In the House on Monday, Liberal trade critic Scott Brison defended Bill C-23, the Canada Colombia free trade agreement thusly:
“If we isolate Colombia in the Andean region and leave Colombia exposed and vulnerable to the ideological attacks of Chavez’s Venezuela, we will be allowing evil to flourish.”
Oooh – two Bush cat’s paw points for you. Chavez appeared to be much on Brison’s mind yesterday and figured several times in his answers, perhaps because the U.S. military has obtained a 10-year lease at seven Colombian bases to help fight drug traffickers and leftists.
He also said the Colombia FTA will provide jobs that will help to turn Colombia away from being a narco-state. Nice try, Scott. Farming accounts for 22% of employment in Colombia. The trade agreement eliminates duties on importing Canadian wheat, peas, lentils and barley. After those farmers go broke trying to compete with Canadian agribiz wheat but before the paramilitaries drive them off their land for the Canadian mining companies, exactly what crop do you think they will be forced to turn to?
The agreement’s Chapter 11 style investor’s rights allows Canadian mining companies to sue the Colombian government should it ever implement labour or environmental legislation that affects their profits.
MP Claude Guimond, Bloc :
“When asked to adopt mandatory social responsibility standards for Canadian mining companies abroad, the government decided to adopt voluntary standards instead. When asked to create an independent ombudsman who could conduct impartial investigations to validate complaints, the government created the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor, who reports directly to the minister and investigates only if authorized by the mining company.”
Well, what could possibly go wrong with that?
Gerald Keddy, Con Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, amusingly referred to this yesterday as “providing leadership internationally in encouraging free trade and open markets and discouraging protectionism.”
Stockwell Day, who has started slipping the phrase “pathways to prosperity” into his remarks, tried to rustle up some good news on the lamentable increase in kidnappings, disappearances, and farmers and their families being driven off their land this last year :
“Kidnappings. Do they still happen? Yes, they do. They still happen in Canada, too. Are people still being murdered in that country? Yes, they are. They are still being murdered in Canada also. More than 350,000 internally displaced persons [in Colombia] have now received comprehensive protection and access to basic social services.”
Yes, in addition to the worst human rights record in the hemisphere, Colombia has an internal refugee problem second only to Sudan’s.
Chris Charlton, NDP labour critic :
“The shocking reality is that, in the event of the murder of a trade unionist in Colombia, labour protection simply means that the Colombian government would have to pay money into a development fund. Kill a trade unionist, pay a fine. Over 2,200 labour activists have been murdered since 1991.
“The penalty for killing a trade unionist was capped at $15 million in any one year, paid by the Colombian government into a development fund. To put this into perspective, one year’s maximum payment of $15 million equates to $5,628 per trade unionist already killed.”
and then she said something I didn’t know :
“Only 0.15% of Canadian exports actually go to Colombia”
and quotes Glen Hodgson, VP and chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada:
“Our annual trade with Colombia is about the same level as that with South Dakota and is actually smaller than that with Delaware or Rhode Island. Compared to other markets much closer, Colombia is not really a major player. Eighty per cent of Colombia’s imports to Canada are actually duty free already.”
This agreement isn’t about free trade though, remember, it’s about protecting investor’s rights.
Diane Bourgeois, Bloc :
“Colombian investment in Canada amounts to $1 million, while Canadian investment in Colombia totals roughly $1.058 billion, which can essentially be attributed to the extractive industry . . . . Twice during the time I was a member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development, Canadian companies received funding through CIDA. They used money distributed through CIDA to get paramilitary staff on the company payroll. That money was used to pay hired guns, not to help the people.
“At one point, CIDA disbursed $14,000. That is not a lot of money here, but in Colombia, it might be worth $100,000. TVI used that $14,000 to pay professional soldiers to protect company assets and prevent people from using the only remaining source of drinking water because it had contaminated every other source around the site.”
Lee Richardson, Con, responds by telling us that “Canada is a world leader” in “promoting best practices in environmental stewardship” :
“As a member from Alberta, I can say that this is especially true in the resource sector when it comes to environmental stewardship and environmental impact assessments. We can offer a lot to our Colombian partners in terms of expertise and best practices. Indeed, Canadian companies are leaders in corporate social responsibility in minimizing the impact of their activities on the environment.”
By now you must think I’m making this up or quoting out of context but sadly, you’d be wrong.
Linda Duncan, NDP, speaking to the “side agreements” on environmental and labour protections:
“The side agreement is basically non-existent. It is simply paper. There is nothing to it. There are vague references to corporate social responsibility. There is absolutely no recourse. There are no penalties in the side agreement of the Colombia-Canada agreement. I do not think it appropriate that the Government of Canada pass over that responsibility simply to a Canadian investor. Were I a Canadian investor I would not want to have to be fulfilling that complete role.”
Paul Szabo was the only Lib to recommend that there might be something wrong here and perhaps the bill ought to go back to committee. Aside from two pleas for further reassurances, the rest of them kept quiet. I’d like to think they were ashamed.
Bob Rae has said : “The Liberal Party will be supportive of the bill proceeding to committee,”
Nothing from former human rights activist Michael Ignatieff.