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UPDATE: Highlights of House of Commons CETA debate, Dec. 14

On December 14, as the last item of the evening, a nearly-empty House of Commons debated the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement for just under four hours.

PETER VAN LOAN, CONSERVATIVE: Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise this evening in the House to speak about Canada’s comprehensive economic and trade agreement negotiations with the European Union. These negotiations are at the centre of our government’s ambitious trade strategy, which involves promoting job creation and prosperity for Canadians. …As we prepare for the sixth round of negotiations in Brussels next month, I am pleased to report the great progress that we have made to date. We have made progress across the board, including in the main market access areas like good and services, investment and government procurement. We are well on track to having these negotiations concluded, we hope, by the end of next year. …And yet…we continue to hear voices from the fringe and the extreme opposing our efforts. I should point out that these are the same voices that were heard during the debate over free trade with the United States, naysayers who believe, for example, that economic co-operation requires giving up our sovereignty or is somehow harmful to a nation’s economy. They should tell that to the millions of Canadians who have benefited and continue to benefit from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

FRANCIS SCARPALEGGIA, LIBERAL: Mr. Chair, the hon. minister is creating straw men when he seems to suggest that there are still those who are deeply critical of free trade. I think there is no doubt that as a society we recognize the benefits of free trade. We know that it leads to economic advancement, and so on and so forth. But what is important, at least from my point of view as a Liberal, is that we have intelligent and strategic free trade. That brings me to an issue about which I would like to ask the member: the issue of the municipal water services sector under these negotiations. As we have heard, European companies would like to have access to our municipal water services sector. They would like to bid on public-private partnerships as some municipalities decide to go that route. However, many municipalities are concerned that they will be forced to accept bids from foreign water services companies such as Veolia and Suez, and so on, and that when these companies win a bid and start managing a water filtration plant, for example, a drinking water plant and things go awry, as things have indeed done if one looks at what happened in Atlanta in 2003, it will be very difficult for these municipalities to exercise their sovereignty, to exercise democratic control and break contracts with these huge foreign water services companies. They are very concerned that this will lead to problems for them. I have noted that the United States, even though it is a free trading nation, even though it believes deeply in free trade, would never open its water services sector to that kind of foreign competition.

WAYNE EASTER, LIBERAL: Mr. Chair, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this take note debate on the Canada-EU trade agreement. While there is widespread support for a Canada-EU trade agreement, concerns have been raised specifically as to what is on the negotiating table with respect to one of our key agriculture institutions. If nothing else regarding the negotiations on the Canada-EU trade agreement, the reality is, and remains, that supply management is on the negotiating table and has been from the very beginning. This fact was confirmed by Canada’s chief negotiators,not once but at least three times before two committees of the House. …This is a government that is not transparent about how these negotiations are pressing forward. This is a serious issue, that our cheese markets could potentially be opened up and undermine our price structure in Canada. That is a serious issue. Geographical indications could also be a serious issue for some of our products that are produced in this country. …Supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board are pillars of our agricultural policy in this country. Supply management maintains a system of supply in which farmers are assured their cost of production and a fair rate of return on their labour and investment. The Canadian Wheat Board maximizes returns back to the primary producer through orderly marketing or single-desk selling. While we acknowledge that Canada is a trading nation and that our agricultural sector to a very great extent is dependent upon export markets, it would serve us well to keep in mind the reality that we cannot allow some of our main institutions to be negotiated away.

MARTHA HALL FINDLAY, LIBERAL: The Liberals are very supportive of this agreement, but there have been some legitimate concerns raised, partly because people are not necessarily sure of the details of what is being negotiated. We hear issues raised in the media, and I am hoping that the member opposite can speak to two specific issues. Where are we in the negotiations in terms of water and water services, particularly at the municipal level? That is an issue that has been raised, and if he could add some specifics as to what may be being negotiated, that would be very helpful. As well, on the larger procurement side, we know that public procurement is on the table. We also recognize that there are Canadian enterprises that are poised to take advantage of those opportunities in member countries of the European Union, but there have been legitimate concerns raised about how far we will go in offering up public procurement at different levels of government here in Canada, where there may be some concerns about local jobs and concerns about flexibility.

PETER JULIAN, NDP: Mr. Chair, it is a little surprising to see the minister come out so aggressively attacking organizations such as the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Dairy Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Health Coalition, all of whom have raised very valid concerns about the minister’s negotiating stance. …The only credible study on the actual job losses resulting from this agreement show job losses of about 150,000. …We have had a number of issues raised and not too many answers yet on supply management, which is clearly on the table, and on our public water systems, which are clearly on the table. I want to ask the minister one thing. With the proposals that are currently on the table, has he done his due diligence to see how much more it will cost provincial drug plans and how much more it will cost Canadians who are getting those pharmaceutical drugs for their good health? The latest estimates show a 30% increase.

ALEX ATAMANENKO, NDP: First, I wonder if (the member) is familiar with a document entitled “Municipal Procurement Implications of the Proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union”. This is a legal opinion prepared by Steven Shrybman of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP for the Centre for Civic Governance at Columbia Institute. If he is familiar with it, does he have any comments; and if he is not, would he be willing to receive a copy? I have an extra copy here that I could give him. Secondly, in previous free trade agreements, NAFTA and the FTA, municipal procurement was really not on the table when it came to subnational governments. We first saw this with the Canada-U.S. procurement agreement that was signed last year. We found out that municipal procurement was on the table and that somehow we were at the short end of this, because we were dealing with the powerful United States.

ANDRE BELLAVANCE, BLOC QUEBECOIS: Mr. Chair, the minister said nothing about supply management or agriculture. Supply managed farmers are very concerned and are wondering why Canada, for the first time in the history of international free trade agreement negotiations, has left supply management on the table. …My question is for the minister. Why, for the first time ever, leave supply management on the table, especially when the negotiator for the European Union, Mr. Maurizio Cellini, says that the Europeans are interested in the cheese and poultry markets? That obviously opens the door to negotiations that might spell an end to supply management.

CAROLE LAVALLEE, BLOC QUEBECOIS: Mr. Chair, Quebec was the first state in the world to approve the UNESCO convention on the protection and promotion of culture, generally called the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Canada and the European Union were among the first to support and then ratify this UNESCO convention. Should they not set an example, therefore, and both agree to completely exempt culture from the trade agreement they are negotiating and include in the preamble to the agreement a reference to the UNESCO convention as a legal framework on which cultural exemptions could be based?

JEAN-YVES LAFOREST, BLOC QUEBECOIS: From the outset, the Bloc Québécois has stated that it agrees that there should be negotiations with the European Union. Our party was in fact the first party to propose such negotiations. …The Bloc Québécois believes that this kind of agreement is important to Quebec’s export-driven economy. The free trade agreement with the European Union is important because it will help to diversify what are largely export-driven markets that focus on the United States, and that are facing hard times. …The Conservatives have served us up a culture of secrecy across the board, and in particular when it comes to negotiations. It is understandable that the negotiation process has to be somewhat confidential, but the fact remains that parliamentarians should be better informed regarding potential issues and the process itself. The current practice is deplorable to say the least. …There are various aspects that are cause for concern, and I would like to state them. First, there is the question of government procurement. …With respect to supply management…why is this issue still on the bargaining table if the Conservative government is so committed to defending supply management? …It has become apparent that the Europeans want to go much further than the protection that is currently offered in Canada when it comes to pharmaceuticals. The Bloc Québécois believes that a balance must be struck between what generic drug companies are doing on the one hand and what companies launching new products are doing on the other. Checks and balances, and an enhanced assessment process, must be put in place in order to ensure that any move in a direction that benefits one group will not come at the expense of other companies, and cause them great angst, when new measures are adopted. …After asking the negotiator some questions, we learned that there are 22 bargaining tables or areas under negotiation and the provinces are involved in only about 10 of them. The provinces are not involved at all in the negotiations on important subjects such as financial services. And yet very clearly each of the provinces has jurisdiction over financial services. But the provinces have been excluded from those bargaining tables, and that is completely unacceptable.

To read the full four-hour debate, please go to http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3&DocId=4888841#SOB-3683564.

For a video produced by Windsor chapter activist Randy Emerson of Liberal trade critic Martha Hall Findlay speaking on CETA – with added commentary captions – go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU_bGd6f9tc.