Fair Trade not Free Trade – Libby on the proposed Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement

March 30, 2010

Canada Columbia Free Trade Agreement

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today, and I hope there will be many more members who rise after me to debate this bill and to defeat this bill, because that is what we are aiming to do.

It was very interesting to hear the Minister of Labour just a few moments ago. I guess the Conservatives are feeling a bit vulnerable with respect to this bill now, feeling they have to send in more ministers to defend their very bad position on this Bill C-2, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

I want to begin my remarks by thanking the NDP trade critic, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, who has done such an amazing job of bringing public awareness to this agreement and how devastating it will be for the people of Colombia.

We are the fourth party in the House, but I will say that we pack a lot of punch. With our friends in the Bloc, we have been holding up this bill for more than a year, and I know this is very troubling to the Conservative government. As with everything else, the Conservatives would just like to ram this bill through. They do not have any respect for this place. In fact, they are quite contemptuous of the House and its proceedings. Should we dare to actually debate something in depth and give analysis, they consider that to be very problematic. But I am really glad we are debating this bill and are shedding the full light of day on what this agreement is all about.

It strikes me that so often these terrible trade agreements are negotiated by nameless bureaucrats and appointees and representatives in backrooms. God knows where they meet; it is all done in secret. We know, in fact, that this particular deal took over one and a half years to negotiate.

There is so little we know about the process. There is so little vested in citizen participation. In fact, there is not any citizen engagement. More and more people, not only in Canada but around the world, are rejecting the whole notion of trade taking place through secret agreements done behind closed doors. This manifestation of globalization, this delegation of power to people who are not accountable and not elected, is something more and more people are disturbed about and are rejecting.

I am really glad we are taking this on in the House and are saying we will not put up with it. We will not allow this agreement to go through and we will do everything we can to stop this free trade agreement from being ratified by the House of Commons. As the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has pointed out, the U.S. Congress and the European parliaments have taken a similar stance. It is the present Conservative government and the Liberal Party that is supporting it who are way out of step and way out of line.

I have heard a number of the speeches in the House on this agreement. I remember when it came up a year ago. It was then Bill C-23. We debated this same bill and I heard many of the arguments.

I remember some comments that the member for Elmwood—Transcona made a few days ago in debating Bill C-2. He pointed out, and rightly so, that citizens, consumers themselves, are saying they want to see fair trade. People as consumers are rejecting products and services that are based on trading practices that they know to be exploitative and based on the whole ideology of the race to the bottom and the conferring of greater and greater rights on multinational corporations. The member’s comments were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of reflecting that there is a change in society and that people are no longer willing to put up with these kinds of agreements.

We are being fed a line that somehow this agreement will be good for the people of Canada and for the people of Colombia. There is really no evidence to show that. We do know, however, that it will be very good for corporations that will benefit from this trade agreement. There lies the evidence of what is going on here.

As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility and a duty to examine these agreements from the point of view of the public interest, not from the point of view of private and corporate interests. That is what we are here to do, to defend the public interest and the rights and potential and the vision of what citizens in both countries want to see in terms of their own personal development, their community and their society at large. That is only one of the reasons this agreement should be rejected.

I read some of the background information to the bill and noted that information has been provided by the Canadian Labour Congress and Human Rights Watch in the Now magazine. They have compiled a lot of information about the bill and came up with 10 reasons why it should be rejected. They call it the Colombia count. Their number one reason is that more labour leaders are killed every year in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined: 474 since 2002 and 2,865 in the last 25 years. That is truly an appalling record and very disturbing when we couple that with the fact that Colombia has labour laws that actually shut down and stifle workers’ rights, that its rate of unionization is less than 5%, the lowest of any country in the western hemisphere, and that we have had these paramilitaries, these deadly groups that have been murdering people and stifling rights. In 2008 alone, 27 high-ranking army officials were accused of kidnapping and executing civilians. The litany of the horrors goes on and on.

While we heard from the labour minister today that this side agreement is somehow lifting the bar and that we should be proud of it, members of the NDP reject the whole premise that there is some kind of side agreement which is not in the main body of the text. We are calling for an independent human rights assessment. That is the least that should be done in terms of any movement on the bill. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in Colombia. We owe it to the memory of all of the labour leaders and the community activists who have been murdered, harassed or imprisoned and prevented from doing the kinds of things that we would consider to be entirely legitimate and democratic here in Canada. We owe it in their memory to ensure that there is an independent human rights assessment.

I believe that if we had the courage to turn down this agreement, we would actually have support from people in Canada. In my own community in east Vancouver, we have businesses up and down Commercial Drive, which is a very well-known place in Vancouver and a wonderful place to visit. Many of the businesses are engaged in a program and a campaign to promote fair trade. We believe it is the first street in Canada to be named a fair trade street where businesses are encouraged to both sell and use products that are as a result of free trade. It is really remarkable that small, independent businesses are actually choosing to take that route. They are actually saying that they have made the choice not to buy products from suppliers, companies or corporations that have been engaged in the exploitation of workers and engaged in practices that degrade the environment.

It is a wonderful thing when we see that expression coming forward from the grassroots, the local communities. It tells us that there is another path, another vision, an alternative that is based on the notion of trade that supports the rights of people, and that is the fundamental test.

These trade agreements are about the privileges and the huge benefits that these multinational corporations get. We should completely reverse that and say that these agreements need to be about the rights of workers, of civil society, of the environment and of social standards. If we could base our agreements on that, we would see very different agreements in place. We would be prepared to look at that and negotiate those kinds of agreements.

I would like to see more people up in the House defeating Bill C-2. We do not want it to go ahead. This is a bad bill. Let the House of Commons speak for the people of Canada and say that we reject this free trade agreement because it is a bad trade agreement that will only hurt the people of Colombia.