IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on Bill C-31, An Act to establish the Department of International Trade & trade related issues in Canada
February 9th, 2005 - 9:58pm
38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, as planned and agreed to by the leaders of the parties in the House, I will take the few minutes that were granted to the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore to continue my presentation, which was interrupted by adjournment on Monday.
I am rising to speak to Bill C-31 and continue the intervention that I started on Monday. In giving a bit of the history around the bill at that time, I mentioned the fact that in 1982 Canada's Trade Commissioner Service was integrated into what was then called the Department of External Affairs. It took about 15 years for that integration to actually be effective.
In the mid-1990s that integration succeeded after both Conservative and Liberal administrations had some difficulty with the integration. That is why we were surprised when we saw Bill C-31 being presented. After integration having finally succeeded after a 15 year period, we are now wrenching apart those two ministries.
I mentioned at the time that a number of comments, questions and concerns had been raised in the community by people who understand vividly the importance of having an integration of international trade and other aspects of foreign affairs.
I would like to quote for the record from a number of interventions that have taken place and thus make sure that we as parliamentarians are all aware of legitimate concerns that have been raised about the bill and about the direction in which the government is going.
Previous speakers, as I did in my previous intervention in the House, have underlined the fact that we are now undergoing a review of the very structure of foreign affairs in this government. At the same time that we are undergoing this review, the government has already decided to wrench apart the two ministries and make one international trade and the other foreign affairs. It makes no sense that while the review is going on these two important functions would be wrenched apart. As previous speakers have mentioned, it also makes no sense to have international trade separated from important issues such as human rights, properly the focus of foreign affairs.
I want to quote what Bill Clarke, former ambassador to the Baltic Republics and Brazil said about this in Diplomat and International Canada in the January-February 2005 issue. As the federal government celebrated the one year anniversary of the announcement that the portfolios of foreign affairs and international trade would be split and henceforth go in two different directions, Bill Clarke said that “no one seems to know who made the decision--nor do they know why”. He said, “Many observers are wondering why”, adding that it is “questionable whether a good, open discussion was held”.
Bill Clarke is one of the most distinguished diplomats in the Canadian diplomatic corps. He raises very legitimate concerns about the direction in which the government was going, about the why of splitting these two ministries in half, and about whether or not there were any legitimate and appropriate consultations. He raises very legitimate concerns about this entire process.
It is important to quote for the record remarks that were made by the president of the Retired Heads of Mission Association, a group of distinguished ex-diplomats, people who have been heads of missions and understand the function of foreign affairs and the function of international trade.
The association is composed of about 270 former Canadian ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general. They are deeply concerned about the future of the Canadian foreign service. In the letter of December 8 that I will be quoting from, which was sent to the chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the association's distinguished former ambassadors, high commissioners and consuls general said the following:
Recently, we have had to come reluctantly to the conclusion that our Foreign Service is being gradually dismantled. One clear manifestation of this happening is the recent decision to split the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). As former diplomats and officials of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Commerce, Immigration and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), our members have personally experienced difficulties of integrating coherently these two crucial sectors of Canada's foreign policy. Thus, we believe that the decision to partition DFAIT is unfortunate and a step backwards.
They go on to mention other concerns about the foreign service and they say that unless these developments are reversed Canada will lose an essential tool of government. At the end of the letter, the Retired Heads of Mission Association, or RHOMA, requests permission to present its concerns and recommendations to members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade at the earliest opportunity.
Therefore, we can see that concerns have been raised very widely about this particular approach, with people asking why the decision on splitting up these two ministries was made at this time when an ongoing review of foreign affairs is taking place. Why is it happening without broad consultation with people who understand the issue, who understand the essential linkage and integration between international trade and foreign policy?
The Retired Heads of Mission Association also mentioned in a previous letter that the separation of international trade from foreign affairs is another example of a measure which can only weaken the foreign service and make its management more incoherent.
An observer would wonder why the government is proceeding at this time. As previously quoted and as speakers have mentioned, it does not make sense at this time to proceed with this particular measure. To many observers who understand the situation, it does not make sense that this division, separation or partition is taking place between these two functions.
I think it is very important to underline that there is an incoherence, both when it comes to foreign policy and even more so when it comes to the direction that international trade has taken. We saw just this very morning some of the comments made by the Minister of International Trade.
I will read just brief excerpts of some of the headlines from newspapers across the country. From The Telegram in St. John's, Newfoundland: “No tears; Liberals won't complain if business sends more Canadian jobs overseas”. From the Windsor Star: “Job export is good: Minister”. From the Edmonton Sun: “Job losses to offshore labour fine: trade minister”.
Across the country, including such areas as here in Ottawa where the headline read “Grits Urge Biz to Offshore Jobs”, we have seen Canadians waking up to the fact that the international trade minister, and in fact the international trade component of our national government, is now encouraging businesses to do this. The Minister of International Trade was quoted as saying that “businesses should feel free to send work offshore to wherever it can be done most cheaply, to help boost their bottom lines”.
We have from the Minister of International Trade very clear direction that it is time to off-load jobs, that it is open season on Canadian workers and that jobs can be exported offshore. Just last week in the House, we saw the member for Timmins—James Bay raise the crucial question of the offshore manufacturing of our proudest national symbol, our Canadian flag lapel pins, which were actually being made offshore, thus off-loading Canadian jobs.
We are very proud that the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay raised that issue because this is increasingly the case. We have an international trade minister who is encouraging businesses to send jobs elsewhere. We have seen, as we did yesterday, debates in the House about the textile and clothing industry where there was a loss of 40,000 jobs. With softwood, we saw the loss of 20,000 jobs. In industry after industry we are seeing good jobs being exported, and as the Statistics Canada report from a couple of weeks ago clearly mentioned, the jobs replacing them are becoming more and more temporary or part time without pension benefits. For newer workers, those jobs are paying less and less in wages.
In this bizarre and inappropriate attempt to split up these two ministries, in this bizarre and inappropriate attempt of the trade minister to tell businesses to send their work offshore, to export those jobs and in this incoherence, this bizarre indecision and dithering of the government perhaps a pattern emerges. That pattern is: what is irresponsible is what is put forward; what is incoherent becomes government policy. It does not make sense for the main streets across the country who after 12 years of living with a Liberal government have more debt per individual family and less on their paycheque. In real terms, for most Canadian workers, their salary has slipped 60¢ an hour over the past 10 years. There are fewer social programs and fewer hospitals.
For that reason, this incoherence, this inappropriate decision and proposal will meet with opposition from this caucus. We will be voting against the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's question. It was very nice of her. The matter is very clear to us. This division does not make any sense because foreign policy and the overall administration of foreign affairs are currently being reviewed. That does not make sense.
Also, since there has been no consultation with those more familiar with the community, it is clear that we are opposed.
In the area of international trade, the minister says that it is great, that it is fun, that it is appropriate to create jobs outside Canada. Clearly, there is a lack of consistency on the part of this government in its international trade policies and in its administration per se. We have seen this in several areas, including at the Treasury Board.
There are regulations which are supposed to prevent the squandering of public money. Still, it is allowed to go on, and we have cited several instances.
While the government ran a $9 billion surplus, the number of children living in poverty and of homeless families in Canada still grew. Government policies lack consistency. Bill C-31 provides another example of the government's inability to improve the quality of life of Canadians.
As critic for my party, I oppose this bill, as does the NDP caucus. Debating this bill while foreign affairs is undergoing a review makes no sense. It also makes no sense for the minister to say that it is good to create international trade jobs outside Canada. It is very clear that there is a problem there, and it has to be resolved.
For all these reasons, we are opposed to the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Joliette for his question. There is a definite problem with the present structure. In my opinion, however, things would be even worse if changes were made or these two departments were divided, which is precisely what the bill is about.
The problem is that NGOs do not seem to get any hearing from the government, even if they do ask for help, and that is a pity. WIth a minority government, however, there is more chance of getting our opinions across, but the reality is that when human rights and the environment are on the agenda, not only in Canada but elsewhere, both international trade and foreign policy are involved.
We cannot have two different departments going in two different directions. WIth such a division, it would be even harder for the NGOs to make themselves heard.
Issues relating to human rights, the environment and social development involve aspects that are extremely important and ought to be looked at as a whole as far as foreign policy is concerned.
What is more, and this is something that ought to make all members here and all Canadians feel ashamed: yesterday 29,000 children died from disease, starvation and the lack of safe drinking water. Today, another 29,000 will die, as will that same number again tomorrow. This is a huge problem, and Canadians have a duty to set things in motion to improve this situation.
I believe that it will be harder to do this if there are two different departments going into two different directions.
Mr. Speaker, the member for Timmins--James Bay is absolutely right. There is a direction and that direction is south and offshore. The direction is loss of jobs. The direction is not respecting human rights and not pushing or having any sort of evaluation of foreign purchase of Canadian companies. We have seen 11,000 companies in Canada absorbed over the past 15 years, and they have been absorbed without any debate, without any sort of verification of whether it is in the interest of Canadians.
This is the sellout of Canada. He is absolutely right. There seems to be a direction, the selling out of jobs, the selling out of our resources, the selling out of our companies, and this has to stop. We will continue to raise these issues in the House.