The House resumed from March 15 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill , which was introduced at first reading on October 29, 2009, by the member for . The bill itself is very short. It would amend several subsections of section 149.1 of the Income Tax Act.
These amendments would enable the minister to revoke the registration of a charitable organization, public foundation or private foundation if any of its employees receive compensation in excess of $250,000. Bill C-470 clarifies that compensation includes not only salaries, but also “wages, commissions, bonuses, fees and honoraria, plus the value of taxable and non-taxable benefits”.
Lastly, Bill C-470 enables the minister to make public the names and salaries of the five highest-paid employees in each organization registered as a charity, as part of the annual listing of charities in accordance with section 149.1 of the Income Tax Act.
I would now like to describe the circumstances that led to this bill. On October 1, 2009, the SickKids Foundation made headlines when it was reported that its president collected a severance package valued at $2.7 million. A debate ensued on the huge salaries paid to charity executives, what constitutes fair compensation, and whether these salaries are in line with such organizations' missions.
In Quebec, a series of articles was published in les affaires in 2008 calling into question the salaries of top executives at a number of charities. The title of the series was “Philanthropy: worthy causes, whopping salaries”. Naturally, the articles made a lot of people skeptical about how donations to these organizations are being used and may have a negative effect on future fundraising efforts for charities as a whole.
The author of these articles explained how surprised the average Quebecker was to learn that such a significant portion of donations and other amounts received by charitable organizations is spent on salaries, including those of the directors of these organizations. According to the figures declared to Revenue Canada in 2007, 55% of the revenues at Moisson Montréal was spent on salaries, 44% at Mira Foundation, 38% at Fondation québécoise du cancer, 35% at Sun Youth Organization, 31% at Leucan and 60% at Le Bon Dieu dans la rue.
This was also surprising to experts in the field. For example, the CEO of Bolduc, Nolet, Primeau & Associates, a philanthropic management company, stated that when salaries are as high as 30% or 40% of all revenues, there is a problem.
According to these articles, the average salary of directors of charitable organizations in Quebec was $125,000. These high salaries surprised not only the public, but also the experts, who thought they were much too high. Even more disturbing than the high salaries was the silence or reluctance of some major organizations to reveal the salaries of their directors.
This made the public even more doubtful about the legitimacy of these salaries. There is a lack of real safeguards, and there have been concerns that these salaries could get out of control and end up comparable to the salaries of American charitable organizations, which had an average salary of $410,000 in 2007. These salaries have been skyrocketing in recent years. In Canada, they increased by 17% last year alone, and there was a 44% increase between 1999 and 2008, according to the annual survey of benefits and compensation published by the Canadian Society of Association Executives.
However, the Bloc Québécois knows how essential it is for charities to be able to continue hiring qualified managers.
Bill would require that the names of the five highest-paid employees in each charity be published. The Bloc Québécois understands the underlying principle of transparency in this initiative, but it is worried about the privacy of these organizations' administrators. Perhaps the requirement of publishing these names should be removed from the bill.
Quebec charities with executives who earn an average of $125,000 a year will have some room to manoeuvre when it comes to salary increases. By respecting a $250,000 ceiling, these organizations will be able to recruit and retain qualified applicants.
But what about the salaries of executives in larger Canadian charities? Numerous factors need to be taken into consideration: the size of the organization in terms of its revenue, expenses and staff; the complexity of the regulatory environment in which the organization works; and the number of departments and government organizations it deals with.
Of course, these factors affect each organization differently. We cannot determine a realistic salary ceiling without considering these factors and taking into account the changing needs of the organizations as well as the domestic and international market.
The heads of several Canadian charities are already being paid over $300,000, which seems reasonable, considering the size of the organizations they manage.
Also, the number of Canadian charities is quite remarkable: 161,000 in all. In Laval alone, where I am from, there are 383 registered charities, including childcare centres, community centres, volunteer associations, regional recycling depots, private schools, the Laval symphony orchestra and the Laval health and social services centre, a Government of Quebec organization. All of those organizations are registered under the Income Tax Act.
So it would be very difficult to establish a salary cap for such a diverse group of charities and organizations whose volunteer elements are not necessarily obvious.
Given that the Quebec and provincial governments have full jurisdiction over the charitable sector, we must ensure that Bill , in its current form, does not infringe on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
Furthermore, given that any charitable organization that wishes to register in Quebec must first be registered with the CRA, we must ensure that Bill fits in with Revenu Québec's provisions in that regard.
In any case, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of Bill , which is why we will support it at second reading, so we may examine it in committee.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the importance of charitable organizations in Quebec society. In order for these organizations to be able to pursue their charitable missions, it is important to maintain their credibility and the public's trust in them.
Nevertheless, the bill's impact on all charities must be thoroughly reviewed in order to ensure that these organizations can continue recruiting qualified staff despite the limitations this bill would impose.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to second private member's Bill put forward by the visionary member for . I call her visionary because she brought in a bill on proportional sentences for murderers that was so good for Canadians that the government adopted it. I hope the government takes the same lead on this private member's bill as well.
Charitable giving is part of our nature as Canadians. Charities across the country receive billions in contributions from Canadians of all income levels, of all backgrounds, and from every province and territory.
That being said, I am well aware of the challenges that charities have faced in recent years. In 2008 Canadians donated $8.19 billion, a 5.3% drop from the previous year. Although the figures for 2009 have not been released yet, the charities I have spoken to have told me how difficult 2009 was as well. The global economic downturn has had a huge impact in this regard, and like businesses, charities have felt the pinch.
There was good news however. The number of donors did rise to 5.8 million, which represented a 1.7% increase from the year before. This bill is about those 5.8 million Canadians.
The first component of this bill has to do with transparency, which is a standard that each and every charitable organization should be trying to achieve.
Those that give to a cause want to know that their gift is going to the right place. So we ask about a charitable organization's administrative costs, and how much of a donation is actually making a direct impact.
But surprisingly, up until last year, the Canada Revenue Agency never required charities to report the salaries of their top executives.
The charitable filings for 2009 mark the first time Canadian charities have disclosed compensation information for their ten highest paid officials. Previously, charities only had to provide limited information about their five best paid staff positions.
Yet, there is still great ambiguity with this disclosure. There are no exact salary figures for these individuals. Instead, there are only categories, like the top bracket of $350,000 and over, which leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to information.
The bottom line is that if someone chooses to make a contribution, they have a right to understand exactly what the leadership within their chosen charity is being paid.
Donors are like shareholders of any public company, so disclosure needs to be a lot more specific to give donors the information they need to make informed decisions about where they choose to donate their hard-earned money.
The second aspect of this bill is about introducing a salary cap of $250,000 within the charitable sector.
As the hon. member for mentioned, there was great confusion and even anger when last year it was revealed that one of Canada's largest charities, the SickKids Foundation, paid its former president $2.7 million in 2008. To many this is a figure that is very hard to comprehend, particularly when considering how hard it is for a charitable organization to raise that kind of money. It is especially hard to see how someone can faithfully accept that kind of salary for doing good deeds.
The salary cap in Bill would allow charities to pay their top executives salaries comparable to federal deputy ministers who run even larger and more complicated organizations. If a charity wants to exceed the cap, it would fall to the federal minister. If he or she does not accept the justification, he of she can decide to de-list the charity.
I have an issue with those who say that the House of Commons should not be involved in the salary decision-making process.
As I mentioned previously, tax receipts were given to over 5.8 million Canadians in the year 2008. The Government of Canada encourages charitable giving through these subsidies. This is a long-standing tradition and I will go as far as to state that it is one of the essential components behind charitable giving in our country. Thus, we as members of Parliament have every right to scrutinize the salaries of executives that are, to an extent, being partially paid by way of Canadian taxpayers.
This past December, the Fraser Institute released its 2009 Generosity Index. The Generosity Index measured charitable giving for both Canada and the U.S. in the year 2007 and detailed the percentage of tax-filers who donated and the percentage of income that they gave to good causes.
For Canadian charities, the numbers were troubling. Americans donated 1.6% of their aggregate income to charities while Canadians donated less than half of that, at 0.73%. In dollar figures, Canadians donated approximately $8.5 billion to charitable causes, but if we had given at the same rate as our southern neighbours, the total would have been in excess of $17 billion.
Bill is an attempt to assist charities with this gap by instilling greater confidence in their practices among the Canadian public. The successful passage of this legislation will ensure that not only will Canadians be able to access more information, but they will also be able to have confidence in compensation packages that are equitable and fair in consideration of their charitable gifts.
As the economy recovers, the rate of charitable donations will recover. This bill would open the books of charities so that Canadians can open their wallets to charities with confidence.
Once again I thank the hon. member for for bringing in this important measure as a private member's bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill , a proposal before the House sponsored by the member for .
From the onset, I will state that our government agrees with the member on the importance of ensuring proper and appropriate regulation of the charitable sector in Canada. This includes the need to remain vigilant against undue personal benefit for individuals employed in the sector.
Our government is always open to exploring ways to strengthen current legislation. In that regard, we welcome and will support Bill for discussion in the finance committee in the coming weeks and months. Moreover, we understand that many charitable organizations, both large and small, would like to participate in the debate on Bill and potentially make some suggestions related to the proposal.
We are especially encouraged that the member noted earlier in the debate that she was ready to more fully explore this proposal at committee stage. The member for would likely agree that we need an opportunity to hear the voices of those involved in charities across Canada to make certain that occurs.
I also believe that all members of Parliament share in the member's belief that charities are a vital part of communities right across Canada. That is why since 2006 our government has taken some notable actions to help bolster charities and allow them to keep doing the great work they do in our communities.
In budget 2010, our Conservative government announced it would move forward with a plan to reform what is referred to as a disbursement quota. This reform is intended to reduce unnecessary red tape to better allow charities to focus their time and resources on their charitable activities and helping their communities.
For the benefit of the House, I will relay a small sampling of the feedback we have received on this particular budget 2010 announcement.
Imagine Canada applauded it for providing the following:
||...greater flexibility for charities as they seek to meet the increasing and changing needs of Canadians....
|| The [disbursement quota] added layers of red tape and reduced flexibility in responding to the needs of Canadians and communities. ...[it] will help charitable organizations, especially smaller and rural ones, to better plan their activities to meet the real needs of their communities.
The Salvation Army cheered it by saying:
|| The removal of the quota will provide The Salvation Army; one of Canada’s largest charities, with increased flexibility....
|| We are very pleased with this announcement. The proposed changes will allow us to better respond to the needs of the people we serve in 400 communities across Canada.
Finally, someone the member for may be somewhat familiar with, the Community Foundation of Mississauga's executive director, Eileen MacKenzie, explained:
|| We applaud the government’s decision to reform the disbursement quota policy. ...[it] will lessen the administrative burden on our charities, direct more resources to addressing community needs and enable them to plan more effectively for the future.
This is a specific example of a helpful initiative our Conservative government has undertaken to support Canada's charitable sector. Today's proposal deals with the accountability of these registered charities, specifically regarding the compensation given to those employed by such organizations.
To put this debate into context, I believe it would be informative to look at how charities are regulated in Canada. First, responsibility for the regulation of registered charities is divided between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments.
Within the federal government, the Canada Revenue Agency, or CRA, regulates registered charities. The CRA is responsible for applying the provisions of the Income Tax Act relating to registered charities. Beyond income tax considerations, the regulation of charities is constitutionally under the jurisdiction of the respective provinces and territories in which they operate.
As mentioned earlier, recent reforms have given CRA more powerful compliance tools when regulating the charitable sector. The ultimate compliance tool is the ability to de-register a charity. If a charity is deregistered, it immediately loses its ability to issue tax receipts to donors. It also may become taxable on its existing assets. In addition, it must transfer its charitable resources to another charity within a specified period of time or pay a revocation tax to the government. Clearly, considering the special tax treatment that registered charities receive, excessive compensation for those employed by them is not something that donors or everyday taxpayers would approve.
That is why, currently, if the CRA comes across a situation where a registered charity is not fulfilling its charitable purposes and/or there is undue personal benefit, such as compensation clearly in excess of fair market value, CRA can take strong corrective action.
Under the present system, for the first infraction by a registered charity, CRA can impose a tax of 105% of the amount of the undue benefit. If a charity repeats such an infraction within five years, the penalty increases to 110%. In addition, CRA can immediately suspend the tax receipting privileges of the charity. Finally, if the problem is ongoing and repeated, CRA can move to deregister the charity completely.
Before concluding, I want to state that our Conservative government firmly believes that Canadians who donate their hard-earned money to charities should have the proper tools available to ensure that those organizations are accountable, and that is why we took action to improve accountability.
Up until last year, CRA had only required charities to report on the compensation for the five highest paid employees and indicate limited salary ranges, with the last threshold being $119,000 and over. Our Conservative government did not believe that to be sufficient and brought in changes. Now we require charities to report the 10 highest paid positions, double than before. What is more, we expanded the salary ranges, with the last threshold being $350,000 and over. I note that all of this information is available publicly and online for all to view at www.cra-arc.gc.ca.
Our new accountability rules will improve transparency, allowing those generous men and women in Canada, who donate their own hard-earned dollars, the information they need to make their charitable giving decisions with peace of mind.
Without a doubt, our Conservative government has taken action to both encourage charities to serve our communities across Canada better, while at the same time improving transparency surrounding their actions.
We are clearly committed to accountability and transparency in the charitable sector. While the tax system already has tools in place for both the regulation of compensation in the sector and to guard against undue personal benefit, we are always open to exploring other ways to strengthen it.
As Bill successfully passes second reading and advances to the finance committee, however, we again both welcome and urge a very comprehensive discussion at that stage. That discussion will provide an essential opportunity to hear directly from those in the charitable sector and explore their questions and concerns.
Mr. Speaker, “Salaries at some charities make a mockery of the concept of charity”. That is a quote from the member for , and she is correct. That is why I wish to congratulate her on introducing this bill which seeks to protect and stand up for donors, recipients of charitable funds, and taxpayers. I am honoured to be a seconder of this bill.
The purpose of this bill is twofold: first, to limit the global compensation of employees of charities to $250,000 per year, which is a substantial sum; and second, to allow full public disclosure of the incomes of the top five employees of charities.
In terms of the analysis of the bill and the $250,000 limit, the practical effect of imposing this, if it were to be exceeded by a charity, would be to provide the minister with the discretion to revoke the charitable status. This would not be automatic. It would allow the minister to use discretion in a particular circumstance if there were some reason that this should not take place. As well, there is an effective date of 2011 for this bill to provide ample time for transition purposes.
There are multiple reasons to support this bill. First, we must protect the recipients of charity, Canadians in need. We must ensure they are not taken advantage of and that the money raised to help them actually reaches them to the greatest extent possible. Every dollar spent on an executive that is in excess of what is reasonable is a dollar taken away from a recipient, and that must end.
Second, we must protect donors. Most donors are ordinary people who dig deep into their pockets in order to help others. It is simply unfair to these ordinary donors, ordinary Canadians, to allow such executives to abuse their generosity and, frankly, to earn far in excess of what most Canadians earn.
Third, we must protect charities and the charity system itself. Every year Canadians dig deep and contribute billions to 85,000 registered charities. They will not do so if they believe the system is broken, if their trust has been violated and, frankly, if their money is being wasted on exorbitant compensation packages for executives.
The SickKids example, which has already been mentioned in the House today, is relevant. When the Toronto Star broke the story that the head of the SickKids Foundation took home $2.7 million in salary and severance in one year, people were rightly shocked and outraged.
Think about the average donor who is providing a donation of $30 or $50, whatever it may be, digging deep to help. Think about the recipients of charities who need that money to live. When they hear that somebody is making $2.7 million from moneys that should be used to help, they are outraged and they should be.
What is important in terms of the integrity of the charitable system is that once the SickKids Foundation story broke, it hurt the foundation. There was a backlash from donors. The foundation had to set up a specific hotline to take questions and address concerns. The SickKids Foundation received a 10% decrease in donations and had to lay off 38 staff members.
I ask, how is it right that that individual received $2.7 million in one year, and then the foundation itself was hurt by a decrease in contributions and 38 innocent Canadians received a pink slip, a layoff notice?
If this legislation had been in place at the time, it would have stopped this. The foundation would not have been allowed to pay $2.7 million to that executive. The SickKids Foundation would not have received a 10% reduction in contributions, and those innocent 38 people would not have been laid off.
It is instructive to reflect upon the recent changes the Conservatives did make for disclosure provisions. The disclosure provisions, although admittedly an improvement, are not enough. The $2.7 million salary was only learned of because the foundation also operates in the United States and had to file there.
The changes that have been made by the Conservatives create a continuing problem, because despite the new filing requirements introduced by them, there are no exact salary figures or names of the highest paid individuals that must be disclosed. Instead, charities must identify the number of people who earn a salary within a certain range, with a top range of “$350,000 and over”.
Using the SickKids Foundation as an example, if that foundation had not also operated in the United States where there are strict filing and disclosure requirements, and we only had the benefit of the new regime that the Conservatives introduced, the only thing we would have known is that at least one person, if not more, at the SickKids Foundation made more than $350,000. We would not have had the right to know that $2.7 million had been paid to an individual. Although the changes introduced are an improvement, they do not go far enough. This private member's bill must be supported in order to ensure that we have full disclosure of this information.
The other reason we must support this bill is to protect taxpayers. In the most recent year, the taxpayers of Canada contributed almost $3 billion in federal tax credits. Every Canadian has the right to know the salaries of such executives and provide reasonable limits to these taxpayer-supported activities. We are supporting these executives in their positions. We have a right to know how much they are making and we have a right to set reasonable limits on what that income is.
In terms of integrity, it must be remembered that in 2007, Canadians donated a total of $10 billion and volunteered 2.1 billion hours. If that goes down because people do not believe that the system can be trusted and people are being treated unfairly, Canadians will suffer. Six years ago, in 2004, the United States recognized it had a problem regarding disclosure. The IRS announced new enforcement efforts to identify and halt such abuses. The IRS said:
|| We are concerned that some charities and private foundations are abusing their tax-exempt status by paying exorbitant compensation to their officers and others.
In Canada, nothing has been done to remedy the situation apart from the small change that I noted, which does not solve the problem.
This outrageous compensation is a serious problem in Canada. It is not limited to the one example of the SickKids Foundation that I noted. That perhaps is what broke the story, but it is not the only example. One reporter stated:
|| It seems for some of Canada’s best known charitable organizations, charity begins in the chief executive’s office.
Some of Canada's largest and best known charities pay some of their top officials more than $300,000 per annum, which is more than deputy ministers make. Frankly, it is more than most Canadians make. Chief executives at Plan International Canada Inc., the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and York University Foundation all were paid more than $300,000 last year. The BC Children's Hospital Foundation and Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation paid top executives between $250,000 and $300,000 per year.
Some people will oppose this legislation, but I ask why. First, why are they afraid of transparency? What are they trying to hide? Why would they not want to disclose what the top executives actually are making on an individual basis? Taxpayers have a right to know. Donors who provide the money have a right to know. Canadians who are receiving the benefit of these dollars have a right to know.
Second, is $250,000 not enough? It is enough, but more than that, setting a limit will level the playing field in Canada. Tim Price, chairman of the York University Foundation board, said it paid CEO Paul Marcus $394,000 in salary and bonus last year and that the payment “was in the context of the competitiveness of talent to be able to get a first-class person”. The foundation would not be required to have paid $394,000 to that individual if there was a cap of $250,000.
Frankly, people would not be seeking to move around and drive up the cost of compensation packages if there was a limit. Canadians who need these funds would actually receive them.
There are very large Canadian charities that already are compliant, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, United Way of Canada and the Red Cross. There is no reason that everybody cannot be compliant.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , brought forward by the member for , which has to do with charities.
I support this bill very much. I am little concerned because there has been some misinformation of which I think members should be aware. Probably the best reason this bill should go to committee is to enable the charitable institutions and foundations to provide some input. I understand there was concern in the charitable sector initially, but that actually has turned around. I believe there are some 85,000 charities.
I approach this not from the standpoint that I am looking for some charity that is doing something that it should not be doing. What is needed is greater transparency, openness and accountability. We are talking about taxpayers' dollars. When people make a charitable donation, they claim that donation and get the appropriate tax credit on their income tax return. All Canadians, all taxpayers, are subsidizing the contribution to various charitable organizations and foundations. From that standpoint, it is very consistent that disclosure of relevant information should be made available to all Canadians about how their tax dollars are being spent.
I do not think there are many people who have not heard some conversation about exactly who is getting how much and how much of their dollars is actually hitting the ground and helping the people they want to help. The United Way is asked this question all the time, and it reports on it and it boasts about it. Campaign 2000, which helps deal with the issue of child poverty, is constantly looking at how much money is actually going toward helping people and promoting the alleviation of child poverty in Canada.
It is extremely important that we look at this from the accountability aspect.
Today I received a letter from the 's chief of staff, who subsequent to his appearance before the ethics committee on the subject matter, provided copies of the letters that he sent out to the ministers indicating that it is a responsibility of the government to promote accountability, transparency and openness. I think the House concurs. It is the law. It is a charter right.
I know where some of the confusion has arisen for some members who may have looked at this. It is one of those cases that if we just hear the short version, or the summary, we may get an impression which is not reflective of the full detail of the bill. The summary of this bill states, “This enactment amends the Income Tax Act to revoke the registration of a charitable organization, public foundation or private foundation if the annual compensation it pays to any single executive or employee exceeds $250,000”, period.
That is how the summary was drafted, but that is not exactly what the bill would do. The bill would not revoke the registration of a charity, or a private or a public foundation, if it pays any one person more than $250,000. The bill requires the disclosure and the minister may look at it. It is not absolute; it is optional. It is a matter that the minister may invoke if there is clear abuse. There is some ministerial discretion. This is not a black and white situation, that if a charity pays somebody over $250,000 that, all of a sudden, the registration of the charity is revoked.
I hope that members will look carefully at this. This is one question that has to be totally clarified in committee to absolutely ensure, to the assurance of all hon. members, that this bill is not an attack on charities.
The government deputy House leader had made an indication that in his view there was a royal recommendation required for the bill, and I think he made an interesting argument. However, the bill effectively only amplifies or adds further criteria under which the minister responsible for the act in question, the Income Tax Act, can have the latitude to take decisions if it is appropriate.
The Speaker ruled that in fact there was not a need for a ways and means motion for this amendment to the Income Tax Act. I think members should take some solace from that. The bill is a sound bill, it is a clean bill and it should go to committee to hear from the stakeholders who may be affected and may be concerned.
It is always good when we can have people on side. They will come before committee, they will ask their questions or make their representations and things will be clarified. Then it is not just what a half dozen people happen to say during the debate at second reading in the House based on their own information or knowledge, but it is the experts. It is those who are in the business and who can provide the details and the commentary on the legislation and its implications and make recommendations for changes to the bill if necessary. That is what the committee is for.
We cannot make amendments here on second reading. We can say that we have some concern about this aspect and we hope that the committee will do that. Those are the kinds of things that happen from time to time. The committee stage is extremely important.
I believe this is an important bill, primarily from the standpoint of the openness and transparency requirements and the accountability requirements that we expect from all matters as they relate to governing the taxpayers' dollars.
The member in question has been here for more than 20 years. I know she does her homework. Anyone who knows the member knows that she is a member of great integrity. She has not brought many bills before this place, but when she does, look out, because she is responding to critical issues in which the public interest is to be served.
I am not going to get into this, but people may want to look at her background. The member has a reputation for bringing matters that I think are extremely important for us to consider.
This is not an inconsequential bill. It is a significant bill. It is a bill that I believe will get a thorough hearing at committee, and I believe it will pass at all stages and become law.
There was a question that came up in one meeting I was at that I want to raise as well, about whether or not this would affect universities, and people were talking about foundations.
As we know, many hospitals have a fundraising wing that is separate from the hospital operations themselves, separate and incorporated entities to raise money for hospitals. These would be maintained separately. The bill would not affect hospitals or other foundations that are set up for that purpose. It is a small detail, one question only, but it is the kind of question that has come up.
Therefore I wanted to rise in the House today to say that I have taken the time to look at it. I heard the member present her bill in debate. I heard her represent her position last week in the media. After people asked their questions and got the answers, to fully understand, it is amazing how the outlook on the bill has turned so dramatically.
I want to leave it at that, and I want to encourage all members of Parliament to please vote for the bill on second reading and to encourage the committee to do appropriate hearings to ensure that we make good laws and wise decisions.
The hon. member for Mississauga East—Cooksville, a five-minute right of reply.
Mr. Speaker, first let me thank members from all sides of the House who have added productively to the debate on this issue.
Bill seeks to add two ingredients to charity executive pay: reason and accountability. Salaries would have to be within reason, or the minister could take action in the interests of donors and taxpayers who often have no direct say on how their money is spent. Greater accountability will come with the disclosure of every charity's top five income earners and their salaries.
The government did make progress last year by requiring more detailed ranges of salaries, but no corporate CEO could get away with saying he just made over $350,000. Donors are paying the bill and deserve the names, positions and amounts, like any shareholder. Arguments for continued secrecy have largely withered over the past several weeks. It is simply not tenable for charities who rely on the faith and trust of donors to say they deserve salary secrecy that is unthinkable in either the government or corporate sector.
The promise of Bill is that donor awareness may be a cure for the high salaries and costs that are shrinking every donor dollar today. Bill C-470 also aims to add a measure of reason and restraint to charitable salaries. It does not seek to impose a hard cap, but simply to provide a long-overdue mechanism for the minister to restrain excessive compensation. The minister would retain the absolute discretion to act in the interests of both the cause and the donor community.
Diversionary concerns about the potential impact on the top salaries of professors and surgeons at universities and hospitals are not well founded, as most of these institutions have separate charitable foundations. For those that do intermingle operating and fundraising activities, the minister can make the obvious distinction.
Fewer than 1% of Canadians earn $250,000 a year. Charities rely on the generosity of the other 99% and need to justify the exorbitant pay of their fundraisers. When one executive was reported to have received millions of dollars in salary incentives and severance, the excuses poured in from charities: “We have to attract fundraising talent from the U.S.”; “We cannot find competent people who would work for under a quarter million a year”. Other organizations have even argued that young people will not go into charity work if they cannot make a lot of money. I wonder if I am alone in finding this somewhat ironic.
From 2000 to 2008, the number of donors in Canada was basically stagnant, growing by less than 1% annually. So the charitable sector is not attracting more donors. Total tax receipted donations grew by an average of only 5%, little better than the rate of inflation. So Canadians are donating more, but hardly enough to justify ballooning fundraising pay.
Published information with the CRA reveals even less connection between pay and performance. Without a single person reporting making over $250,000, one charity raises twice as much money at half the cost per dollar of the highest paying Toronto medical charity. So it is possible to run a charity without investment banker salaries. But exorbitant salaries are infectious and are spreading to charities great and small and even very small.
One small foundation that pays more than $350,000 actually hiked salaries by 69% over the last five years while revenue dropped 33%. Thirty-six cents of every dollar raised is now lost to fundraising and administration, double the rate of only five years ago. Paying astronomical salaries does not always deliver astronomical results. Many sports leagues have adopted salary caps to respond to similar situations where competition was raising costs far faster than revenue.
In conclusion, Bill asks the House to take a small step in curbing a free-for-all with donor and taxpayer money. Parliament alone can take a stand to safeguard the sacrifice of donors by insisting that charities deliver more transparency and ultimately more charity.
The time provided for debate has expired.
The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): In my opinion the yeas have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin): Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, April 21, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.
The House will suspend until 12 o'clock.
(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:57 a.m.)
(The House resumed at 12 noon)
The House resumed from March 30 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, Canada is one of the great trading nations of the world. That is why I appreciate this opportunity to speak today to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
As my colleagues on this side of the House have repeatedly stated, this agreement is of critical importance to Canadian workers, businesses and investors as Canada emerges from the global recession. It will open up new doors and windows of opportunities at a time when Canadians need them the most. At the same time, this agreement is also a critical piece in helping Colombia establish lasting peace and prosperity for its citizens.
Let me begin by recognizing the significant progress that Colombia has made in recent years to overcome its troubled past.
Decades of internal conflict, much of it related to the international drug trade, have challenged Colombia's security and human rights record. While human rights and security challenges remain, the Colombian government has made substantial strides in recent years to overcome these challenges.
I want to say upfront that Canada supports Colombia's efforts to meet these challenges. Protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law here at home and around the world are at the core of Canada's engagement with Colombia. Indeed, our government has made human rights a priority. Our government's vigilant stand against those who threaten the most basic of human rights has been recognized around the world in all our engagements.
The free trade agreement with Colombia, together with its parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, is but one of several initiatives that support Colombia's efforts toward greater peace, security, prosperity and full respect for human rights. We can and should be proud of this record. Our government believes that engagement, rather than isolation, is the best way of supporting change in Colombia.
Lest there be any doubt, I want to emphasize that in recent years personal security in Colombia has improved. The engagement of the global community and international organizations has significantly improved the personal security conditions of the vast majority of Colombians.
Let me give an example. A couple of years ago, a Colombian citizen visited me in my office and we discussed some matters that were totally unrelated to this debate. However, before she left, I could not pass up the opportunity to ask her what things were really like in Colombia. I asked her to please be honest and tell us what the situation was like in that country. She said told me that over the last 10 years, its security had improved markedly. In fact, she said that her family, her neighbourhood and friends felt much more secure today than they did 10 years ago. This was an average Colombian citizen telling the truth about the situation in Colombia.
While there remains much to be improved in Colombia, its government has made considerable progress in its fight against the drug cartels and against paramilitary and rebel groups. In fact, we would be remiss if we did not take notice of the efforts that have led to the formal demobilization of over 30,000 paramilitaries and the weakening of the two primary guerrilla groups in that country. These are key developments in Colombia's efforts to break the cycle of violence.
Colombia also has a justice and peace law that provides the legal framework for truth, justice and reparations. Is the human rights situation in Colombia perfect? Of course not. What is important, however, is that we measure the significant progress that Colombia has made over the last 10 years. What is clear is that, more and more, Colombia is developing a measurable respect for the rule of law, a value that Canadians hold very dear. What we also should not forget is that Colombia is one of the oldest democracies in Latin America.
With the support of the international community, the Colombian government authorities and related civil institutions have undertaken a series of actions that are contributing to increased peace, security and prosperity in that country. It is vital for Canada and other free and democratic countries to pursue policies of engagement and support for peace in that country.
This free trade agreement helps us do just that. Engagement, rather than isolation, will be the key to a safer and more secure Colombian future. Canadians can be very proud of their role in assisting our Colombian partners along this path.
Canada closely monitors the human rights situation on the ground in Colombia and regularly raises issues concerning human rights in meetings with Colombian officials. In fact, Canada continues to be an active member of the Group of 24, a number of countries which facilitate dialogue between the government of Colombia and international and national civil society organizations. Indeed, in 2009 Canada and Colombia established formal senior level consultations on human rights and those discussions continue to this very day.
Canada maintains this open and frank dialogue on human rights with the Colombian government at the most senior levels. Our engagement in Colombia includes support for development, peace and security initiatives. In the last five years, Canada has disbursed over $64 million through the Canadian International Development Agency.
CIDA has gradually focused its programming on children's rights and protections, while also supporting economic growth opportunities that contribute to reducing poverty in Colombia. Our projects have also prevented the recruitment of children into illegal armed groups and ensure their reintegration into their communities.
Other projects have supported environmentally sustainable agriculture to provide alternative livelihoods to growing illicit crops for the drug trade. Indeed, sustainable agriculture, in turn, contributes to food security for the many poor communities in Colombia.
I also point out that Canada's global peace and security fund disbursed over $18 million in Colombia since 2006. This fund is helping to promote peace in Colombia and the region and is also promoting the protection of the rights of victims and the strengthening of the Colombian judicial system.
There is much more but, unfortunately, my time is limited. However, this agreement takes human rights very seriously. Indeed, Canada takes human rights very seriously. Our commitments under this agreement prove this fact.
At the same time as the free trade agreement with Colombia was signed, we also signed two parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. These agreements commit both nations to work together to ensure high levels of protection for workers and the environment.
Canada believes that trade and investment liberalization can go hand in hand with labour rights and the environment. Indeed, engagement may be the very best way of moving countries that are in transition to a more robust environmental and human and labour rights regime.
Canada and Colombia also commit to providing acceptable protections for occupational safety and health for migrant workers and for employment standards such as minimum wages and hours of work. Failure to respect international labour organization principles and to enforce domestic laws is subject to penalties for violations, any penalties accrued to a special fund to be used to address and resolve matters identified through the dispute resolution process.
All of this is to say that protection and promotion of human rights are at the very core of Canada's engagement in Colombia. They are fundamental to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. As I said at the outset, we believe in the very positive role that trade and investment can play in a nation like Colombia.
Our approach of engagement offers an alternative to the protectionist, isolationist thinking that we see in some parts of the world and, indeed, in some parts of this very House from opposition parties. By promoting economic development and opening up new doors to prosperity, free trade agreements like this can strengthen the social foundations of countries. That is what we are doing in Colombia. For a country like Colombia, free trade can open up new avenues for success. It can create new jobs and provide a solid foundation for families to build a future.
I encourage the members of the House to support this very worthwhile agreement.
Mr. Speaker, in many respects, I agree with the rules of engagement that my colleague outlined in his speech. I am not sure if we agree on all the details, but, nonetheless, the rules of engagement for trade and to create a better society have certainly borne fruit over the past 20, 25 years in many nations, not just Colombia, with which we trade.
He talked about the two parallel agreements. The one in particular I would like to talk about is the labour agreement. What specifically in this agreement puts Colombia in line with how we in Canada treat our labour practices? I would like some instances of policies that are truly Canadian or, in his case, British Columbian. Perhaps he could illustrate some of the new arrangements in Colombia about which he would like to talk.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his party support of this agreement. Our government agreed to accept an amendment to this agreement, which would make even more robust the reporting requirements for some of the human rights and labour issues addressed in the agreement.
In response to his question, he is absolutely correct. There is a collateral side agreement that will signed between our respective countries, which would make much more robust the respect for labour rights in Colombia, as well as in Canada. That agreement references an international protocol and a declaration on the rights of worker, which is generally accepted by free and democratic countries around the world. Colombia has agreed to sign on to that, to respect those rights that are articulated in the agreement.
Those kinds of issues address the very concerns that some of the opposition parties, such as the NDP and the Bloc, have raised. We have gone the extra step to bring Colombia into the international community and to ensure it respects human rights and labour rights.
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague from , who spoke to us at length about human rights as it pertains to the trade agreement with Colombia.
Why is he not taking into account all the agencies that are opposed to this agreement because human rights are not being respected in Colombia?
The Canadian Labour Congress is opposed to it, as are the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the FTQ, Development & Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Lawyers Without Borders. The list goes on. All these agencies monitor the respect of human rights in our dealings abroad.
We know that Canada has to protect its good reputation when it conducts business in other countries.
The hon. member said that the agreement will respect human rights. Why is he disregarding what all these agencies are saying?
Mr. Speaker, first, I want to highlight the fact that this free trade agreement is perhaps the most robust our country has ever signed with any country around the world. We recognize that Colombia has come through decades of strife, of drug-related violence and of abuses of human rights. Over the last decade, Colombia has made significant progress.
I made it clear right from the start that there was something that distinguished the Conservatives from the Bloc and the NDP. We believe in engagement. The Bloc and the NDP believe in isolating countries. They believe that by isolating countries, that is how we get them to buy into international norms for human and labour rights. That is not our approach.
Our Conservative government believes in engagement. We believe this agreement is the toughest we have ever signed when it comes to those kinds of issues.
I also point out that if we look at Chile and the free agreement we signed with it some 13 years ago, that agreement has moved Chile to having one of the most respected human rights regimes in South America.
The Conservatives are getting things done. We are improving the lot of the people of Colombia, as well as enhancing our own trading relationships, which are critical to our country.
Mr. Speaker, on this last day before elected members of the House are muzzled by the Conservative government, I want to add my voice to that of my colleagues who have spoken so far in opposition to Bill .
The Canadian government's main motivation for entering into this free trade deal is not trade, but rather investments. This agreement contains a chapter on investment protection that will make life easier for Canadians investing in Colombia, especially in mining.
If all the agreements protecting investment that Canada has signed over the years are anything to go on, the agreement between Canada and Colombia is ill-conceived.
All of these agreements contain provisions allowing investors to take a foreign government to court when it adopts measures reducing the returns on their investment. Such provisions are especially dangerous in a country where laws governing labour and the protection of the environment are, at best, haphazard.
When it comes to the environment, one need only look at the Conservative government's track record to know that it is not a top priority.
By protecting Canadian investors against any improvements in living conditions in Colombia, Bill C-2 could well delay the social and environmental progress that is needed in that country. This is where the government's Bill C-2 has serious shortcomings.
Colombia has one of the worst human rights records. To advance human rights in the world, governments generally use the carrot and stick approach. They support efforts to improve respect for human rights and reserve the right to withdraw benefits should the situation worsen.
With this free trade agreement, Canada would forego any ability to bring pressure to bear on the Government of Colombia. Not only is the Canadian government giving up the carrot and the stick, but it is handing them over to the Colombian government.
The Conservatives are showing once again what little regard they have for human rights by supporting a country where workers are treated like merchandise and their rights are easily violated.
The government keeps telling us that it has also negotiated a side agreement on labour and another on the environment. We know that these types of agreements are ineffective. They are not part of the free trade agreement and investors could with impunity destroy Colombia's rich environment, displace people to facilitate mine development and continue to murder trade unionists.
We should also mention that the free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia, signed in 2006, is also stalled on the issue of human rights. This agreement will not be ratified by Congress until Colombia strengthens its legislation to protect minimum labour standards and union activities.
The Canadian government, which boasts about following in the footsteps of its American big brother in many areas, including the environment, and waits for its decisions, is missing out on the opportunity to follow its lead in this case.
Colombia is Canada's fifth-largest trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the seventh-largest source of imports from this area. So, Canada has more important trading partners than Colombia.
In recent years, trade between Canada and the other Latin American countries has increased considerably, which has meant a smaller share of trade with Colombia than with other countries in the region.
Canada exports primarily cars and car parts, and grains, which represented 23% and 19% respectively of our 2007 exports, and which primarily favour Ontario and the prairies. Most of Canada's investments in Colombia are in the mining industry.
In light of this information regarding trade between Canada and Colombia, we are having a very hard time understanding why Canada would want to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia. When two countries enter into free trade agreements, it usually means they are special trading partners who trade sufficiently to make it worthwhile to lower trade barriers.
Let us be candid: Colombia is not a very attractive market, considering that trade between the two countries is quite limited. The main products that Canada sells there, like grain from western Canada, have no difficulty finding a buyer in these times of food crises. Exporters in Quebec and Canada would see limited benefits, at best, from signing this agreement.
We imagine that some Canadian companies might be attracted, but we find it hard to see how the public in Quebec or Canada will benefit at all from this.
The real danger is that with Colombia, the Conservative government is handing responsibility for deciding what is in the best interest of the people over to multinationals. That is not reassuring.
Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in Latin America. The Conservatives keep saying that the human rights situation in Colombia has improved significantly. It may be less catastrophic than it was a few years ago, but it is still far from ideal.
If we take a close look at the situation in Colombia, we see that it is one of the worst places in the world for respecting workers' rights. Trade unionists are targeted because of their activities. They are threatened, kidnapped and murdered. The statistics are devastating. Since 1986, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered. Although these murders declined somewhat in 2001, they have increased since 2007. That year, 39 trade unionists were murdered and another 46 were murdered in 2008, an 18% increase in one year. According to Mariano Jose Guerra, the regional president of the National Federation of Public Sector Workers in Colombia, thousands of people have disappeared and the persecution of unions continues.
Colombia does not have a legal framework to govern collective bargaining. In fact, about 95% of the public sector workforce is not covered by collective bargaining legislation. Colombian civil society obviously opposes this agreement. The Coalition of Social Movements and Organizations of Colombia delegation is refuting the claims made by the Colombian and Canadian governments: the human rights situation in Colombia has not improved.
I, along with my Bloc Québécois colleagues, will be voting against this bill, which puts business interests ahead of human rights in Colombia.
Mr. Speaker, I was pleased that the member mentioned that Colombia is Canada's fifth largest trading partner in Latin America, so that it does not rank very high at all in the scheme of things.
The question is why is the government spending so much political capital trying to get this agreement through and why is it so fixated on it, when the government normally likes to follow the Americans? What do we see happening in the United States?
We met with house representatives and senators in Congress in February. Each Republican we talked to, although not all, was basically lamenting the fact that the agreement had no chance of getting through the United States Congress. It has been kicking around for three or four years now. It did not get through before Obama became President and now it has no hope to getting through.
Undaunted by that, the member for comes up with an amendment that he thinks is going to help get this deal through. As a matter of fact, this deal was dead until the Liberals resurrected it. This deal was going nowhere and it has been saved by the Liberals and the member for Kings--Hants.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I simply do not understand why the Conservative government is going ahead with this proposed agreement. The only possible explanation is the trade interests and the interests of investors already present in that country, who want to have complete freedom to do whatever they like in order to make as much profit as possible. I think proceeding in this way will tarnish the country's reputation, especially since as my colleague just mentioned, even the United States—normally the champion of free enterprise—is reluctant to sign this agreement. They might never sign it because they do not want to lose their reputation and trample on human rights in this way.
Mr. Speaker, I fundamentally disagree with the hon. member and his party's position on this free trade agreement. There was a tiny hint of honesty in his statement. He did at least admit that the human rights situation is better in Colombia. I stated in my earlier remarks that we have to measure this based on the progress that Colombia has made.
What the NDP and the Bloc are expecting from Colombia is perfection. They want there to be a perfect human rights regime before Canada ever does business and enhances its trade opportunities there.
I want to again refer the member to the example of Chile. As he knows, Chile had the worst human rights record in South America and perhaps in the world in the 1970s under the Pinochet regime. Today it has the lowest murder rate in South America. In fact, our trade with that country has almost tripled since we signed a free trade agreement with that country.
I would ask the member to comment on the example of Chile, which is not far from Colombia, which has a similar context in which it has developed.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member from for his question, which gives me the opportunity to elaborate. Protecting investors is included in the proposed agreement, which means that investors can take a foreign government to court for any policy it might try to introduce in order to improve things for workers or to protect the environment. That is the most contentious part of the proposed agreement. Without such an agreement, a government like Canada's could influence Columbia more to improve the lives of the people there. Canada would have the power to persuade Colombia to improve human rights, unlike what will happen with an agreement that gives investors all the rights.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to this bill and to how the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and the parallel agreements on labour and the environment fit into Canada's engagement in the Americas.
It has become increasing apparent that Canada's economic prosperity, our commitment to democratic governance and the security of our citizens are linked with those of our neighbours. It was with this in mind that our announced in the summer of 2007 that the Americas would constitute a key foreign policy priority for our government. He stated clearly that Canada's vision for the region and our strategy of renewed engagement in the Americas would be based on three interconnected and mutually reinforcing pillars: first, strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance; second, building a safe and secure hemisphere; and third, enhancing the prosperity of citizens.
With strong leadership in the Americas, we can ensure that Canadians are safer, more secure and more prosperous. We all know that greater prosperity cannot take hold without security or without the freedoms and laws brought about through democratic governance.
On the democracy front, Canada's efforts in the region have included contributions to numerous Organization of American States electoral monitoring missions. We will continue to work hard to strengthen the capability of this organization in the area of democracy support.
Canada has also provided assistance to non-governmental partners in the region to deepen citizen participation and has also strengthened its diplomatic capabilities in the region.
This past fall we launched a new Andean unit of democratic governance in Lima, Peru to support regional efforts to enhance democratic practices, transparency and good governance.
Our decision to strengthen our engagement in the Americas actively and constructively is being noticed around the world. We are a key regional player. Canada is now firmly on the radar screen of our partners who are increasingly realizing that Canada is present to support their efforts.
Our government has provided leadership internationally by encouraging free trade and open markets. Our commitment to opening doors, not closing them, is a key component of our engagement in the Americas and around the world.
As host of the G8 and co-host of the G20 this year, we will ensure that prosperity in the Americas constitutes a topic of discussion at these meetings. We are committed to our efforts for free trade, not protectionism, around the world.
In addition to our commercial engagement in the region, Canada also has a significant investment presence. In fact, Canada is the third largest national investor in the Americas. Our investment presence is strong in the financial sector and also in the extractive sectors.
In recent years, Canadian banks have increased their presence throughout the Americas. Canadian mining companies have substantial operations in many countries throughout the region and some mines have become very important contributors to national revenues, job creation and local capacity-building. Our investment presence in the region also serves as an example of the best practices of corporate social responsibility.
Similarly, democratic governance cannot be consolidated in the context of persistent poverty and social exclusion or when personal security is threatened by crime and violence.
With regard to security, Canada's key objective is to enhance regional stability by addressing threats posed by drug trafficking, organized crime, health pandemics and natural disasters.
Our efforts focus on Central America and the Caribbean, the area where criminal activity constitutes the most direct threat to Canada. Activities include support for training of local police, the purchase of equipment and the provision of technical and legal expertise. We will also look to increasing our anti-crime programming in the region, focusing specifically on corruption, money laundering, narco-trafficking, security sector reform and human trafficking.
In addition to these efforts, we enhanced our diplomatic resources in the region by launching a regional office for peace and security in Panama late last year. This unit will work to advance Canada's efforts to develop and implement an integrated regional strategy for addressing public security issues in the Americas.
All Canadians, and indeed the world, were shocked by the huge tragedy in Haiti. Canada's rapid and comprehensive response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year is also indicative of our commitment to the region and, specifically, to those people in Haiti. To facilitate international coordination of a response to the crisis, on January 25 Canada hosted the Montreal ministerial preparatory conference on Haiti. At this conference, consensus was achieved around a set of key principles that will serve to guide international efforts going forward.
During the subsequent pledging conference held in New York, Canada confirmed our long-term commitment to Haiti and announced a contribution of $400 million for humanitarian and reconstruction work in Haiti.
Canada is committed to supporting Haiti for the long term. However, Canada is committed to doing humanitarian and reconstruction programs around the world. Recovery and construction efforts will take years and Canada will stand by the Government of Haiti and the Haitian population to build a better Haiti. Our common vision with Haiti and the international community is a country built squarely on the foundations of security, sovereignty, rule of law, economic prosperity, equality, inclusion, social well-being and human rights.
Haitians must have ownership over their recovery. Haiti's government, community and business leaders must act as agents of change, putting the interests of the Haitian people first. There is much work to be done in Haiti.
As we continue to enhance our renewed engagement in the Americas, we intend to continue to build on the successful achievements to date, and there is work to be done. However, progress will not be easy as we will be dealing with a region currently grappling with numerous challenges and uncertainties.
Today we heard a couple of the opposition parties dwelling only on those challenges. Insecurity is a serious concern, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, where gangs and organized crime groups pose serious security in government's challenges. Health pandemics, as well as natural disasters, also pose significant threats to regional stability and security. Weak democratic institutions in several states throughout the region is a concern. Declining trust among citizens of politicians and political parties is troubling as well.
Of course, the challenges to democratic governance and ensuring security that we currently face in the hemisphere are set against the backdrop of a thin and uneven economic recovery in a region of the world already facing huge income disparities. It is part of the world where there are massive challenges.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement embodies many of the different areas of focus for Canada's engagement in the Americas. Canada has an active agenda for the future of our engagement in the Americas. We believe that we have a real opportunity in Colombia to bring our Americas agenda to the world stage. The safety, the security and the prosperity of Canadians depends on it.
Mr. Speaker, is my honourable colleague aware of what is happening in Colombia today? Does he know that one of the biggest scandals to hit the Colombian government has just come to light? The secret police has embarked on a program of disinformation, a program to discredit, scam, fabricate false ties to the guerrillas, falsify documents, sabotage, threaten, blackmail and commit terrorist acts against opposition parties, NGOs, political leaders of the opposition and others in the country. It is scandalous.
Is my colleague aware of this? Does he not wonder why Mercosur—the South American common market encompassing Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay—does not want to do business with Colombia?
I know why. It does not want to do business with Colombia because it is a corrupt country that does not respect human rights.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that Canada is the greatest country in the world, as I am sure the hon. member would.
One of the differences I see is that we get stronger and better when we reach out, which is what we are intending to do through this agreement. Our economy is based on an open, free market system where trade agreements are sought and where there is less government intrusion and much less regulation and red tape. That is on our side.
The member is pointing to corruption. In my speech I acknowledged that there was corruption in many of the American states. However when we watch the evolution of Colombia and see how it gained independence from Spain, how it was part of a greater community called Grand Colombia with Venezuela, Colombia and maybe Ecuador, it has progressed since then.
A turning point came in 2002 when the new President Uribe took power. He came with a view to opening markets. He came with a view to lessening corruption. We saw poverty drop by 22% in Colombia and unemployment drop by 27%. We saw hope instilled in Colombia. Free trade agreements similar to this one would enhance both that government and our country as well.
In the region, with Venezuela and some of the other countries around, when we can support--
Order, please. Question and comments. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.
Mr. Speaker, the speaker for the Conservatives actually admits that the human rights record in Colombia is bad. In spite of that, they are basically pushing ahead with this deal because they want to support the investors and their positions.
We have had people and organizations solidly opposed to this trade agreement. The Council of Canadians, CUPE, B.C. Teachers Federation, Canadian Labour Congress, Canadian Auto Workers, United Church of Canada, Public Service Alliance and many more organizations across the country have studied this free trade deal and have recognized that it is a bad deal and that the government should not be proceeding with it.
Why is the government proceeding in the face of all of this opposition against it?
Mr. Speaker, the fact that the member would stand and read out a number of the organizations that would oppose it does not surprise me. The opposition to this by most of those organizations would not surprise me.
We will support this because, first, it is in the best interests of Canada. It follows our focus on the Americas. It is matched to a greater plan of providing stability to the region and providing a country that borders Venezuela with a little more hope when it is next to a regime that really forgets about human rights and walks away from many human rights.
There is hope in Colombia and hope with the new president. We have seen a drop in crime. We have seen a drop in a lot of things since 2002. Free trade agreements would enhance that even more.
Mr. Speaker, about 45 years ago I had the opportunity as a student in the United Kingdom to watch the first debate that took place in the U.K. on the question of the common market and Britain's membership in the common market. It was very interesting to watch that debate, because the trade union movement lined up consistently against Britain's joining the European community. The Labour Party, of course, was very badly divided, but generally speaking on the left-hand side of the spectrum the universal view was that any kind of expansion of a free trade zone was going to be a bad thing for trade unionism, a bad thing for human rights, a bad thing for British political institutions.
It is very interesting today if we go back and talk to the trade union leadership in the United Kingdom. We find the strongest Europeans are the leaders of the British trade union movement. The people who believe the most strongly in the need for broadening trade areas, for expanding trade opportunities, can be found in the British labour movement.
What I find both interesting and troubling is that the same evolution has not taken place in this country. We have to recognize that the issue of trade is fundamental to the prosperity of Canada. More than 50% of the wealth of Canada, of the GDP of Canada every year, comes from our international presence. It comes from trade. If we were to be cut off from trade, from investment, from a world of international engagement on the economic front, our prosperity as a country would be literally cut in half.
Again, I know there will frequently be people trying to see partisan issues or partisan advantage in here, but for me the question is: What is in the broad public interest of Canada? We are a trading country. We are a smaller country. We are not a big superpower. We cannot impose our trade conditions on other countries. We do best when we have strong multilateral agreements, and if I had my druthers, if I had my preferences, I would say we would like a Doha round that is going to produce greater, stronger multilateral engagement, much stronger multilateral protection, much stronger multilateral rules for Canada, and that would be the direction in which we would want to move.
However, the world reality is that we do not have stronger multilateral agreements as a real possibility today. The Doha round is frozen, and there is no particular progress being made in that regard. Governments in this country, both Liberal and Conservative, have over the last 15 to 20 years asked how we can expand the world of not only freer trade, but trade that is governed by the rule of law, trade that now is increasingly expanding other relationships in terms of our social and political relationships. How can that take place?
Over the last while, we have had free trade agreements with Israel and now with Jordan. We have had free trade agreements with Chile and with Peru, which has just been passed, and we have other agreements that are being carried out.
For its part, the Government of Colombia made an important decision to open its market by signing free trade agreements with Andean nations and all of its neighbours except Venezuela.
It is also discussing the possibility of signing an agreement with the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, and with the European Union in general. Such an agreement would be very important for Colombia, which also wants to sign agreements with the United States and Canada.
I hear a lot of criticism about this, mostly with respect to the human rights situation. The Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party say that the human rights situation in Colombia is so bad that it would be unthinkable to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia.
The member who just spoke said that Colombia is so corrupt that we should not even consider signing a free trade agreement with it.
However, I would say that it is precisely because a country like Colombia has problems that the rest of the world should make an effort to negotiate agreements. Trade would then be carried out in accordance with international law, and we would have the opportunity for ongoing dialogue about labour rights, workers' rights, union issues, violent crime, drugs and human rights. That is what this accord sets out to do, and that is what the committee will discuss.
I am not suggesting that there are no problems in Colombia. On the contrary, there are. But will a free trade agreement really cause more problems? I do not think so. I think that, on the contrary, it could improve the situation. With the amendments proposed by my colleague, the member for , this agreement will finally give us an opportunity to take a closer look at the human rights situation.
I have heard some things said about this agreement, but there is one argument in particular coming from my friends in the New Democratic Party that I want to deal with.
I have heard it said by many members of the New Democratic Party that the amendment proposed by my colleague from essentially says this. Colombia will do its own review of its own human rights situation, and Canada will do its own review of its own human rights situation, and that is the extent of the monitoring that is proposed in the amendment. I want to say that is categorically false.
That is a false description of the amendment and of what is proposed. For the first time in a free trade agreement, we have a very clear indication that the question of human rights in Colombia will be reviewed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, NGOs in Canada, any international organizations that are hired by or contracted by either the Government of Canada or any human rights organization in Canada that wants to do so. It is allowed to come forward to Parliament, and Parliament is allowed to discuss that. These are the reviews that are anticipated in the amendment and these are the reviews that can take place.
When I look at the situation, no one on our side of the House is saying that the human rights situation in Colombia is great and that there are no social or economic problems in Colombia. We are not saying that.
What we are saying is that the steady extension of the rule of law as it pertains to commerce, human rights, the rights of labour and the rights of environment, the steady pushing of those frontiers from a Canadian base is the best we can do right now, because the multilateral agreements that we have been looking for, such as in the Doha round, are not possible.
It is not possible to put up our walls and say we are not coming back. Let us just say this agreement were to be defeated, that the House voted against it. Would trade with Colombia stop? No. Would investment in Colombia stop? No. Would there be more or less monitoring of that trade? There would actually be less. When have we debated most significantly the human rights situation in Colombia? Right now as a result of this legislation.
This is what puts the spotlight on human rights in Colombia. This is what puts the spotlight on human rights in Latin America. This is what puts the spotlight on the connection between trade, the environment, human rights and the rights of labour. I would rather be doing it this way than leaving it in the darkness, which my friends in the Bloc and the New Democratic Party seem so happy to do.
Mr. Speaker, it all becomes clear. The Conservative-Liberal coalition, or the Liberal-Conservative coalition, is taking shape. Never mind principles; money and investments are being protected and that protection has nothing to do with the free trade agreement with Colombia.
They simply want to protect investments. I totally understand the hon. member who just spoke and quite handily avoided talking about this, but we get the impression that investments in mining are being protected and that this has nothing to do with free trade with another country.
I also understand that other people are talking while I am, even though they are not allowed to do so, but that is another story.
I would like to know what the hon. member has to say about being so quick to abandon his principles regarding what is going on in Colombia in order to protect investments.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say two things. First, in a modern economy, there is nothing wrong with wanting to protect investments, and it is not a sin to want to protect property rights.
At the same time, it is very important that we respect all general human rights and labour rights. Furthermore, there are more than just property rights. It is not simply a matter of protecting the investors, because investors are always protected. They are already protected and they have no problem.
Do Canadian foreign investors in Colombia think that they have no protection in Colombia? On the contrary, they are already there because they are protected, and they will not disappear if there is no agreement.
What really matters to us is how we will do it. We will expand the notion that rights are applicable everywhere, and that they are shared throughout the world.
Is that the opposite of property rights? I do not think so. Is it limited to property rights? I do not think so either.
Mr. Speaker, given the dirty tricks that happened in the House last Friday, every single Liberal member of Parliament should be standing up this evening and voting against this agreement on that basis alone. The reason why the Conservatives are bringing in dirty tricks is that the public is clearly not on their side.
As the member well knows, in Toronto just a week and a half ago, there was another standing-room-only crowd coming forward. Many of his constituents and constituents from other Liberal-held ridings in Toronto were saying no to this agreement. The reality is that there is not a single independent human rights organization on the planet that agrees with the Liberal Party.
My question is very simple. I do not want any skating from the member, even though he has said in the past that he likes to skate. Given this amendment that is being put forward and given the fact that so many organizations are saying they want to come forward to the trade committee and have their voice heard on the amendment and on the agreement themselves, will the member say publicly that the Liberal Party will support full and comprehensive hearings at the trade committee, if it takes weeks or months, so everybody's voice is heard?
Mr. Speaker, I am sure we will have a full and ample discussion at the committee. There is no question about that. There is no reason to insult anybody who either appears or does not want to appear in front of the committee. We very much look forward to a full and open discussion.
What I find fascinating when I listen to the members of the hon. member's party is that they are literally frozen in time when it comes to this question of trade. Every single social democratic party in Europe has moved on. The one party that has not moved on and that is proud to wrap itself in the ideology of the 1950s and the 1960s is the New Democratic Party of Canada. That is the reason it is stuck in time, stuck in place and stuck in the polls, and that is where it is going to stay.
Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the opportunity to speak about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
Let me take a moment to tell my colleagues that since 2006 the Government of Canada has achieved a number of important milestones in the area of international trade. We have concluded new free trade agreements with Colombia, Peru, Jordan, Panama, the European Free Trade Association, and the countries of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. We have launched negotiations on a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union, the world's largest market by GDP, and we have begun negotiating with a range of countries on foreign investment promotion and protection agreements, air service agreements, and science and technology partnerships.
Our government's aggressive free trade agenda is crucial for a lasting economic recovery. We are ensuring that Canadian business can compete. We are ensuring they can compete responsibly.
I would like to speak to the issue of corporate social responsibility as it relates to the agreement. The Government of Canada takes matters of corporate social responsibility very seriously, which is why this free trade agreement, as well as parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, includes CSR.
Responsible business conduct reinforces the positive effects that trade and investment can have on the communities in which they operate. It can improve human rights, labour standards and the environment, while increasing the competitiveness of firms.
Not only do these agreements advance the government's policy to promote corporate social responsibility in Canada, but they also encourage our treaty partners to increase corporate social responsibility. By signing on to these agreements, Colombia has indicated that it is committed to promoting the same principles of corporate social responsibility within its business community. Both Canada and Colombia have agreed to support positive corporate social responsibility practices and remind enterprises of the importance of incorporating that in their internal policies.
Corporate social responsibility activities address a number of concerns, specifically environmental protection, human rights, labour relations, corporate governance, transparency, community relations, peace and security, and anti-corruption measures. At its core, corporate social responsibility incorporates social, economic and environmental concerns into the daily operations of firms to benefit industry and society, with particular consideration for the community in which they are operating.
Given that Canada and Colombia have a significant investment relationship, it was critical to include corporate social responsibilities in these important agreements. Provisions in these agreements encourage both governments to promote voluntary principles of responsible business conduct within their business communities. The parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment also help ensure that increased business between our countries does not come at the expense of our social and environmental responsibilities.
Aside from these agreements, Canada is involved in several initiatives to help promote these principles.
Canadian extractive companies are world leaders in corporate social responsibility. Our government is committed to supporting these Canadian companies in their efforts abroad.
In March 2009 the government announced a comprehensive corporate social responsibility strategy. Today we see that these measures are working. Based on extensive consultations with stakeholders, the mining industry and non-governmental organizations, our government's strategy represents a workable, proactive and effective approach. This initiative will increase the competitiveness of Canadian mining and oil and gas companies by enhancing their ability to meet, and possibly exceed, their social and environmental responsibilities abroad.
However, that is not all. The government is supporting a new centre of excellence, independent of the government, to develop and disseminate high-quality CSR tools, training and information to sector stakeholders. We created a new corporate social responsibility counsellor office to help resolve any issues that arise between Canadian companies and the communities in which they operate. Currently, Dr. Marketa Evans, Canada's CSR counsellor, is working to address the concerns of corporate social responsibility beyond our borders.
Furthermore, Canada will continue to offer its support for host country capacity-building initiatives related to resource governance and commitments to the promotion of widely-recognized international voluntary CSR standards. Members will note that an important aspect of Canada's approach is adherence to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines for multinational enterprises.
The organization's guidelines promote CSR and have been a long-standing key element of Canada's CSR approach. The guidelines recommend voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct, including the establishment of a national contact point.
The role of this contact point is to resolve differences of opinion among CSR stakeholders and to promote awareness of the guidelines and ensure their effective implementation. Canadian companies are encouraged to follow these guidelines, as well as those of the international finance corporation performance standards, the voluntary principles on security and human rights and the global reporting initiative. These are multilateral instruments promoting CSR that are key elements of Canada's approach to the issue.
Canada also supports and promotes CSR principles within the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the G8, Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation and La Francophonie. Let us make this very clear. We have appointed a CSR counsellor to assist in resolving social and environmental issues relating to Canadian companies abroad and we are establishing a new centre of excellence as a one-stop shop to provide information for companies, NGOs and others.
We will offer continuing CIDA assistance to foreign governments to develop their capacity to manage natural resource development in a sustainable and responsible manner. We will continue to promote internationally recognized voluntary CSR performance and reporting guidelines. Canadians can be proud of our government's commitment to this and Canadian companies can continue to be leaders here in Canada and beyond. We need to give them the tools to compete and succeed among the best. They can serve as an example.
Since February 2007 Canada has been a supporting country for the extractive industries transparency initiative, an organization that publishes payments by extractive sector companies to resource-rich governments and compares them with government records in an open and accountable manner. The publication of these records potentially expose corrupt transactions, as well as governmental integrity.
Honest governments that apply their revenues to benefit all their citizens are generally better governments. This government expects all Canadians operating at home and abroad to respect all applicable laws and international standards. They must also operate transparently and in consultation with host governments and local communities to ensure activities are conducted in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
As we can see, Canada is committed to promoting CSR and is proud to encourage our trading partners to do the same. The government believes that liberalized, rules-based trade and social and environmental responsibilities go hand in hand. Corporate social responsibility is an important part of this principle. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement recognizes this and is an important tool to create opportunities for Canadians in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.
For these reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support of this agreement.
Mr. Speaker, I note how the government's position is so radically different than ours in the NDP. What is the problem with understanding the nature of human rights complaints in Colombia? What sort of vision do Conservatives have over there of the situation in Colombia in which they can ignore the facts?
As my hon. member says, is it simply that they do not care? Is it a real desire to see this Colombia trade deal move ahead before the next election so that the present regime in Colombia can hold it up like a flag saying, “Canada supports us, we must be doing something right?” What is going on with this?
Mr. Speaker, a few minutes ago I heard my colleague across the aisle talk about the NDP being locked in the 1950s and 1960s with its ideology and it certainly comes out again in this comment.
I do not know what the NDP thinks. Is it that we will build some sort of wall around Colombia that will all of a sudden change things? We already have companies trading with Colombia. We already have investment in Colombia. This is an agreement that will insist on Colombia moving forward with respect to its labour and social obligations. This is good for Canada but it is also good for Colombians, and I wish the NDP would at least get into this century.
Like I said, my colleague across the floor was absolutely right. The NDP is locked in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mr. Speaker, I want to revert to a question I asked one of his colleagues earlier. For reasons of consistency I will do much of the same. The parallel accord regarding labour and some of the fundamental policies that will ensue from the nation of Colombia regarding labour practices certainly are about to fall in line, according to this agreement, with what we are doing here.
Perhaps the member would like to provide the House with an example of some of those labour policies that we have in this country that he hopes that the nation of Colombia will adopt as well.
Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague has actually hit the nail on the head where those parties that are opposed do not seem to grasp. With the opportunity for Colombia to move ahead by leaps and bounds to the standards that we have in this country, some of these issues will be far better for Colombia and Colombians in that we will have that opportunity.
With the economic boost to them, to their labour, and to their social opportunities, this is tremendous. It is also good for Canadians. It gives us opportunities to trade with Colombia in a free trade agreement. As I said previously, we currently trade with Colombia. There is no reason why we cannot enhance that trade. As we do it, it will be of benefit to both countries.
Mr. Speaker, as my colleague knows, and I thank him for his intervention, the NDP and Bloc members are opposing this basically because their opposition is rooted in an isolationist, socialist ideology.
My friend also knows that the NDP members today are couching their opposition in terms of human rights and labour laws, but back in the 1980s, when we were debating the North American Free Trade Agreement, they were actually opposed to that agreement as well when those issues were not at play.
Perhaps my colleague could comment on that and the fact that there probably is not one free trade agreement that the NDP has ever supported in the House.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. The NDP has been opposed to every free trade agreement that I know of that has come before the House. This is just one more step in that long list of complaints that it has about free trade.
Mr. Speaker, I first want to say that I understand completely the efforts on the part of members of the other opposition parties in expressing the concern regarding human rights. I indeed applaud them for ensuring that this is such a significant part of the debate.
I want to stress that we as Liberals share all of those same concerns. This is one of the ironies of this debate, and I would suggest that this is true for most members of the House in its entirety, that we are all very concerned about human rights, that we all want to see significant improvement in human rights for all Colombians.
I suggest that the differences lie not in our collective desire to see improvement and our collective concern for human rights but our views on how to accomplish that, and in this case in particular for Colombians. It comes down to a difference of approach, whether we support the approach of using walls as opposed to windows, of avoiding versus engaging, and engaging in criticism as opposed to providing support.
I completely agree with the members of the opposition parties about human right in Colombia. We know that respect for human rights is a problem in that country. The Liberal Party wants to see change, and I believe the same can be said for most members in the House, no matter which party they belong to.
We know that there are problems and of course we want to find solutions for Colombians with respect to the human rights situation, but the question is how. How can we really help Colombia? Is it better to use walls or windows? Is it better to criticize or to provide support when that country takes action to improve the situation? Is it better to deny there are problems or engage in fixing them?
I want to speak a bit about those three different approaches.
If we talk about walls versus windows, is it better for the people of Colombia to have Canadians says that this is a problem, that we disagree with it, that we see human rights as a big problem so we will not participate? Is it better to tell Colombia to put up its walls so we will not see what goes on behind them? Is it better to say that windows are a better approach so we can see through them, so they will shed daylight on what goes on, so they can be opened and allow in fresh air?
These are serious issues. These analogies may seem somewhat simplistic, but they do make the point, in my view, of whether it is better to raise walls and hide behind them and pretend that we do not see what goes on, or whether it is better for Colombia to have an opportunity to open those windows to allow the light in, to allow us to participate in a dialogue.
Is it better to criticize, or is it better to support Colombia? We could say no to this free trade agreement thereby limiting our economic engagement with Colombia. We could say from that perspective that we do not agree with what happens there, that it should be changed, but it is all just criticism.
The alternative is for Canadians to provide support, and the only way for us to support Colombia is to engage with Colombia. It is absolutely a difference between a philosophy of trade and an opportunity to engage, as opposed to some people unfortunately viewing trade as somehow encouraging behaviour that we do not support.
I stand here on not only a very personal basis, but on behalf of the Liberal Party as well. We feel very strongly that trade gives us the opportunity to participate and support the government of Colombia, the businesses in Colombia, the Colombian people when they engage in activities that further human rights as opposed to us standing back and criticizing. I would venture that it is all too easy for us to sit back and criticize rather than get involved, do the work and provide support when it is needed.
The other option is avoidance versus engagement. We could just avoid the problem, or we could engage.
As one of my colleagues said a little while ago, if we do not sign this free trade agreement with Colombia, we could all go home and pretend that the problem never existed. However, what on earth would Canada and Canadians be able to do to further human rights and enhance them if this agreement goes off the table? If anybody in the House believes that Canadians and Canada will have any further influence, that there will even be any attention paid to the challenges faced by Colombians, then he or she is naive, with all due respect. It will simply not be part of the discussion any longer.
On the contrary, if we engage, if we sign this free trade agreement, if we involve Canadian businesses with Colombian businesses, if we involve Canadians with Colombians, then it would give us the opportunity to work on a regular basis with the Colombian government, Colombian businesses, Colombian non-profit organizations, Colombian labour movements and the Colombian people to move the whole issue of human rights further. It would give us the opportunity to enhance economic activity, which we believe is fundamental to improving human rights, and to continue, rather than avoiding, rather than having it disappear from anybody's radar screen.
Thanks very much to my colleague from , we now have an amendment to the agreement that would force an additional level of engagement specifically on some of these issues.
I have full respect and admiration for all of my colleagues who have engaged in this conversation, because this is an issue about which we are all concerned. It is a difference of approach.
I will therefore be supporting this bill, specifically because in our view those concerns warrant a much greater level of engagement than simply saying that we are not interested any more.
The Liberal Party truly believes that fuller economic engagement will allow Canada to exert its influence over Colombia in terms of the human rights situation we are currently debating.
Since the election of President Uribe in 2002, Colombia has made progress in reducing violence and human rights violations despite an armed conflict fuelled by the drug trade.
This progress is largely due to close collaboration with international organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Progress has already been made because international organizations have become involved and people are participating in commercial enterprises.
I will stop there because I want to answer my colleagues' questions. We have to decide if we want to build walls or windows; if we want to criticize and deny the problems or become engaged.
In order to truly improve the human rights situation in Colombia, I choose engagement. I will be voting in favour of Bill C-2.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the Liberal member's heartfelt comments, but I do not agree with her walls versus windows analogy. Another possibility would be to build different windows. Colombia has an embassy in Canada and Canada has an embassy in Colombia. There are many ways this debate could move forward.
I have to wonder about the progress made in that country since President Uribe came to power in 2002, as the member mentioned. Are fewer people being killed and imprisoned? Is that progress?
It is strange to hear such arguments. I would like the member to talk about the argument that alternative solutions already exist. However, we must not go from putting up a wall that is a trade barrier to putting up a wall of misunderstanding that would only encourage a government that completely denies civil liberties.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. Some progress has been made, but the situation is not perfect. That is why we are taking part in this debate. We want to improve the human rights situation in Colombia. Is it better to go on criticizing or to offer our support, to show them that we have seen some progress and we want to help them continue in that direction?
I am not the only one saying this. The American President, Mr. Obama, congratulated President Uribe for the progress made in terms of human rights in Colombia and the in fight against the murders of trade unionists in that country. He noted that there had been appreciably fewer deaths related to the labour movement and increased prosecution of individuals who commit egregious human rights violations.
Some progress has been made. Are we going to encourage Colombia or continue criticizing?
Mr. Speaker, it looks as if there will not be free and fair elections in Colombia on May 30.
The international pre-electoral observation mission, an international organization which is in Colombia observing the first round of elections, cites the following violations so far: human rights violations; illegal and armed groups interfering in the electoral process, creating fear and intimidation; and illegal campaign financing, using federal social programming to influence and coerce citizens. It has found a number of problems already before the presidential election on May 30. It is also calling for the Canadian government to back away on Bill until after the elections.
In light of these observations by this international organization, is the member content with her and her party's stance on Bill ?
Mr. Speaker, the point is things are not perfect. I will point out that President Uribe in fact respected the democratic requirements to not run for another term, but that is not the point.
The point is we engage in trade with all sorts of countries that do not have perfect electoral situations. Women do not have the right to vote in a number of countries with which we promote trade. Do I object to that? No. I support engaging in trade as much as possible because of the firm belief that the more we engage in trade, the more we can highlight the fact that we expect to see democratic reforms and improvements to human rights. Rather than hiding behind walls, rather than pretending they are not there and simply not engaging, by engaging and supporting our trading partners, we are also helping them to improve the democratic process and human rights.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak to this issue. Many of my colleagues will not be able to do so now after the shenanigans on Friday, when the opportunity for us to express our opinion on this issue, an opinion that is backed up by groups across the country, was taken away. The support for our position from people right across Canada is very strong. Our voice has been muted in the House by the actions of the Conservative Party. The government has taken that away from us.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the bill. I would like to focus on two aspects of the free trade deal.
We have paid a lot of attention to the aspect of human rights, environmental protection and labour rights. Those issues stand by themselves. Canada should not legitimize a corrupt regime in a country where trade unionists and human rights defenders are murdered with impunity and where drug cartels and paramilitary death squad leaders have infiltrated the government. We should not be doing that. That is pretty clear. Why are we doing it? That is a good question.
The agreement is based on the much discredited NAFTA model of trade and investment that enshrines investors' rights over democratic processes. If we look at all the other countries in South America when it comes to investor rights over a democratic process we will see that they are a little different.
In its submission to the committee studying this bill, the Canadian Labour Congress said:
|| Authentic democracy and the respect for human rights are not the direct outcome of free trade. If human rights and the security of the person are not upheld, neither are the democratic rights of millions of Colombians. Since January 2007, there have been 115 trade unionists murdered.
Rather than being a trade agreement, this is a trade and investment agreement. Something we have to understand is that this is Canada and the free traders' toehold in South America. There is virtually no other country in South America that is going to put up with this kind of agreement.
These countries want control of their own resources. They want to build their own states. They are a little tired and a little turned off by the last 30 years of imperialism on the economic front throughout South America. That has led to democratically elected governments in many of these countries that are standing up for their rights to control their resources, to control their economies and to make the right moves so that their people can move ahead.
That is what is happening in the rest of South America. The free traders have a toehold in South America where the rules that we thought were great will still be upheld by a corrupt and decadent government that has nothing in comparison to the human rights that we espouse.
What is it that we are going to accomplish for Canada with this action? We are going to fight a rearguard action in South America against the direction the democratically elected governments of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela have all said they are interested in going. They are interested in controlling resources and in returning investment to their people.
Now, that is a problem for those who are free traders, who want to protect multinational corporations' investing in other countries. That is a problem and we need to strike a balance. However, the balance is not going to be struck in Colombia. The balance is going to be struck with the majority of the countries in South America. What is Canada doing with this agreement with Colombia? It is painting itself into a corner and I do not think that is correct.
The Conference Board of Canada said:
|| Our annual trade with Colombia is about the same level as that with South Dakota and is actually smaller than that with Delaware or Rhode Island. Compared to other markets much closer, Colombia is not really a major player. Eighty per cent of Colombia’s imports to Canada are actually duty free already. The gains from free trade are probably not as great as they would be in other cases.
It is really not about the money. It is not about the $1.3 billion that we trade with Colombia. That is not going to be much altered by that. What we are not doing is reaching out for a new future in South America as people are doing right now in all those other countries. We could talk about a better arrangement with South America. That is what we should be discussing here.
We have been accused of being Luddites or of living in the past, but we are living in today. We are not living in a past that said our goal in this world is simply to exploit other countries. It is to have other countries grow as we want to grow. That is a New Democratic position. I hope that position can permeate some of the other parties. I am sure there are many people here who support that.
There is a regional trade agreement among Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay founded in 1991. They want a common market in South America. They want to work together in that region to build their economies and to make a better future for their people. Why are we not supporting that kind of effort? Why are we not engaging with those countries? Why are we engaging with Colombia?
The countries under Mercosur are Canada's largest export market in South America and home to significant Canadian investment already. We are working there. They are the countries we should be actively engaging with. Colombia is the odd man out.
Comments have been made to me by my constituents about the nature of the amendment that has been put forward by the Liberal Party and supported by the Conservative Party for assessments by individual countries on this particular deal. My constituents are saying that they will not be satisfied with anything less than an independent impact assessment conducted by an independent third party. Reports generated by the Colombian government are not satisfactory. They are not trustworthy. We cannot go ahead with an agreement in that fashion.
The haste to move ahead with this for political purposes perhaps, with the election coming up in Colombia at the end of May are not reasons for us to move ahead with this agreement.
There is no great rush for increased trade with Colombia. There is a great rush to keep that toehold in South America.
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the hon. member's speech. We know that the government has sent the RCMP after a person who had a business dealing with a man suspected of illegal activity, but it is prepared, without restriction, to sign a trade agreement with a corrupt government that is suspected of committing abuses and murdering union leaders. What is wrong with this picture?
Mr. Speaker, in reality, they are very similar because the has asked the RCMP to investigate the minister for a very political reason, to get this political problem out of his jurisdiction.
Why are we going to bat for a country and setting up a free trade agreement with a government that has such an insidious record?
Logic has it that the most likely indicator of future performance is past performance. We have the past performance of the Colombian government, the present performance of the government, and the future performance of the government will likely be somewhat similar. However, our Conservative government, supported by the Liberals, says that we should do this anyhow. It is political. That is why the government is doing it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to hear the member talk so passionately on the issue of human rights. Being of my generation, which was the Trudeau generation, and the discussion of human rights in our country during that era, it is quite shocking today to see the Liberals making haste to help conclude a trade agreement with a country with a record that even the United States in its pro-free trade agreement stance in the world is stepping away from.
I understand that the member was a mayor of a community. Probably in that capacity he worked within collective agreements. In collective agreements when there is a complex issue and both parties want to put it aside, they sign letters of intent, side agreements, that have no weight in law whatsoever but are an agreement to proceed in a certain manner. We have the same thing with respect to this agreement. The parties are talking about the rights of trade unionists and other rights in side agreements when they should be in the core of the agreement.
On the issue of free trade agreements, why did we fight them for so many years? All one has to do is look at Hamilton where I am from. We lost 50,000 jobs to free trade. In Ontario, in the first two years of the original free trade agreement, 500,000 jobs were lost. That is why we oppose them.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot agree with my colleague more about the nature of these potential sidebar agreements to this trade agreement. They are not worth it. They are not worthy of consideration in this larger agreement. I have real troubles with the agreement and I have expressed them, but the nature of these side agreements that have been proposed are simply not adequate.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the House today to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
This is an important agreement for Canada, Canadian workers and our farmers and producers alike. Farmers need trade to survive.
Now more than ever, we need to be doing everything we can to open doors for Canadians, to create new commercial opportunities around the world and to work beyond our borders to help Canadians to succeed. Canadian businesses need access to markets in order to compete, grow and succeed. That is why the free trade agreement is such an important accomplishment.
Canadian businesses and investors have long called for closer economic co-operation with Colombia, and our government will answer the call.
In 2009, our two-way trade in merchandise totalled $1.3 billion. Key Canadian products, such as cereals, wheat and barley, machinery, pulse crops, paper and motor vehicles, are the driving forces behind this achievement. Once this new agreement is in place, it will be easier for Canadian companies to trade in those products, along with many other products, like beef, pork, liquor, wine, machinery and mining equipment. Trade will flourish. These companies certainly see the clear progress Colombians have made in recent years to tackle difficult challenges in their own country. Our government wants to continue to support this progress and to help create new opportunities for Colombians within our commercial relationship, and we want to do so in a positive and responsible manner.
Our companies recognize the economic potential of Colombia. I will give a specific example. Earlier this month, our government announced that Colombia has reopened its market to Canadian cattle effective immediately. This is proof of the strong relationship we have with Colombia and now we are getting things done for Canadian farmers.
Colombia is a vibrant and dynamic market for Canadian exporters. It is a significant growing source for imports that are important to Canadian consumers and businesses. At the same time, it is a very appealing market for exporters and foreign investors. It is a market of 48 million people.
Once this free trade agreement is in place, Canadian exporters and investors in a broad range of sectors will benefit from lower trade and investment barriers in the Colombian market.
Upon its implementation, Colombia will eliminate tariffs on nearly all current exports, including wheat, pulses and mining equipment. The reality is that Canadian exports, particularly commodities, are already at some disadvantage due to many of our main competitors, such as the U.S., and their geographic closeness to their markets.
These disadvantages of course will get worse if the U.S. and Colombia sign their own free trade agreement. If we wait to implement our agreement, we risk seeing Canadian exporters further disadvantaged in the important market. Many other Canadian exporters stand to lose by delaying implementation of this agreement.
Colombia maintains a tariff averaging 17% on agriculture products, with tariffs ranging from 10% to as high as 108% for some pork products, 80% for beef products and 60% for beans. Indeed, agriculture was a key driver for these free trade agreement negotiations. From the very start, we were guided by the principles that a successful outcome in agriculture would be absolutely critical.
Once this free trade agreement is in place, 80% of our agriculture tariffs will be eliminated immediately. This translates into about $25 million of annual duty savings for our producers in key sectors, such as wheat, barley, lentils, beans and beef. Clearly this is a significant benefit for our agriculture sector.
We need this free trade agreement to provide competitive access for Canadian products. By creating new market opportunities for Canadian exporters, this free trade agreement is also expected to have a positive impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector. This sector has been particularly vulnerable during these tough economic times. This sector needs opportunities for growth.
Growth can be achieved in Colombia. With rapid growth in the Colombian economy in recent years, prior to the economic downturn, Canadian companies have made important investments. The strong presence of Canadian companies has also created many export opportunities for Canadian exports of industrial goods.
Some of Canada's leading exporters to Colombia include off-road dump trucks and auto parts. Mining equipment designed and built in Saskatchewan has also found a place in Colombia. Both those products will likely benefit from increasing market access through this free trade agreement.
We need to create these opportunities for Canadian businesses to increase their export potential. Trade agreements are a critical part of these efforts.
We have entered an age of fierce global competition as emerging economies continue climbing the value chain and establishing themselves in an ever-widening range of sectors. We need to listen to Canadian businesses, help them expand their reach into exciting markets and put them on a level playing field with their competitors. The time for Canada to act is now.
Canadian businesses and workers expect their government to put in place trade agreements that allow them to compete in international markets on a level playing field. They have come before the Standing Committee on International Trade on these issues to speak to the benefits of this agreement. We cannot put our exporters at a relative disadvantage.
The Colombia free trade agreement also forms part of the government's efforts to strengthen Canada's engagement in the Americas by fostering economic development and strengthening democracy and security.
As we know, Colombia, as a nation, is making substantial progress toward becoming a more stable and secure nation. Our government wants to support these efforts. Free trade is a vehicle that can help us do that and give entrepreneurship a chance to thrive in communities across the country. We all want a democratic and secure hemisphere, one that is free of the shackles of terrorism, crime and instability. However, we cannot have a democratic and secure nation without creating a path for its own aspirations or without creating jobs and opportunities through the power of international trade and investment. That is what the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement would help to do.
At the same time as we signed this free trade agreement, we also signed two parallel agreements on labour and the environment. These agreements commit both nations to work together to ensure high levels of protection for workers and the environment. Canada believes that freer trade and investment can and must go hand in hand with labour rights and the environment. These agreements with our Colombia partners prove it.
This free trade agreement not only benefits Canada, but it benefits our Colombia partners too.
We are a trading nation. Our businesses can compete with the best in the world. Today I am proud to say that we can find Canadian businesses, Canadian products and Canadian investment dollars at work all over the world.
We have debated this agreement for some 30 hours. We know the merits of this agreement. It is time that we listen to our Canadian companies and work to ensure that they maintain their competitiveness in this market and have a chance to pursue new opportunities.
For those reasons and for the many benefits to our Colombian partners that this agreement would bring, I ask for the support of all hon. members from all parties to stand up for Canadian workers. We must continue these efforts and create new opportunities for all Canadians to thrive and prosper in this global economy.
Mr. Speaker, I know the member who just spoke is a man who is very concerned with the well-being of Canadians and I am sure he is viewing this particular agreement from that perspective and that perspective alone. However, I say to the member that in this House, the NDP, the Bloc and others have tabled petitions by thousands of Canadians asking us not to proceed on this particular agreement.
In addition, as I said a few moments ago to the member for our own party who spoke previously about the side agreements, the side agreements in this particular free trade agreement do not have the teeth necessary to ensure that the murders that have taken place and the treatment that the citizens of Colombia have received at the hands of the paramilitaries will ever change. In fact, the changes that we heard the Liberals talk about in the House just a few moments ago were changes that came about by interventions by the NGOs and others from Canada.
I would like the member's comments on the petitions of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, the one thing we have been doing is listening to Canadians about this agreement. In the agriculture committee alone, we talked about the importance of the Colombia free trade agreement. For example, Mr. Jurgen Preugschas from the Canadian Pork Council stated:
|| We need to pass the bilateral free trade agreements that are in there right now, such as with Colombia.
He needs this trade agreement. Our pork producers need this trade agreement. They came to our committee and told us to get this deal done. They looked at the hon. member for the NDP and said that we needed to get this done.
Why will the NDP not co-operate? Why will it not support our hog producers across Canada and help them get this deal done?
Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely to my hon. colleague's comments and I listened to some of the criticisms from the New Democratic Party.
I think it bears taking a moment to reflect on the fact that the New Democratic Party has never supported a trade agreement in this House, let alone a free trade agreement in this House. The NDP continues to mislead the general public and it uses facts that are absolutely incorrect that it would never repeat outside this House.
How do we deal with that in a democratic forum?
Mr. Speaker, I come from a province that has had an NDP government. It was a government of have nots and a government that could not do. It was a flat earth society in Saskatchewan until we realized that we could, would and did change that. If people look at my province today, they will see the examples of those types of benefits.
I ask my colleagues in the NDP to realize that trade is not evil. If they try to understand it they will recognize the benefits that trade and business provides to our country.
Mr. Speaker, having two Business Excellence Awards under my belt, I certainly do not take any lessons from the hon. member about what is good for business and communities.
What all Conservatives are refusing to mention are the clear links between the Uribe regime and the murderous paramilitary thugs who kill human rights and labour activists. In fact, the Defense Intelligence Agency in the United States talked about Mr. Uribe being a big fan of the Medellin cartel. He developed and prospered in the political system through his links with the Medillin cartel and he is a personal friend of Pablo Escobar.
Since the Conservatives always used to say that they were tough on crime, why are they being soft on the crimes of the Colombian government?
Mr. Speaker, I cannot think of any country in this world that did not have a rocky start. If we look at the U.S., it had assassinations of presidents, for example, when it had its start.
Looking at what we can do as Canadians to help Colombians, I think it is a lot better to encourage them, work with them and bring them forward instead of poking a stick in their eyes and saying that they are doing everything wrong. Instead of telling Colombians that they are not good enough, why do we not accept them for what they are and help them? We can learn from them as they learn from us and both of us will benefit from an agreement like this.
Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to the House for the umpteenth time about the implementation of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, the infamous Bill , which the government insists that we pass without discussing any of the human and social considerations about which the public has sent us so many emails.
Clearly, the Bloc Québécois will say for the umpteenth time that it is against this free trade agreement.
Earlier I heard my colleagues from other political parties praising this agreement and its resulting business and export opportunities. I do not know where they are getting this from because there is not a great deal we can export to Colombia. It is an extremely poor country, which imports very little. It exports a bit of grain, but that is about it.
They are not mentioning the real reason they absolutely want to conclude a free trade agreement with Colombia. Below its soil there are desirable minerals. The motives for this agreement are the minerals found underground in Colombia. No one has said so directly here in the House, except of course the opposition parties who have nothing to hide.
This agreement contains a chapter on investment protection, which will make life easier for Canadian investors who invest in Colombia, particularly in the mining sector.
Over the years, the Conservative government has signed a number of agreements with different countries, and the primary concern of all these agreements has been the return on investments.
We believe that this provision has always put investors' profits ahead of human and social rights. It is very dangerous in a country such as Colombia, a country where labour or environmental protection laws are haphazard. When a law is enacted to protect the Canadian investor, it is at the expense of a people or a country.
Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and certainly in Latin America. Human rights are not important to Colombia.
During the many weeks that we have been discussing this agreement, the government has constantly repeated that the agreement it will sign with Colombia also has two side agreements—one on labour and another on the environment. We know very well that side agreements are ineffective. They are not part of the free trade agreement, which means that investors can—with impunity—destroy Colombia's rich environment, displace people in favour of mine development, and continue to murder trade unionists or NGO workers who defend human rights.
Today, we received an email from a Colombian-Canadian living in Montreal. He told us that human rights violations are rampant in Colombia. He also said that one of the most serious accusations against the Uribe government involves the biggest spy scandal in Colombian history perpetrated by the administrative security department.
It involves the secret police of President Alvaro Uribe's government. This citizen forwarded a copy of a 166-page document that was discovered. It indicates that Mr. Uribe's government wanted to create controversy around NGOs and link them to drug trafficking organizations. It is clear: that is what it says in the Uribe government document. When we are told in this House that the Colombian government—
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but it is now time for oral questions.
The hon. member will have four minutes when debate resumes.
moved for leave to introduce Bill .
He said: Mr. Speaker, I have an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Department of Transport Act, called the consumer's accountability and reporting act. The CAR bill would make the industry more accountable, with a new reporting system that would put crucial safety information in the hands of consumers.
The bill would clarify that the vehicle event data recorder, or black box, information is owned by the owner of the vehicle and that the information must be made available at an easily understood format by the manufacturer.
It would require automakers to report real safety issues identified in Canada and elsewhere to Transport Canada within seven days and to the owner of the vehicle within thirty days. It would bring in a standardized consumer safety complaint procedure, with dealers and automakers reporting to Transport Canada within seven days.
It would require safety information, including worldwide recalls, automaker service bulletins to dealers, which are also known as secret warranties, as well as any legal actions against automakers here and abroad, to posted on automaker and Transport Canada websites.
It would bring in a one-year cooling off period before former Department of Transport employees could accept employment from an automaker or importer.
The bill would also improve communication across the country, with the federal minister providing the safety complaints to the appropriate provincial departments within seven days.
Consumer groups in Canada and abroad have called the CAR bill the world's best and a world first for elements of accountability and safety for consumers.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Mr. Speaker, the following questions will be answered today: Nos. 45, 46, 74 and 116.
Question No. 45--Mr. Scott Reid
With regard to the public reports which are issued by or on behalf of the RCMP, in which information is made public as to what took place each time a taser is fired or otherwise used to control a member of the public: (a) since January 1, 2001, what changes have been made, from time to time, with regard to the types of information being released, both in terms of types of information being withheld, which had previously been made public, and types of information being made public, which had previously been withheld; (b) since January 1, 2001, what instructions have been given to the individuals who prepared these reports, regarding the types of information which ought to be withheld or made public; (c) who issued any such instructions, and with whom did the instructions originate; and (d) since January 1, 2001, has additional unreleased information been collected, and, if so, what is the nature of this additional information, on any of the following topics: (i) related injuries which took place during the tasering incident, (ii) the duration of the shocks, (iii) whether the individual who was tasered had been armed, (iv) whether the individual who was tasered was violent, combative or posed a risk of death or grievous bodily harm, (v) what alternative measures the police tried before resorting to a taser, (vi) whether the individual who was tasered was first given a verbal warning, (vii) whether the individual who was tasered had already been handcuffed or otherwise restrained?Hon. Vic Toews (Minister of Public Safety, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am informed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that in regard to a) To the extent information on the conducted energy weapon, CEW, is released via the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, no changes have been made since January 1, 2001, with regards to the type of information being released. These federal acts give Canadian citizens the right to access information in federal government records and provide them with the right to access personal information held by the government and protect that information against unauthorized use and disclosure. The RCMP, as a federal agency is bound by these acts.
To the extent that the RCMP publicly reports on the use of CEWs, this began in late 2007 with the publication of the fourth quarter (October to December 2007) report on CEW use by RCMP members. Since October 2007, the RCMP has continued to prepare and publicly release quarterly reports on the use of CEWs by RCMP members. The quarterly reports are available via the Internet at: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/ccaps-spcca/cew-ai/report-rapport-q4-2008-eng.htm. The RCMP also produces annual reports on our member’s use of CEWs. The 2008 annual report will be available on the same website in the near future. The 2009 report will also be posted on the RCMP website once completed.
In regard to b) To the extent that information is released via the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act, the analysts responsible for requests related to CEWs determine what information needs to be exempted and what information can be released, based on the provisions of the acts.
To the extent the RCMP reports publicly on CEW use, the instructions have been to collect data from the field and compile this information into statistical reports on a quarterly and annual basis.
In regard to c) With respect to the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act, following consultations, directions were given to the analysts responsible for the review of the records as to what information needed to be exempted and what information needed to be released.
With respect to the quarterly and annual CEW reports prepared by the RCMP, the Assistant Commissioner at Community, Contract and Aboriginal Police Services issued the instructions that the reports be prepared.
In regard to d) RCMP policy requires members to complete a report each time the CEW is used, which includes the type of information referred to. Since the RCMP approved the CEW as an intervention option, there have been thousands of CEW reports completed. Amendments or additions may have been made to some reports since the original submission to clarify or include additional detail.
Since October 2007 the RCMP has proactively provided information on CEW use in quarterly and annual reports that are available via the internet. Access to information requests are made to the RCMP as per the provisions of the Access to Information Act whereby information on CEW deployments that is held by the RCMP is disclosed. Question No. 46--Mr. Scott Reid
With regard to the case of Adam Dormer, who was tasered by an RCMP officer on July 21, 2007: (a) what instructions were given to the individuals who prepared the public report on this incident, regarding the types of information which ought to be withheld or made public; (b) who issued any such instructions, and with whom did the instructions originate; and (c) has additional information been collected, which is not being released, on any of the following topics: (i) related injuries which may have taken place during the tasering incident, (ii) the duration of the shocks, (iii) whether he was violent, combative or posed a risk of death or grievous bodily harm, (iv) what alternative measures the police tried before resorting to a taser, (v) whether he was first given a verbal warning, (vi) whether he had already been handcuffed or otherwise restrained?Hon. Vic Toews (Minister of Public Safety, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am informed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that in regard to a) The information pertaining to Adam Dormer that was released as a public report was done as part of an access to information request in which over 4,000 conducted energy weapon , CEW, reports were released. This release was actioned as per the requirements of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. The analysts responsible for requests related to CEWs determined what information needed to be exempted and what information could be released, based on the provisions of the Acts.
In regard to b) Following consultations, directions were given to the analysts responsible for the review of the records as to what information needed to be exempted and what information needed to be released, based on the provisions of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.
In regard to c) Since the release of the access to information request in spring 2008, no new information pertaining to the Adam Dormer matter has been collected and not released on any of the topics referred to. While there is information on the details of this incident that pertains to injuries, the duration of the CEW deployment, his behaviour, the attempts to use alternative measures by police before deploying the CEW, whether he was given a verbal warning and whether or not he was handcuffed or restrained, this information was contained in the original file and the CEW report has not been modified since the CEW report was released as part of the access to information request in 2008.
Question No. 74--Ms. Irene Mathyssen
With regard to the 54th UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York in March 2010: (a) how many NGOs, organizations or individuals applied to be part of the official Canadian delegation; (b) how many groups or individuals were chosen to be delegates; (c) what were the criteria on which the delegation was chosen; (d) what rationale was used to determine those criteria; (e) were both successful and unsuccessful applicants informed of the decision; (f) how were the applicants informed; and (g) what level of support was provided to those delegates?Hon. Rona Ambrose (Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, the response is as follows: a) Status of Women Canada received 27 submissions to be part of the official Canadian delegation to the 54th commission on the Status of Women.
c) The selection criteria was included in the call for submissions letter and is as follows:
Guidelines to Assist in Selection of NGO delegates
i) Overall knowledge of gender equality issues;
ii) Significant expertise in one or more of the critical areas of concern of the Beijing platform for action;
iii) Expertise of thematic and institutional issues to be discussed at the 54th UNCSW;
iv) Potential to disseminate information and to link with other organizations in the NGO community and civil society;
v) Commitment to further advance equality between women and men both in Canada and internationally;
vi) Availability to attend related NGO preparatory meetings in the event they take place.
d) The criteria that was used to select NGOs is the same criteria that SWC has used for many years and is based on the expertise of the NGO delegates and how they can contribute both to the proceedings of the UNCSW as well as their ability to liaise with NGOs during the event and afterward.
f) Applicants were informed via email from Status of Women Canada
g) All travel-associated costs for NGO delegates chosen to be on the delegation are covered by SWC for the period of their participation on the Canadian delegation.
Question No. 116--Mr. Marc Garneau
With regard to the protection of intellectual property rights: (a) what measures is the government planning to implement in order to comply with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement; and (b) when will these measures be presented?Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, with regard to the protection of intellectual property rights: a)The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, ACTA, negotiations are being undertaken with a view to establishing new global standards for the enforcement of intellectual property rights, IPR, in order to more effectively combat trade in counterfeit and pirated goods. Canada is actively participating in the ACTA negotiations to help shape an international agreement that reflects our national interests. In addition, Canada is presenting a position that embodies our domestic legal and policy framework. Since these negotiations, which cover a broad range of complex issues, are ongoing, it is premature to speculate about any specific measure that the countries would agree to include in an eventual agreement.
b) Only once the negotiations are concluded and the text of the agreement is finalized, would Canada be in a position to assess whether or not it should implement any measures to meet the ACTA. Moreover, the Parliament of Canada must approve all international commitments that Canada would undertake before they are implemented. As with any trade negotiation, before acceding to any agreement, Canada would need to be satisfied that it reflects Canadian interests.
Mr. Speaker, if Questions Nos. 2, 5, 11, 27, 29, 43, 44, 48, 57, 61, 62, 63, 66, 70, 72, 77 and 93 could be made orders for returns, these returns would be tabled immediately.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Question No. 2--Mr. Jean-Claude D'Amours
With regard to the Community Adjustment Fund of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, up until November 18, 2009: (a) what amount has been allocated to each Atlantic province; (b) which projects have benefited from this funding, by province; (c) how much have these projects received, by province; and (d) in which city and constituency are these projects being carried out?
(Return tabled)Question No. 5--Mr. David McGuinty
With respect to funding for aid in the Horn of Africa Countries (Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia): (a) what is the government spending on development aid in each of the Horn of Africa countries, broken down by state, province, district and urban area; (b) what role is Canada taking in the training of security forces in each of the Horn of Africa countries, broken down by state, province, district and urban area; (c) what support, logistical or otherwise, is Canada providing to African Union forces; (d) what institutional and capacity building projects funded by Canada, directly or indirectly, are underway or under consideration in each of the Horn of Africa countries, broken down by state, province, district and urban area; (e) what are the overall Canadian aid levels or aid flows for each of the Horn of Africa countries, broken down by state, province, district and urban area; (f) who are the Canadian and international executing agencies currently delivering aid in all of its forms to each of the Horn of Africa countries, broken down by state, province, district and urban area; (g) how many of these agencies are Canadian; and (h) exhaustively, what bilateral and multilateral aid is provided by Canada in either the United Nations or any United Nations agencies or regional development banks such as the African Development Bank, including trust funds, for each of the Horn of Africa countries, broken down by state, province, district and urban area?
(Return tabled)Question No. 11--Hon. Marlene Jennings
With respect to the allegations of torture of Afghan detainees: (a) what briefing materials have been prepared on this issue, since January 2006, by (i) the Department of Foreign Affairs, (ii) the Department of National Defence; and (b) what briefing materials have been prepared on this issue for members of the Conservative caucus, since January 2006, in preparation for meetings of (i) the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, (ii) the Standing Committee on National Defence?
(Return tabled)Question No. 27--Mr. John Cannis
With regard to the Recreational Infrastructure Canada Fund: (a) what projects are being funded; (b) in what federal electoral district is each project located; (c) who applied for the funding for each project; and (d) what is the exact amount of money allocated to each project?
(Return tabled)Question No. 29--Mr. John Cannis
With regard to the Community Adjustment Fund: (a) what projects are being funded; (b) in what federal electoral district is each project located; (c) who applied for the funding for each project; and (d) what is the exact amount of money allocated to each project?
(Return tabled)Question No. 43--Ms. Martha Hall Findlay
With regard to Access to Information Requests: (a) how many were made to each department during each fiscal year from 2004 to 2008; (b) how many were made to each department from April 1, 2009 to December 9, 2009; (c) how many were responded to by each department during each fiscal year from 2004 to 2008; and (d) how many were responded to by each department from April 1, 2009 to December 9, 2009?
(Return tabled)Question No. 44--Ms. Martha Hall Findlay
With regard to all government advertising from April 1, 2009 to December 9, 2009, including, but not limited to, television commercials, radio ads, magazine ads, newspaper ads, billboards, train wraps and other advertising venues, to promote Canada’s Economic Action plan or www.actionplan.gc.ca: (a) what companies were used to produce each commercial/ad; (b) what media outlets were used to air/publish each commercial/ad; (c) what criteria was used to select the commercial/ad placements; (d) how much did it cost to produce and air/publish each commercial/ad; (e) how often are the commercials/ads aired/published; (f) how much commercial broadcast time, air time, newspaper space and other communication venue available was ordered per outlet; and (g) how much was spent per outlet?
(Return tabled)Question No. 48--Ms. Siobhan Coady
With regard to Access to Information Requests for 2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and in 2009: (a) in each of the above mentioned years and broken down by department, how many Access to Information Requests have been responded to (i) within 30 days, (ii) within 30 to 60 days, (iii) within 60 to 90 days; (b) broken down by department, how many Access to Information Requests have taken more than 90 days to respond to in each of the above mentioned years; (c) broken down by department, what was the processing time for each request that took longer than 90 days in each of the above mentioned years; (d) broken down by department, what is the average length of time for processing for each of the above mentioned years; and (e) broken down by department, (i) how many Access to Information Requests were denied in each of the above mentioned years, (ii) what were the reasons given for the denials of these requests?
(Return tabled)Question No. 57--Mr. Massimo Pacetti
What is the total amount of government funding, allocated within the constituency of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel in fiscal year 2006-2007, listing each department or agency, initiative and amount?
(Return tabled)Question No. 61--Mr. Andrew Kania
With regard to government print advertising: (a) how much has the government spent on promoting Canada's Economic Action Plan through advertising in Canada, broken down by province; and (b) when was each advertisement published, and in which publication?
(Return tabled)Question No. 62--Mr. Andrew Kania
With regard to government non-print advertising, such as television and radio: (a) how much has the government spent on promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan in Canada, broken down by province; and (b) when was each advertisement aired or broadcast, and by which entity or organization?
(Return tabled)Question No. 63--Mr. Andrew Kania
With regard to government non-print advertising, such as television and radio: (a) how much has the government spent on dealing with the H1N1 pandemic, broken down by province; and (b) when was each advertisement aired or broadcast, and by which entity or organization?
(Return tabled)Question No. 66--Ms. Kirsty Duncan
With respect to armed conflicts where Canada is both directly and indirectly involved: (a) what are the sites and in detail, Canada’s involvement; (b) how are civilians, and particularly, children, minorities, and women impacted for each identified site; (c) which identified areas have refugees and refugee camps, with the numbers of civilians, and particularly, children and minorities affected, and what are the living conditions in refugee camps if applicable; (d) what is the process for determining whether Canada becomes either directly or indirectly involved or not in a conflict, and how does Canada become involved; (e) how does the process ensure that good verifiable information is obtained from the field, particularly in areas where there is poor communication; (f) how does Canada obtain information from civilians who might be afraid to speak out, as well as NGOs, who need to have their work protected; (g) what is the process for ensuring that good information is acted upon, and what is the demonstration, if applicable, of where Canada has acted upon such evidence with regard to identified sites; (h) does Canada invest in development and reintegration in areas to ensure alternative lifestyles for civilians and, if so, in which areas specifically; and (i) what are the other sites, by countries, where Canada is aware of an armed conflict but is not involved?
(Return tabled)Question No. 70--Mr. Don Davies
With respect to individuals working in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, for each of the fiscal years from 2004 to 2009: (a) how many distinct temporary foreign workers were eligible to work in Canada for some or all of the calendar year; (b) how many T4s were issued to temporary foreign workers; (c) how many T1s were filed by and processed for temporary foreign workers; (d) what was the average tax overpayment that was returned to temporary foreign workers who filed a T1; and (e) what was the average tax overpayment that was left unclaimed by temporary foreign workers who were issued a T4 but did not file a T1?
(Return tabled)Question No. 72--Mr. Don Davies
What was the total amount of government funding since fiscal year 1998-1999 up to and including the current fiscal year, allocated within the constituency of Vancouver Kingsway, listing each department or agency, initiative, and amount by fiscal year?
(Return tabled)Question No. 77--Hon. Dan McTeague
With regard to the transfer of Canadian offenders from abroad to Canada, what is, for the calendar years 2005 to 2008: (a) the total number of transfer applications carried over from the previous year; (b) the total number of new applications made; (c) the number of applications that were approved; (d) the total number of applications rejected; (e) the total number of applications withdrawn by the offender; (f) the total number of cases that remained open at the end of the year; and (g) the average time that the Minister took to make a decision regarding any decided cases?
(Return tabled)Question No. 93--Mr. Scott Andrews
With regard to Transport Canada and their role in the ongoing risk assessment process for Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, through the 2006 Environmental Risk Assessment Study of the south coast of Newfoundland: (a) what is the current status of this Risk Assessment Study within Transport Canada; (b) what studies have taken place concerning the broad range of information collected from the Risk Assessment; (c) what is the status of Phase II of this Risk Assessment Project to determine the effectiveness of the current response regime; (d) what work has been done within Transport Canada to determine (i) the appropriateness of bringing response equipment closer to Placentia Bay, (ii) any changes necessary under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 for pollution prevention and emergency response; (e) what, if any, financial assistance is budgeted to improve the response regime in Placentia Bay; and (f) what are the time projections for Transport Canada to conclude an acceptable level of environmental response and pollution prevention response for Placentia Bay?
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
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.
Before question period, the hon. member for had the floor. She has four minutes left.
Mr. Speaker, before question period, I was telling the House that we have received an extremely important email from a Colombian-Canadian who lives in Montreal. This man opposes the ratification of the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia because of the many human rights violations in that country.
He sent us some extremely important information. He said that a 166-page document at the heart of a current scandal in Colombia had been taken from the administrative security department, which is the secret service agency of the government of the incumbent president, Alvaro Uribe. This scandal is shaking democracy in that country to the core and completely destroying all trust in Uribe's outgoing government.
This document reveals a macabre espionage plan including strategies such as disinformation, casting discredit, scams, falsifying ties with guerrillas, falsifying documents, sabotage, threats, blackmail and acts of terrorism.
The email in question includes examples. In one document, entitled the social and political front, it recommends creating ties with the national terrorist organization. In another document, it is clear they knowingly intend to discredit the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, misinform the public on what is going on in the government, neutralize the destabilizing actions of NGOs, establish ties with drug trafficking organizations and foster an Internet operation to create controversy around the NGOs.
This Colombian-Canadian told us that the Government of Canada absolutely must withdraw from the Canada-Colombia agreement, which, as we have said so many times, does not provide any guarantees concerning human rights violations.
Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in Latin America. People there are poor and workers' rights are violated. Anyone looking closely at the situation in that country realizes it is one of the worst places in the world when it comes to respecting workers' rights, something that has been denounced by the International Labour Organization and by all unions.
The Bloc Québécois does not understand why a free trade agreement was negotiated with Colombia when we know that union leaders are often the victims of violence.
We also need to think about displaced people. It is usually small-scale farmers and miners who are forced to leave their lands to make room for large agri-food and mining companies. In most cases, the people displaced do not receive any form of compensation.
Colombia is not a country we should boast about being friends with. On the contrary, we must force that country to adopt legislation and practices that comply with UN requirements.
I am very surprised to learn that the Liberal Party supports this free trade agreement. I began my political career on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, which, at the time, was chaired by a Liberal member. The Liberals were always very careful—and it was to their advantage—not only to defend democracy, but also to set the record straight in terms of international affairs and human rights.
I simply cannot fathom the fact that the Conservative government is going to ratify an agreement that most Canadians, union members, the UN, Amnesty International and various human rights organizations are all criticizing. I cannot believe that the Liberal Party would be an accomplice to signing that agreement. I am surprised and disappointed. Some members in the House say it does not matter, because Canada will be doing business. That is not true; it will be the mining companies that do business. It will not be Canada doing business.
I still hope that my colleagues on both sides of the House will side with the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to prevent the signing of this free trade agreement. It is a bad agreement and one that takes no account of the human beings affected.
Mr. Speaker, I think the member has crafted a speech that raises all the concerns members have had at second reading. However, the member will well know that, at second reading, we are talking to ourselves.
I think the important part here is that we express our concerns about human rights. I think virtually every speaker, unanimously, in the House has expressed concern about human rights abuses in Colombia and with any of the people we trade with. There are a lot of countries around the world that have very poor human rights records as well.
The question then becomes whether or not it is our responsibility to see this bill go to committee after second reading so that we can hear from the expert witnesses, the human rights advocates and those who will try to explain to the committee whether or not trade will, in fact, have a beneficial impact on the human rights situation in a country like Colombia. If not, that kind of evidence and testimony would certainly give parliamentarians a better perspective from which to craft a strategy for dealing with trade with those countries who have problems with humanitarian rights.
Would the member like to see some of these human rights groups come to committee and make the case to support some of her arguments, or does she just want to ignore what the international bodies are saying and decide right now that we are not going to be able to carry this any further? Should we not hear from those witnesses?
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member has posed a very good question.
I do not agree with him when he says that all members have expressed concerns about human rights. I have been listening to the debate for a very long time. If he takes a look at this morning's debates in particular, he will realize that members of his own party have nothing but praise for this free trade agreement, which truly surprises me.
I do agree with him when he states that other countries have a very poor human rights record, but not as poor as that of Colombia. It is Colombia's underground wealth that is coveted by mining companies. Colombia is one of Canada's very minor trading partners. There is very little, except for some grains.
This morning, members opposite said that it would help exports. However, that is just not true. Our exports to Colombia are practically nil. He ought to do some deeper thinking.
At second reading, it is possible that it is effective. I hope that, if this bill is adopted at second reading, members of the Liberal Party will ask questions and try to understand the crux of the matter—
I must interrupt the hon. member as there is another question.
The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will have less than 30 seconds to put his question.
Mr. Speaker, certainly the Liberal flip-flop on this issue is akin to the sheriff having joined the rustlers, because in 2008, less than two years ago, at the Standing Committee on International Trade, the Liberals were pushing for an impartial human rights assessment before any agreement was signed. That is what they wanted to do two years ago under their previous leader and the previous critic.
They had a change in the Liberal Party, a new leader and a new critic, and now they have flipped right over directly in line with the Conservative position, a total flip-flop on the issue.
I would like to ask the member whether she agrees with that analysis.
Mr. Speaker, I agree completely with his analysis and I do not understand this flip-flop. Is it because the Liberals want to befriend the big Canadian mining companies? That is possible. I just do not understand: the party that defended human rights has done a complete about-face today and does not care in the least. I would ask the Liberal members to question their leader about this.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with great pleasure today to discuss the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
It is not often that one can get excited or energetic about certain treaties. By and large they are viewed as rather dry and ordinary things, but I have a personal stake and a personal interest in this treaty. Unlike most members of the House, I have family that is in Colombia and not just Canadians who have immigrated there as expatriates to take a high paying job. They are 100% born and bred Colombians. So for me, Colombia is a special country, a country not as special as my homeland, Canada, but a country that has great potential, a great future. It is a beautiful country.
For those who are watching I encourage them to visit. The stereotypes of a failed state that is incredibly dangerous and a narco-state with guerrillas running there are stereotypes of the past.
I have visited Bogota and Cali, and the regions around it. It is a beautiful country. One of the country's slogans reads, “Colombia is Passion” and it is quite accurate. It is a place where I encourage, particularly come winter, Canadians to consider.
I had planned to speak almost exclusively on the issue of agriculture and Canadian exports to Colombia. I am predominantly here to represent the people of Saskatoon--Humboldt and they will benefit greatly from this treaty because of the nature of commodities that are grown in my riding.
However, watching earlier today on television and listening to some of the debate and statements made by some of the members, it is apparent that they do not have a firm grasp of the actual facts on the ground in Colombia. I feel that I must take a few minutes before I get into the main body of my speech to rebut some of the arguments.
First, while the arguments against this agreement are clever politics, members holding themselves up as defenders of human rights against money-grabbing business interests, the core of their arguments on human rights is disingenuous and not factual.
The critics of this treaty have deliberately chosen to ignore the effects this treaty will have upon the Colombian people. In fact, the argument that human rights will be damaged by this is wrong. It is the complete reverse.
If one thinks what is one of the most fundamental human rights for mankind, it is the right to food. Therefore, let us look at what this treaty will do for food in Colombia. It will lower the cost for staple foods: peas, lentils, oats and wheat. These are things that ordinary Colombians eat every day and are a particularly high percentage of the budget of low income Colombians.
Canadian exports to Colombia will not displace local production. The grains that we will export to Colombia will not affect the local commodities. They will displace commodities imported from places such as Chile, the EU and the United States.
The other thing that would be interesting for our viewers to note is that Colombia has a very large social problem. Some of the industries that will benefit from the treaty actual deal with these social problems. The Colombian textile and apparel industry will gain more access to Canadian markets under this treaty. That is important to Colombia for social reasons. Many of the workers in the textile and apparel industry are what are called heads of households, single mothers whose husbands have either died or run off and are not supporting their children. These women, who are raising their families, work in disproportionate numbers in this industry.
It may interest the House to know that some Colombian businesses have gone directly and given priority to these women to help them because of the social need in this country.
That is one very basic human rights issue, the need for a good job and the need for employment for lower income Colombians. That is what this agreement is seeking to do, to help Colombians. Would it solve all the problems? No, but it is a good benefit, a human rights benefit to the people of Colombia, giving people the ability to make a living. Is there a more fundamental human right than that?
The other major point that has been brought forth by critics today is that the Colombian government, for some reason, does not seem to care about human rights and does not care about union rights. I found this most interesting having listened to the debate.
Members keep citing the number of union leaders killed without noting that some of those union leaders were killed by leftist guerrillas, some were killed due to other causes, and that there is a considerable amount of violence in the whole country.
I have still yet to hear either the Bloc Québécois or the NDP cite the number of evangelical pastors killed in Colombia, a group that is not normally known to be left-wing but has suffered disproportionate violence there as well. If their case was sincerely about human rights, they would cite those as well.
They point at the question of targeting the unions. It should be noted that local union leaders support this free trade agreement with Colombia, even as their national presidents and associations oppose it. It comes down to the question: do we support local union leaders or the nationals.
Other things should be noted as well. The Colombian government has its own judicial and human rights and legal system, and these are working. Colombian businesses are one of the highest investors of any country in the world in social development programs for its people. This is verifiable by independent statistics.
Having dealt with a few of those issues, let me talk about the positives that this agreement has for Canada.
Our government has aggressive free trade agreements that are providing tools Canadians need to compete and succeed around the world. We have negotiated with other countries, such as Jordan, Panama and EFTA. This agreement is one of the tangible examples of how the government is working to maintain and expand markets for our agriculture exports.
This free trade agreement will strengthen our existing trade relationship with Colombia and provide Canadian agriculture, and agri-food exporters and producers with improved access to this important market.
Canadian exports of agri-food products are worth $247 million. Colombia is the second largest market for Canadian agriculture exports to South America. The purpose of this treaty is to increase our market share.
At the moment, however, Colombia maintains tariffs averaging 17% on agriculture products, rising from 10% to as high as 108% for some pork products, 80% for some beef and 60% for certain beans.
Thanks to this free trade agreement, Canadian producers will benefit from the elimination of tariffs on exports to Colombia. In fact, 86% of agriculture tariffs will be eliminated immediately once the agreement is in force, including for Canadian exports of wheat, barley, lentil and peas. These are real tangible benefits for producers in my province of Saskatchewan.
To the benefit of our food processors and consumers, Canada will immediately eliminate tariffs on nearly all agriculture imports from Colombia. This is important to help fight the drug problem in Colombia because these are the sort of crops that are replacing the coca production in the areas that produce cocaine. This is important for security and human rights in Colombia.
The passage of this free trade agreement is essential if we are going to compete effectively within Colombia's market. Other countries recognize that there are opportunities in Colombia. Colombia has concluded similar agreements with the U.S. and the E.U. These are major agriculture competitors with Canada who we must beat into the Colombian market.
Colombia is a vibrant and dynamic market for Canadian exporters and has been an important partner in international trade. Getting into Colombia in a timely manner helps our farmers to be competitive.
Opening expanding markets around the world creates opportunities for our producers to drive the Canadian economy. Now more than ever we need to do everything we can to open doors for our producers, our workers and our farmers, not close them
In Colombia, like everywhere else, we have continued these efforts with the free trade agreement and with recent announcements of the reopening of the Colombian market for Canadian cattle and beef. Colombia was the first country in South America to reopen its market to Canadian cattle since 2003. This is great news for our beef and cattle industry.
Our government will continue to work for Canadians to ensure that they have full access to important markets across the Americas and across the globe.
This free trade agreement includes obligations addressing technical barriers to trade to facilitate the conduct of trade, and ensure that regulatory processes do not become unnecessary obstacles.
In summary, this agreement is good for Canada and it is good for Colombia. All members need to vote for it.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his personal knowledge of the Colombian situation. It is always helpful to get a perspective.
I spoke to this particular bill some time ago and one of the key aspects was the corrupt judicial system within Colombia. The number of murders was staggering and there were virtually no prosecutions whatsoever. This is concerning to me. The member did not comment on the state of the judicial system there.
I would be interested to know if he is aware of any jurisdiction, other than his heart, where improving trade with that jurisdiction would have a substantive effect on human rights abuses within that country?
Mr. Speaker, the precise examples that I gave in my speech were on increasing the quality of life for the poor people of Colombia. As far as will wealth inevitably create more human rights, I do not automatically equate the one with the other. World War II Germany was a wealthy country which did not respect human rights for that era.
However, in regard to the question if Colombia itself is trying to improve by doing its best, I would think there are other answers to that question and those answers are “yes”. Having spoken with lawyers who work in the human rights department and have been under pressure in the Colombian government, and having discussed the matter and looked at the rates of crime and violence, both involving the war, assassinations and so forth going down, the government is doing its best to try to get a grip on the situation. I think that can be demonstrated at committee, through statistics and discussion of certain programs.
Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely to the comments of the member. In fact, Colombia is indeed probably one of the most beautiful countries on this planet. Its temperate climate is absolutely beautiful 12 months of the year. It is a wonderful place to visit. However, it does have some problems. It is the longest democracy I think in South America, 200 years of history. However, it has had 200 years of violent history. So, I am not entirely sure that free trade is going to stop that particular tradition of 200 years.
It looks as if there is not going to be a fair presidential election on May 30. The international pre-election observation mission to Colombia, which is in the first leg of its study, has found a number of problems, such as human rights violations, illegal armed groups interfering with the electoral process, creating fear and intimidation, illegal campaign financing, and the list goes on.
My question for the member is this. Would it not be wise to wait until after the presidential election to see what happens before even proceeding with Bill ?
Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague gets to the point why there is a filibuster on this bill. No credit wants to be given to the current Colombian administration. Let us be fairly clear. Independent polling of the race clearly states that supporters of the current president and his policies not only take first place but, in most polls, also take second place.
Is the system down there perfect? No, it is not. However, that is the same as stating that it would not be wise to negotiate trade agreements with Canada because of the sponsorship scandal and the previous effect it had on political parties in this House.
To draw such a strong link between certain problems that are limited in the country to the complete opposition to all trade treaties to the country is, in my opinion, ludicrous.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives basically decided on the human rights assessment issue two years ago and they were against it. The question is, why would they not allow the committee to carry out a independent human rights assessment if they thought that Colombia, in some way, would measure up? The truth of the matter is they knew Colombia would not measure up.
Also, we know they like to follow the United States. Even George Bush could not get this agreement through Congress in the last three years. So, the question is, what do the Americans know about the situation in Colombia that the current government obviously does not?
Mr. Speaker, currently, the American political situation is dominated by protectionists in its Congress. That is hardly unique. The Canadian government has no interest in imitating the American government in its massive deficit protectionist mentality that currently seems to be down there. We fought with the United States on issues about the buy American issue, not all elements. Some down there engaged us on it. This is actually a reason why we should get ahead of the United States instead of following. Canadian companies can get an advantage before a U.S.-Colombia trade deal goes through, which would provide us with substantive economic leverage.
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for , The Budget; the hon. member for , Housing.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Don Valley West.
Mr. Speaker, I rise somewhat nervously, standing very much in agreement with the hon. member for . It does make me a little bit nervous to be speaking in such agreement with him. I will offer some different reasons why at second reading stage I will be voting in support of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and sending it to committee for review, consultation, consideration, amendment and passing so that we can continue a relationship with a country that desperately needs a relationship with Canada.
I have come to this position rather circuitously, hoping that I would hear something in the debate, and I have been listening to the debate, that would convince me that it is indeed good for Canada and Colombia to enter into this agreement. I have heard enough now that I actually think it is a good idea that we engage in this process.
It gives us an opportunity to look at human rights in that country in a new light and actually engages us in this discussion. In fact, if the government had not presented Bill , we would not be having this discussion about human rights in Colombia. It is a good thing for Canadians to open their eyes to the human rights abuses, the dismal record of human rights in that country, but also the potential for a country to examine itself and police itself eventually and enter into world trade agreements and bring about prosperity and hope to its people.
For the last 25 years I have worked as a United Church minister. The United Church of Canada has stood very strongly in favour of various agreements in the world that will allow human rights to be discussed and also to be improved. It is in that light that I begin to look at this agreement.
I am very pleased that the Liberal Party will be presenting an amendment that looks at the mechanism within this agreement to ensure that human rights abuses are monitored and that the effect of this agreement is actually measured as time goes by.
In this discussion I have been surprised at some of the opposition members who seem to not understand that a free trade agreement is essentially an economic agreement. It is an agreement about trade, not principally a human rights agreement. We can take this as an opportunity to open the door to discuss human rights and to try to foster better human rights in another country, but it is essentially a trade agreement that is about prosperity, economics and making sure that Canadians have products that we can receive and use, and that we can sell and make a profit on.
This particular agreement, though, has raised concern. My constituents in Don Valley West have expressed that concern to me quite regularly. I have received a number of letters from very thoughtful constituents who are concerned that we may be fostering human rights abuses through this trade agreement. I simply do not see that as a possibility. Nor do I see a free trade agreement as being some sort of prize for having an unblemished human rights record. I do not think there is a single country in the world that could stand up to the test of having an unblemished human rights record.
Certain countries, such as Colombia, have a much more tarnished record on human rights. The record of atrocities has been enumerated by members of this House. As people read through Hansard, they can read the number of concerns that we have. Every single one of those is valid, but do we think a free trade agreement will help this or hurt this?
I have come to the conclusion that as we move toward freer trade with Colombia, we will be building prosperity and that prosperity will bring about human rights improvements. We do not have proof of that. Those concerns should linger in this House. Those concerns should dominate the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as well as the committees of this House that examine international human rights and the effects of this agreement. I think that we will be investigating that over many years to come.
I am very pleased the amendment which we on this side of the House have managed to negotiate will ensure that our Parliament, and not only the government, will be monitoring human rights.
There is a sense that we do not trust the Colombian government. I understand that lack of trust. It is a government which has dubious electoral practices. Colombia is a country that has had unusual difficulties with respect to narcopolitics, gangs and various other human rights abuses. However, that does not mean we wait until those issues are dealt with before we start a trade agreement that actually improves the life of ordinary Colombians.
Ultimately that is our goal. Our goal is not to be ideologically for free trade, or ideologically against free trade. Our goal is to examine this agreement as an agreement with one country and see whether or not it will foster human rights, whether or not it will engage people in the international community in ensuring that the very poorest in our world have greater prosperity, greater openness in government, greater engagement with the world and greater opportunity to come to know Canada and what Canada stands for.
My sense is that the government has entered into this agreement largely based on an economic strategy. I applaud the Conservatives for beginning the debate, but I also am encouraged that they understand this is not just an economic agreement, but also an opportunity to engage in these questions of human rights.
I have received a number of letters outlining disturbing cases, but no more so than the conversations I have had with Colombians who live in my riding. I have never been to Colombia. I am not an expert on it, nor am I an expert on free trade, but I have an interest and a passion for the Canadians who have come from Colombia and now live in my riding. They have expressed two concerns. They have expressed concern for relatives who still live under the threat of a tyrannical government, but also those who have not had the possibility of jobs and the opportunity for economic advancement. They are of a divided mind when I discuss this agreement with them. They are concerned about the possibility of this agreement being used as a stamp of approval for the Colombian government and its current practices. In no way is it that at all.
This agreement is an opportunity to engage in the conversation and to begin to monitor human rights and put on that monitoring the obligation that Colombia will have to fulfill its obligations under this agreement. Monitoring of human rights is very much a part of that.
The most devastating cause of human rights abuses is poverty and misplaced power. This trade agreement begins to address both of those issues. It begins to look at a government and demand from it democratic institutions, democratic responses so that that government may be a world player with us and we can engage with it as a sibling government.
More importantly, it opens up the opportunity for prosperity, for the accumulation of wealth and for an understanding that ordinary people deserve jobs that we take for granted. It is simply too rich for us in a northern western country with all that we have to stand back and say that we expect something more from Colombia than we have of ourselves.
Canada's human rights record is not unblemished. Canada's human rights record certainly is not as extreme as that of a country like Colombia, but our own country has not been perfect with respect to first nations, with respect to new Canadians, with respect to women and with respect to children. We have much work to do on that, but that does not stop us, nor should it stop us from economic participation in the world.
This agreement affords us an opportunity as a Parliament to open up our doors, open up our minds, open up our hearts to understand another part of the world we may not understand. If we were to wait for all human rights abuses in that country to end before we engage with it economically, we would be waiting forever. Instead, we should open the door to have a two-way conversation, for goods and services to flow, for cultural opportunities to expand. In that sense we as a country will be helping another part of the world meet our standard of living, develop an economic standard, a human rights standard and a standard about the cultural way of living that we expect in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, as would be expected with my colleague's background as a United Church minister, he is quite interested in the human rights question. In my time both on my trips to Colombia and in talking to people here, I have had the privilege of talking with many organizations, government relations personnel, human rights personnel, et cetera.
I am a member of the committee involved in studying this agreement. At committee, what sort of messages and witnesses would give the member comfort that the human rights situation is being monitored and that the development by Canadian companies there is progressive, solid and is building the country? What sort of people would he be looking for at committee to help reassure him regarding his human rights concerns?
Mr. Speaker, I will be looking for a variety of witnesses. They should come from third party, outside international multilateral bodies, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, for instance, that look at those kinds of questions. There should be a variety of Colombian voices and perhaps some from its neighbours as well. There would need to be voices from labour unions, from other NGOs, from the churches, the evangelical churches and the Roman Catholic church as well.
Human Rights Watch has been to my office in Toronto. It has expressed strong concerns about this agreement to me. I would hope that Human Rights Watch and some of the Canadians who have monitored elections would be brought in. I have some names of people who were involved in the last election monitoring endeavour. I think there are some very carefully worded questions that should be answered. Their answers would be weighed. We would weigh what they said, recognizing that everyone has a degree of self-interest in the answers given to these questions.
I trust the committee members in listening to the answers to their questions will give some thought to whether not having a free trade agreement would help or hurt human rights, more than having a free trade agreement would help or hurt human rights.
Decisions regarding helping or hurting a country are important to discuss.
Mr. Speaker, we were concerned in the House about the Liberal flip-flop on this particular issue. Two years ago the member and the Liberal Party appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade. At that time they were supporting an impartial human rights assessment. There is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, that is the proper way to approach this issue. Trade with Colombia continues with or without this agreement. That is where the Liberals were under their previous leader and their previous critic.
Then there was a coup in the Liberal Party. A new leader and a new critic took over and all of a sudden, the Liberals have moved to the extreme right. They flipped overnight. Now they are in lockstep with the Conservatives. However, those members who were for the independent human rights assessment are still sitting there and are now being forced by their new leader to get onside with the Conservatives.
I am just asking the member how he can feel comfortable with flip-flopping so fast on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to respond, because I do not see any flip-flop here. I see an evolution of thought and ideas and an improvement on the government's plan.
Our leader is an internationally recognized and renowned expert in international human rights. He has written extensively, travelled extensively, discussed extensively and is quoted extensively on international human rights. He is bringing to bear the thought that an annual examination of human rights as embedded in this new treaty as it will be amended would be far more effective than any idea the New Democratic Party could ever come up with.
The reality is we are putting right in the heart of this agreement the requirement that we as a government and as a Parliament engage in constant, ongoing evaluation of human rights so that we will see whether this agreement is helping or hurting the people.
Mr. Speaker, I must say that I have been dying to speak. I am shocked by the comments I have just heard about free trade promoting human rights, and by the Liberal flip-flop on the free trade agreement.
I would like to take a quick look at the past. I remember the reaction in Canada when Brian Mulroney negotiated a free trade agreement between Canada and the United States. Canada did not want a free trade agreement at all, but Quebec wanted one because it was good for Quebeckers. In the end, with the help of Quebec, Mulroney won the election, and he negotiated a free trade agreement with the United States.
Then, Jean Chrétien took power. He promised to do all he could to put an end to the free trade agreement. What did he do? He not only failed to put an end to it, but he also went on to become the greatest proponent of free trade agreements that I have ever seen. This comment was in response to the Liberal flip-flop.
As for human rights, I would like to hear how a free trade agreement could promote human rights. I have heard in this House, from very well-meaning people, that Bill —
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Ms. Francine Lalonde: Mr. Speaker, am I out of order?
The hon. member asked me if you were giving your speech or making a comment. I said that you were giving your speech.
Mr. Speaker, I said that I was very anxious to speak. I will continue to talk about the general principle of human rights and free trade agreements.
Free trade agreements are signed with an economic goal in mind and they must result in benefits. The free trade agreement with Colombia will essentially favour two groups: mining companies, which, through government help, will have access to Colombian subsoil and the Colombian government, which will receive taxes and so on from these mining companies. Why would they think that Colombians, that everyday people in Colombia, could benefit from this free trade agreement?
They can say that they are concurrently negotiating a human rights agreement. However, negotiating an agreement and taking concrete action to improve the human rights situation are two completely different things.
I was involved in the union movement for a number of years and, like my colleague, I am interested in the social aspects of what is happening in my riding. It is the balance of power that drives the relationship between the workers and the employers. If there is no local balance of power, there needs to be a national or regional balance. If that balance does not exist, the human rights situation will not improve and there will be no unions or laws to protect workers.
I am truly dumbfounded by the debate on this bill. My colleague said that farmers from out west could sell their products—wheat, oats or barley—to Colombia. If Canada were to do that, it should be because Colombians are not able to grow these grains to feed themselves. But, this is supposedly their primary resource.
What will Colombians gain from this agreement? Some might ask me why the government signed this agreement. It signed it because it thought it was in its own best interests and it did not need people's support. Everything I have read clearly shows that the mining companies are the ones who will benefit. They can move in and have, what I believe, is the other kind of free trade agreement.
First there was the FTA, even though the rest of Canada did not want it and had it imposed on them. Nevertheless, that agreement did not affect trade between states. Why not? Because no one could file a complaint without going through the state.
In the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, which has support from both sides of the House, it is not the state that can lodge a complaint if there is a problem in a mine, but rather the company. The fact that companies can lodge international complaints directly against Colombia without Canada's consent is something new.
When two states have a relationship, they can negotiate to find a balance, but in this case, no one is trying to achieve such a balance.
A company might have expected to make a profit by setting up in a given location because it wanted to use the water from a river, for instance. If it cannot use the river because it is drying up or because farmers are forcing it out, that company could sue Colombia—according to the bill—for the profits it is losing. It makes no sense.
People are saying they want to help Colombia, but this will not help that country.
I invite my hon. colleges who are standing with their parties to take a close look at the balance of power underlying this agreement. It is not about trying to improve things through trade across borders that is beneficial to both parties, even though a free trade agreement normally tries to improve the situation for both parties.
I will close by saying that I read in the report that the Standing Committee on International Trade has expressed countless reservations about this free trade agreement, that it even went to Colombia and unfortunately learned that the government had proposed this free trade agreement before the committee could make any recommendations.
As the members have probably guessed, I do not support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member. She made an excellent presentation. Obviously, the happiest ones in this country right now are the mining companies. They probably had a pretty easy job of getting to the leadership of the Liberal Party to have it flip to where it is now, joined up with the Conservatives on this issue.
It has been a big gift for the Conservatives, because something is being done here that they could not get done on their own. They are in a minority situation and will never get a majority government. They could try to pass this agreement as often as they want, but they would never get it through the House. That was a stroke of luck for them.
The mining companies probably put pressure on the Liberals. It did not take much to pressure the new Liberal leader to get in line with the corporate agenda. Now we find all the Liberals happily jumping in line behind their leader, except the member for and a couple of other members over there who are still reluctant to go down that route.
I want to ask the member if she would like to make any further comments about that, because I think she really is on the right track.
Mr. Speaker, I think that I am on the right track. Take NAFTA, for example. That free trade agreement also has a chapter 11 like the one in the bill before us. NAFTA also includes Mexico. I went to Mexico and, except for those who produce fruit, which sells very well in the United States, a lot of people had a lot to say about how other parts of Mexico are against NAFTA. They would like to renegotiate a better deal for themselves.
I think that is the principle. Both parties have to benefit.
Mr. Speaker, I profoundly disagree with the member. Canada is one of the great trading nations of the world. She of all people should understand that not only all Canadians but the province of Quebec benefit from robust trade with countries around the world.
She must be aware, or certainly should be aware, that back in the 1970s, Chile had perhaps the worst human rights record in the world, certainly in the Americas. Today its human rights regime is very robust. In fact, it has the lowest murder rate of all of Latin America. Its economy is doing well. Its banking system, I believe, is the fourth strongest in the world.
Why is that? It is because 13 years ago Canada engaged with Chile and entered into a free trade agreement. It was the right thing to do because when countries that are in the process of moving toward better human rights regimes and are engaged with countries that already have a long history of defending human rights, they do well and they improve that system of human rights.
Has my colleague looked at Chile, which is also part of Latin America, as an example that her party should be looking at to take a positive position on this free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada?
Mr. Speaker, I have not checked recently, but it seems that the situation in Chile has improved significantly because of the educated middle class. Chile has had many years to create its own development tools.
A free trade agreement alone cannot develop an economy if local political, economic and social leaders do not create the tools to develop the economy and improve things for the country.
I will look at what has happened recently, but I am sure that development in Chile came about because of what I would call internal factors.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak in the House today to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and the parallel agreements on labour and the environment. This agreement is an important part of our government's ambitious free trade agenda, as well as Canada's deepening engagement in the Americas.
As an export-driven economy, it is in Canada's best economic interest to open up as many foreign markets as possible for our producers and our exporters. By increasing access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses, we can foster economic growth and create new jobs for Canadian workers, which is crucial in these difficult economic times. That is why this government is actively engaging in numerous free trade agreement negotiations in this region and elsewhere in order to build on Canada's already existing network of trade agreements.
Since 2006, the Government of Canada has achieved a forward-looking track in international trade. We are engaged in talks on an economic partnership agreement with India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have opened up new trade offices in critical global markets, such as China, India and Brazil, to help Canadian companies and investors deepen their engagement in these countries, as well as five new trade offices within Canada to work with companies locally.
Since 2006, we have signed bilateral science and technology agreements with both China and Brazil. We have also signed a trade co-operation agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Today, Canadians reap the benefits from several long-standing free trade agreements in force, notably the North American free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico and separate bilateral agreements with Chile, Costa Rica and Israel.
More recently, on July 1, 2009, a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association countries of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein came into force. This agreement is notable for being the first free trade agreement that Canada has conducted with European countries. More important, however, this agreement increases the market access for Canadian exporters to the lucrative and sophisticated European markets. Through this deal, Canadian businesses gained immediate benefits through the elimination of duties on all Canadian non-agricultural merchandise. Tariffs were eliminated or reduced on selected Canadian agricultural exports, such as durum wheat, frozen french fries, beer and crude canola oil. However, this reduction in tariffs is not the only benefit of this agreement. Thanks to this deal, Canadian companies can now access innovative technologies and other inputs from these European markets at lower costs, including through the importation of machinery and scientific and precision instruments.
However, the agreement with the European Free Trade Association is not the only recent trade agreement that Canada has implemented. On August 1, 2009, the Canada-Peru free trade agreement, along with agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, came into force. The free trade agreement with Peru contains considerable benefits for Canada. For instance, Canadian producers immediately benefited from the elimination of tariffs on 95% of current Canadian exports to Peru, with most remaining tariffs to be eliminated over a period of five to ten years.
Products that received immediate duty free access to Peru include wheat, barley, lentils, peas and selected boneless beef cuts, a variety of paper products and machinery and equipment. Canadian businesses also received improved market access in other sectors of the Peruvian economy, such as mining, energy and professional services, as well as banking, insurance and securities.
This government is continuing to pursue ambitious trade agreements with others as well. That is why, on March 24 this government tabled implementing legislation for the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement along with parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. Through this goods-only agreement, Canadian businesses will have improved market access to Middle Eastern countries. In particular, once the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement comes into force, tariffs on over 99% of recent Canadian exports to Jordan will be eliminated.
Key Canadian sectors that will benefit from this immediate duty-free access include forestry, manufacturing and agriculture and agri-food, sectors in which Canadian companies are global leaders. Given these benefits to the Canadian economy, this government is working toward the implementation of the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement as soon as possible.
This government's free trade agenda, however, does not stop there. On August 11, 2009, the announced the conclusion of negotiations of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, as well as parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.
These agreements, which are currently undergoing legal review, are another important pillar of this government's plan to increase market access for Canadian exporters. Once enforced, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement will improve market access for goods and services and provide a stable and predictable environment for investments in Panama.
In the meantime, while this House debates the Colombia and Jordan free trade agreements and while the agreement with Panama is undergoing legal review, this government is working on numerous other fronts to conclude additional trade agreements.
That is why at the Canada-European Union Summit in May 2009 this government launched negotiations toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union. A third round of talks with the European Union are taking place this week. These negotiations not only enjoy wide support among the private sector on both sides of the Atlantic, but the provinces and the territories are involved at a unprecedented level in these negotiations.
Meanwhile, negotiations with the Caribbean community are also progressing. The second round of negotiations between Canada and the Caribbean officials took place a few weeks ago.
Canadian officials also held a negotiating round last month with their counterparts from Central America as part of the ongoing negotiations between Canada and the four Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
This government remains dedicated to advancing our ongoing free trade negotiation with other partners, including South Korea, Singapore and the Dominican Republic, as well as seeking ambitious opportunities elsewhere.
For instance, Canada has started exploring deeper trade ties with India. To this end, in November 2009, Canada and India agreed to establish a joint study group to look at key sectors of interest and the possible parameters of a comprehensive trade agreement. The first meeting of this joint study group took place in Delhi this past December, and officials from both sides are currently working to complete the study.
Canada is also currently involved in technical discussions with Japan.
What does an active trade agenda really mean for Canada? To put it in straightforward terms, by bringing down barriers to trade and investment, the government will help Canadian businesses compete in an ever more competitive world while also stimulating the Canadian economy.
This is where the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement plays an important role. Once implemented, this agreement will reduce tariffs for Canadian producers who want to export to Colombia, as well as expanding opportunities for Canadian investors and service providers. This agreement will also help Colombia build a more prosperous, equitable and secure democracy, a democracy that can contribute to growth and economic stability in the region.
In these difficult economic times, we cannot hide behind trade barriers. Protectionism is not the answer. Partnerships are. Canadians can count on this government to lead efforts in securing foreign markets for Canadian businesses and take every opportunity to oppose protectionism and defend free and open trade on the world stage.
I will make it clear once more. Since we took office, we have conducted 14 ministerial visits to China, including recent visits in April 2009 by the Ministers of , and . We have made significant investments to develop the Asia-Pacific gateway, a corridor initiative to make it easier for goods to flow between Canada and Asia, by spending over $2.5 billion.
Our government has opened six new trade offices in Chinese cities to attract trade and investment to Canada. This will help Canadian businesses reach the Chinese market.
Our government also recently opened three new trade offices in India, bringing the total to eight, and making our network in India one of Canada's largest world wide.
Our government continues to expand Canada's trade network around the world. We have begun discussions for trade agreements with the European Union and India. We have completed new free trade agreements. We have more on the way with countries such as Morocco and Ukraine.
This is why I ask for the support of all hon. members for the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Let us stand up for Canadian workers. Let us stand up for freer trade and increased competitiveness. Canadians expect it and our government will continue to deliver it.
Mr. Speaker, I have an issue with the previous Conservative member who spoke. The previous speaker suggested that Pinochet's human rights record was bad and that the free trade agreement with Chile basically improved the human rights record in Chile.
That is absolute nonsense. I was an election observer in Chile in 1989 when Pinochet lost the referendum and again in 1990 when they had an election to elect a new president. Patricio Aylwin was elected as the president and he restored the democratic state that had been there up until Salvador Allende's time when he was overthrown in 1973. It was seven years and two elections before democracy was re-established and the free trade agreement was signed. It had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any improvement in Chile's human rights record. It was a totally separate issue.
Mr. Speaker, I think what is absurd is thinking that if we isolate countries and we are not prepared to trade with them or help them find their way out of some of these difficult internal situations, they will just evolve. Somehow by our isolating the countries that do not have options, that depend on drugs and on a whole bunch of other factors, all of a sudden they will be able to find democracy on their own. I think that one of the unique things we are able to do is to come in with labour and environmental agreements that are some of the strongest and toughest in the world. What we are trying to do is provide them other opportunities so they do not have to depend on the drug trade.
Quite frankly, I believe that if we could continue to show countries that need support that there are other options, that they could continue, they could become competitive, they could learn to sell goods, they would look at other ways democracy can be done. I believe this is one of the ways we could help these countries out of some of their current situations.
Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to the speech of the hon. member for and I have listened to him at committee. He always tries to bring in relevant comments and improve legislation instead of just tearing it down.
So, my point would be that, when we look at the situation in Colombia today, when we look at the improvements that have been made, when we understand and actually get beyond the rhetoric of the opposition to this deal and actually look at the effect it will have for the people on the ground, for the jobs, for the opportunity, for mainstream Colombians, we see those benefits far outweigh any possibility of any outrageous negative outcomes commented on by the naysayers.
Mr. Speaker, as the member for , I just want to say that, being on the trade committee and working with the parliamentary secretary, I have had a chance to go to Colombia to see first-hand what is going on, to see what is happening. Are things perfect there? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. There continues to be a number of issues that need to be worked on.
However, I really believe that as we are there with our labour agreements, side agreements, our environmental agreements, we are going to help Colombia continue to raise the bar in terms of where it is at and where it has come from.
My friends across the way like to continue talking about human rights abuses and all these things, but they talk about numbers and they use numbers that actually happened previous to the current government that is in place right now. And so, as the world engages countries like Colombia and helps them find a place for their goods and services, I believe that is one of the things they need to bring them into this century and, frankly, help them trade and depend less on things like drugs.
Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, it is absolutely absurd to say the figures are outdated. Every single independent human rights organization on the planet says there is a risk of this actually galvanizing more human rights violations, as the member well knows. The reality is that the current government has its hands soaked in blood. So much for the anti-crime agenda of the Conservatives. We have a president who rose to power with the support from the Medellin drug trafficking cartel, who is personal friends with Pablo Escobar, the notorious cocaine trafficker.
We have to ask: Why are the Conservatives so soft on Colombian crime?
Mr. Speaker, I think one of the things we need to point out is that this president has been working very hard to get rid of the drugs that have been plaguing his country for a number of years and, quite frankly, so has his cabinet. He has put a lot of things in place, in terms of anti-corruption, and people are under investigation because, quite frankly, he is trying to have a very transparent government.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to talk about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. It really is an important agreement that would allow Canadian workers to compete and succeed in a market that is very important to us. In particular, I would like to discuss the issue of labour under this agreement.
As is the case with other Latin American countries, as part of our re-engagement in the Americas, Colombia needs the support of Canada to overcome its challenges and ensure continued economic and social development. We would not want to turn our backs on the government of Colombia and send a negative message not only to Colombians but also to those in the Americas who look forward to increased trade bringing prosperity and contributing to better governance, peace and security in the region.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is an important part of this commitment to the Americas. It is important to our history of engagement rather than isolation, in countries where Canada can make a difference and help others toward a future of lasting economic recovery, especially in these tough economic times.
The agreement includes parallel treaties on labour co-operation and the environment. The labour co-operation agreement is strong and comprehensive and will help improve labour standards for Colombian workers in many different sectors. Canadians can be proud of their government for ensuring that with all of our engagements, labour is a priority for this government along with the environment and human rights.
I know there are concerns about the impact of increased trade on workers, and I assure the House that it is an important concern for this government as well. This government firmly believes that prosperity cannot come at the expense of workers' rights. This government is committed to working with Colombia to improve labour standards and to help Colombia protect its workers. That is why the Canada-Colombia labour co-operation agreement is so very important.
The agreement is intended to facilitate co-operation on labour issues and to hold Colombia accountable for maintaining rigorous domestic labour standards reflecting those set out by the International Labour Organization. This agreement commits both countries to ensuring that their laws respect the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
The International Labour Organization's declaration covers a wide range of workers' rights and obligations: the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the right of freedom of association, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, and the elimination of discrimination.
However, our agreement with Colombia goes even further. It commits both countries to provide for acceptable protections in occupational health and safety, to provide for migrant workers to enjoy the same legal protections as nationals in terms of working conditions, and to provide for minimum employment standards, covering such things as minimum wage and hours of work. The agreement also includes a strong dispute resolution mechanism, along with penalties for not living up to these commitments.
To ensure the highest possible compliance, the agreement provides for an open, robust and streamlined complaints and dispute resolution process. As part of this, members of the public can submit complaints to either government concerning the non-compliance of a party with its labour laws and the provisions under the International Labour Organization's declaration.
If a matter cannot be resolved, an independent review panel may be established and could require the offending country to pay up to $15 million annually. This fine would be placed into a co-operation fund to be used to resolve the matter identified through the dispute resolution process.
The Colombian government has demonstrated resolve in recent years to fight impunity for crimes, and Canada needs to support these efforts. The government of Colombia has committed financial resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent acts against union leaders and members through a special unit of the office of the attorney general.
In addition, through the protection program for vulnerable groups, the government of Colombia is providing protection for labour union members, their families and other potentially targeted groups such as politicians, journalists and civil leaders. Colombians and Canadians alike expect that the government of Colombia will remain committed to preventing crime and will prosecute those responsible. Our commitment to the rule of law goes beyond our borders wherever Canada engages.
The fines payable under the labour agreement are not designed to punish specific criminal acts. They are designed to help ensure compliance with and respect for domestic and international labour obligations.
Moneys placed in the co-operation fund would be disbursed according to an agreed-upon action plan. This would ensure that the matters under dispute are effectively resolved. Through this agreement, Canadians would have a unique tool at their disposal to ensure that the Colombian government continues to demonstrate the political will and provide the necessary resources to improve the labour situation.
We clearly recognize the challenges that a nation like Colombia faces in complying with each and every standard set out in the agreement. Nevertheless, Canada believes that compliance with the obligations of this agreement can be achieved not only through a robust dispute resolution mechanism but also through enhanced technical co-operation. That is why our agreement is complemented with $1 million in labour-related technical assistance programming in the areas of social dialogue, occupational health and safety, labour inspection and enforcement of national labour legislation.
These initiatives aim to promote and enforce internationally recognized labour standards, particularly in the areas of labour inspection, tripartite consultation, enforcement of labour rights and occupational safety and health. These initiatives will also help Colombia enforce its domestic laws and meet the high standards established by this agreement. They will foster greater dialogue and co-operation among workers, employers and government to address labour issues. Canada is committed to helping our Colombian partners make the most of our new free trade agreement.
This government is re-engaging with our partners in the Americas and promoting the principles of sound governance, security and prosperity. We see improving workers' rights in the Americas as a fundamental part of this pursuit. More broadly, we are committed to playing an active role in promoting human rights across Latin America and throughout the Caribbean, and that includes Colombia.
We are one of the largest supporters of the Organization of American States, working in Colombia to support peace and demobilize paramilitary forces in that country. Our global peace and security fund is helping to promote peace, protect victims' rights and help strengthen Colombia's judicial system.
Canada takes human rights in Colombia very seriously, and this commitment extends to workers' rights. We believe free trade can play a positive role in a country's economic and social life. Workers' rights fit squarely into this principle and will continue to guide our engagement with Colombia and our partners throughout the hemisphere.
Canada is committed to supporting Colombia's efforts to meet these challenges and to build a better country for its people. Our government recognizes that free trade is a key driver of our economy, representing one in five jobs and a full two-thirds of our gross domestic product. We cannot talk about economic recovery without talking about free trade. That is why our government is putting such a strong emphasis on freer trade, an aggressive free trade agenda that will create jobs and foster economic growth.
Colombia is important to this agenda. It is important to Canadian workers and, of course, it is important to the development of a safer, more secure and prosperous Colombia. A safe, secure and prosperous hemispheric neighbour is a tenet of our engagement in the Americas. Today we have the opportunity to extend a future of promise to Canadian industry and the Colombian people for a future of mutual benefit and of course to demonstrate that, wherever Canada is, we promote the highest standards of labour rights and the protection of human rights. We can only do this through engagement. With the right mechanisms, such as the agreement we have before us, Canadians can make a difference.
For these reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support for this agreement. Let us get this agreement moved off to committee, to support Canadian business and to support the future of Colombia.
Mr. Speaker, that was such a reasonable sounding appeal. It made it sound like such a wonderful deal for us and Colombia to pass this allegedly free trade agreement.
The hon. member went on at great lengths about how it would be good for Canadian workers and Colombian workers. I am trying to resolve that in my mind with whether that will be similar to what the government has done for workers in Sudbury, a little closer to home.
I have a specific question. Paramilitary forces in Colombia now are driving Indians and Mestizos off the land, out of the jungles and away from their traditional forms of agriculture, which have been shown over centuries to be sustainable.
There are highly sensitive soils in Colombia, highly sensitive and biodiversity ecosystems, which do not work well with our more northerly kinds of agribusiness, monocultures and so on in these sensitive soils. What concerns me is not just the affront to civil rights but the affront to ecosystems in that area.
I doubt I will get a good answer, but I hope I will be wrong and that I will get a good explanation as to why my fears are unfounded about the destruction of biodiversity and sensitive soils in Colombia.
Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member said he thought what I said about what was in the agreement sounded good. The fact is it is good. It is a good thing that we are engaging with Colombia. As I laid out in my presentation, there are so many different aspects of engagement with countries in the Americas like Colombia that are positive for countries such as Colombia that we work together. By putting our heads in the sand and putting up a wall would be to the detriment of our own workers and our own economy in Canada and is not going to be very helpful.
I am very confident this agreement does have the protections in it that Canadians expect. It is something that is positive for Canada and it is something positive for Colombia in terms of our engagement.
Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on the question that the NDP member just asked.
It is never passing strange that we find the NDP coming up with all kinds of reasons to oppose free trade agreements no matter what they look like, no matter what the stripe. I just heard about biodiversity and the quality of the soils. Earlier the NDP members were talking about the human rights regime.
I look back to the 1980s and the early 1990s when Canada was negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, NAFTA. Even back then the NDP members opposed that free trade agreement. They did not have human rights as an issue. They did not have labour rights as an issue. They did not have biodiversity as an issue. They did not have soil quality as an issue.
The NDP members are, in principle, opposed to any kind of free trade agreement. They put up silos around our industries. They build trade walls around Canada. They ignore the global economy. They simply forge ahead as if they are hiding in a little hole.
Does the member not find it passing strange that the NDP would consistently find new ways of opposing free trade agreements?
Mr. Speaker, the fact is if one is ideologically opposed to free trade in principle, one will find any excuse to oppose it.
I happen to chair the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group. We know how important trade is with Canada and the United States and we know how many jobs are dependent on it.
We hear them on the other side say that we have lost jobs, but the fact is free trade has been good for Canada. It has created millions and millions of jobs in the NAFTA area and in the more than 20 years since the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was passed.
Just last week I was in Biloxi, Mississippi, where the Canadian provinces and the southeastern states. We heard a presentation from the head of FedEx, which laid out all of the positive things that came out of free trade. I wish the hon. member had heard what was in that speech. This is the message the members from the House take down to the United States. These are the kind of positive things that we can get out of a free trade agreement with Colombia, moving forward for both Canadians and Colombians.
Mr. Speaker, over the past year I have received many letters and emails regarding the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia. It is undoubtedly an issue that many Canadians care about. It is an economic issue, sustaining jobs in Canada and Colombia, and it is a moral issue when we consider the human rights situation in Colombia.
People are worried. They see the violence and conflict in Colombia. They worry that with this agreement, Canada is supporting and even encouraging these actions.
The reality is that in order to make positive changes in the world, we must get involved. The other opposition parties want to wait until Colombia figures things out for itself and becomes a model country before Canada signs anything.
However, the truth is Canada and Colombia exchanged over $1.3 billion in trade last year. Canadian businesses are taking note of this accord. With the signing of this agreement, Canadian entrepreneurs are prepared to make long-term investments that will benefit the Colombian people.
Canadian agricultural interests are supportive of this agreement. Canadian business organizations, including some members of the small business community, see the opportunities with this agreement. Other Canadian companies such as SNC-Lavalin and Brookfield Asset Management have opened new offices in Bogota and established a $500 million fund to invest in Colombia.
All of this is happening outside of this new agreement that we are supporting today. I say “we” because the official opposition played an important part in getting this agreement. Economics is the motor of trade, but we also have a duty to engage our economic partners on a human level. Sometimes people need to talk about other things before they get people to listen to what they have to say.
Human rights are at the root of our Liberal values, so in order for us to support this agreement, we needed to ensure that the economic agreement with Colombia would have a component that protects the right of Colombian workers and keep our companies out of human rights conflicts. That is why it was such a key element that our international trade critic, the member for , broke the barriers of partisan politics and negotiated an amendment compelling each country to monitor and publicly report on how this free trade agreement impacted human rights both in Canada and Colombia.
In fact, under this new Liberal deal, Canada and Colombia must publicly measure the impact of free trade on human rights in both countries. This is the first such human rights reporting requirement for any free trade agreement in history. It imposes a new requirement on Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to focus on, collect and analyze information on the impact of the Canada-Colombia FTA on human rights both in Canada and in Colombia. This information must be provided to the Parliament of Canada in an annual report, which can then be used to guide Canada's foreign policy with respect to Colombia. In addition, the public tabling of the annual reports in Parliament will allow for greater scrutiny by all opposition parties and provide a transparent way for civil society organizations from around the world to access this data as they conduct their own human rights impact assessments.
The Liberal amendment for a human rights reporting requirement was motivated by a desire for greater public oversight in the area of human rights and a belief that human rights were deeply intertwined with economic opportunity. We recognize that human rights abuses in Colombia have largely resulted from violence fuelled by Colombia's illegal narco-economy, which in turn has been perpetuated by Colombia's endemic poverty, persistently high unemployment and insufficient social infrastructure. We believe that increased political and economic engagement can help address the root causes of violence and improve the human rights situation in Colombia.
This age of globalization is about opening up to the world and not shutting it out. I visited Colombia 15 years ago. Back then, like today, I saw a lot of challenges, a lot of problems with violence, and a lot of concerns regarding citizenship, but I also saw a lot of poverty.
Canada has a responsibility to share what we do well: not only our economy, but also our impact on human rights. That is our responsibility.
The Liberal Party believes Canada has a moral obligation to help Colombia continue to improve its human rights record. We must work with Colombia to strengthen its public institutions and create legitimate economic opportunities for all Colombians.
This free trade agreement, with the Liberal amendment establishing a human rights reporting requirement, will significantly strengthen Canada's ability to achieve these goals and engage Colombia on the issue of human rights. Furthermore, the Liberal amendment would provide Canadians and Colombians with an ongoing assessment of progress in this area.
Colombia is at a critical juncture in its history, emerging from decades of violence and civil war. The Liberal Party of Canada believes that countries like Canada can support Colombia on its path to peace, justice and reconciliation by helping to build and strengthen Colombia's public institutions and provide greater public oversight on the human rights situation in Colombia.
Canada must not turn its back on Colombia and isolate its people at this time. Rather we must seize this opportunity to open doors, to engage the people of Colombia and to work with them to break the cycle of violence and human rights abuses that prevents the country from reaching its potential.
I spoke earlier about how trade agreements make good business sense, but I must ask all members to consider the human dimension of this free trade agreement.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement includes the most robust agreements on labour co-operation and the environment that Canada has ever signed.
With the help of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, some improvements have been recorded in Colombia regarding those human rights, but there is still a long way to go. There are many obstacles in the way of progress such as poverty, resulting from persistent high unemployment rates in Colombia.
To increase trade, Canada can help build Colombia's legitimate economy, creating real jobs for Colombians, including the most vulnerable. We can provide opportunities that help wean Colombians off their illegal and violent narco-economy. At the same time, this free trade agreement can help strengthen the protection of Colombian workers. The Liberal Party believes that through free trade, Canada can help build Colombia's legitimate economy and create real jobs and opportunities for all Colombians, especially the most vulnerable.
It is important that Canadians know that this agreement is open to accountability. The annual reports analyzing the impact of this FTA on human rights produced to the House of Commons will be available to the public and will be debated at trade committee. Witnesses will be heard, both from Colombia and Canada, on an annual basis. We will deepen the transparency and accountability of this trade agreement. We believe it will actually set a precedent for trade agreements signed between countries around the world.
It is important that we engage Colombia and the Colombian people as a partner in progress, to help them achieve a more peaceful and prosperous future.
I believe this agreement, particularly with this amendment, will strengthen human rights engagement on an ongoing basis and ensure that this Parliament, on an annual basis, will receive a report on the human rights impact of the agreement and will help continue the debate, continue the engagement and strengthen human rights and labour rights in Colombia.
As Canadians, we have the tremendous luck to live in a country that is open, free from violent conflicts, civil war and torture, a country that is prosperous, environmentally conscious, and socially inclined. However, with that luck, comes great responsibility. We must keep the channels open and do the right thing for all Canadians and Colombians. This is where we turn our focus from just making our country a better place to making the world a better place.
Mr. Speaker, I had a really hard time keeping up with the member's speech. I see a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement as an economic agreement, but it would force us to compromise our principles and our values. We cannot say that social and human rights are good for Canada, where we demanded and fought so hard for them, but then say that for Colombia, where these rights are violated, they are not important.
When I was a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I heard about the deaths of union activists and about truly horrible living and working conditions. I wonder what my colleague thinks about moving forward with this free trade agreement. Would it not mean moving forward with an agreement that would violate human and social rights?
I am very much against this free trade agreement.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. Our trade with Colombia is already in excess of $1.3 billion, and yet has no impact on human rights in Colombia. Signing this agreement will allow and require us to monitor the human rights situation and the impact of our trade with this country, and give us a tangible tool for improving the circumstances of the Colombian people in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I can only lament the ignorance to the actual situation in Colombia. The hon. member has not read any of the human rights reports, not one of them; not Human Rights Watch, not Amnesty International, not the CCIC, not the CLC report, not a single report to actually understand why every independent human rights organization on the planet that has commented on this agreement has talked about the risk of the human rights situation getting worse.
We combine that with the lamentable ignorance of the Liberals of their own amendment that does not compel anything more than the Colombian government to do what it already does, which is issue a report on itself every year. Every year the Colombian government says that it does a great job of protecting human rights and labour rights. No matter how many bodies are in the streets, the Colombian government always whitewashes itself.
The real question here is why the Liberals have completely betrayed all of those who voted for them in the past thinking that they were doing something on human rights and were concerned about human rights.
Mr.Speaker, something we can always count on is the NDP members standing to oppose any free trade agreement that is brought forward in the House. It is unfortunate because trade opens the way to engaging with other communities and other countries and provides a platform on which to work to build better prosperity.
Not every country in the world can have the laudable human rights record that Canada has. We are not without our imperfections but it is through prosperity, working together, leaning in on it and ensuring that we are working together to create a better, more prosperous future for--
Mr. Peter Julian: We are going to do a forum in your riding.
Order, please. I am not sure why the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster asked the question if he is not interested in listening to the response. It is difficult for the Chair to hear above all that noise.
There is enough time for a very brief question or comment. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to leave the human rights side of this agreement aside for a moment and look at the trade statistics themselves.
The New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois have both been adamantly against this free trade agreement and yet in the province of Ontario, where many New Democratic Party members were elected, and in the province of Quebec, where the Bloc members were elected, they stand to gain more from this trade agreement than any other region in Canada. Quebec does nearly one-third of the trade that is carried on with Colombia, so I do not understand the position of the members.
Mr. Speaker, the free trade agreement has the support of significant elements of the Colombian private sector and public sector. Specifically the private sector unions, headed by Gerardo Sánchez Zapata, said that this procedure was welcomed by Colombian workers and that they were thankful to the Parliament of Canada for its position because it helps strengthen the mechanism already in place that monitors and evaluates the progress in matters of human rights.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House for this ongoing debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. I think we have had over 50 hours of debate, both in the Chamber and at committee, on Colombia already. I am hoping to hear something new in these closing hours of debate today. So far I have not but I am still hopeful that something else will perhaps come up that we have not been aware of.
This is a good agreement for Colombia and Canada. It has a number of additions to it. Here in the Chamber I would like to publicly thank the hon. member for for his intervention and the assistance of the Liberal Party on this agreement because it will benefit not just Colombians, who desperately need this agreement, but Canadians as well.
As the global economy continues to recover, one thing is clear: free and trade and partnerships, not protectionism, hold the key to long-term prosperity. Canada's approach has been to keep the doors to diversifying global trade open and this agreement is part of that strategy. We are aware that Colombia is already a significant trading partner for Canada, with two-way trade totalling over $1.3 billion in 2009. Colombia is an established market for Canadian exports and holds significant potential for Canadian businesses, the potential we need to continue to work toward a fragile recovery and continue to move forward in these very difficult economic times.
Over the past five years, Canadian merchandise exports to Colombia have grown by 55%. Colombia is also a strategic destination for Canadian investment, with the stock of Canadian investment in Colombia reaching over $1.1 billion in 2008. A country like ours, with so much expertise, can offer a lot to Colombia. Canadian engagement on trade is a key factor to the development of a safe, secure and prosperous Colombia. I think that all of us in the House would be in agreement on that point.
Canadian businesses currently are and have the potential to further become important players in the Colombian market. We need to be able to compete with those who are there, countries like the United States. Looking beyond investment services and market access for goods, this agreement is a comprehensive free trade agreement with terms that extend well beyond these subjects to include other areas of importance to Canadian businesses.
The free trade agreement provides comprehensive terms of the agreement in areas such as financial services, temporary entry of business persons, electronic commerce and telecommunications, and competition, monopolies and state enterprises.
For the second year in a row, the World Economic Forum ranked the Canadian banking system as the soundest in the world in its annual report on global competitiveness. Canadians can be proud. This is an area where Canada is truly excelling. Across the Americas, Canadian banks are helping foster economic growth through access to credit and other financial services. The Canadian financial services sector is a leader in providing high-quality and reliable financial services. This agreement includes comprehensive obligations for the financial services sector, including banking, insurance and securities.
These terms go beyond those already agreed to at the World Trade Organization and ensure that the Canada's financial services sector can compete with its American competitors in Colombia. These market access commitments are complimented by key terms that ensure non-discrimination, provide a right of establishment for financial institutions and promote regulatory transparency in the financial sector.
Those are key elements that our sector is seeking to ensure it is able to compete in an increasingly competitive global market. This government is responding to this demand.
Another important area included in this agreement to ensure that businesses are able to fully maximize the opportunities in Colombia is temporary entry for business persons. Our government is responding to this demand.
This is an important issue for Canadian businesses to ensure their employees are able to work in Colombia and is a natural complement to market access for goods, services and investment. In recognition of the significant number of Canadian companies operating in the region, the agreement removes unnecessary barriers impairing the ability of companies to bring in the skilled workers they need. This would include impediments such as the requirement for labour certification tests, quotas, proportionality requirements or any prior approval procedure. The agreement extends to an extensive list of professions, including various technicians and provisions for spousal employment.
This goes beyond coverage previously achieved in any Canadian free trade agreement. We are tearing down the barriers to trade when Canadians need it most.
The strength of this trade agreement does not stop there but also extends into the areas of electronic commerce and telecommunications. Electronic commerce is an important addition to the previous free trade agreement in light of the importance of ensuring that new digital economy issues, such as protection of personal information, consumer protection and paperless trade, are not overlooked.
Those issues are increasingly important for businesses in the 21st century and Canada and Colombia have recognized this fact. Colombia has agreed to a permanent moratorium on customs duties for products delivered electronically. This includes items such as electronic software, music purchased online and digital books. This moratorium is important not only for businesses but consumers as well.
In addition to electronic commerce, telecommunications provisions were also included to support the competitive development of the telecommunications sector. The obligations contained in this agreement go beyond Colombia's current obligations through the World Trade Organization. Through this free trade agreement, Canadian telecommunications service providers would be able to compete with their American counterparts in the Colombia market.
Clearly, there are many benefits of this free trade agreement with Colombia that go beyond trade, goods and investment.
The final area that I would like to touch on is the terms in this free trade agreement related to competition, monopolies and state enterprises. This agreement meets Canada's objective of ensuring that anti-competitive business practices do not undermine the benefits of trade and investment liberalization achieved in the overall agreement.
Canada and Colombia will co-operate on issues related to the competition policy through their respective authorities. The obligations ensure that Canadian companies doing business in Colombia are treated fairly with respect to their investments.
Overall, this is a high quality and comprehensive trade agreement. This is a market where many key exporters have seen enormous potential. Colombia has stable political institutions, progressive laws and strong pro-market orientation.
These strong economic fundamentals were noted by the World Bank in its report, “Doing Business 2010”. No less than the World Bank has rated Colombia among the top 10 countries in the world for regulatory reform and the best country in Latin America for doing business.
Quite frankly, if we listen to some of the rhetoric that has taken place in the House about Colombia and then look at such respected institutions as the World Bank, there is a serious dichotomy, a serious split between the reality of what major players in the world's economy, such as the World Bank, are saying and what the critics of this free trade agreement are saying.
Colombia is well positioned to weather the global economic crisis. The country has sound macro-economic policies and improved security, which have resulted in favourable economic conditions and stronger demand for imported products. This represents new opportunities for Canadian exporters.
This free trade agreement has the support of key exporters and investors across Canada. Its passage through the House will ensure that Canadian business is able to take advantage of the opportunities in this important market. Our government believes that our businesses can compete with the best in the world and this agreement will help them do it.
The world is quickly discovering the benefits of doing business with Canada and we are there to assist to make that happen.
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest, of course, to the hon. member's comments. It occurs to me that the Conservatives are not even really serious about Bill . I was thinking back to the prorogation we just had. It seems to me that this bill was well on its way before prorogation. Then, after prorogation, we had to start the bill all over from the beginning again.
If the Conservatives were serious about this bill, why did they bother proroguing in the first place and stopping all these bills, including crime bills and other bills that they said they were so interested in? Now these bills have to start all over again from the beginning. It seems to me that they are starting to agree with the NDP that this is not a good bill.
Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat taken aback by the question. In the early part of the question, it sounded as if we may have actually one NDP member who has read the agreement, who perhaps understands at least a minute amount of it, and is willing to support it. But I understand now that that is actually not the case.
I would like to know of one trade agreement, free trade agreement, any trade agreement, that the New Democratic Party has supported. They do not exist. There is no such thing. The NDP is anti-trade. I do not know how it expects the people in Canada to survive as an exporting nation, to create jobs and opportunities for our people, and I do not know how it expects Colombians to create jobs and opportunities for their people, if we do not trade with one another.
There were comments made earlier about bodies in the streets in Colombia. I am going to tell members something. I personally have been to Colombia. I know people from Colombia. I have friends in Colombia. In the 1970s and the 1980s, there were bodies in the streets, but they are not there today. There is a freedom of movement that has never occurred before in the history of Colombia. There is a freedom and a sense of individual protection and safety that was never there before in the history of Colombia. That country is moving in the right direction.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the , for his cogent intervention on this very important issue.
As he and I both know, unfortunately, the NDP and the Bloc are mired in this archaic ideology where they will not support any type of free trade agreement. It does not matter with who it is. They do not understand that it is a big world out there. We have supply chains all over the world. We have opportunities to build Canada's prosperity. They simply shut their minds to that.
However, I want to turn my colleague's attention to the issue of diversifying Canada's trade.
As he knows, back in the 1980s and the 1990s, we signed a free trade agreement with the United States, which later on became the North American Free Trade Agreement. It has done marvellous things for our economy. It has dramatically increased trade between our nations. However, it is always dangerous to rely on one major trading partner.
Perhaps my colleague could comment on the advisability of expanding those trading relationships and signing additional free trade agreements, such as this Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
Mr. Speaker, upon forming government, our government established two new priorities.
The first one was re-engagement with the Americas, which would enable us to concentrate on economies such as Colombia and sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, and to work with Panama, Peru and other nations in Central, South and Latin America, and