November 17, 2009

NDP

Jack Harris

New Democratic Party

Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join in the debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. At the outset, this debate has exposed a serious flaw in the government's approach to international trade.

I commend my NDP colleague from Burnaby in leading the opposition to the bill. I also thank the members of the Bloc Québécois for their continued support. I was very moved this morning when I heard the member from Laval speak eloquently and passionately about the situation in Colombia. She gave names and voices to those who have been murdered by a very oppressive regime. Through its support directly or indirectly of the paramilitary, that regime has caused the murder of thousands of civilians, many of them trade union activists. According to the International Labour Organization, over the last 10 years, 60% of all trade unionists murdered in the world were murdered in Colombia.

It is important to note that President Uribe has been accused by international human rights organizations of corruption, electoral fraud, complicity in extrajudicial killings by the army, of links to paramilitary and right-wing death squads, using his own security forces to spy on the supreme court of Colombia, opposition politicians, government politicians and journalists. Many government members, including ministers and members of his family, have been forced to resign or have been arrested.

The regime has been recognized as a pariah by many countries in the world in terms of how it deals with its people and its failure to act in the interests of its citizens. Accordingly Canada, by entering into this agreement, is in fact acting to defend the approach of Mr. Uribe and his regime to government in Colombia.

We have heard it said by others, including the Liberal member for Kings—Hants, that this is a good deal because it would not only put an end to any possibilities of protectionism, but it would also lead to human rights advances. That statement cannot be supported. There is absolutely no precedent for a free trade agreement leading to changes and improvements in human rights. We need an agreement that ensures significant action is taken to reverse what is happening in Colombia and that the regime no longer supports the kind of activities going on there.

The NDP is not opposed to trade or to a regime which involves fair trade. We would support an agreement that fully respects human rights as a precondition for a trade deal. The Canada-Colombia agreement is fundamentally flawed for that reason and it does little more than pay lip service to the serious damage it could do to human rights in Colombia by legitimizing the dangerous regime that is implicated in violence and the murder of its citizens.

It has been suggested that once the Uribe government gets this free trade gift, the incentive to improve human rights will go out the window. There is no fundamental protection for human rights contained in this agreement. In fact, the violation of the side deal on labour rights can only result in a contribution being made of $15 million to an international fund. That is clearly not a significant response to the desperate situation taking place in Colombia.

In addition to these serious and significant human rights violations, nearly 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered since 1986. This year alone, some 34 identified trade unionists have been murdered for their activities.

Colombia has nearly four million internally displaced persons, 60% of whom come from regions where there is mineral, agricultural or other economic activities. Private companies and their government and parliamentary supporters are forcing people from their homes. This economic development is being supported by the Colombian government and its trading partners. If Canada intends to act as a supporter of that regime, then we intend to do everything we can to stop it and we hope members of Parliament, who have listened to the debate, listened to their constituents, who have written them on this matter, listened to the Canadian Labour Congress and others, will change their mind and their approach toward this legislation.

I want to mention some of the names, as my colleague from the Bloc Québécois did earlier, of individuals who have been killed in Colombia in the last few months: a teacher union activist of Arauca, Rodriguez Garavito, was murdered on June 9; Carbonell Pena Eduar, union of teachers and professors, was kidnapped from his workplace and murdered; a teacher with the association of teachers of Cordoba, Ramiro Israel Montes Palencia, was stopped on the road by two unidentified men and shot; and Cortes Lopez Zorayda, an activist in the teachers union, was murdered by two gunmen on a motorcycle on November 13 last week.

This violence against trade unionists and activists has continued on an ongoing basis, week after week, month after month, for many years, yet the Conservative government proposes to enter into a free trade agreement with the Colombia government and its regime. Our relationship with Colombia in the area of trade is not even significant. It is only our fifth largest trading partner in all of Latin America.

Why does the government see fit to enter into this relationship with Colombia, effectively supporting, ratifying and encouraging its activity toward its citizens? This is not the kind of Canada we want to see on the international stage. We want to see a Canada that vigorously promotes human rights. We do not want to see a Canada that helps countries that act this way toward their citizens. We do not want to see a Canada that fails to take any significant action to distance itself from this type of activity, which in fact, is being held by many international groups as being responsible for this.

It is a great shock to see the Conservative and Liberal Parties of Canada give support to the legislation, to the trade agreement and to the Colombian government, which acts so negatively against its citizens and tolerates and promotes directly and indirectly the kind of activities that we have talked and heard about in this debate.

This is a significant and important debate. We have submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade on this arrangement from the Canadian Labour Congress, which has significant objections to the agreement. In its submission it states:

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was not written to protect labour and human rights. It is more than a “trade” agreement. It is a trade and investment agreement underpinned by tacit Canadian support for a security agenda that defends the extractive industries, the drug cartels, and the internal security forces of Colombia.

That is a fairly strong and powerful statement coming from the representatives of all organized workers in Canada. It is not the right thing to do for Canada. It is not the right thing to do for Colombia. It is not the right thing to do for the global economy, which was what the Prime Minister unfortunately said.

There is a significant problem with this. The Government of Canada is tacitly supporting the government of Colombia. Its people live in fear because of the operations of paramilitaries and private security firms and the mafia-style gangland killings aimed at the people who are trying to change things and better their own lot and that of their fellow citizens. Trade union activists are the ones who do that.

That government, in defeating human rights activists and trade union activists, refer to them as terrorists. This is the latest word used to blame somebody. The latest way to make it fair game for people to murder them, kill them, kidnap them and attack them is to pass a label on them when they are in fact trying to improve the lot of their fellow workers, citizens and the country in general.

I would be happy to entertain some questions and comments, but this agreement should be opposed and we certainly oppose it.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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CPC

Gerry Ritz

Conservative

Hon. Gerry Ritz (Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I was in the lobby doing some other work and I could not help but overhear some of the comments being made today, including from the member who just spoke. Everyone around the world recognizes the historical problems in countries like Colombia. A lot of what he has said is a diatribe to that.

Why does he feel that Canada, as a stable democracy, does not have a role to play in helping countries like Colombia into the 21st century? Our free trade agreements include labour and environmental standards, which are the cornerstone or ideology of that party. We are seeking to help them in doing that.

I know the president of Colombia was before the committee. He painted a different picture of the country. I doubt the member has been there to see that new picture, but I have. I had the great opportunity to be there for some time last year as we moved toward this. It is easy to snipe from the sidelines and read a lot of the gospel from before, but we are there to help them change.

Agriculture is a huge beneficiary of this type of free trade agreement. The Canadian Wheat Board wants this to happen, which is a paragon to the NDP. Therefore, why do those members constantly waste our time and stand in the road of this kind of progress?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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NDP

Jack Harris

New Democratic Party

Mr. Jack Harris

Mr. Speaker, we are clearly not talking about ancient history. We are talking about what has happened today, yesterday, the day before and last week.

Members of the Colombian labour movement are imploring Canadian parliamentarians to reject the agreement. They are the ones who know what is going on in their country. They are the ones who are telling us to not give succour to their government. They are telling us not to help it and legitimize its activity by supporting this agreement.

One would think, if this were good for the agricultural workers, industrial workers and the people of Colombia, members of the trade union of that country would be asking us to open it up. They would be asking us for more trade so they could get more jobs and improve their lot in life. However, that is not what they are saying. If they were, we would obviously be taking a very different approach.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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NDP

Pat Martin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from St. John's East for pointing out and asking the obvious question. Why would we reward such bad behaviour toward environmentalists, trade unionists and anybody in the judicial system? It is open season on my colleagues in that Latin American country.

The labour organization ORIT, which is the plenary labour organization for the Organization of American States, has condemned Colombia. Yet it seeks to form this alliance with Canada in order to improve its image internationally, I believe.

My colleague points out some of the recent murders. They are not ancient history, but have taken place up to and including November 13, which is the most recent example, when a trade unionist was gunned down in the streets by two gunmen on motorcycles.

It is open season on the head of the carpenters union, the head of the teachers union and the head of the nurses union. Why would we do business with a country like that? When there is no compelling economic reason, what is driving the government to get in bed with such a corrupt regime and international pariah?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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NDP

Jack Harris

New Democratic Party

Mr. Jack Harris

Mr. Speaker, the question does not have an answer from me. Why, indeed, would the Conservative government of a proud democracy and whose history is foremost in support of human rights, both nationally and internationally, give encouragement to the Colombian government that has an appalling record of human rights and whose own people and representatives in the trade union movement, people working for human rights, are saying that this agreement is a bad thing and that it is rewarding the government for its atrocious record.

Why, indeed? I do not have an answer to that question and the answers that we are hearing from hon. members opposite do not hold water.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Christiane Gagnon (Québec, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, there is a lively debate on the subject. As we see it, from the perspective we have on living conditions in Colombia, we can see that on the government’s side, everything seems rosy in Colombia. We are discussing Bill C-23, whose purpose is to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, and in particular we are debating the Bloc Québécois amendment, which has sparked considerable debate here in this House.

After our review of Bill C-23, it is our opinion that we must refuse to pass this bill at second reading. The government concluded this agreement while the Standing Committee on International Trade was considering the matter. The government thereby demonstrated its disrespect for democratic institutions.

This week, Le Devoir published a long article by Manon Cornellier denouncing a crisis of democracy in Parliament. The article said that the committees are no longer held in high regard, that debates are ignored, neglected and scorned, and that Parliament is giving up on them. I could speak at length about this democratic deficit since the Conservatives have been in power.

We know very well that it is difficult to maintain a certain level of democracy and a certain respect for the opposition. But since the Conservatives were elected, it has worsened. Committee work is no longer what it used to be. It has even made the work of parliamentarians worse.

While the committee was considering the agreement with Colombia, the government flouted the work of parliamentarians and democratic institutions. This is one of the reasons why we oppose this bill. If we are not capable of showing the world that we have a democratically elected Parliament and that opposing voices are being expressed, if the work of parliamentarians is ignored, how can anyone have confidence in the legislation we want to pass, especially when that legislation will have serious consequences for Colombia?

With the possible signing of a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement looming, the Standing Committee on International Trade considered the issue and actually went to Colombia for this purpose. It went to Colombia to meet there with representatives of government, civil society, unions, and human rights advocacy groups. This committee was supposed to produce a report containing recommendations for the government regarding the signing of a possible free trade agreement with Colombia.

Yet it was not even back from its trip when the government completed its negotiations with Colombia and was ready to sign an agreement. The committee produced a report all the same. Naturally the government took no account of its recommendations. Now even the Liberals are ducking out, despite the fact that they were in agreement with those recommendations. I say this because it was already difficult to maintain some respect for committee work, but this has become worse with the advent of the Conservatives.

A second reason raised by the Standing Committee on International Trade is at the very root of the Bloc Québécois’ opposition to the signing of this agreement. It is important to note that our concerns are shared by many lobby groups, particularly human rights advocacy groups here in Canada and in Quebec, and also in Colombia. It would like to list a few of them. For example, here in Canada, there is Amnesty International, Development and Peace, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and the Canadian Labour Congress. A number of unions have also come out against this agreement.

In Colombia, there are the national indigenous organization of Colombia, the popular women’s organization, the national agrarian coordinator, the Christian movement for peace with justice and dignity, the national movement for health and social security, the Afro-American African roots movement, the Black Community Process, and COMOSOC, a coalition of Colombian organizations.

As is apparent, the committee heard several witnesses who enlightened it about this agreement and the fact that it raises a number of questions. For example, it would not allow for Colombians’ living conditions to be improved if a Canadian investor were done out of profits.

It is understandable to want to implement measures to protect investments by Canadian or Quebec companies. But if an investment were threatened by government decisions that did not allow the company to make as much profit as it might hope, the company could then claim damages and have the matter heard by the courts.

As a result, according to the study the Bloc Québécois has done, this bill is very negative for Colombians’ living conditions.

As well, Colombia is not one of Canada’s leading trade partners. We wonder why the government wants to move ahead so quickly with this agreement. Imports were $644 million in 2008, and exports amounted to $704 million for the same year. Trade between the two countries is obviously very limited. We hear about wanting to protect investments and business transactions that take place between Colombia and Canadian investors, but the extent of the investments does not justify applying this clause in the case of Colombia.

A majority of these investments are in the mining sector and the extraction industry. It is important to consider that fact if we want to assess the importance of the investor protection clause in the free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada. The first aim is to make life easier for mining investors in Colombia. It has to be understood that it is common practice to incorporate an investor protection clause in a free trade agreement, and the Bloc agrees with that, to create a foreseeable environment for the investor so that it will not have its property seized or there will not be nationalization without compensation.

The Bloc Québécois is very aware that this is an issue for investors. But there has been some drift in this regard. As well, Canada incorporates an investor protection chapter in the free trade agreements it negotiates that is modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA. What does chapter 11 of NAFTA provide? Foreign investors may themselves apply to the international tribunals, bypassing governments. The concept of expropriation is so broad that any law whose effect was to reduce an investor’s profits may amount to an expropriation and result in legal action. The amount of the claim is not limited to the value of the investment, as I was saying earlier, it includes all potential profits in future, and in our opinion that is completely excessive. It means that if a law cut into a foreign investor’s profits, the government of the country where the investments were made would be exposed to fantastically high claims.

The intention of the Conservative government regarding this agreement is clear here. Under the Liberals, incorporating an investor protection clause in free trade agreements modelled on the clause in chapter 11 of NAFTA had become common practice, and that is clearly a response to demands by multinationals. That is why I said just now that we thought the Liberals would support us and not agree with this, but clearly they are going back to their old habits and perhaps they are now ready to reconsider how they will be voting on this bill.

In Colombia, 47% of the population live below the poverty line, and 12% live in dire poverty. The unemployment rate is the highest in Latin America. Instead of putting on rose-coloured glasses as the Minister who spoke for the Conservative government was just doing, if we look at Colombians’ living conditions, there is every reason to believe that this government does not care at all how the people there live and how we might improve their living conditions.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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CPC

Gary Lunn

Conservative

Hon. Gary Lunn (Minister of State (Sport), CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put my comments on the record about the reckless comments from the NDP and from some of the opposition members, but specifically the NDP members because they are not putting the facts out there.

I actually had an opportunity to speak with President Uribe a week and a half ago and he explained to me how important this would be for the Colombian people.

I will get to my question right now. The number of mass killings has decreased in the last four or five years from 680 to 127.

The hon. member just spoke specifically about the fact that extreme poverty in Colombia is at 12%. However, what she did not say is that it was at 21% before that government was elected. Colombia is making remarkable progress for the people of Colombia. A democratically elected government believes this will be good for the people of Colombia.

The reckless comments by the opposition and the comments from the NDP members, which are simply not true, are completely outrageous.

I would like the member to comment on the extreme conditions. Does she not agree that the government in Colombia has almost cut extreme poverty in half since it has taken office?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Christiane Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, I think more rigorous and in-depth reading on events in Colombia is called for. I do not know whether the minister who has just spoken has met with other players currently in Colombia, where development is occurring on government land.

For example, how do they consider workers in Colombia? These people are underpaid, exploited and living in extreme conditions. I could perhaps send him some DVDs I have in my office, which express the anger, fear and fear of reprisals, often with a certain—I will not say it in the House, but I think the minister's arguments are very narrow when he says that to us.

For example, too much protection is afforded investors. This means that if a government wanted to give more benefits in order to protect its citizens—Colombians in this case—it could then be sued by Canadian or Quebec investors through the courts.

The government in my opinion is giving too much latitude to businesses, and many mining companies locating in different countries are ransacking and do not—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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CPC

Barry Devolin

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin)

Order, please. The hon. member for Repentigny.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Nicolas Dufour

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Nicolas Dufour (Repentigny, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with considerable interest to my colleague's remarks. I have a very simple question for her.

In 2008, the committee responsible for international trade conducted a study costing several tens of thousands of dollars. The members went to Colombia to study what was going on there, in greater depth. The committee submitted a report, but the Conservatives ignored it.

As we have said from the outset, the Bloc has no problem with free trade as such. Our problem is with the way it is done and the rules and framework.

When I see that the Conservatives do not even take the time to look at a committee report, I think they are ridiculing democracy and the work we do. I would like to hear what my colleague has to say.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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CPC

Barry Devolin

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin)

The hon. member for Québec with a short response, please.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Christiane Gagnon

Bloc Québécois

Ms. Christiane Gagnon

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, the government operates in an undemocratic manner. As to the work of the committee, they went to Colombia and they met not only the president and people in the government, but they also met a number of groups, which I mentioned earlier, and had recommendations.

The government did not even wait until they came home. It had already decided. Its bed was made. As I pointed out earlier, this week's Le Devoir reports that democracy is in crisis. That says a lot on how people see the work of parliamentarians.

I have sat in this House since 1993 and I find that, compared with what the committees do, the Conservatives are far below people's expectations of what living in a democracy might be. They have no time for the opposition.

In representing the public in our riding as elected officials, we also represent certain values and political beliefs. People want their values and ideas defended in this Parliament, but this government does not care what the opposition thinks.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Josée Beaudin

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Josée Beaudin (Saint-Lambert, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my comments to the debate on Bill C-23, Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, now before the House. I am pleased to also express my opposition to this legislation, primarily because of human rights issues, as we have been stressing over the past few weeks.

As with everything else, before making a decision it is important to weigh the pros and the cons, to hear the arguments on both sides, and then to take into consideration the fine distinctions that are overlooked in the basic arguments. It is not out of ideological stubbornness that the Bloc Québécois is opposed to this bill. I know the Bloc critic on international trade quite well. He is a serious person who would not let his parliamentary duty be tainted or marred by restrictive ideological straitjackets. So, I can say with certainty that our party's position on the legislation before us today has much more to do with a careful review than with irrational stubbornness, contrary to what some parliamentarians suggested during their usual display of petty partisanship.

One has to be very shortsighted to not realize that our position is shared by a large number of organizations, including unions, workers advocacy groups and human rights groups, both in Canada and in Colombia. “We are not alone”, as Michèle Lalonde says in her poem. There are many who, like us, think that supporting Bill C-23 would be “shooting ourselves in the foot”, this for a number of reasons.

Indeed, to agree with this legislation is to condone serious and even very serious human rights violations affecting social, economic and even fundamental rights. There are many examples of that.

For instance, it is estimated that, since 1986, close to 2,700 trade unionists have been killed. In 2007 alone, 38 were assassinated because of their commitment.

According to France's national institute for demographic studies, in the year 2000, Colombia had by far the highest violent death rate in the world, with 60.8 violent deaths per 100,000 population. This was far more than Russia, which came in second with a rate of 28.4 homicides per 100,000.

By comparison, Canada had a rate of 1.78 per 100,000 for that same year. So, we are talking about a rate that is 34 times higher than that of Canada.

To claim that a treaty can improve humanitarian conditions is to delude oneself. It is the contrary that should occur. Indeed, the improvement of the social conditions should be a prerequisite to signing a free trade treaty.

Canada does not have to be a global cop enforcing what is morally right, but it has a duty to refuse to condone things that happen elsewhere, but that would not be tolerated here. It is because of this same principle that we cannot accept the unconditional transfer of Afghan prisoners, without any guarantee that they will not be mistreated. Otherwise, we are more or less part of a subcontracting process involving basic right violations, whereby the government shirks its responsibilities on the pretext that these violations are not occurring on its territory. The government should know that moral obligations do not stop at the border.

Beyond the humanitarian dimension of the situation in Colombia, and regardless of the good and not so good reasons that should make us accept or reject this bill, there is one aspect that remains profoundly unacceptable, namely the utter contempt for democratic institutions shown by the Conservative government in signing the free trade agreement, without even waiting for the committee's report.

That adds another string to the bow of Conservative hypocrisy. Was it not the Prime Minister himself who used to castigate Paul Martin’s Liberals for running roughshod over the will of Parliament? Did he not proclaim loud and long that, if elected, he would make it a point of honour never to disregard the will of the House?

Obviously these were hollow words that soon yielded to actions that speak a lot more loudly and show the true face of the government, which cannot accept its minority status.

So even if we had agreed with the spirit of this bill, which we do not, we would have been forced to object to the way it was handled in actual fact.

This made the front page of last Saturday’s Le Devoir, as my colleague mentioned, and I quote: “Democracy in crisis”. In this devastating article, the excellent journalist Manon Cornellier writes the following in her introduction: “Stephen Harper rules: his ministers play second fiddle, committees have fallen out of favour, and debates are ignored. Neglected, held in contempt, Parliament is in deep trouble”. She goes on to quote Peter Russell, an emeritus professor at the University of Toronto who could hardly be described as a nasty separatist. He is unequivocal, though, saying that the Prime Minister does not take the House of Commons seriously as a forum of national public debate, which only encourages the further marginalization of Parliament.

There are numerous examples: the manuals given to committee chairs on techniques for slowing and sabotaging the work when things are not going the Conservatives’ way; their contempt for private member’s bills, even if the bills pass all stages of the legislative process; their refusal to give royal recommendation to these bills; the use of public funds for partisan purposes; and the constant appeals of decisions made by Canadian courts. I could go on forever.

Yet this same government constantly urges the opposition to cooperate with it. They must have a very peculiar idea of cooperation to think they were encouraging it by short-circuiting the work of a committee.

What message does an attitude like that send to parliamentarians? Basically, their work is useless and the government could not care less about the conclusions they reach and the recommendations they make. In other words, no salvation outside the government, or should I say, outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Passing this bill, agreeing to this treaty, would amount to approving, condoning, confirming, ratifying and assenting to a way of doing things, a view of parliamentary government that is so restrictive it poses a real threat to the democratic values of Quebeckers.

The end never justifies the means.

This reminds me of another flagrant example of the government’s inability to listen to either parliamentarians or the courts of the land, namely, the case of young Omar Khadr. I think there is a parallel here with a case whose historical importance should give us pause. I am thinking of what in France is called the Dreyfus affair.

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I would like to quickly remind the members what happened.

Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army of Alsatian Jewish descent, was at the heart of a very important political and social scandal in the late 19th century. He stood accused of the most serious crime an officer could face, namely, high treason, after a note was found that gave details regarding the location of French troops during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. He was quickly tried and convicted, but later appealed that ruling, knowing he had been the victim of a legal conspiracy. In fact, as history has shown, he was innocent. There was compelling evidence to support his theory that it was a conspiracy. Clearly, France wanted to make someone pay, to find a scapegoat for the French fiasco. A guilty party had to be found.

Thus, in seeking some form of justice, the French government was willing to convict an innocent man, someone it knew to be innocent.

One of the most outspoken individuals in this affair was certainly Charles Péguy, an author who is largely unknown today, but whose body of work was enormous. In Notre jeunesse, he wrote the following about the Dreyfus affair and what he considered a crime committed against him:

—that a single injustice, a single crime, a single illegality, particularly if it is officially recorded, confirmed, a single wrong to humanity, a single wrong to justice and to right, particularly if it is universally, legally, nationally, commodiously accepted, that a single crime shatters and is sufficient to shatter the whole social pact, the whole social contract, that a single legal crime, a single dishonourable act will bring about the loss of one's honour, the dishonour of a whole people.

I could go on. Ten minutes go by very quickly in the House. I will move on to my conclusion, for I believe I have made my point.

The way in which Bill C-23 was brought forward is another example of how this government tends to undermine the House. So people will understand why the Bloc Québécois could never vote in favour of Bill C-23, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Robert Vincent

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Robert Vincent (Shefford, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, we have become accustomed to seeing the Conservative government show a total lack of respect for democratic institutions: sabotage of committee work on orders from the PMO, obsessive control of information to the point of restricting access to it, and refusal to implement resolutions passed by the House of Commons. In the case of the free trade agreement with Colombia, the government took contempt to a whole new level. It conducted broad consultations and even went to Colombia.

But the government decided to enter into this agreement before the committee had even completed its work. Its message to parliamentarians is that no matter what they think or say, it will do as it pleases. And we see that today. It is saying the same thing to the many witnesses who came to share with us their comments on this agreement. We cannot condone such contempt and such stubbornness.

How can we trust the Conservative government to ensure respect for human rights in Colombia when it has no respect for our democratic institutions?

I would like my colleague from Saint-Lambert to comment on that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Josée Beaudin

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Josée Beaudin

Mr. Speaker, I was precisely asking in my speech how this government could respect human rights in Colombia when democracy is not even respected in this House. The parliamentary committee tabled its report, but it was not taken into consideration before the agreement was signed.

I take this opportunity to answer the question asked by my colleague opposite a few moments ago. He said that the poverty rate has gone down in Colombia.

When signing such free trade agreements with other countries, we must first ensure that the economy of these other countries is similar to ours. That is hardly the case with Colombia. Human rights should therefore be much more important than the economy and investments between our two countries.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Jean-Yves Roy

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Jean-Yves Roy (Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I have a question on poverty for my colleague. I enjoyed her speech, but she did not really have enough time to speak to poverty or respond to the member opposite who spoke of reducing poverty in Colombia.

When we only meet with representatives of the Colombian government and those who can cook the books—it is as simple as that—can we truly talk about reducing poverty in Colombia? The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has the real figures: 68% of the population in rural Colombia live below the poverty line. Of that number, at least 11% were poorer still and were even struggling to feed themselves.

Can we sign a free trade agreement with a country that has absolutely no respect for its population or its workers and certainly has no real concern for reducing poverty?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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BQ

Josée Beaudin

Bloc Québécois

Mrs. Josée Beaudin

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. I want to thank my colleague.

Although the poverty rate in Colombia has gone down over the past few years, it is still one of the highest in Latin America. This is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. We cannot sign free trade agreements with this country to make life easier for investors. On the contrary, Canada has to retain its ability to exert pressure on this country to respect the human rights of its citizens.

I would like to draw a parallel with the child poverty situation in Canada, since I am a member of the committee that deals with that issue. In the past 10 years, we have not in any way achieved the goal that was set for reducing child poverty. Other goals will be set for 2020 or 2025. If Canada cannot manage to come up with the necessary measures to reduce child poverty here, then I imagine that poverty in other countries is way over its head.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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NDP

Thomas Mulcair

New Democratic Party

Mr. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to speak to Bill C-23, which the Conservatives would use to force Canada, if they have their way, to enter into a free trade agreement with Colombia.

A number of speakers before me have clearly shown that, unlike most international trade agreements, this agreement does not acknowledge the importance of enforcing respect for human rights.

The Conservatives have managed to convince themselves that by signing a free trade agreement with Colombia, we would miraculously be creating a new set of conditions that would have Colombia respect human rights from this point forward.

That is just not the case. Even the Americans, who the Conservatives emulate in international matters, are saying that they will never, ever sign a free trade agreement with the current Colombian government for the simple reason that they recognize, as we in the NDP do, that, unfortunately for its inhabitants, that country does not respect basic rights and the right to free association and union rights, in particular. Hundreds of union members and leaders have been murdered without any apparent consequence in that society, and this is but one of many examples.

Out of the ruins of the second world war, pioneers like Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman achieved one of the greatest successes in the history of the world when they took countries that had been at war for centuries, if not millennia, and built what is now the European Union. But you have to walk before you can run. They at least had a common foundation in their desire to respect human rights. It started with an agreement covering coal and steel, which became a common market, then an economic community, before turning into the true union we know today. But this is a union that continues to respect human rights, because that was one of the values on which it was built.

There is no similarity here. We are talking about a country that the Conservatives would like to see improve its human rights record, but that is not happening.

Moreover, I have news for the Conservativechief government whip, who decided a few weeks ago to give us a lesson in morality when he said that he was apparently offended because the opposition was daring to play its role as the opposition. He gave us a finger-wagging lesson in morality, saying that that is not how to make Parliament work. If I understood the Conservative Party's chief whip correctly, making Parliament work means giving the Conservatives everything they want. That is not how things work in a democracy, but it speaks volumes about this government's attitude and why the Conservatives do not see any problem in proposing a free trade agreement with Colombia, something the Americans would never do.

In fact, by debating the amendments and subamendments to Bill C-23, we are complying fully with the rules of our parliamentary institutions. We will not be lectured on morality by a government that is trying to force passage of a bill that would mean signing a free trade agreement with a country that does not respect human rights.

We will not stand for that. They can carry on admonishing us and telling us how dissatisfied they are with the results, but they are in the minority. There is an important lesson in this for anyone who might be thinking of making a change for the worse if they ever win a majority. The consequences of that are clear in the wording of Bill C-23. This bill belies the Conservatives' ideals: even if a country does not respect human rights, as long as business is good, nothing else matters.

All of the Conservatives' empty words about respecting human rights can now be examined and understood in light of what we have before us today.

The emperor has no clothes. This government talks about respecting human rights, but what it really wants is a free trade agreement with a country that systematically denies people their basic human rights.

The New Democratic Party believes that we must begin by strengthening the ability to enforce respect for human rights within Colombia. If asked, we should not hesitate to use our democratic institutions' experience to help Colombia.

But if we sign this agreement now, we will be sending the Government of Colombia the message that it does not need to make an effort to improve its human rights record because we are prepared to sign an agreement with the current Colombian government.

We must avoid sending that message at all costs. If Canada is serious and wants to become a champion of democratic values once again, we must stand up and say that an agreement like this one with a country that does not respect human rights will never make it through this Parliament.

One of the things that was the most surprising in this debate with regard to this proposed free trade treaty with Colombia was to hear the whip of the Conservatives, index finger wagging under our noses, telling us that we did not understand democracy because democracy was giving the government what it wanted. He said that we were not making Parliament work because we were not giving the government the free trade deal that it wanted with a government that does not respect human rights in Colombia. I have news for him. We are respecting every single rule of our Parliament and the institution that it represents in our democracy.

What we are saying is that it is wrong to sign a free trade deal with a government that does not respect human rights. We are going to use our ability as a major player in Parliament to do something that the Liberals do not do, which is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for democracy, and to stand up for principle.

I have a series of letters from groups around the country complaining that the Liberals are not doing what they claim to do, which is to stand up for human rights. It is a good thing that the NDP and other members of the House have stood and used their voices to say yes to greater relations with all countries, yes to using our parliamentary institutions, our experience and our human rights record to help people build capacity to respect human rights, and no to a free trade deal that sends the wrong signal.

It sends the signal that there are no problems in Colombia, that the murder of hundreds of trade unionists is something we would accept, whereas it is completely unacceptable based on all international principles and understanding of human rights, and democratic values around the world.

Shame on the Conservatives, those great givers of lessons before the eternal, those great finger waggers with regard to everyone else's behaviour. Shame on them for proposing a free trade deal rather than requiring that an effort be made in Colombia to bring up its standards of human rights, its respect for people, and its respect for social rights. That is a major difference between Colombia and us.

Shame on the pathetic Liberals, as usual talking out of both sides of their mouths at the same time, daring to say that they want to have Canada once again become a voice in the world. They are pathetic. All the correspondence in this file shows that the groups that once supported the Liberal Party now realize that there is only one strong principled voice for human rights in the House and that is the New Democratic Party of Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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CPC

Gerald Keddy

Conservative

Mr. Gerald Keddy (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, that was an interesting rant. I will try to counter that with some facts.

The reality is that the free trade agreement with Colombia has human rights and environmental provisions. It is a good agreement for human rights and the environment in Colombia. We have listened to the hyperbole that has continued to erupt over this agreement. We have had over 80 hours of debate in the House already and it is ongoing.

I will provide a couple of facts. Between 2002 and 2008 the number of mass killings decreased by 81% in Colombia, homicide rates have dropped by 44%, kidnappings are down 87%, extreme poverty has fallen from 21% to 12%, 32,000 paramilitaries have been demobilized, and the list goes on and on.

The question I have for the hon. member is this. We are already trading with Colombia without rules. We already have a co-operative trading agreement. We do not have a free trade agreement, so our industry is being penalized for trading with Colombia. Since we are already trading with Colombia, would it not make sense to put rules in place?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
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NDP

Thomas Mulcair

New Democratic Party

Mr. Thomas Mulcair

Mr. Speaker, since 1990, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia.

Colombia does not want just to have trade with Canada, all countries do with very few exceptions, it wants a privileged trade agreement with Canada. We should only put our name on privileged trade agreements with countries that respect human rights, and that is not the case in Colombia.

These great givers of lessons about law and order, they are dealing with a narco state and then they are going to stand up here in the House and say that they are standing up for law and order. Why do they not try standing up for law and order internationally? Then we will start believing them.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Permalink

November 17, 2009