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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2020-03-10 11:34 [p.1857]
Madam Speaker, I have found the third reading debate and indeed this whole process around the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement interesting. Today I watched as the governing Liberals, the opposition Conservatives and the separatist Bloc all tried to take credit for free trade and sing the praises of free trade. I can tell members that the New Democrats are not here to sing the praises of corporate free trade; far from it. We have been pretty consistent critics of this model of trade, but not trade itself.
One of the sleights of hand that too often happens not just in this place but in the media about trade is that somehow the corporate model of free trade that has been very good at reinforcing corporate rights over the rights of people and the environment is somehow the only way to do trade. New Democrats are not under that illusion. We know that too often corporate free trade deals have meant that countries get trapped in a race to the bottom, that these deals are structured in a way to allow international capital.
We hear in other debates about how Canada needs to compete for investment, and if it tries to regulate in the public interest in areas that have to do with the environment or workers that international capital is going to leave and go to other jurisdictions. These types of free trade agreements are all about making that easier and all about intensifying the threat of capital flight in the event governments choose to stand up for their workers, the environment or the rights of indigenous people within their territory.
CUSMA unfortunately is part of that model. What is different here is that we are not talking about going from no free trade agreement to having a corporate free trade agreement. What we are talking about is two different agreements and which one we are going to have. As some people mentioned earlier, if we did not go for the new CUSMA and the existing NAFTA was abrogated by the President of the United States, there would still be a free trade deal in place, the original free trade deal between Canada and the United States.
We are not in a position where we are talking about whether Canada is going to sign up for some new commitment under the corporate free trade agreement. What we are talking about is which commitment is going to serve Canadians better. That is an important point to make, and that has been a consistent theme throughout the debate on this. Certainly it has been an important part of the NDP's deliberations on this particular deal.
In my speech at second reading, I said there were two questions that were going to guide us in our thinking. One was whether, on balance, this deal would leave Canadians better off than the current agreement. The second question I said would guide our deliberations was whether we could leverage the process around this deal, which we knew was going to pass anyway because the Conservatives said early on that whether they liked it or not or studied it a long time or a short time, ultimately they were going to vote for it. We knew that this was an agreement that was going to pass, and the question was whether we could use the process around this ratification in order to get a better process that made the next trade agreement negotiation more open and transparent to the Canadian public.
I want to talk a little about some of the problems with the model and then I want to talk a little about this particular agreement and why, on balance, we think that the package of things that comes with this agreement will leave Canadians a bit better off than the status quo.
In addition to the problems of the corporate free trade model I mentioned earlier, particularly that race to the bottom when it comes to environmental standards and labour standards, there is another problem. We hear often from Conservatives that what they do not like about government is that it picks winners and losers, except that they have no problem with that when it comes to free trade agreements. Often the Conservatives negotiate the deal and then the Liberals sign the deal. That seems to be the pattern.
The Liberal Party and Conservative Party work very well together when it comes to advancing this corporate model of free trade, but Conservatives do not have a problem picking winners and losers in free trade agreements even though they do not like the idea of picking winners and losers when it comes to funding renewable energy, for instance, over other industries. They say that is an unacceptable picking of winners over losers. However, when it comes to sacrificing the dairy industry in agreements, we know the Conservatives negotiated concessions on supply management in the TPP, which ultimately the Liberals signed on to.
I was trying to listen in the best spirit and interestingly, optimistically, I heard members of the Conservative Party defending Canada Post, a Crown corporation. That was great to hear. I might add that is not reminiscent of the way the Conservatives behaved as a government, but it was nice to hear. That was another instance where they were decrying picking winners and losers. I am inclined to agree that Canada Post should not have been singled out, because I am a proud supporter of Crown corporations. I hope their resolve carries forward with them into whatever future positions they may have in this House, be it government or the fourth party. We can only hope.
I mentioned also that CUSMA picks winners and losers when it comes to the digital economy. Unfortunately, the losers, by and large, are Canadians themselves. This has been another feature of these corporate free trade agreements where governments, I think quite needlessly, tie their hands when it comes to making good public policy. One of the things this agreement does is it really constricts the options Canadian governments have going forward on how to deal with what is a new, emerging and very important and significant aspect of the global economy, which is the digital economy.
For instance, in this agreement, the government has agreed it will not make third party platforms responsible for the content posted on those platforms. That is a major policy decision. It is one that we may well live to regret. It is a discussion which, in my opinion, should have happened in this House in a far more robust way. That is not the kind of thing we should have been negotiating with trading partners prior to having a meaningful debate about how Canada wanted to treat this issue.
In some places within trade agreements we get protection for existing laws, rules and policies. We really have not had the opportunity to establish those in a meaningful way for many aspects of the digital economy. We see the government already signing away its ability to make those decisions and, by extension, the ability of this place and Canadians themselves to decide how they want their digital space managed going forward. That is a feature of these kinds of agreements. It is the kind of thing the NDP has been a vocal critic of. We think it is one thing to decide we want to trade with another country, but when we look at agreements like the Auto Pact, which were not global free trade deals but about dividing up the wealth that comes from producing those products and ensuring that the trading partners each were getting their fair share of the wealth generated by the products that were going to be moving freely across the border, that is not what free trade is. Rather, it is more about, as I said earlier, setting up rules to make it easy for multinational corporations to move their production around. That may have a short-term benefit on price, but it does not always. We know companies charge what the market will bear. In the long term, I think there are many Canadians who would appreciate the opportunity to pay a bit more for a good or service that contributes to Canadian workers and keeps wealth in Canada, but I digress.
I mentioned earlier there were two questions that would guide our deliberations. I want to speak to the first one now, which is whether, on balance, this agreement is better than the status quo. There are a few things I would point to that are laudable, despite the faults of this agreement.
One is the elimination of chapter 11 of the original NAFTA. That was the clause under which foreign corporations, not Canadian corporations—although I would not have been a fan of that, but I think it was that much more egregious that it only gave these rights to foreign corporations—could sue the Canadian government for creating laws or instituting regulations that protect the environment or workers that they saw as costing them profit. Canada not only put that in the original NAFTA, but these investor-state dispute settlement clauses have been in most of the trade agreements that we have negotiated. Canada has paid out the most in the world under these kinds of clauses, so I am glad to see that go. I note it was something the President of the United States wanted gone and that initially our government defended, which has always seemed backward to me. Nevertheless, regardless of who got it out, it is out and that is a good thing.
It is likewise with the energy proportionality clause. It said that if, in any given year, we take the average percentage of Canadian production of oil and gas that went to the United States over the previous three years, in future years the U.S. would have a right to insist on that percentage of Canadian production. Regardless of whether there was a domestic shortage or whether we could get a better price somewhere else, the United States would have a right to that percentage of our production of oil and gas. We have always seen that as a completely unreasonable, to put it mildly, infringement on Canadian sovereignty and something that was not in the best interests of Canadians, so we are glad to see that go.
There are a number of new North American content provisions for the auto sector, which we think is a good thing. They hearken back to the Auto Pact. Those provisions are actually least like free trade provisions, but they are being lauded as potentially doing the most for the Canadian auto sector. I think this is a signal that the free trade model, in itself, is not enough for Canadian success.
One of the other things to note is that in the original version of CUSMA there were provisions that would have significantly increased the cost of biologic drugs. This was due to, unfortunately, not our own government, but to the Democrats in the United States who went back to the table. Because they were not satisfied with the original agreement, those provisions came out. That means that some of the increases in the cost of prescription drugs that were going to happen as a result of this agreement, which we have seen in other agreements like CETA and the TPP, are not happening in this agreement. That is a good thing. One of the reasons that the NDP has often opposed some of these trade agreements is because they offer unreasonably good protection to international pharmaceutical companies at the expense of Canadians who require medication to improve their quality of life.
We also saw, in the second round of negotiations spurred by the Democrats in the United States, first-of-their-kind labour provisions in a trade agreement. I will not say that they are perfect; a lot of work is going to have to be done in order to ensure that they are implemented in a way that realizes the maximum potential for workers in Mexico, but these agreements would provide some upward pressure on wages for Mexicans working in the auto sector. I think just as, or more, importantly, and we heard this at committee from a Mexican member of the labour movement, it will make it easier for them to organize real unions in their workplaces. Evidence shows that when there is a union, one is able to get better working conditions and secure better wages. That is good for Mexican workers and for workers in the United States and Canada as well. This is to the extent, and that extent remains to be seen, that companies will not be picking up their operations and simply moving them to Mexico because it is a way of getting out of having a union in a workplace and paying higher wages.
Again, this is not a panacea; it is not going to change things overnight, but these enforceable labour provisions are the kinds of things that New Democrats have said for decades ought to go hand in hand with the rules that are established, and very strongly protected, in international trade agreements.
By voting for this agreement at this time, we are trying to consolidate the gains of having chapter 11 eliminated, having the proportionality clause eliminated and having the potential increase in prescription drugs stopped. We want to give a chance to allow these first-of-their-kind labour provisions to play out and to see whether we can use trade agreements to increase fairness for workers. I hope, if we can show that there is success on that front, that one day we could get meaningful enforcement of some environmental rules across jurisdictions too.
This agreement really does not do that. It does not mention the most important agreement designed to address the most important environmental challenge of our time, which is the Paris accord and climate change. I think that is where we are going to need to get if we are going to have accountability internationally for countries reducing their climate emissions. We need to tie those accords to economic accords as well, so that there can be meaningful consequences for countries that do not live up to their expectations.
I want to spend a little time now talking about the second question that I said would guide our deliberations on this matter, which was whether this ratification process could be leveraged to get a better trade process for the next time.
This process in itself was not great. We heard other members speak earlier about just how late Parliament got an economic impact assessment. By everyone's admission, we are talking about a major deal. We are talking about a lot of trade crossing the border every day, and there has been a lot of commentary on the agreement. The surprising thing for Canadians who may just be learning about this, if they are watching at home, is that debate was not supported by any real economic data because the government did not release it until the day before the end of the committee hearings, which was just the last sitting Thursday. Therefore, the economic report that actually puts some numbers to what we are doing here came out on the Wednesday and the committee study concluded and moved along on the Thursday. That did not make a heck of a lot of sense.
There are other things that have not made sense over the years, particularly the high degree of secrecy around trade negotiations. As I mentioned in my speech at second reading, two of our biggest trading partners, with which we have concluded free trade deals, the European Union and the U.S., both released far more information about their negotiation process to the public. They create far more of a space for civic engagement around trade negotiation and allow their citizens to weigh in on what is important to them, what they think their executive is doing right in those negotiations and what it is doing wrong. We saw how that interplay between the legislature and the executive can create opportunities to get better deals. We saw that happen with this very agreement, unfortunately not here in Canada but in the United States where Congress was able to get involved and require the President to go back to the table in order to get a deal that was acceptable to the legislature.
This Parliament only deals with trade deals once they are signed, sealed and delivered and there is no possibility of going back to the table. That was why I contacted the Deputy Prime Minister early on in this process, to talk about some of those problems of process and how we might be able to improve those going forward. That precipitated a period of negotiation, at the end of which the government committed to put in its policy for tabling treaties in the House of Commons a new commitment. The government will now tell Parliament formally, 90 days before beginning formal negotiations with another country or group of countries, of its intent to bargain a new trade deal. It will table its negotiating objectives in Parliament, which means publicly, 30 days before those negotiations. That is comparable to what already happens in the United States, and is even less stringent than what happens in the European Union, so it is a completely reasonable thing to do and Canadians will be better off for it.
Finally, on the topic of the economic impact assessment, we got a commitment from government that it will make it a matter of policy that governments table economic impact assessments side by side with the ratifying legislation so that we never again end up in the ridiculous position we were in this time, where we were being asked to study a bill without having any economic data about its impact. I should not say “any”; we did have some from the United States because a year ago, it published an economic impact assessment. Canadians and their parliamentarians should not have to look to our trading partners for information about how a trade deal is going to affect us. We should be able to get that from the government. We now have a commitment to make it a matter of policy that governments will provide that information, which is important.
There is more I would like to say, but I look forward to the question and answer period.
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