The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the members of the House who have taken a principled stand against the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, in particular the member for for his consistent efforts to challenge the ethics of this free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.
I have been aware of the situation in Colombia for a number of years and have had the privilege to speak directly to Colombians from all walks of life in regard to the situation they face in their homeland under the Uribe government. In fact, I have many constituents who have fled to Canada because they no longer felt safe in their home country.
In the last session of Parliament, I spoke about the CCFTA and undertook to talk about the lack of environmental protection and labour rights in the agreement, violations of labour rights, violence committed against unionized workers and the anti-trade union atmosphere of Colombia, as well as the murders of trade unionists. These are the norms.
At that time, my colleagues and I took note of the fact that Colombia was the most dangerous place in the world for trade unionists. More than 2,700 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered since 1986 and, tragically, they have been murdered with impunity. There is only a 3% conviction rate for those who murder and, even worse, the agreement that Canada proposes to sign with Colombia has a system of fines for companies that murder their workers.
How can we be party to any agreement that has a provision for killing a trade unionist and paying a fine? It is unspeakable and I believe that once Canadians understand what the proposed Canada-Colombia free trade agreement contains they will reject it.
Today I would like to speak about crimes currently being committed by the Uribe government against indigenous Colombians.
In a recent report released on February 23, Amnesty International called for immediate international action to ensure the survival of indigenous peoples in Colombia. The organization says that guerrilla groups, state security forces and paramilitaries are responsible for grave human rights abuses against indigenous peoples. These abuses include killings, enforced disappearances and kidnappings, sexual abuse of women, recruitment of child soldiers, persecution of indigenous leaders and forced displacement of communities from land that is rich in economic potential. People are forced from their land because these areas are valued for natural resources, including oil and minerals.
Amnesty International has stated that the situation of indigenous peoples in Colombia is nothing short of an emergency. Until countries like Canada recognize the gravity of the situation and exert much needed pressure on the Colombian government, there is a real risk that entire indigenous cultures may be eradicated.
According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, the survival of 32 different indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk as a result of the armed conflict, the impacts of large-scale economic projects and a lack of state support. According to ONIC, at least 114 indigenous women, men and children were killed, many others threatened and thousands driven from their land in 2009 alone.
In its latest report, Amnesty International says that the threats facing indigenous peoples are intensifying and is calling upon guerrilla groups and state security forces to respect the rights of indigenous people not to be dragged into hostilities, and equally important, the right of indigenous peoples to own and control the lands upon which they depend for their cultures and livelihoods. Tragically, indigenous leaders and communities who try to defend their land rights, commonly experience threats, killings and mass displacement.
Colombia's ongoing armed conflict has affected millions across the country and left tens of thousands dead, tortured and forcibly disappeared. The vast majority of victims are civilians. In the last seven years, more than 1,595 indigenous people were killed or forcibly disappeared as a result of the armed conflict, and 4,700 collective threats were reported. In the vast majority of cases, these crimes have not been properly investigated, nor have the perpetrators ever been brought to justice.
Just as with trade unionists, the death toll is rising and still the Conservative government is determined to pursue a trade agreement with a highly questionable regime.
As Amnesty International testified to the House of Commons committee on international trade in November 2009, one of the most worrying trends is a dramatic increase in the number of Colombians forced to flee from their homes. As many as 380,000 in 2008. That brings the total number of internally displaced people in Colombia to between three and four million, among the highest in the world, and growing.
Forced displacement has paved the way for misappropriation of lands, mostly by paramilitaries but also by guerrilla groups. It is estimated that more than four million hectares of land may have been stolen by paramilitaries in this way.
Displacement is one of the greatest threats facing indigenous communities, as in the case of Colombia. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that this happens in areas where oil, rich minerals and remarkable biodiversity is in evidence. International mining, agribusiness and the extractors of oil have a vested interest in these territories, all at the expense of the people who have a right to live on these lands.
We know that multinationals, including Canadian business interests, are in Colombia and are participating in the exploitation of resources.
According to the Colombian director of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, when this displacement to urban centres occurs it becomes very complicated since most of the indigenous women do not know Spanish very well. The immensity of the city frightens them with its anonymity and the lack of solidarity among residents. The women face new problems in raising their children and relating to their partners because the city is not a customary environment. In addition to this uncomfortable environment is the anguish of leaving their homes, running with what little they had or could carry in order to outrun death and desolation.
Accepting new, unfamiliar realities and activities not traditional to indigenous cultures, results in culture shock and disorientation. People experience a way of life and language radically different from their own. This fracturing can result in a breakdown of cultural continuity as young people find themselves in alien environments and deprived of the social and cultural networks and practices necessary for the survival of their communities.
Displaced people are at a heightened risk of destitution, sexual violence, exploitation by criminal gangs, armed groups and discrimination. Even in places in which they seek refuge, they may face further intimidation or violence and have to flee again. The inadequate state response to the needs of internally displaced communities means that some people return to the dangerous situations they fled, and without support or safeguards that should be provided by the state.
The right to traditional lands is crucial to indigenous peoples in Colombia, as elsewhere. It is a vital element in their sense of identity, livelihood and way of life and is crucial for their future.
This of course brings me to the motion put forward by the Liberal Party that it claims would protect human rights in Colombia. This motion would allow Colombia to monitor its own human rights and report on this monitoring if the Colombian government chooses to do that. This is completely inadequate. When one considers the murders, torture and displacement of people, this motion is a sham.
It is clear that the official opposition wants nothing more than to sign onto the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement despite the human, environmental and ethical cost.
I wonder what Canadians would say if they knew that in this month's legislative elections, independent observers were there and reported vote-buying and fraud that allowed narco-paramilitary candidates to maintain influence over the Colombian congress, or about the plea to the Canadian Council for International Co-operation from the Colombian Methodist Church bishop, Juan Alberto Cardona, during his visit to Canada in 2007. The Bishop said, “we know from other places, like Mexico, that these agreements might create more wealth for wealthy people but they make inequities worse. Whatever wealth is created, it does not reach poor people”.
The Colombia-Canada free trade agreement was signed behind the backs of the Colombian people, without any real participation from civil society and without any study on its impact. This is something that must be made clear to this Parliament and the people of Canada. The stage is set for further and increased human rights violations.
Colombians have asked Canadian society and this Parliament to demonstrate solidarity with the Colombian people by mobilizing against and refusing to sign the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
For the sake of humanity, we need to listen. When will the current government and the official opposition finally listen?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to make some comments with regard to Bill concerning a free trade deal with Colombia.
I spoke to the bill when it was before us in the last session. Listening to the debate, it is quite clear that there are sincere concerns regarding human rights impacts and the free trade deal with Colombia. The history certainly has been put on the table and the impacts on labour and other matters. There also have been numerous references to other countries that have considered trade deals with the country of Colombia.
I want to simply put on the record that I will be supporting the bill at second reading to go to committee because quite frankly there has been a lot of contradiction in the debate, although the issues that are being addressed are very relevant. For some the issue of human rights priorities and trade priorities are incompatible in terms of considering them at one point.
There are some very interesting statistics. In looking at the web today I noted that the number of convictions, those who were tried for murder, has gone up dramatically in the last three years. The number of incidences of attacks on people related to business related activity, in fact, has done down, but it is not zero, and it would not be zero in any country I am sure.
However, it would appear, at least from the statistical information coming out that it is better today than it was 10 years ago, but the point still remains that there are huge concerns. If I look at the Brussels press, March 24, the headline says that in Colombia there is a gulf between human rights rhetoric and reality.
Therefore, there is some question. In fact, the Belgian chamber of representatives, representing trade unionists and Amnesty International heard denunciations of human rights violations, especially the murder of trade unionists and indigenous people, forced displacement and extrajudicial executions, as well as DAS's surveillance of Belgian NGOs. Belgian politicians currently oppose a trade agreement with Colombia over violations of human and labour rights.
Therefore, there is certainly one country that has taken this to a level of concern where it is not supporting a trade deal with Colombia.
In The Washington Times of March 4, 2010, interestingly I found that President Obama has been very aggressive in terms of promoting new export trade as part of his economic action plan, if I could borrow the words from across the way. One thing is what the president wishes, the other thing is what Congress is going to do. In this article of March 4, The Washington Times, entitled “Kirk gets pressure on trade deals” the policy makers indicate that they are facing political timing issues. The article states:
Unless Congress considers one of the agreements before the Memorial Day break, he doesn't expect any to come into play until after the November elections.
Therefore, technically I suppose it is fair to say that most of the work in terms of trade deals in the United States may not be dealt with until 2011 or later. So, we have time to consider this. It also says:
Mr. Obama's first major trade initiative in his own right will focus on his proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Negotiators from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore and Brunei will convene in Melbourne, Australia.
But there is no talk of Colombia.
In the The Washington Times of Friday, March 12, the headline states, “Trade deficit dips; exports, imports fall”. It states at the end:
On Thursday, the president issued an executive order formalizing the National Export Initiative to further his goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years in part “by working to remove trade barriers abroad”. The executive order did not mention the pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia--
It would appear that the U.S. government is not considering a Colombia trade deal to be a priority at this time. In The Washington Times of March 11, it stated:
President Obama on Thursday ordered an all-out effort by the U.S. government to increase exports--
Again, this confirms that Democrats are opposed to free trade deals in part because of South Korea's imposition of restrictions on U.S. imports and the attacks on Colombian labour leaders. This is in the United States. It has been raised in this place, as well.
It is not irrelevant to talk about the impact of trade on human rights and vice versa the impact of human rights on viable trade. These are very valid questions.
I raise these because we are at second reading, and the members are scouring some of the latest media and some of the things we received while we were dealing with this at second reading in the last session. There are some messages here from Colombian legislators who say that trade is going to be an important element of improving the human rights conditions of the people. This is the scenario.
Is this a wish and a hope, or is this a reality? That is a very important question. It is a very important question for us to consider, whether or not there is clear evidence that improved trade relations with other countries and having that ability to have that dialogue with them is going to have some benefit to countries where human rights issues have become a problem.
Last week when the debate commenced, the member for spoke very eloquently about some of the issues. Also, in recognition of the concerns regarding human rights, he indicated to the House, in fact, in a question to the minister, that an arrangement had been reached with Colombia with regard to a reciprocal or bilateral approach to dealing with reports on the impact of this free trade agreement on the human rights situation.
I would like to read into the record and remind members of the points that the government has accepted in terms of amendments to the bill that are related, to try to address this. This is from Hansard of March 24, page 887, where the member for said:
First, there must be a prior written agreement between the governments of Canada and Colombia, where each country provides annual reports to their respective parliaments on the impact of this FTA on human rights in both Canada and Colombia.
Second, Bill C-2 must be amended at committee by adding, “The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of Parliament by March 31 of each year or, if that House is not then sitting, on any of the thirty days next thereafter that it is sitting, a report of operations for the previous calendar year, containing a general summary of all actions taken under the authority of this Act, and an analysis of the impact of these actions on human rights in Canada and Colombia”.
It would appear that there is some openness to considering the merits of entering into a trade relationship, a free trade deal, with Colombia, and that there is this understanding that there will be an annual assessment of the impacts on human rights of the trade deal that is taking place.
Members will know that bilateral trade between our two countries is not very large. It is in the range of about $1 billion. I am very hopeful that the committee will be open to having any and all expert witnesses to advise it on the facts because there have been some contradictions in debate.
I think it is extremely important that if hon. members are to make an informed decision, they will have to receive those facts and it will have to happen at committee.
Mr. Speaker, I take my turn in joining the hon. members of the Bloc Québécois who have spoken in large numbers today regarding Bill on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
This debate has been going on for nearly two years in the House of Commons. So many things have been said. We know that the Bloc Québécois will resolutely oppose this agreement so long as it contains no guarantees on the protection of human rights. But we are seeing more and more examples. Every day we learn that, in many situations in Colombia, workers’ rights are not respected. The failure to respect the rights of individuals is also decried.
What we know is that the Canadian government wants to conclude a free trade agreement which is basically more about investment than trade. It is thought that this agreement, as drafted, will make life easier for Canadian investors, and in particular, it must be said, those who want to invest in mining in Colombia.
If we look closely at this agreement, we see that it contains provisions allowing investors to take a foreign government to court when that government adopts measures that reduce the returns on their investments. Such provisions are especially dangerous in a country where laws governing labour and the protection of the environment are, at best, haphazard.
The Bloc Québécois feels that by protecting a Canadian investor against any improvement in the living conditions in Colombia, such an agreement increases the risk of delaying social and environmental progress in that country, even though it is in great need of such progress.
We know—and I think there is no lack of evidence—that Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and certainly in Latin America. With the signing of this free trade agreement, Canada would forego any ability to bring pressure to bear on this country to get things changed and bring about more respect for human rights.
The government repeats that the agreement comes with a side agreement on labour and another on the environment. However we believe that these agreements are completely ineffective. As I was saying earlier, the Bloc is against trading away the government's ability to press for human rights to provide Canadian corporations with foreign investment opportunities.
The members of the Bloc and the NDP have spoken out loud and clear against this bill. It is sad to hear the Liberals so easily abandoning their tradition of human rights advocacy. They are prepared to drop their opposition to this bill for an amendment which, in our view, is not acceptable either. Numerous groups and associations are critical of this agreement. I will name a few of them. These are not small organizations: they are large organizations representing many members.
I listened to the Liberal member who spoke before me saying that he listens to the people in his riding. It is true, that is important. The people in my riding are loud and clear in asking me to oppose this agreement as well as the amendment, or the idea that one Liberal member came up with to try and see if it were possible to get this agreement adopted.
The person advising me is someone very much committed to the defence of human rights, who works with a major labour confederation in Quebec and the FTQ, which represents over 800,000 workers. I was saying earlier that our thinking and our decisions are supported by the people we represent in Quebec. I can say that certain pressures are coming from them as well.
We are also talking with the following organizations: the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the FTQ, Development & Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Lawyers Without Borders Canada, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the CSN and the National Union of Public and General Employees.
These groups, associations and unions are begging the Bloc Québécois to stay the course and to oppose this bill. This is about respecting human rights, but it is also about protecting trade unionists. Since 2006, more than 2,400 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia, and the murders continue. The Liberals may say that the situation has improved, but they will have to show me concrete examples that prove that the change is substantial and not merely a minor adjustment. If that were the case, the Bloc could change its position on the bill, as the Liberals have done.
A newspaper article caught my eye and I think it is worthwhile to quote some passages from it, because it affected me greatly. Le Figaro of last March 20, contained the following article:
A veteran Colombian journalist, Clodomiro Castillo, was murdered by a hired killer in Monteria, a city in the department of Cordoba, in the north of Colombia...
Clodomiro Castillo, who ran the magazine El Pulso del Tiempo and the radio station La Voz, was shot yesterday by a man on a motorcycle...the journalist had focused on exposing corruption...and had received threats that led authorities to provide him with special protection, which was recently withdrawn.
The journalist had also testified for the prosecution in a number of cases that exposed links between politicians, local businessmen and ultra-right paramilitary groups, said Ivan Cepeda, director of the NGO National Movement of Victims of State Crimes.
“His death is an attack on those in the department of Cordoba who have demanded an investigation into the links between the paramilitary and factions in political and economic life,” said Ivan Cepeda, speaking on the private radio station Caracol.
The situation shows no sign of improving. Even with the amendment that could be introduced, and even with an agreement to report annually on the human rights record, by signing this agreement, Canada will lose its leverage and its ability to exert pressure on Colombia to end its unacceptable human rights practices.
As I have already mentioned, there are many examples. The Conservatives have taken their position and will not change their minds. But I hope that the Liberals will do the right thing by refusing to support this bill.
In its June 2008 report, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development refused to approve the bill without an independent assessment of the impact of the agreement on human rights. I hope that the Liberals will review their position and will oppose Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to join in this debate, but it seems an unfortunate circumstance that again we have to engage the government and its very loyal official opposition in respect to trade deals. The bill we are speaking to today, Bill , was Bill in the previous Parliament before the government undemocratically shut down the House, thereby killing its own legislation. That is an ironic way to run government. For a government that claims to be in such a hurry to open up trade deals like this, the question is whether this trade deal meets the standard of morality and ethics that most Canadians hold.
Let us quickly go through aspects of the bill. There are two central concerns.
One is if we believe the press releases from the member for , the bill was first negotiated on a dance floor over a couple of rum and Cokes in Colombia with a foreign trade minister. If this story is true, and we have to take it with a grain of salt when it comes to the member for Kings--Hants and how he enters into the media, this is a strange way for the government to have trade relations with a foreign government. An opposition member goes dancing with the other country's trade minister and at the end of the night they decide why not have a trade deal together but they will not put in any uncomfortable conditions as to how to treat the environment or how to deal with human rights complaints because that would be cumbersome for trade.
When we boil this down, the question before the House and before Canadians is, will the Government of Canada finally take the evolutionary step of moving from blanket carte blanche free trade deals to fair trade deals? Will it move to deals between this country and its democratically elected representatives and foreign nations that lift up both countries and in particular address aspects of trade, such as the environment, human rights and labour codes? Clearly in Bill , formerly Bill , there is little or no mention of these important concerns. These are concerns that everyday Canadians have.
A second aspect is the net benefit, the true benefit to Canada. All of us were elected to this place and came here seeking to make lives better for those whom we represent. We would want any trade deal put forward by the government to enhance the quality of life not just in the other country, but also in Canada. We have seen time and time again that when regulations and the values of this country are not placed in those trade deals, they go awry.
My riding in northwestern British Columbia has been an unfortunate victim of trade deals signed by previous Liberal and Conservative governments. We know all too well what happens when a trade deal is signed. So-called foreign investment comes in, but it is simply a foreign takeover. The jobs go away. The investment is not investment; it is simply a robbing of Canadians' greatest crown jewels, and corporate entities that used to provide jobs in this country now provide them somewhere else and the interests of Canadians are no longer represented.
For members who have not spent time in Latin America this can be difficult to understand. Democratically elected governments in places like Colombia, Peru or Ecuador will institute what are called paramilitary death squads or groups that go out and simply take care of any opposition to the sitting government. This is an abhorrent practice which unfortunately is all too common in some of the countries in the south; not all and not all the time, but it exists. To ignore the existence of such practices is either naive or outright ignorant. Particularly with the Uribe government in Colombia it is well documented, and all members in this place should be concerned, that it is a government that presents itself to the world as diplomatic and democratic, yet at home treats trade union officials and groups that dare to raise dissent to the sitting government with the utmost of severe and punishing violence.
The proposals the New Democrats have put forward in order to encourage this Parliament along, in order to entice the government toward fair trade, have been rather precise and simple. A review of human rights abuses in the trading country, in the partner that we seek to sign this agreement with, should be done independently by a group not associated with the said government.
We are saying that if this trade deal were to go ahead, there should be an independent commission to look at the complaints raised against Colombia, identify them and report to both elected houses. That commission would tell us what happened in the last year, the allegations, the ones it thinks are true, and the concerns that we should be raising.
The suggestion that we have an independent human rights council, which already exists by the way, able to report to both houses of each country, seems to us to be a most reasonable suggestion, a push toward something that all Canadians would agree with. We want trade to enhance the quality of life of our trading partners. We do not want our trade to facilitate the opposite effect.
This addresses an ideology within some members of the House that trade automatically equals democratic improvement, that anywhere there has been a notion of a free trade agreement or a new, enhanced trading practice, a sweeping wave, the invisible hand of the market will step in and lift up the voices of the independents in that country, allowing people independent thought and expression in the political sphere.
Some of the strongest trading partnerships we have are with countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and the list goes on. We have been trading with Saudi Arabia for 70 or 80 years. Has there been the democratic improvement that is always promised with these trade negotiations? Has the plight of women in Saudi Arabia improved because we continue to buy its oil and services?
It is not implicit. There is nothing implicit in trade that says democratic reforms will come to that place, that human rights conditions will improve. There is nothing in trading with another country that says that as soon as we start to trade with them, things will automatically get better with respect to the environment, labour laws, and the basic reforms of social democracy.
There is nothing in this agreement that enables that either. That is the concern New Democrats have put forward to the government. We have pleaded with the government and the Liberals at committee and in the House. We are not standing against the notion of trade with Colombia, but if we are going to trade with Colombia, we should do it in such a way that Canadians will be proud. We should do it in such a way that will enhance the lives of the Colombians who will be affected by our trade relationship.
Is that unreasonable? No. Yet time and time again we run into this brick wall of ideology that says to trade at all costs with no conditions. We see what the practices lead to. Undemocratic countries around the world that we have traded with for generations have not improved any of these things. Why? Because we do not ask for it. We have never asked to evolve our trade practices. We have never said let us seek to define and understand what fair trade would be like, so at the end of the day we would see those improvements. That seems reasonable to us.
I mentioned Skeena--Bulkley Valley earlier because the place that I represent has seen two distinct so-called instances of foreign investment, which the government somewhat rightly will laud whenever it has an increase in foreign investment numbers, money coming into the country, theoretically investing in Canada, to make our economy stronger.
Skeena Cellulose Inc., a multi-tiered forestry firm in northwestern British Columbia with some 3,500 employees, went through a bankruptcy. The foreign protection laws were erased by a previous Conservative government. A Chinese firm owned wholly by the Chinese government, not a subsidiary, not a subcontractor, with no record and no compunction whatsoever, came in and shut down the mill. It made promises to the people of Prince Rupert where the main mill had been situated and six years later nothing has been done. It has not opened a thing, and the 3,500 workers have had to find other work.
Rio Tinto Alcan, formerly Alcan, formerly a crown gem in Canada's industrial sector, was taken over by a firm from outside, again with no conditions from the government. In Kitimat, one of the communities where Alcan used to operate but now it is Rio Tinto, a promise of a future mill expansion has not come and it is killing the community. This is a story that unfortunately exists across this country.
All we are asking for is a reasonable trade policy. All we are asking for is a fair trade policy from the government, one that we can all stand behind and support, one that Colombians will congratulate us for, one that will truly lift up the lives of all those concerned, not one as has been presented by the government with false promises and no hope for renewal.
Mr. Speaker, a large number of members have made representations during this debate about the number of unionist homicides. For the public information, they should know what the facts are as reported by the ministry of social protection and the attorney general in Colombia.
Between 1986 and 1990, there were 336 homicides, no sentences proffered.
Between 1991 to 1994, there were 509 homicides, no sentences, no prosecutions.
Between 1995 to 1998, there were 720 homicides, no prosecutions.
Between 1999 to 2001, there were 603 homicides, 7 prosecutions.
Between 2002 to 2006, there were 315 homicides, 47 prosecutions.
Between 2007 to December 20, 2009, there were 109 homicides, 185 sentences proffered.
I think the figures speak for themselves. This is a very serious problem. The members who have raised the issue are warranted to raise these concerns. I simply offer this as a comment. This matter has to be dealt with thoroughly at committee.
Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the NDP member's speech, I remembered that it might be useful to do a run through of the debates we have had in the House on this bill. I am not necessarily referring to the bill before us today, because there was prorogation, but I am referring to the similar bill introduced in the previous session regarding a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
In September 2009, debates were underway in the House. The NDP member for urged the government to refuse to adopt Bill —as it was called at the time—and to take into account the strong opposition of human rights organizations.
Speaking of human rights, my NDP colleague reminded me that last fall, the human rights situation was an important issue for the NDP members and for my colleagues from and , who also sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade.
The NDP's subamendment was defeated on October 7, 2009, by the Liberals and the Conservatives. We might have expected that from the Conservatives, but not from the Liberals. The Liberals, who rant and rave about how Canada has lost its lustre, that it is nothing but a pale imitation of itself on the international scene, decided to ignore the strong criticisms or concerns expressed by a number of witnesses. They decided to move forward, like a bulldozer, and to blindly follow the Conservatives.
The Bloc Québécois has taken to referring to the Conservatives and Liberals as two faces with one vision. And here is even more concrete proof.
During debate on the subamendment, the Conservative members were saying that we were shifting the debate to human rights issues when it was about a trade agreement. Today, we do not hear them say that because they are literally absent from the debate. All afternoon I have been listening to hon. members from the Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, but the Conservatives have made themselves scarce.
At the time, they were adamant that this made no sense and that we should not be shifting the focus of the debate. It is completely unacceptable for a parliamentarian to say that we should study only one aspect of a bill and not study it more globally and assess all its repercussions. According to Conservative logic, when we study a bill, we should close our eyes to some aspects, but keep them wide open for others.
In my opinion, that is not the right approach. We have to study a bill seriously and assess all its consequences before determining whether we are in favour of it or not.
In this case, we must not consider the bill before us in isolation, independently of some of our concerns or the impact it might have. In fact, it is important to get clarifications and assurances, especially when it comes to human rights issues.
These same Conservatives told us that we have to do this because the Americans, our neighbours the south, are as well, but, in fact, the Americans were also a bit reluctant to move forward with their free trade plans with Colombia. What is more, they were reluctant for the same reasons we are. Their bill will not become law until Congress receives some assurances.
I think everyone here in this House should call for such assurances so that this agreement is consistent with the values we uphold, values that Quebeckers stand for, as do, I imagine, a good number of Canadians as well.
Let me continue my chronology. After the New Democrat subamendment was defeated on October 7, 2009, we debated the bill on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement in this House and we studied an amendment introduced by the hon. member for , who, at the time, sat on the Standing Committee on International Trade. He has also become an expert on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. He pointed out to members of the House that it was not at all appropriate to support the bill because the government had decided to force it down the throats of hon. members while the Standing Committee on International Trade was still in the process of studying it. The hon. member for pointed out at that time that the government was doing so in contempt of our democratic institutions.
Can we be surprised that this government, in some respects, is in contempt of our democratic institutions?
I always like to remind the House that, when all opposition members vote with one voice in favour of motions or bills, the government always gives thought to its own preferences before implementing measures that have been supported by a majority of hon. members of this House. The democracy that the government practices operates on a sliding scale. If the Conservatives are in favour, things move forward; if the Conservatives are not in favour, even though the majority of hon. members of this House are, things are set aside, things are forgotten and they act as if nothing had happened and as if the democratically held vote in the House was worth nothing.
Despite that very legitimate appeal by the hon. member for , nothing was done. Hon. members know, as I do, that the session was then prorogued and we were unable to continue the debate. We are resuming it today with Bill, a bill, let us not forget, that puts much more stock on protecting investors than on trade agreements.
For example, how can we allow companies to sue governments simply because those governments decide to implement measures designed to foster the development of their people?
That is the question I ask as I conclude my remarks.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in this debate on Bill .
We have been here before, as is evident to anybody watching. We in this corner, sharing with folks in the Bloc, are doing our best to put up the strongest fight possible against this very objectionable legislation. When I have been listening to the debate, a phrase has come to me a number of times. That phrase is, “selling our soul for a mess of pottage”. It is a phrase and idiom that has been in common usage for hundreds of years in the English language.
I think that phrase has its roots in the Biblical story of Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, essentially, a bowl of soup. He sold his connection to the patriarchy in his day for something very ordinary. I think the expression means giving up something very fundamental to our humanity for something very ordinary. Some people describe it as giving up something important for a questionable benefit. That phrase, that idiom, has been going over and over in my head as we talk about this agreement with Colombia, selling our soul for a mess of pottage.
It seems to me in this case that we are talking about making a deal with Colombia and that this phrase perfectly describes the situation. This deal with Colombia, which has a very questionable history and current situation, is in conflict with things Canadians hold very dearly. I believe that, in entering into this agreement and negotiating this agreement, we are giving up on important Canadian values for something much less.
We are giving up on important Canadian values such as clear commitments to human rights, labour rights, the environment, land rights, the rights of indigenous people and democratic rights. What are we getting in exchange? We are getting the possibility of new economic opportunities with Colombia, primarily it seems for Canadian multinational mining corporations.
Is that a reasonable trade-off? Is compromising Canadian values when it comes to important rights worth the possibilities, not even the sure thing, of increased investment for Canadian multinational mining corporations? I think a lot of Canadians would have real trouble with that. Hence, I think it is apt to say that we are considering selling our soul for a mess of pottage.
We have heard a lot about what the serious issues are in Colombia. I am going to repeat a few of them because they certainly bear repeating, given the gravity of what we are entering. The whole situation with regard to labour rights in Colombia is absolutely disastrous. I think the Canadian Labour Congress was absolutely correct and clear when it said Colombia was the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist.
We know that, since 1986, 2,700 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia and 45 in 2009 alone. We have a list of those 45 Colombian trade unionists who were killed in 2009. Those people were trying to make the lives of their fellow workers better and were murdered for those efforts. How do we explain to their families that Canada would enter into an agreement with a regime that allows that to happen?
It does allow it to happen. Not only has this gone on year after year but the conviction rate for these murders is incredibly small. It is a 3% conviction rate for those who murder trade unionists. That means that 97% of the murderers of trade unionists go with impunity. People are never charged, let alone convicted or sentenced for those crimes.
It is a very serious issue for us in a country where we respect labour rights and where we have a very active trade union movement. I think it is hard to understand how we could sell out on the issue of labour rights in making a deal with a regime like the Uribe regime in Colombia.
It does not make sense to me. I think we are giving up on something incredibly important, something that has served our country well, something that could serve Colombia well, in return for a possibility. We are not even sure what possibilities.
Also, it is very clear that, in terms of the rights of indigenous people and the related question of land rights, there are very serious issues in Colombia. We know that 32 aboriginal groups are in grave danger from the policies of the current government and from the way economic development is happening in Colombia. We know that 114 aboriginal people have also been murdered recently in the conflict that is going on in Colombia.
We know that millions of people have been internally displaced in Colombia. Some say four million people have been internally displaced, largely members of the Afro-Colombian communities. These are people who have been moved off their land in rural areas and forced into shanty towns in the larger cities and larger communities in an incredible internal displacement that I think is probably unmatched around the world. It is an incredibly serious issue.
To what end are we entering into an agreement with a regime, with a country, that allows this kind of internal displacement, this kind of lack of respect for its own people, to continue?
We know that democratic rights are often challenged in Colombia. We have seen electoral observation teams come away very critical of the electoral process in Colombia. We know, for instance, that the Colombian government has spied on members of the Colombian supreme court. All these are issues that should raise very serious concerns and do raise very serious concerns from Canadians who want us to be encouraging democratic rights around the world, not encouraging bad practice. That is probably putting it mildly in terms of what is going on in Colombia.
Canadians are also very concerned about environmental issues. Putting the environmental questions in a side agreement to the main trade agreement in this case just is not good practice either. It does not give those issues the kind of prominence they deserve and Canadians would expect them to have.
I think these are all clear examples that we are selling our soul. We are selling our soul on very crucial issues that Canadians want us to address here in Canada and around the world. We should say that confessionally, because on many of these issues we have had problems in our past. We continue to have issues around our treatment of first nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada and the incredible rate of poverty.
There are places where we too can be criticized in these areas, but I do not think any Canadian would want us not to see these issues addressed in Colombia and would not believe they are the most serious and grave issues that should be addressed and should limit our ability to enter into a new and closer relationship with the Republic of Colombia.
On the whole question of what new possibilities will be opened up, there has been some talk of new economic opportunities for our multinational mining interests, but it also leads to the question about corporate social responsibility and just how Canadian multinational corporations behave in Colombia. There is a lot of concern about the practices of the corporations doing mining and natural resource development in Colombia. I am sure Canadian corporations are part of that concern.
Again, the whole question of selling our soul for appropriate development policies and development policies where the local people have some say in the development of those resources in their communities and in their country is a very important issue and does not seem to be addressed in this agreement.
We know there was discussion at one point at the standing committee that said there should be an independent human rights assessment of Colombia before we enter into this agreement. We have seen the Liberals back away completely from their former support for that. Now we see this special agreement they have proposed, their side deal with the Colombian government, and now their deal with the Conservative government that allows Colombia to examine its own human rights record and report on that. It is just not acceptable.
Again, I think we are selling our soul for a mess of pottage, and we do not even know what is in that stew we are buying. There are many problems with this deal, and I am glad I sit with a group of people who are doing everything they can to see it defeated.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill today, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. No one will be surprised to hear that the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill.
In the next few minutes, I plan on talking about the absurdity of this agreement, which is not a free trade agreement or a trade agreement. As we read through it, it becomes clear that this is an investment agreement. We can understand to a certain extent that it is important to protect investments abroad.
When governments decide to nationalize a business, Canadian investors and others who invested in these countries must be fairly compensated. We understand that. However, we do not agree with going so far as to allow for investors to sue the Colombian government if its social decisions affect the investors' profits. This kind of country completely disregards human rights and labour relations by intimidating or killing union activists. We cannot agree with taking things that far.
As members of Parliament, we must be open-minded and not focus solely on the sacrosanct monetary and trade approach. When Parliament or the government signs an agreement, we must consider our social responsibility. We must ensure that a trade agreement or investment agreement will not have a negative impact.
The agreement before us now will set Colombian society back significantly. As members of Parliament, we must live up to our social and international responsibilities.
Bloc members feel that to vote in favour of this agreement is to repudiate our social responsibility and to let important matters go by the wayside. We must reaffirm our stand, not only on labour relations, but also on the environment.
Day after day, we are confronted by everything that is happening on the planet. With global warming and with the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, we must not move too quickly. We must even make the same kinds of decisions locally, in our constituencies.
In my view, the constituency of would want nothing to do with a company that completely pillaged the environment in order to make money hand over fist and that paid no heed to labour conditions or labour relations. That is the point we have reached. In the past, everything was accepted. Now that is no longer possible because of the new problem confronting us: climate change. We must face up to our responsibilities.
Of course, we are told that there will be side agreements. But everyone understands that side agreements are not part of the real agreement. If side agreements were signed on the environment, on human rights and on labour relations before the agreement itself is signed, perhaps we would be more open. But there is no chance of that happening. The agreement will be signed and the side agreements will be negotiated afterwards. But it will be too late because we can no longer go back on our original signature.
For the Bloc, it is important for the agreement to show respect for the environment and to protect labour relations, but that is not the case here. This is why the Bloc has been opposed to this bill for so long. With the prorogation of the House, the bill has come back at second reading, and we are still opposed to it.
When the government signs an agreement, it has a responsibility. It knows that it is able to put significant pressure on the other government before reaching an agreement with it.
It can refuse to sign if the other country does not meet international standards in terms of the environment or labour relations. That is important. Some people call this the carrot and the stick strategy. Perhaps that is what it is, but if we want to live up to our responsibilities, we must tell the Colombian government that we cannot accept what it is doing and that it must change. We cannot accept the deaths of unionists and the degradation or complete destruction of the environment. We cannot.
It is important to say this and oppose it now. We have to say that we cannot agree to this kind of deal. We are not the only ones. Everyone knows how open the American Congress is to finance, trade and investments. Everyone knows that the American Congress is relatively liberal and acts quickly on these kinds of issues. Yet it is blocking an agreement with Colombia because it wants to ensure that minimum labour standards are met. It wants to protect the union movement.
Is this agreement a trade deal or not? It is very simple. A trade agreement means that we want to exchange things, that the economies are more or less equal and that the products are of interest to us. That is not the case. I have statistics and economic data here.
In 2007, Colombia's GDP was $256 million and Canada's GDP was $1,610 billion. That is not comparable at all. Colombia's per capita GDP was $5,314, while Canada's was $48,427. Colombia's inflation rate was 7%, while Canada's was 2.3%. Unemployment was at 11.8% in Colombia, 6% in Canada.
Thus, our situations are not exactly equal. What do we have to gain from this, in terms of trade? Not much. One of our research documents shows that it is more or less equal in terms of trade balance. Signing this will not make us rich. Why would some have us believe that Canada will make a fortune by signing this? The Canadian government, in other words Canada, is opening its markets to South America, which means that the direct impact on Colombia might not be significant. The repercussions will be felt across all of South and Central America. So this is more of an investment agreement.
In fact, I have the numbers right here. In 2008, foreign investors from Colombia invested $1 million in Canada, while Canada invested $1.158 billion in Colombia. That is what is very dangerous. There is a clear imbalance and this agreement protects investments a lot more than an agreement meant to foster trade. The government must be careful. We do not want this bill to pass at this time, because we want to live up to our responsibilities, as I said earlier.
We can also talk about the paramilitary groups accused of killing thousands of people there, not to mention the 30 or so members of the Colombian congress in prison and 60 or so who are under investigation, which suggests collusion between paramilitary forces and the government. Last but not least, Colombia is a narco-state. Everyone knows what goes on in Colombia.
I could go on much longer, for instance, about how workers are targeted by violence. We could talk about the meetings the Bloc Québécois has had with representatives of civil society and social organizations from Colombia.
We think this agreement is completely unacceptable. That is why it should come as no surprise that the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill at second reading.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill , which has to do with free trade with Colombia.
Needless to say, I will be voting against this bill. I would like to share some figures about Colombia. Since 1986, 2,690 union activists have been killed. In 2008 alone, murders increased 18% over the previous year, and since November 2009, 34 union activists have been killed, with no government protection. If someone kills a worker, all they face in the way of punishment is a fine from the government.
I just cannot believe that our government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement with a country like that and that the Liberals support the deal.
I was a union representative in a former life. I worked in the mines, and I know what goes on down there in terms of safety. In 1996, in the Brunswick mine in New Brunswick, six people were killed. The union worked very hard to have the law changed in Canada. The right to refuse to work began in New Brunswick.
Yet our country, which now has laws that allow workers to refuse unsafe work, is going to sign an agreement with a country where workers are hunted. It is open season on workers who disagree with the company or want to join a union.
This is totally unacceptable. Colombia deserves no praise for its human rights practices and laws.
How can our country, in good conscience, sign an agreement with a country that is not willing to give workers rights? Why sign an agreement and say that human rights will follow? If Colombia is willing to respect workers' rights, then why not include that in the agreement and in the laws as well? Why does Colombia not pass a law immediately and disclose what it contains? The agreement says that if any social changes are legislated, companies can sue the government.
This is outrageous. It is shameful and unacceptable for this government to introduce this bill to implement a free trade agreement with Colombia.
How can we rise in the House and vote for a bill on free trade with a country incapable of respecting human rights? How can we conclude an agreement with a country that does not respect workers, the men and women who get up in the morning, go to work and build a country, the same way Canada was built?
Worse yet, how can we draft a document, an agreement, when the Colombian government is turning a blind eye to this? How can we sign an agreement like this and have a conscience? This is unconscionable.
It is despicable that the Liberals are supporting this. I am asking the Liberals to change their minds, especially since this is a minority government. They know what is going on in Colombia and they think that by signing an agreement, everything will fall into place. Get real. When companies think they can make even more money they laugh all the way to the bank. That is where their money goes. It does not go toward improving working conditions. Even here in Canada, without unions, labour relations would not be what they are today. The only reason there are a number of companies out there that have good labour relations without a union is that these companies do not want to be unionized and they know that unions are always ready to move in.
Imagine Canada without unions. We see that things can happen even with unions around.
Take, for example, what is going on in Sudbury, where the strike has been going on for a record amount of time in Ontario. Foreign companies set up shop here, buy the company and want to do things the same way it is done in their own country. They say that we are the ones who need to adapt. That is what they said in Sudbury. Foreign company Vale SA purchased Inco and is now telling workers to get used to the way it does things. That is going on here, in Canada. The government supports these kinds of companies and wants to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, despite everything that is going on.
Since 1986, 2,690 unionists have been killed in Colombia because of their union involvement. That is atrocious and shameful. What is even more atrocious and shameful is that our government is prepared to sign a free trade agreement with such a country. That is completely unacceptable.
In the United States, the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States was supported by George Bush when he was in power. Now that he is no longer in power, the United States—led by Barack Obama—is trying to back out of the agreement. They do not want to sign it. This shows the similarities between the Conservatives and the former American president George Bush, who was prepared to sign an agreement with Colombia. Now that he is no longer in power, they should be proud that his replacement is saying no to an agreement with Colombia.
Canada should do the same thing. If we do not, we are saying that we do not respect workers or human rights. Colombia in no way respects workers' rights.
What do Colombians have to say? Workers are asking us not to sign this agreement. They do not want it because it will not improve their lives. People make a bigger deal about the way seals are killed than about Colombian workers. People care more about protecting seals than they do about protecting Colombian workers. That is unbelievable.
For all of these reasons, we cannot support such an agreement. Before the House was prorogued, the NDP and the Bloc fought hard against Bill , which is back as Bill . This is the same bill.
The government wants to listen to companies seeking to profit from free trade, but it does not care about workers. Do human beings in Colombia not get a say in this? Do people speaking on behalf of those who have lost their lives not get a say?
The Conservatives opposite think this agreement is something to smile about. Personally, I find that sad because I would not be able to sleep at night if I signed such an agreement. We know that Colombia does not respect human rights or workers' rights. The government knows that too. It should be ashamed. This agreement will do nothing to make workers' lives any better. Quite the opposite, as Colombian workers have warned us, and I agree with them.