MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speaking on Bill C-23, Proposed Free Trade with Colombia

Hansard Debates - House of Commons
November 17, 2009

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Bill C-23 has been spoken to a number of times. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster should be congratulated for continuing to work in a co-operative manner to seek a solution to this impasse that we have as a party with this actual trade agreement.
This trade agreement is wrong on a number of fronts, but it also shows what is happening here in the House of Commons. We essentially have the Liberal Party facilitating this policy, through the Conservatives, and it was done very interestingly. The Liberals took their previous member off the international trade committee, where they actually did have some reservations to some degree about this and were actually solid in the position with us and the Bloc Québécois to have an investigative third-party evaluation before we go forward with this type of an approach, and they replaced that member with a former Conservative member who flip-flopped across the floor, and that member has brought with him and the new leader an ideology of facilitating the Conservative government without any conditions at all.
It is unacceptable to stand here and not address the reality that what we are talking about is rewarding a narco state that has a murderous agenda against the trade union members in its own country, that has a narco state of cocaine that affects many of the world population as it gets out there, and giving it privileged access to Canadian markets. That is what we are doing with the agreement contained in this bill if it goes forward without any terms or conditions. It has carve outs for labour. It has carve outs for the environment. It has carve outs that would allow business to trample on the rights of individuals and that could actually even sue countries for its own interest versus that of the population.
That in itself is bad enough, loading the deck to ensure that it has a balance against that of the civil society, the elected members of the state and legislatures on both sides, in Canada and in Columbia. But it also is a signal that we are telling the rest of the world that, yes, we are open for business with a narco state with a murderous agenda on trade union activists. And we are not talking about just the mining activists, for example, who are fighting for workers' rights. The people that are being murdered in this state are from the nurses union, from the teachers union, and actually even from prison union. They are from a number of different civil society organizations and bodies that have joined together under the laws of that country and they keep getting killed or disappear. There is a pattern that can be, and has been by international independent analysis, traced back to the paramilitaries and also to the governing party and the president. It brings it back to the state.
I have had a chance, during this process, to ask about some of those cases when we had the ambassador appear before the committee. I read off four specific cases of people who were killed, recent trade union activists, men and women. I read their stories and I asked for a response. They said they had no response for those cases and they would get back to me, and they did. Every single one of those cases, they claim, was an act of passion against them by somebody in their own relationship. It is absolute utter nonsense. The tribunals that they have put up are not enough.
What Canada is clearly telling the rest of the world is that we are open for business, despite the crime, despite the corruption, despite the problems with that country, and we are going to reward it first and give it privileged trade ability with our country. That is different from what is happening out there. That is different from what is happening in the United States. The U.S. put the brakes on this. It has realized, and it is a trading nation as well, that there is a responsibility for the governing body to actually bring this into line before the Columbians get privileged access to its market.
What do we do over here? We just give up. We let a Conservative government that likes to huff and puff on crime all the time--how many times have I heard the Minister of Justice in this place use the words they are going to crack down on crime, they are going to do all kinds of policies. Interestingly enough, they do not even provide the proper supports in the system to actually implement those policies. It is very disingenuous. There is no way the justice committee can get through many of the bills that have actually been tabled, between the government bills and the private members' bills. The Conservatives keep introducing them all the time knowing that they cannot get through the system and that they will never see the light of day. Yet they keep introducing and announcing them, and they are supposed to be cracking down on crime.
Why is it different internationally? Why can they not see that the actions that they are setting right here are telling many other people across this globe that it is okay. It is a complete contradiction but Canadians are not being fooled by this. They are not being fooled by the Conservatives or the Liberals.
I would point, for example, to 50 prominent Canadians who signed a letter to the Leader of the Opposition during their Vancouver meeting, which turned out to be just bringing in a new leader without any type of discussion and no policy. That is their business, not ours. Regardless, they brought in the new leader and 50 prominent people did not even get an adequate response.
I would say that this is really important because Canadians are understanding where they have drifted. They have drifted right over to those benches over there. In fact we are split up as New Democrats over here. What should happen is that some of the Liberals should be over there and our group should be joined together. That is what should be happening. In fact they can expand the bench.
These are real people. I want to read from the letter to really get an idea of what we are talking about here. T.K. Adolpho, a trade union activist for agri-mining, was killed on January 1. Pinto Alexander, of the prison trade workers union, killed by an unknown gunman. There are so many of these things, over 2,000 over a number of years, with unknown gunmen all the time. Blanco Milton from the Teachers Union Federation was killed on April 24. There are many more.
It is sad because when we look at a country that should be showing leadership, it should be this country of Canada. We were known for that in many respects, for being progressive, for being a country that was actually going to speak the truth to the powers that be and let them know that if they wanted to work with us, we could do that. There have been many examples where we have, but at the same time, we would not give them the unconditional gift of access to our markets and to our people and a privileged relationship without any expectations.
That is what we have. Perhaps it is the influence of the mining industry in Canada. Perhaps it is just a grab for the agriculture elements, and that is fine if we actually are going to work with Colombia to be able to change things, but at the same time there has to be a fair balance in this and that does not exist right now.
This debate has been held since 2008 when it was first announced. We had a standing committee go down to Colombia to talk with them, to see the actual things that are on the ground there. I know our member for Burnaby—New Westminster came back even more convinced that the approach should be to put pressure on the Colombia government, not rewarding them first by giving them this privileged trading relationship. We have trade with Colombia right now. That is not going to change. There is an engaged relationship to begin with, but to give in on a privileged trading relationship with no terms and conditions is unacceptable.
What is the government afraid of? What is the Liberal Party afraid of? Are they afraid to have an independent analysis of the entire trading agreement and the relationship and the issues that are taking place that are murdering so many people? What are they afraid of? Is it because they will find the paramilitary, the government and some of the cocaine and other industries tied together perhaps? Are they afraid that that might be the thing?
Are they afraid that Canadians might wake up and realize that their tough on crime government, the Conservative Party of Canada, is so weak internationally on crime that it does not care if a narco-state gets access to a privileged trading relationship? It does not care if those drugs end up on the streets of Canada because we are going trade with them no matter what. We will do it unconditionally and then hope they change their practices, but in the meantime they can just keep doing what they are doing because we do not want to have any type of dissension and we do not want to have our country being one that leads the way, that says that there has to be a sense of social justice, and trading principles are tied to that, to build a better world for all of us.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, the member asked an important question with regard to this issue.
Labour and environmental standards have been carved out of this agreement and put into side issues. We have never had a successful challenge under NAFTA on a side issue. That is important to recognize because side issues are seen as offshoots as opposed to being the centre of gravity of the agreement. We need to have balanced environmental and labour standards.
The member for Winnipeg Centre has spoken strongly on the issue of asbestos in Canada. We would not want to degrade our environment or subject our citizens to bad policy just to get an economic advantage over someone else. That is the wrong approach.
We want to operate from a principled point, that being that all workers deserve the same rights and the same support. That is how a country can enter into a competitive fair system where trade is open and beneficial and the economies of both countries will grow in a responsible way as opposed to what could happen as a result of this agreement.
There could be exploitation as a result of this agreement through substandard mining and other types of practices that could really undermine not only the short-term of the country because of the damage done to the environment, but also to the long-term of the country as the environment could be destroyed for generations.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, essentially that was very disappointing. Given the increased evidence of the regime in Colombia and the continuation of assassinations during our debate here in Canada really warrants a third party independent analysis. It would at least be a basis for engaging in a constructive approach to dealing with this issue and the challenge of giving a privileged trading relationship to a narco-state with such a murderous past. That at least would provide us with an opportunity to have a greater indepth discussion.
The Liberal Party has been shifting to the right quite significantly and has mirrored the Conservative Party in so many aspects. The Liberal Party has just simply given in.
A delegation went down to Colombia for a second time. Perhaps they were wined and dined. I have no idea. But they came back without recommending that analysis. That is unfortunate because we need a balanced approach. We could then have a greater indepth debate before we give a privileged trading relationship to Colombia for nothing.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the speech which was quite active and lively to say the least but it is very important. For a number of months we have been leading the charge together to bring awareness to this ill-thought deal.
I want to focus on one element that I think is really important. We already have trade with Colombia and we will always have some trade with Colombia, just like other nations. However what we are talking about is engaging in a privileged trading relationship. That is what this is really about.
I would like to ask my colleague from the Bloc why the Conservatives continue to talk about how they are tough on crime. They are so serious about and they have flooded a number of bills into the justice committee. Ironically the committee cannot get through all the bills.
However at the same time the Conservatives want to enter into a privileged trading relationship with a narco state that has not only a murderous record on trade unionists but also has a drug economy. Why would the Conservatives want to engage in this type of a privileged relationship?
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her very good speech and offer some solutions on our trade policy.
I would like to ask her a question with regard to the ideological slant of the Conservatives who are pursuing this. They often talk about how tough they are on crime and how tough they are on drugs and that whole agenda here in Canada, but at the same time they are willing to open up our borders for a privileged trading relationship.
This is what we really need to emphasize. We have trade with Colombia right now which goes on between our two countries and will always go on with regard to a number of different goods and services. However what we are doing is considering a privileged trading relationship that is the exception.
This is what the narco state that has not only human rights issues with trade unionists but also drug production that even ends up in Canada.
I would like to ask the member this. Why is it the Conservatives who pretend to be so tough on crime and drugs would want to engage in a privileged trading relationship with such a narco state?