countries' ability to maintain their sovereignty. We condemned the bill to implement the free trade agreement with Colombia, as I mentioned, and we are condemning this one as well today.
Not so long ago, I was reading a great American writer, Joseph Stiglitz, who said that the problem with bilateral agreements is that often, stronger countries exploit weaker ones. This is less likely to happen with multilateral agreements.
That is the danger of these agreements. Often, they come back to haunt us. If, during the negotiating process, Canada does not respect the rights of foreign workers and developing countries, it very often finds itself exploiting people in very difficult conditions. Companies are not always environmentally friendly. They take their operations offshore and cut jobs here at home because it is easier for them to engage in their economic activities if they do not respect certain social conditions, certain working conditions and the environment.
The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that trade can contribute to the socio-economic prosperity of nations. However, this can only be the case if trade agreements include measures that ensure sustainable development, respect for the environment and the development of the populations involved. That is particularly true when these bilateral agreements involve a developed country and a developing country, such as the treaty with Peru.
The free trade agreement with Peru includes a clause to protect investments that is patterned on NAFTA's chapter 11 and that will allow businesses to sue governments. To include a chapter protecting investments could impede Peru's social and economic development. So, any legislation that prevents an investor from fully enjoying his investment could lead to court action and compensation. We are essentially giving the upper hand to foreign investors, who will dictate the social, economic, cultural and environmental policies of the country that welcomes them. That is not normal.
Imagine an environmental law that would prevent a polluter from enjoying his polluting investment, such as in the mining sector. The act would not be struck down because an environmental provision would allow the state to maintain it, but it could be deemed as requiring payment of compensation. Moreover, the agreement has the effect of raising the amount of compensation to be paid. Indeed, in the case of expropriation, not only does the state find itself forced to pay the value of the investment—that is the initial amount invested—but also all the revenues that the investor anticipated from his investment.
In other words, in this chapter 11, compensation also applies to lost profits. That is shameful. With such agreements, the sky is the limit. This government seems to want to promote these agreements, instead of multilateral treaties. This opens the door to court action, and the amounts involved would be so high that they would deter the state from passing any legislation that may upset multinational companies that carry on operations on its territory.
Since the Peruvian economy is the more vulnerable one, it is more likely to suffer the consequences of a clause protecting investments. In Canada, which is a developed country, the impact will not be as significant, particularly since there are not many Peruvian investments here. The situation is quite different in Peru. For example, a Canadian multinational will be able to legitimately challenge any environmental law passed by the Peruvian government, on the ground that the legislation prevents it from benefiting from its investment.
Considering that Canadian investments in Peru are primarily in the mining sector, which is a great polluter, there is cause for concern. Indeed, Peru's mining potential is significant, and over 80 Canadian mining companies are present in that country. Canada is the number one investor in Peru's mining sector. Given the poor track record of Canadian mining companies, and a total lack of will on the part of the Canadian government to regulate their operations, protecting the additional investments of these companies through a new chapter 11 is definitely not the best thing to do to improve the social, environmental and economic conditions of Peruvian workers. Moreover, I do not see how this could have a positive impact on the economy of and of Quebec as a whole.
In a nutshell, we are afraid that measures to protect investments provide disproportionate protection for Canadian investors as opposed to local people and the environment. Obviously, Peru can enact legislation and make regulations to govern the activities of mining companies.
But the danger lies in the fact that the Peruvian government does not have the resources or infrastructure needed for proper oversight of the companies’ activities inside that country.
The Bloc Québécois is opposed to this agreement. We are not opposed to protecting our companies’ investments abroad, but this must not be done at the expense of the rights and needs of the local people. Because Canada’s primary interest is in investments in the mining sector, the Bloc Québécois believes we need to adopt a real policy to hold Canadian mining companies accountable. I am not talking about a disguised policy like one of the motions the Liberals introduced in the House not so long ago. They lectured us on the whole question of corporate social responsibility abroad and they vote in favour of agreements like these with Peru or Colombia. We need a real social responsibility policy, one adopted here in this House, an aggressive policy that means that when we sign bilateral agreements, that being something we are somewhat opposed to, preferring multilateral agreements, at least chapter 11 will not apply.
In 2007, the Bloc Québécois called on the federal government, as recommended in the Report of the Advisory Group for the National Roundtables, to adopt mandatory standards and accountability measures relating to the activities of mining companies abroad. This issue has been going on for a long time. Those measures should be accompanied by penalties for companies that do not comply, for example by eliminating their entitlement to tax benefits, loan guarantees and other forms of federal government assistance. Not only are these companies often operating in very particular situations, but they are also financially supported by our governments. In March, unfortunately, the Conservative government rejected a large majority of the recommendations we had made. The Conservative government has decided that social responsibility standards will be voluntary instead of mandatory.
The Liberals support the free trade agreement, in spite of all the speeches they make in this House where they say they support respect for the environment and corporate social responsibility abroad.
If we do not have an accountability policy, the mining companies will be able to expand their activities and will be subject to no rules and liable to no consequences when they pollute or they threaten human rights.
I also want to mention the dispute settlement mechanism in this agreement. The mechanism provides that a company that feels that a government has violated the investment provisions can institute proceedings directly against that government before an arbitration tribunal. We have a lot of questions about the dispute settlement mechanism in this chapter. The tribunals hearing the disputes are set up to hear a specific dispute. The deliberations of the arbitrators and their decisions are secret, unless both parties to the dispute decide otherwise. It is quite something.
Although the free trade agreement with Peru has a number of improvements in terms of transparency—this has to be said and we pointed a few of them out—the Bloc Québécois still feels that disputes should be settled on a centralized, multilateral basis involving the different countries that signed the bilateral agreements, rather than on a case-by-case basis.
We cannot accept the fact that multinational companies not only have special privileges in comparison with the host society in general but can also institute legal proceedings against a national government before special tribunals.
Our opposition to this free trade agreement is not based solely on the way investments are protected. We think that the government’s strategy of concluding individual trade agreements makes it impossible to establish a fair trading relationship that benefits everyone.
We cannot enrich ourselves by exploiting people because, as I have said, that comes back to haunt us every time.
We put downward pressure on wages in other regions. If people are kept in poverty with terrible working conditions, the downward pressure is felt by working people around the world. If companies are allowed to exploit people now, they will come back here in another form to do business and put downward pressure on the working conditions of our workers.
The government is currently negotiating free trade agreements with some 20 countries, in addition to the agreement it signed with the four countries of the European Free Trade Association. We supported this agreement. We are not against all agreements. This one was economically beneficial and respected workers’ rights and environmental legislation. It had major benefits for Quebeckers and all Canadians. For these reasons, we supported it. We are not opposed to every kind of agreement.
No studies have been done, though, showing whether these bilateral agreements are beneficial. Regardless of whether they are good or not, the Liberals and Conservatives are ready to sign more of them even though it is still impossible to determine whether they have been beneficial.
Last year, I sat as a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade. We invited government experts and we asked them what the benefits would be for Quebec and Canada. We wanted to know if this agreement was fair and if workers were going to benefit from it, or if it was going to result in job losses. The government is often unable to provide an answer to that question and it signs free trade agreements with other countries, without knowing the economic, social and political consequences of these treaties. That is unbelievable.
As I mentioned, I was with the member for Sherbrooke during the discussions on the agreement with Colombia. The government spent money to send a parliamentary delegation, to meet officials in that country, and to see what was going on there in the context of this agreement. However, the agreement was signed before the government read the committee's report. That is strange. It does not matter whether the agreement is good or bad, the Liberals sign it.
In a report presented by the Standing Committee on International Trade, the Conservative government even considered signing a free trade agreement with China. Just imagine: a bilateral agreement with China. What would be the economic spinoffs here?
In my riding, the manufacturing, furniture and textile sectors have felt that impact. There was talk of a new bilateral agreement. When it comes to international trade, this government does not seem to have a clear direction, along with objectives to ensure economic viability and respect for individuals, environmental standards and workers from all over the world, and not just Quebec or Canada.
These agreements weaken the multilateral approach. Bilateral agreements with developing countries should be avoided, because they often lead to agreements that put richer countries at an advantage over poorer countries. This is not from me, but Mr. Stiglitz, a former adviser to the Clinton administration and the author of many books, who condemns these bilateral agreements. This is the situation that we are experiencing with this accord and with the one with Colombia.
Since I only have one minute left, I am going to conclude.
I do not believe that these treaties will have a major economic impact in Quebec, particularly the agreement with Peru, or the one with Colombia. Instead, we should work a lot harder to get respect from our big American partner, and we should stand up to it regarding some issues.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill today.
It is of utmost importance not only to Canadian workers and Canadian society but obviously to Peruvian workers and Peruvian society as well.
Quite often the government, as well as their new coalition partners, the Liberals, is really fond of talking about rules-based agreements. When one thinks of those terms, it sounds rather magnanimous, we are going to have rules. The first thing that comes to mind is that somehow the rules will be even-handed, because most of us grew up playing games that had rules in them that were about fairness, equity and making sure that those who were not as gifted as others when it came to the games we were going to play could be included. So we developed rules for that.
Here we have this agreement that is based on rules, but we have to ask the fundamental question, “Who set the rules and for whom were they set?” When we look at this particular agreement, the rules are set but clearly they are set for one group to dominate another. We did not learn anything from NAFTA's chapter 11. We might have learned to do it a little bit better in the sense of making sure that those who could take advantage could take advantage even more.
What we have inside this agreement is indeed still that style of chapter investor protection that we all have come to recognize does not work well. If it does not work well and the rules are not working for Canadians and for other trading partners who sign on to those agreements, then why indeed would we continue to make them part of the rules, why would we not amend them or change them drastically to make sure that they are not in there.
In fact, we can see in other more modern agreements, and my colleagues in this House quite often tend to use the term fair trade, that they still use fair trade with chapter 11-type agreements. Whereas a fairer trade would actually eliminate those types of provisions and deal on a more even-handed basis with all participants in trade, including workers, the environment, civil society and communities as a whole. However, that gets lost in this agreement.
One may well ask, “Well, who sets the rules?” In this particular case, the government of this country bargained this agreement with the government of Peru. Did it have ability to do that? Yes. Does it have the moral authority to do that? Well, in Peru, I would suggest the Peruvian government does not. President Garcia's most recent poll ratings are 19%. One can say, “Well, a poll is a poll”. That gages public sentiment at least. And the public sentiment clearly shows that less than one in five Peruvians agree with the leadership of that government.
If the Peruvian government is about to set the rules for Peru in the labour movement, for workers and general society, and four out of five or 80% of the population is not in agreement with that government, is it going to be setting rules that really are about fairness for all of those citizens of that country? I think that when one does the arithmetic, one would have to come to the conclusion that no, that is not the case.
Here we have a rules-based agreement being set up by a group, in this particular case the Peruvian government, that really has no moral authority to do so. Consequently, how do we know what the Peruvian government is saying to us is really representative of what Peruvians are saying to their government? I think we have to doubt, very much, what exactly it is saying to us.
We need to look no further than what the Peruvian authorities do in their actions inside their own government, inside the country, for us to take a look to see if indeed we should believe the things they are telling us they will do, when indeed inside the country itself they are doing the opposite of what they are telling us they will do.
As my colleagues pointed out earlier, there is this question of how the Peruvian government treats trade unions, especially in the public sector, where basically it is taking away the right of collective bargaining; however, one of the rules in the rules-based agreement is to protect collective bargaining.
The Garcia government says “We are going to protect that type of right. We are going to enshrine it as a piece off to the side of the agreement”, and I will get back to talking about why it should be in rather than outside the agreement, but yet by its deeds it is actually taking rights away from collective bargaining and from workers in general.
So, here we have the government of Peru saying one thing, and some folks would use the old acronym “talk is cheap” when it is saying one thing, but when it gets to doing the walk and doing the deed, we can see the dastardly deed it does when it takes rights away from workers, takes collective bargaining away from workers, and it puts processes in place that would affect those workers, the very workers that it is supposed to represent. This is a government that is supposed to protect its workers, as we should be protecting ours. But then again that is a debate of probably another bill for another day as to how well the current government and the preceding one actually protected workers in our international trade agreements. One could argue, I would say, very successfully that that did not happen in this country either.
So, when we look at that sense of where workers are in Peru and the fact that only 9% are really covered by unions and that minimum wages cover a certain portion of the population, we would say that does not seem so bad, that it looks like it is going to up. In fact, I believe the statistics state it went up to $176 a month. I know that is a very paltry sum in this country, but that is a different society. But then again, if we delve much deeper and we actually look at what is the minimum wage and who does it cover, we find by the very deed that it in fact covers very few people at all because the vast majority of folks work in what is called an informal economy.
Here we might have called that under the table or the grey market, which usually is a market where people go out and work to subsidize an already established income. They have a job but maybe they work on the side. Dare I say it, the grey economy is usually to avoid taxes in this country.
However, the informal economy in Peru is the majority of the economy, where wages are not the paltry $176 a month but are $20 to $30 a month, which is not quite 15% of the minimum wage.
We all know that minimum wage is really established as the floor. But really what we have is folks not living on the floor but living underneath it. The vast majority of them, indeed, are living underneath it. And here we have this agreement, entered into by the current government and the government of Peru, to somehow do something to help folks who are below the floor when we see the government is not enacting legislation to help them rise up even though it says in the agreement that it will definitely do that.
So when one looks at what is said in agreements and the words that are written there, it is the deeds that are done by government that actually tell us whether the words will true or they will ring hollow.
In the case of the Garcia government, clearly they ring hollow, and the echo is deafening. They do not protect the workers in Peru nor civil society in Peru. Large tracks of the indigenous population in Peru are saying they do not want this agreement, that it is not good for the Peruvians.
I would argue it is not necessarily good for Canadians either, in certain aspects, because it did not get rid of the chapter 11 situation. It did not get rid of that whole sense of investor rights. I would call it investor privilege because the labour organizations and workers in this country do not get treated on an equal footing. If we cannot equate the two and we cannot make them equal, then we cannot have fair trade. It will always be free trade for some and an obligatory trade for others, those of us who have to live under the rules and those who get to write the rules. That will never make agreements fair for all of us who participate in them.
So, when we look at this agreement, and there are a number of folks who have, and we are looking at the implementation of this agreement, not the debate of the agreement, obviously, but simply the implementation of it, we ask, “Is this in the best interests of those who are there?”
My colleague from has a private member's bill before the House that talks about mining companies and talks about how they should behave in a manner that is fair and equitable, similar to what they do in this country, when they are in South America, and places like Peru.
In my riding office, I have received literally thousands of signature cards from young people, their parents, grandparents, and in some cases their great grandparents who are saying that until the government can make sure that workers in Peru and other parts of the hemisphere are treated fairly and the same way they are treated in Canada for the same corporations, then we shouldn't enter into these agreements. By signing these cards, they are saying they do not agree with this agreement. They do not agree that this agreement is actually a good model for Peruvian workers in Peruvian society.
When there is an outpouring of support which was not generated by me as the MP but by civil society in my riding and there is a private member's bill that talks about that, and is supported by literally tens of thousands across this country, that should tell us something about what people feel and intrinsically know is not a good deal, and so should we.
As parliamentarians we should know it is not a good deal. We should know that we should have labour and environmental standards. Why are we any different than the U.S. when it actually signed a deal, albeit flawed? The U.S. signed a deal and enshrined the labour and environmental standards in the body of the collective agreement. I call it a collective agreement because it is bargained between two countries.
Normally, in collective bargaining, when something is intrinsically important to the parties, it is put in the body of the agreement because that it is how it is defined and enshrined as being that important. It is not put in as a side piece or an addendum. It is not added on at the back. It is not referred to in a chart. It is put in the body of the agreement because that is the weight given to it.
When we look at this agreement, what do we find in the body of it? We find the usual platitudes of the back and forth between two governments and, of course, investors' rights enshrined in the heart of the agreement. We do not find that as an addendum or a chart. We do not find it stapled to the back of the agreement. Yet, when it comes to the fundamental situation of labour and workers' rights, it is tacked on at the back.
Let us look at the environment, the very place in which we live. We have all heard the horror stories about environmental degradation throughout the entire world and Peru is not immune to that. It is, indeed, in the same situation as other countries where environmental degradation has taken place against their best interests and wishes in a lot of cases. Why would we not have enshrined that in the heart of the agreement? We tacked that one on the back as well.
When the question is raised as to why it is not in the body of the agreement, the answer is, “Trust us, we have your best interests at heart”. Again, those are words and the words “trust us” from the Peruvian government are not matched by the very deeds it talks about when indigenous people are being forced off their lands. There was an attempt by the Garcia government to change the constitution so there would be a different voting structure to remove people, which was eventually lost in a constitutional challenge.
Good for those who challenged it through the Peruvian constitution and said the president of the country could not do that. Unfortunately for them, the constitutional courts upheld it and said no, the government would have to enshrine and secure all of the pieces, which takes two-thirds of a vote to remove people who would give up land willingly.
If we left it to Garcia to do, he would have removed indigenous people in favour of mining corporations. In fact, he was quoted one time as telling a mining company not to worry, he would take care of it, the company would get its land claim and be able to set up its mine. He forgot to ask the folks who actually owned and lived on the land if that is what they wanted. Until this particular point, they said no. That mine has not established itself yet and good for the indigenous folks who live and farm there.
From the NDP's perspective, when it comes to Canadian agriculture, we did not get the same deal that the Americans got. If we were to look at some of the pieces that may be of benefit to Canadian agriculture, there were certainly some issues around the grains and pulse sectors.
When it comes to the red meat sector, we did not get the same access that Americans did. Why would we sign a deal that is inferior to the Americans? On one side, we are unable to get the open access to the markets, which the government says it wants, yet it is willing to sign a deal that does not open the market the way it wants it to.
There is the old adage that half a loaf is better than none, but I would argue half a loaf that has gone bad is probably worse than none. At least if we start at the beginning, we have an opportunity to craft something that makes sense and that is a positive benefit for all the parties. In this case, it seems the bill will not do that.
We did not get the open markets. The Peruvian government says that it will do certain things and then it restricts things when it comes to workers. It agrees to a settlement process that states a fine might have to be paid, yet it turns a blind eye. It reminds me of one of the old Monty Python skits of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. It has become one of things that is between the mining corporations and those who will benefit directly from this agreement. It has become the nudge, nudge, wink, wink of an agreement.
The government pretends it has this agreement, that it will include a piece about labour and environmental standards in the agreement and that we should not worry because we it will not have to walk the walk. It then will be able to tell its friends and international labour organizations that it has this as part of the agreement, but that is not the case. It is simply an add-on.
The Americans did not do that because the agreement would be held up in the U.S. Congress. They enshrined the labour and environmental pieces inside the agreement to ensure it would pass through the House of Representatives. It is still flawed because those provisions about the same penalties still apply and no one is certain how that penalty will be exacted and enforced because there are no teeth when it comes to those pieces.
That is the problem. The investor piece gets an arbitration panel, gets to make charges before it. Yet with the labour and environment pieces, there may be a fine. Again, this is a flawed agreement that is weighted on one side and not on the other.
One has to wonder if this is the future for us. Will we continue down this path of constantly opening up free markets and free agreements that are not fair or balanced? It would seem that is the case. It seems we have not learned anything from the previous ones. We have learned to perhaps placate those of us who say those are wrong-headed agreements, but we have never learned to fundamentally change the direction so we develop fair trade agreements.
If we are not going to do that, why would we sign flawed agreements? That is a fundamental question that all members should ask themselves. If we know the agreements are flawed, and I have heard many members say that it is not exactly what we want, or not quite what they would like to see, why sign it? Why not take it back and start again? Why not listen to those parties who have said that it is flawed and have given suggestions how to fix it? It is not just a question of opposing for opposition's sake. It is saying that it is flawed and here are some fixes.
The Peruvian population is saying the same. There are things we need to do to fix it and we are willing to come forward to give the governments the opportunity to fix it. The agreement could have a number of propositions that will enhance the bill and make it fair for both countries so we can trade.
It should never be confused that somehow those who oppose free trade agreements, especially those that have chapter 11 enshrined in them, are opposed to trade. It is not the case. We all understand that trade takes place on this globe and it is one of the things we have done for centuries. We will always continue to do that. However, we should not allow ourselves to sign flawed agreements that will either not benefit Canadians or those of our reciprocal trade partners. We should never stoop to taking advantage of those who find themselves in precarious situations. It should be about even-handedness and ultimately about fairness.
That fairness will drive equality for both partners and ultimately then, and only then, will we have trade agreements that all of us, I believe, unanimously could stand up and support. We should strive to be there because that would be equitable and fair for all the parties and for the world.