MASSE IN THE HOUSE: On Bill C-23, Canada-Jordan Free Trade Agreement
December 14th, 2011 - 1:28pm
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, the Conservatives have an unusual way of reaching out. It is usually with the back of their hand to our face. That is the way they seem to approach the way to build bridges.
I am interested in the Jordan–Canada trade deal and moving this forward but there are some serious issues that we have to deal with and one of the ones I am going to raise during my comments in this debate is the issue over human rights and some of the labour issues that the parliamentary secretary knows happen in Jordan. There are thousands of people who are migrant workers who are used in Jordan and 75% of them are women. They are in very abusive conditions. We will be supporting bringing this to committee and when we bring it to committee, it will be to find some ways within this legislation to be able to monitor or improve the labour standards in Jordan and other issues that are not looked at in this bill. I would ask if the parliamentary secretary in the Conservative Party is open to that, in the spirit of trying to move this bill forward to see whether we can get some tools that are going to be effective. The United States signed its deal with Jordan and nearly 10 years later there are still the same problems. Many of the people tried to support and get some changes in Jordan, and they were done through voluntary means as is also done in this bill, and there were no repercussions.
So if the Conservative Party is interested in moving this forward, we would certainly be open to it as long as we include some provisions that are actually going to monitor the worst parts of this deal.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-23. I will get to this particular trade bill, but I want to address a couple of comments that have come out in recent discussions.
The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour was referenced with respect to his comments relating to buy America. I can say that as vice-chair of the Canada-U.S. Parliamentary Association, I have been in Washington many times and have met with many different congressional and state representatives, as well as senate representatives, heads of committees and so forth relating to buy America and Canada's position. Many of them have argued that Canada should have had a reciprocity issue with respect to buy America by having our own buy Canada act as part of a defence and to negotiate the removal of buy America because we have now seen it grow even further. What the government does not understand is there is buy America and buy American. There are two acts that actually have protectionism on them.
Most recently we have seen it happen again where, despite the minister going down to Washington, we actually have more problems because we will see more legislation. There is another piece of legislation that has been tabled in the House that actually calls for the Buy America Act to be involved in the transportation sector, which it was not before. Therefore, there are more barriers coming up and they come with a series of issues.
Cross-border trade was noted as well and the prosperity deal that was signed last week with regard to the Prime Minister and President Obama. What is interesting about that deal is that they have been concentrating mostly on petroleum and pushing our oil in Washington, and not looking after our manufacturing and other trade. Our trade and our manufacturing jobs have gone down to the lowest level since we have been actually taking those numbers and making them public in the 1970s. We have the lowest amount of manufacturing jobs left. That is because they have been obsessed with oil versus that other value-added trade.
What happened today is very important with respect to the announcement last week. What we learned is that the minister of transport failed to move on legislation to protect a new border crossing in my riding at Windsor-Detroit where 40% of our trade goes to the United States every single day. It goes along a two-mile corridor. We are trying to build a brand new border crossing, a new public bridge. It has been blocked along the way by a private American citizen who has literally bought up the Michigan legislature. He has spent over $1 million in donations and has blocked the actual movement of that bridge.
Therefore, when we are talking about trade with Jordan or with the United States, it is important to note who our number one customer is, that being the United States. The way that we have been signing deals and arrangements has actually been lowering us. We have put ourselves in a trade deficit. That is the reality. New Democrats are interested in trade. We are interested also in making sure it will be done in a fair and balanced way. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no way a Canadian can compete here, which is what we are asking for, with sweatshops in Jordan, some of which are Canadian companies, and I will give a specific example later on, which now take offshore labour, often from Sri Lanka and other developing countries, 75% of them women, house them and put them in deplorable conditions to produce clothing. How is the textile industry in Montreal able to compete with that? Will we accept that? Should we as citizens accept to wear cheaper garments produced by people who have been put into abusive situations and who are being taken advantage of? That is well-documented.
It was interesting to hear the criticisms about us saying that the labour movement is in favour of this now and that we are offside. The United Steelworkers originally supported the 2000 agreement between the United States and Jordan with respect to a trade deal. It is one of the situations I will be looking to with respect to amendments to get that undone. The United Steelworkers went on a fact-finding mission to see what happened because they had labour and environmental agreements and a whole series of things that were built but were voluntary. They found very little change. There was very little substance to the differences they were experiencing in the past because there was no enforcement.
This week we saw how our environmental enforcements are often not working within our own country. Therefore, we can just imagine what the rights of people in a kingdom like Jordan, which is not a democracy, can subject them to.
There is a responsibility and, generally, an interest for us to find some common ground and move some of those serious issues to closure. Surely, we do not want women fleeing Sri Lanka and their abuse and mistreatment to increase because Canada has signed a free trade deal with Jordan. I would hope that is not the case. We want some measures in this agreement to make sure we can eliminate those issues. Perhaps there is an opportunity.
Side issues to bilateral trade, like the environment and labour, are often very much weakened because there is no regulatory enforcement, but we can build that into the legislation and New Democrats will be looking for that. It is a carrot and stick approach. There is an offer to Jordan to improve its trade, improve access to our markets and its markets, but at the same time what we will be seeking are improved humane labour standards, improvements we all think we can agree on here.
Would anybody want us to diminish those things? That question has to be asked. Would that be something that we would support and be proud of as a country, if we were able to fuel further problems? I guess we have turned a blind eye on this in many respects when we look at what has happened across the world more recently with Libya and other states. We often turn a blind eye to some of these things for corporate interests, but at a certain point in time we need to talk about trade. There is global trade and all that kind of stuff, but there is no room for rights, the environment or other things. However, we need those things to be in place to improve our lifestyle and the planet. There has to be some balance.
Jordan may not be able to reach our standards right away. As consumers, we will demand that manufactured goods meet certain standards, such as a sweatshirt, a product with a zipper or clothing. When we buy those things, we want them to meet certain standards, but at the same time we allow people to work for 14 hours a day, not have time off and house them in warehouses and unclean areas. We have to address this issue. If that is the difference in me getting a sweater or sweatshirt cheaper by a couple of dollars, it is wrong.
We have a moral responsibility to address this while we can. If we take the blind eye approach, we are actually victimizing them because we are aware of the standards. We have them in Canada. We do not allow child labour in Canada, so we should not be ignoring those issues with Jordan and other states.
There are issues because of a side agreement, but the conclusion in the environmental assessment that was done under the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Agreement was this:
Even if a dramatic increase in the bilateral trade flows occurred as a result of the implementation of the Canada-Jordan FTA, the economic effects of this agreement would be modest relative to Canada's overall economic activity given the relatively low levels of bilateral trade and the size of the Jordan economy. As a consequence, related environmental impacts in Canada are not expected to be significant. Moreover, environmental impacts, if any, will be addressed and managed by the existing environmental management programs in sectors that stand to gain in the FTA, such as forestry and agriculture.
What is going to happen is that there will be no new regulatory oversight or repercussions related to this deal. It is interesting because the Conservatives talk about these issues in these trade agreements as if they are going to expand increasing markets, but their own research is telling them it is going to be relatively modest. That is what makes it really ironic and rich, when areas like the Windsor-Detroit corridor has 40% of its daily trade, $1 billion, flowing through the border and we still have a problem with security on the other side. Meanwhile, the government is talking about putting this as a priority.
It has tabled legislation for Jordan, but the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was advised by his own department to table legislation to protect our number one trading partner and border crossing in Canada and he did not do it. The government's policies in this last session of Parliament has been to drive Canada down and apart, not build it up.
The government was advised specifically to take action on that because our risk is high when it comes to the Windsor-Detroit crossing, with 40% of the trade going over there, private American citizens owning the bridge, and it being 80 years of age. Our manufacturing value-added system is at risk. We have watched a watershed of jobs leave from Ontario, Quebec and other places, including jobs in manufacturing across the country, and the government has been focusing on Panama and Jordan.
That is what the government has tabled as legislation. Our number trading partner, the number issue, is the United States. The Prime Minister goes to the United States, signs a border agreement and talks about infrastructure. Meanwhile in Michigan, the new border crossing is languishing because the government has not passed a law. The government's own minister was advised in his briefing book to actually act on the Windsor-Detroit crossing to stop lawsuits,and prevent it from being blocked. He never did it.
Instead we have this bill, and we have issues with this. It is important to note that when we have these issues, there has to be proper follow-up. We will see if that is going to happen.
I will give a good example. Jordan signed, in 2011, the international convention on domestic work. That provides for some protection for workers on the international level. Jordan signed that agreement, adopted it but have yet to ratify it. Even when they have been out there in the world, trying to promote improvements, saying to the world that they are going to do some things, they have yet to ratify that agreement.
How long does that take in the Jordanian system? Probably not long. It is a kingdom. It is not going to take a legislative process that takes years. That is one of the things that we should be demanding, asking when will it be ratified, when will it be implemented, how are things to be measured, and how will they ensure that workers are going to be protected?
I want to talk a little about those workers and those conditions. Canada is connected there. I am talking about the Nygard, Dillard's, JCPenney, and Walmart that are linked to human trafficking, abuse and the Jordanian sweatshops.
It is really important to note the United Steelworkers looked at a number of specific plants in different areas. They sent a fact-finding mission over there. What they found is that there is 1,200 foreign guest workers trapped in the IBG factory, and nothing helped when they actually signed the U.S.—Jordanian agreement.
They went back and found that they still had problems. Some of the information that they uncovered is that the east factory has about 600 workers, 300 from Sri Lanka, 200 from Bangladesh, and 100 from India. That is an example from one of the factories. I have pictures here. It looks like a warehouse. It looks more like a place for agriculture or something like that, for warehousing.
An estimated 75% of the guest workers are women between the ages of 18 and 30, a young workforce that is predominantly women in conditions that are absolutely abysmal.
Why do we not take this opportunity to say to Jordan, “Fine, we are open to trading and improvement, but we do not want those goods and services provided through abusive behaviours. We do not want them. In fact, if you do not fix some of the stuff we are doing now, then we are not going to move forward on this agreement.”
Or we could set benchmarks with enforcement or ways to peel back parts of the agreement if Jordan does not meet those benchmarks, unless the objective is to turn a blind eye and allow foreign workers to be abused so that we can get cheaper clothing.
We might as well just say that if that is the way it is going to be. If we are going to ignore the photos, ignore the visitations, ignore the pleas from the workers who have actually smuggled out a number of different tags, and some were from Canadian companies, at their risk, ignore their cries for help, then we might as well just say that is what we are going to do.
If we have these side agreements on labour and side agreements on environment, they are not enforceable. There are some lofty words in some of these agreements.
With regard to the issues on labour, they talk here, and this is a good example, about what is a real problem. There is no final accountability. But they will have the words in here. So, in the side agreement, under “corporate social responsibility”, it says:
“Recognizing the substantial benefits brought by international trade and investment, the parties should encourage voluntary best practices of corporate social responsibility by enterprise within their territories or jurisdictions to strengthen cohesive coercion between economic and environmental objectives.
It is so vague it does not matter. There is no enforcement. It is not worth the paper it is printed on. It does not help the worker from Sri Lanka who is killed in one of the sweatshops. They have pictures here. It does not help the workers who are abused on a regular basis.
It is interesting, too. When they go to Jordan, there is a process. They are processed. This is the sad and scary thing about this. There is a process that is taking place. with full consent of the Jordanian officials.
Do members know what happens? Guest workers are trafficked into Jordan, stripped of their passports and held in slave labour conditions. Workers' passports are confiscated. Their routine is 16-hour shifts, seven days a week. They work in the factory 111 hours a week. They are cheated out of half their legal wages. Workers are slapped and threatened with deportation. There are reports of sexual harassment and abuse. If, for whatever reason, a workers miss a shift, they are docked two days' pay and are punished. They live under miserable primitive dorm conditions, witch lack of heat, sporadic access to water, and bedbug infestation. In fact, they actually brought one back to the University of Ohio to confirm that the bedbugs were actually feasting and gorging on those people in that environment. So, the due diligence has been done to investigate the conditions of Jordan.
Here is a routine shift they work: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., they work two hours; 9.a.m. to 9:15 a.m., they have a 15-minute tea break; 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m., they work for 3-3/4 hours; 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., they have a half-hour lunch break; 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., they work for 6-1/2 hours; 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., they have a half-hour supper break; 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., they work for 2-1/2 hours. They have 16-hour days.
We need to address these issues if we are saying we want Jordan to be our partner. If we were extending our hand out there, it is our responsibility to say something about these issues. It is our responsibility to ensure that bilateral trade is fair. Do we want these conditions to get worse for them? Or do we want them to get better? Do we want them to stay the same?
I would argue it is impossible for us, economically, to compete in this way anyway because it is not fair if they are using slave labour. So, all of those who invested in the textile industry in North American, and particularly in Canada, are going to get the short end of the stick no matter what. It does not matter how much they invested. It does not matter how much they trained their workers. It does not matter how much they have given back to the community. It does not matter what they have done over a number of different decades,. They cannot compete with those standards. They cannot compete with people basically used as slaves.
What does it say to those people who are actually investing in Canada, who actually believe in proper work hours for their staff, who actually believe in contributing back to the community, who actually value the people who are employed by them? We are insulting them by doing that.
We are not doing anything that I think we can be proud about as a country if we are saying those things are all acceptable so we can get a cheap sweater, so we can get lower-cost merchandise, so the shelves can be fill at Walmart with cheap clothes. These are the things that we have to look at.
As I conclude, I want to say we are interested in trying to make this bill work, but it has to be done with responsibility. Turning a blind eye is not the ethical or right thing to do.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, quite clearly this has been happening for a number of years. We have been told. I have been down there and met with many American legislators saying, “Listen, you guys have nothing to offer in terms of reciprocity to these issues so that's the real problem”. That is why we see a Chilean peach creates the AFIA fee for our trucking industry. That is why we see a new entry-exit fee, because when the United States negotiates a trade deal with Colombia, it ends up adding that fee onto us because it does not respect us. That is important.
The Conservative government has failed. It has let the Americans characterize the northern border as a security risk and it has thickened it by militarization in policies. Instead of standing up for Canada in Washington, the Conservatives said, “Yes, fine, there's a problem on our border”. They could not point to where it was and there is a problem in Cornwall, there is one area there. However, they agreed with the southern political movement to say the northern border is a bigger risk than the southern border and the rending result is that we have seen more barriers and thickening of the border on a regular basis.
That is the big failure of the government. The Conservatives did not stand up when Napolitano said that terrorists came from Canada. They did not stand up when Lieberman did it. They did not stand up when a series of different American politicians said that the northern border is a risk and that is why we have these trade barriers today. It is unfortunate because the Conservatives just have not addressed the issue properly.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, there is a good example with IBG Jordan where women are forced to work 16 hour shifts from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. There is also a mandatory all night 23 hour shift at least once a week from 7 a.m. straight through to 6 a.m. the following morning. The women are exhausted obviously and there have been some horrible cases. We know this has been happening and we need to make sure it stops.
Jordan needs to put a plan in place. We need some benchmarks in order to improve these types of conditions. If we can do that, then we can trade with the country. Trade is a two-way relationship. It is not just about the actual merchandise that is exchanged back and forth. It is also about the personal and social aspects. That goes both ways.
This is an opportunity for us to help those workers. I hope the government sees it that way and we can work together for a solution.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for his work in committee.
It is important that we evaluate those elements because they can work against us.
I used the textile industry because Jordan is known for that. We had an incredible textile industry in this country. It was one of the best in the world. There was always the notion that it had to go higher end because that would be best for economic development, but that turned out to be untrue. Tool and dye manufacturing companies in my area had to be reinvented. Those companies are the best in the world. When a bad trade deal is signed where people can undermine the competition or local economy through environmental or human health issues then our companies cannot compete with those things and people basically become disposable.
Mr. Brian Masse: Madam Speaker, I enjoy working with the member on committee.
We are going to be making specific amendments at committee. Let us look at this responsibly. If someone witnesses another individual being abused, either physically, psychologically, sexually, whatever it might be, that person has a duty to act. Certain abuses are happening in Jordan. We need to benchmark where those abuses are taking place and find a way to deal with them. Those are the types of amendments that New Democrats will be proposing in committee. If there is some balance there with the government, we will be okay.
The government has been pushing oil in Washington for years. I was there when it was happening. The government has left the manufacturing industry behind and that industry has now diminished.