Hon. Lucien Bouchard (Secretary of State and Acting Minister of the Environment):
Mr. Speaker, we find ourselves again in this Chamber after Canadians have unequivocally renewed their support for this Government. Of course, this support was first and foremost given to the Right Hon. Prime Minister and the policies put forward by his Government and to the vision we proposed to Canadians.
The election campaign that we have just been through was based mainly on one issue that gave rise to heated exchanges. This debate also gave Canadians the opportunity to consider two options for the future, to look at themselves in terms of their true identity and to choose the one that they considered most promising for the development of the country. The electorate showed that developing the national identity was not incompatible with openness to the world-far from it. Now that the people's verdict has democratically decided the question of free trade with the United States, it is up to us legislators to carry out the will of the people. On this side of the House, we want to do so calmly and respectfully, by once again explaining our choices, the underlying principles and the reasons why we believe that this treaty is an act of maturity, far-sightedness and deep faith in the future of Canada.
Our country's economy, whether in metropolitan areas, towns or outlying regions, is heavily dependent on exports. We are 25 million people on a vast territory, and most of us live on a narrow strip along the American border. Throughout our history, this geographic and demographic reality has forced us to be competitive, to be better than the rest if we hoped to succeed. We still
Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement
want to meet this challenge that we face every day, which we have always faced until now, so much so that our people do not just sell raw materials in the United States, Mr. Speaker. They invest, they create jobs and make profits there; they go after their share of this huge consumer market.
Furthermore, we live in an era when the economies of the whole world are tending to band together in increasingly close-knit and powerful blocs. This is true of the twelve European countries that in 1992 will constitute a unified body of 350 million people. It is true of the Asian countries that are beginning the same kind of process, while respecting the national independence of individual countries. Confronted with the rise of these major economic powers and the liberalization of international trade, Canadians have to choose between a week-kneed and so illusory recourse to protectionism, on one hand, and the challenge of openness and confidence in our abilities and talents, on the other.
We never claimed, Mr. Speaker, that free trade with the United States would be a rose garden. But we said, and we continue to believe firmly, that Canada's best development opportunities are in that direction. This message that we have been conveying to Canadians for many months was understood, as the results of November 21 attest. When the benefits of free trade will begin to be felt, more and more Canadians will realize that the Agreement is the road to our future. Not only will we provide guaranteed and stable access to U.S. markets, and, in the process, maintain and create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, but we will have done so at no cost to Canada's identity.
Canada is a country of great resources, a trading nation whose people enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. It is also a country which has, over the years, developed one of the best social systems. We are a caring society and we believe that government will and must have a role to play in reducing the disparities between the rich and the poor, men and women, regions rich in natural resources and regions with few natural resources.
In the last few months, and especially in the weeks before the election, defeatists cropped up everywhere and predicted nothing less than a national catastrophe if Canadians said yes to the Free Trade Agreement. Some people believed these prophets of doom and gloom. As we review this Agreement which is again before us, our role is to provide reassurance and information to stay any fears that may still remain about free trade.
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We said it before the election and again after the election: Canada's social programs are here to stay. If we had had the least doubt in that regard, we would not have signed the Free Trade Agreement.
Besides, why would our social programs be threatened? Starting in 1935, trade tariffs were gradually removed and now 80 per cent of our trade with the United States is tariff-free. During that period, Canadian trade with the United States continued to grow. Nevertheless, it is in the last 53 years that the bulk of our social programs has been established. That never affected in any way our capacity to compete. Why should things be any different today? Why should continuity in our trade relationships bring about a break in our social and cultural traditions?
The villifiers of free trade are especially worried about those five to seven years during which we will define with our American partners what is a subsidy and which subsidies will come under the new rules developed by the task force.
According to them, that period of negotiation will result in the abolition of almost all our social programs, from old age security to unemployment insurance benefits through regional development assistance. They either ignore or forget to mention that we already have sure indications of the way those negotiations will go. Already, under the auspices of GATT, Canada and the United States recognize that internal subsidies are legitimate means to promote, for instance, economic and regional development. GATT does not limit the right of its members to use internal subsidies to reach such goals. What that clearly confirms is the capacity of Canada, within the free trade framework, to keep on fighting against regional disparities and allocating as many billions of dollars as we are putting into it now.
On the other hand, in 1985, the American Trade Department had rejected the claim of East Coast American fishermen that unemployment insurance benefits paid to Canadian fishermen were subsidies liable to countervailing duties.
Invoking more or less the same arguments, and taking advantage, it ought to be pointed out, of the Canadian people's interest in the issue, the opponents of free trade have tried to make us believe that the agreement would be a disaster for our environment. As the Prime Minister has entrusted me temporarily with the environment portfolio, it behooves me today to respond to the assertions made by certain groups opposed to the Free Trade Agreement. By signing the agreement, we have not
given up an iota of our sovereignty either in the field of social programs or with respect to our ability to maintain strict environmental protection programs.
During our first mandate, we passed environmental protection legislation which ranks among the most exacting in the world. We took vigorous measures to reduce chemical pollution. We invested millions of dollars for cleaning up our waterways, whether it be the Great Lakes, the Saint-Lawrence or the port of Flalifax, to name only a few initiatives.
Canada has adhered to the concept of "sustainable development", which entails that economic development must be subordinated to environmental considerations. We set up a task force on environment and the economy, further to the suggestion made by the United Nations Commission on Environment, whose Chairperson Mrs. Brundtland, Premier of Norway, underlined Canada's contribution as a world leader in the fight for the protection of the environment.
All those actions were actions by a sovereign nation aware of the gigantic steps that remain to be taken for its citizens to have purer air and cleaner water.
To suggest that the Free Trade Agreement with the United States will affect our ability to do that is sheer speculation and, as much as I regret to say, demagogy.
Some groups also stated the Agreement would force Canada to harmonize its environmental standards with those of the United States. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Quite the opposite, the Agreement recognizes our right to maintain and create environmental conservation policies. As a matter of fact, the Agreement includes no requirement of any kind for the harmonization of standards.
Others further submitted that under the Free Trade Agreement, Canada could no longer provide financial assistance to industries wishing to reduce their emissions of pollutants. That is false! Because the GATT, Mr. Speaker, recognizes environmental protection as a legitimate goal governments may promote through subsidies. Therefore governments, both federal and provincial, will continue to financially support industries undertaking clean-up measures.
One of the most evident signs of ignorance and bad faith exhibited by some critics of Free Trade, Mr. Speaker, deals with that alleged treaty obligation for Canada to export our water to the United States.
Those absolute lies are still being propagated even after the Minister of International Trade had an
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amendment passed to Bill C-130 to specify the Free Trade Agreement did not apply to water.
In that area also, the Agreement is in line with provisions under the GATT that allow a country to take necessary steps to protect the environment. Section 1201 of the Agreement is clear on that.
In fact, the only provision in the Agreement that deals with the matter of water concerns the elimination of tariff on water which we import from the United States.
Our lakes and rivers are not for sale, and Canadians know it. That type of export on the other hand is specifically excluded both by the federal water policy and the Canadian Water Preservation Act.
Canadian sovereignty in that crucial sector-as in all others-is altogether unassailable.
Mr. Speaker, the environmental question underlies the notion of sovereignty. Had the Free Trade Agreement in any way restricted our freedom to act in this field we would not have signed for any consideration whatever.
Over the next few years there will be an unprecedented number of new measures to protect our environment. This happens to be one of the basic commitments we made to Canadian men and women during the election campaign. You may rest assured that this Government will live up to them.
Whether we are talking about cleaning up our rivers or fighting against the depletion of the ozone layer and against every type of toxic emissions, free trade or no free trade, the Canadian Government can take action in all fields related to environmental protection.
During the election campaign the Prime Minister also promised that before the expiry of his second mandate he would sit down with the United States and negotiate a comprehensive agreement for a common effort in fighting acid rain. The new American administration has already indicated it is prepared to undertake such negotiations. Canadians can be assured that, as in the case of the free trade deal, this agreement will be negotiated in the best interests of this country and its citizens.
In our societies, never has so much concern been expressed over our environmental heritage. The United States has responsabilities in that respect, we have ours. And we share common responsibilities. And Canadians can rest assured that we will live up to them competently and energetically, while asserting our full sovereignty.
Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement
Subtopic: CANADA-UNITED STATES FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT MEASURE TO ENACT