Libby speaks in oppostition to the Canada-Panama Trade Agreement




House of Commons

March 29, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I feel all fired up after hearing the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan. She gave a great summary of how the NDP feels about the bill and why we are opposed to it. I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-24, the free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.

This is not the first time that we have dealt with the bill and not the first time that we have fought the bill. It came to the House in the last Parliament. It was passed at second reading. It went to committee and many witnesses were called. It started to go through a clause-by-clause review. It was finally concluded in December 2010, but then died on the order paper at the dissolution of the 40th Parliament.

The legislation was re-introduced in November 2011. We do get to have another kick at the can, so to speak.

I just want to outline why we on the NDP side feel so strongly opposed to this bill and other trade agreements that we feel are exploitative, narrow and, as the previous member said, do not take a comprehensive approach.

I want to thank the labour movement, the Canadian Labour Congress. Individual unions have paid enormous attention to some of these bills. I remember the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, which we opposed vigorously in this House for several years, as did the labour movement. We really feel that these trade agreements lay down a regime. They continue the NAFTA-style agreement that does not respect the integrity of human rights, that does not respect or even understand what needs to be addressed in the signing country and what Canada’s role is in these agreements.

I think sometimes the Conservative government thinks that nobody is watching these innocuous bills, that these trade agreements are boring and technical, and that they will just slip through.

The fact is many groups pay attention to these particular trade agreements, whether it is the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Labour Congress or individual unions. I know the steelworkers did an incredible amount of work on the Canada-Colombia trade agreement because of their concern about labour rights and human rights in Colombia.

In my own community in east Vancouver, there is a whole movement of what is called fair trade. Commercial Drive is the first community in Canada that has a fair trade retail district. Stores are encouraged to sell retail products to customers that have been obtained through fair trade practices – products that are certified, transparent and healthy.

It is a consumer movement. It is partly in reaction to these massive trade agreements that are now being sent through this House, not just by Canada, but also by other governments. I do think it is important to know that there is an incredible amount of interest in the whole notion of fair trade that respects the rights, the environment and social justice in the country that we are trading with and also respects the need for jobs here in Canada.

This is a pretty large issue. If the government thinks it is just sort of sliding it through with no one watching, I think that is clearly not the case.

I want to highlight a couple of the things that we tried to do because, as the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan said, in the NDP we are not just opposing, we are actually proposing. We are being very proactive, putting forward amendments and trying to suggest what would improve a trade agreement.

When it went to the committee last year, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster was our trade critic at the time. He did an incredible job of providing awareness about this trade agreement and the Canada-Colombia agreement. He moved numerous motions to try to address some of the grievous aspects of the bill, and he focused on the fact that the bill would do nothing with respect to the tax haven environment in Panama.

I was not at the committee, but I know from the member that there were many witnesses who spoke about their concerns with the tax haven environment in Panama and its poor record on labour rights. The member valiantly tried to put forward amendments to address this. It is very distressing to know that both the Conservative and Liberal members of that committee shot down these amendments. Therefore, there were attempts made at committee to make this agreement a better agreement. It seems to me that is our job as legislators.

I think it is important to note for the record that the Canadian government has requested greater tax information and transparency from Panama. It is very concerning that Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. In fact, this has led the OECD to label the nation a tax haven. Is this the kind of place we should be trading with?

We expect transparency in our country. Although it is a struggle, we are always working to ensure it happens. If we are to introduce a new agreement and develop a new trading relationship with a country, surely these are the kinds of provisions that should be front and centre in that agreement. It is very unfortunate that Panama refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. That should sound a warning bell that there is a problem here.

The member for Burnaby—New Westminster moved a motion which would have stopped the implementation of the trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. However, that too was defeated.

He also moved amendments that would have required the Minister of International Trade to consult with labour and trade unions as well as work with human rights experts and organizations in order to create impact assessments for the trade agreement. To me, this is very important.

We recognize that there is a serious problem. There needs to be ongoing evaluation, assessment and monitoring. Surely our minister responsible for these areas should be able to consult with labour and trade unions as well as human rights organizations who work in this area to know what is happening on the ground. We are not talking about theoretical situations. We are talking about serious human rights violations. We are talking about serious labour violations where workers do not have the right to collective agreements or the right to strike. Their ability to organize as a union is sometimes threatened in a collective and personal sense. That is a very serious situation.

Therefore, it seemed to us to be a very reasonable suggestion to put forward as an amendment that the minister would want to know what was going on. He would want to consult with the organizations that are aware of these situations to be able to have impact assessments as part of the agreement. One would think that would have been supported, but no, that was defeated too.

The member also put forward amendments that would have protected trade union workers in Panama by offering the right to collective bargaining as well as requiring the Minister of International Trade as the principle representative of Canada to consult on a regular basis with organizations in our country. That was defeated too.

The bill has a sorry history and it is back before us again. We will do our utmost to defeat the bill. It should go back to the drawing board. There should be a reverse in favour of an agreement that is based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade which builds trading relationships and partnerships with other countries, that supports the principles of social justice and human rights, while also expanding economic opportunities. That is what fair trade is about. That is what we should be doing in this agreement.