Alistair speaks on CETA

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to speak to the third reading of Bill C-30 , the implementing legislation for the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, otherwise known as CETA.

    I know there are those in the House who are quick to dismiss the opposition to this trade agreement, but I would remind all members that this is the people's House and these concerns deserve to have their say here in the heart of our democracy.

     I also find it interesting that in today's debate, Liberal members of Parliament have decided to sit out and leave the heavy lifting to the NDP and the Conservatives. Perhaps they have grown tired of trying to defend this supposedly progressive trade deal. Be that as it may, I am proud to stand here today to provide a reasoned and principled progressive opposition to this implementation bill.

     I want to start my speech by talking about the rushed process which the bill has gone through. I would go back to the solemn promise that the Prime Minister made in his open and accountable government publication, that ministers were to treat Parliament with respect and provide the necessary information for us to do our jobs. I quote from that publication:

 

    Clear ministerial accountability to Parliament is fundamental to responsible government, and requires that Ministers provide Parliament with the information it needs to fulfill its roles of legislating, approving the appropriation of funds and holding the government to account. The Prime Minister expects Ministers to demonstrate respect and support for the parliamentary process.

    When we look at what happened with Bill C-30, on October 30, 2016, the Prime Minister signed CETA at the Canada-EU leaders summit, and the implementing legislation was basically put forward on October 31. This rushed process violated the government's own policy on the tabling of treaties in Parliament, which requires the government to table a copy of the treaty along with an explanatory memorandum outlining key components of the treaty at least 21 sitting days before the legislation is presented.

    This is just one more broken promise in a string of broken promises. The fact that the government violated its very own policy on this just shows how quickly the government forgets the principles for which it was elected.

    We are also aware that all is not well among the members of the European Union. We know there have been several protests with over 100,000 people in attendance at each. In fact, the German constitutional challenge against CETA has garnered 125,000 signatures, and a recently launched referendum campaign in the Netherlands has collected over 200,000 signatures.

    I do not believe that this opposition can be pegged simply on a rising tide of protectionism. There are very concrete reasons that people are opposed to CETA. What we have here is that Parliament is essentially being asked to write a blank cheque with this legislation to give the government the power to go ahead with it when we know that each one of the 28 member states of the EU still has to ratify this and it is a process that is expected to take anywhere from two to five years. Again, the question is, why do we have this rushed process?

    To get to the crux of our opposition to this bill, it is about the investor-state dispute, the investor court system that is part of this agreement. New Democrats support trade deals that reduce tariffs and boost exports. If only we had a trade deal that was doing just that, but when we have components like investor-state provisions that threaten the sovereignty of our country and the ability of our country to make laws for the good of this place and its people, we believe those have no place in trade deals. The investor court system still allows foreign investors to seek compensation from any level of government over policy decisions that they feel impact their profits.

    Earlier, I had an exchange with the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan on the rule of law. I think the rule of law has three constituent components to it: legality, democracy, and human rights.

    Legality has to do with the fact that the bills are passed in a democratically elected House of Commons. They have a process they go through: first, second, and third readings, royal assent, and so on. Democracy comes from the fact that the members of the House who propose laws are democratically elected and are accountable to the people. Constitutionality comes from the fact that all laws that we make in this place are subject to the Constitution of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 

    I think he misinterpreted what I was trying to get at in our argument about the democratic accountability of the investor court system. I feel that when we have an investor court system that can supersede the democratically elected people's representatives, be they at the municipal, provincial, or federal level, that does not satisfy my definition of the rule of law. I think the rule of law is being superseded by a system that is profoundly undemocratic. Never mind that it was set up by an elected majority, which by the way, got there with 39% of the vote. It is the fact that it is able to overturn or sue lower levels of government precisely because of the way they are acting.

    To give a perfect example, for my constituents in Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, we have a contaminated soil dump that is causing great grief to the local community. It is a gravelled area that is now taking in contaminated soil, and the company in question is, of course, receiving money for all the contaminated soil it is bringing in. The local government, and even the provincial government, have realized the error of their ways, and now there may be a process afoot to try to reverse that contaminated soil.

    If we had an agreement in place like CETA, and it was a foreign company operating there, it could basically sue the local government and sue the provincial government for the loss in profits, for dumping contaminated soil in an area that supplies drinking water to a local community. Where, in all that is logical, does that make sense? For the residents of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, my home riding, that puts in perspective what this could allow foreign companies to do.

    The other thing we in the NDP have gone over is pharmaceutical costs. I used to serve as the New Democratic Party critic and spokesperson for seniors. I have handed that off to the member for North Island—Powell River, and she is doing a great job. We have testimony from the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, an association that is an expert on this subject. It had a study prepared for it that showed that the proposals in this agreement would delay the introduction of new generic medicines in Canada by an average of three and a half years. The cost to pharmaceutical payers for this delay was estimated to be $2.8 billion annually, based on generic prices in 2010.

    I have been helping seniors in my riding for many years. Before I was a member of Parliament, I worked as a constituency assistant. I saw first-hand how seniors are struggling with the cost of living. Many of them, when it comes to the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs, either do not take their dosage or take less than what is recommended by a doctor. This can lead to cascading health effects down the line. Why in the world would we institute a system that would increase the cost of pharmaceuticals, when all the talk in Parliament these days, and a lot of pressure, is on how we can institute a national pharmacare system to bring these costs down? It seems to be at odds.

    We know from our conversations with small businesses, the small businesses in my riding, that they want more consistency. We know they want fewer regulations and they want standards that are simple to comply with: simple border processes, less paperwork, and lower costs. If we had a trade deal that was actually just about trade, the free movement of goods, and making sure tariffs were being lowered, we could deal with that. However, this implementing legislation contains a laundry list of acts of Parliament and regulations that are going to have to be changed. It is a 140-page bill, and it goes way beyond trade.

    We believe that greater access to European markets is great for Canadian goods, but just as with the TPP, CETA is a massive trade and investment deal that makes significant changes on investor rights, intellectual property, pharmaceutical drugs, and more. I believe that Canada must maintain its sovereignty over the ability to make policy for the good of the country and its residents, and I will stand and defend that for as long as I can.

Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Winnipeg Centre, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, I believe that the CETA trade deal is a good thing. The European Union is a group of countries that share many similar values that we have here in Canada. Not only that, I believe it offers the opportunity of creating more jobs, and the potential for high-skills jobs in our country.

    I wonder how the member can justify throwing away future potential growth with the number of jobs that we could have in this country.

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:  

    Mr. Speaker, no one on this side is advocating that we throw that opportunity away. I would like to know how those key components, like the cost of pharmaceuticals to our seniors, matches with his government's plan of a national pharmacare plan. How does the fact that we can have this investor court system somehow challenge the laws of our local municipalities and provincial governments make for the good of our citizens? If we are able to remove that specific provision, we would absolutely start looking at it.

    I agree with the member that trade with Europe is important. We have a common history and a common culture, and a lot of us speak the same language. These are countries that we want to do business with. They are democratically elected governments and so on. However, because of the provisions I outlined in my speech, on this side of the House, we have to maintain a principled opposition for those very reasons.

Ms. Tracey Ramsey (Essex, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, all of us New Democrats did our due diligence around this piece of legislation, and I do not think the same can be said for other members of this House. This is an incredibly vast piece of legislation. This is the largest trade deal that we would sign since NAFTA.

     It is a false premise to say that because we have a close relationship with Europe that there are not concerns with this deal. Europeans feel that there are concerns with this deal, and the likelihood of this passing through the member states is extremely low. Are we going to have our relationship with Europe hinge on European member states voting against an agreement that we have an opportunity to fix? It is too important to get it wrong. We should be fixing it.

    I would like to say something around the ISDS or the investor court system that the member brought up, his concerns around what could happen, and the implications at the municipal and provincial levels. This is a provision that has not worked well for Canada. Chapter 11 in NAFTA has seen us be the most sued country in the world. Chapter 11 in NAFTA is the first time that we have had this provision between two developed countries. This has therefore not always existed between two developed nations.

    I believe that we have a progressive court system in our country that can solve any trade issues that we bring. I wonder if the member can speak to that and whether he feels we should be signing trade agreements that include provisions that sign away our sovereignty.

 

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:  

    Mr. Speaker, I would agree with my friend from Essex. I have absolute confidence in our Federal Court system. I believe that the judiciary, the legislative branch, and the executive in our country already have a good working relationship. I do not see that they need to interrupt that.

    I will always take the side of defending Canada's sovereignty in its ability to make policy for the good of local citizens. If the Liberals and the Conservatives want to take the side of foreign corporations coming in and having the ability to challenge our local governments, I will take on that argument any day of the week.