Second reading of Bill C-30, An Act to implement the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union and its Member States and to provide for certain other measuresPublished on 16 February 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Percy Downe
Hon. Percy E. Downe:
Honourable senators, after Senator Pratte’s enthusiastic endorsement of Bill C-30, I felt I should talk about a few things.
Senator Pratte, in the translation you said we should pass it quickly. I hope those were your words and not misinterpretation. That’s a red flag to me, because when I was here in my early days in the Senate — and many have heard me speak about this before — it was the best of intentions. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Martin, Opposition Leader Harper and NDP leader Layton, visited the Netherlands and had a ceremony honouring Canadians who fought in the Second World War, they were obviously moved by the events, and on the plane on the way back they decided they should pass the veterans’ charter with much haste, no delay, because who is not in favour of assisting veterans, their families and giving them the resources they need?
The veterans’ charter came back to the House of Commons. It was moved by the Minister of Veterans Affairs. The motion was agreed to, the bill was read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred and read the third time and passed in one minute in the House of Commons. It then came to the Senate, the chamber of sober second thought, where we were all swept up in wanting to do the right thing. Again, who is opposed to improving veterans’ benefits? Who is opposed to benefits for the families and children?
In the Senate we spent a little more time. We had first and second reading on the same day. It was agreed that there would be one speaker and half an hour of questions, and then the Senate collectively agreed that we would refer it to committee, unlike the House of Commons. Which committee did we refer it to? You would assume it would have been the Veterans Affairs Committee, where we have had members who have studied veterans’ issues for years; or, failing that, the Committee of National Defence.
The Senate decided in their rush to refer it to the next committee sitting, which was the Finance Committee. So the veterans’ charter went to the Finance Committee, where we had one long meeting. I happened to be on the Finance Committee at that time, so I recall it very well, and I recall the rush to get it through. I cast no dispersions on those involved. It was done with the best of intentions. Everyone was doing it for the right reasons, but the institution of the Senate did not do its job. We did not do sober second thought.
At the Finance Committee, we heard from Sean Bruyea, a veteran of the Canadian Forces. He’s been in the media, so I’m not telling any stories here. He suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He has stated that publicly. He said at that meeting:
We all know that the government wants to be seen as honouring veterans, but that does not necessarily mean that their veterans charter is free of errors. In fact, given that the veterans’ contribution to society is defined in many ways as timeless, one must ask, why is there such a rush to force something through in only two days after Veterans Affairs Canada has been dragging its heels for more than 15 years? We believe disabled veterans and the CF would rather have it right than have a flawed and unjust charter right now.
Well, we have spent many years trying to repair the veterans’ charter. We have veterans still complaining about it. We have the departments still trying to resolve the problems of it, all because it was rushed through.
Senator Pratte, again, I cast no dispersions. I believe your enthusiasm for the legislation is well-placed, but let us do our job. Let’s confirm that.
We also had a recent example of rushing in the Senate, and that happened last year. At the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, International Trade Minister Freeland testified in support of enabling legislation for a World Trade Organization agreement Canada had signed. It was a rush to pass it.
The Minister said at the meeting: “I believe Canada should ratify it as quickly as possible” for the TFA to come into force.
. . . 108 WTO member countries need to ratify it. Right now —
— and this is November 22, 2016 —
— 96 countries have ratified the TFA. It’s really important for Canada’s status as an effective and energetic participant in the multilateral trade community and in the WTO to be one of the countries whose ratification of the TFA acts brings it into force.
It might bear noting that at this point, the bill had been in the Senate for five weeks. It took 27 weeks for it to go through the House of Commons, where it enjoyed the support of all parties. The need for energetic participation was rather late in coming and only arrived when the bill got to the Senate.
Many of us, including myself, questioned the urgency and need for such a tight timetable. I asked her if Canada ratifies after 110, we’re still a member. I appreciate there’s some face-saving, as the minister indicated earlier, but does the minister anticipate 14 countries, which would take it to 110, to ratify within the next week? The reason for the next week is we were looking for information on transiting goods within Canada, where there had been any accidents or whatever. That information would take another week or two to obtain.
The minister responded “absolutely” it would be ratified. And when I questioned her again, she said, “Yes. Everyone has been acting on this.” In other words, it was crunch time. We had better act quickly. We didn’t have a week to spare.
So in light of the minister’s sense of urgency, the committee had just one more meeting, passed the bill, reported back on November 24, passed in this chamber on November 30 in a total of seven weeks, a quarter of the time it spent in the House of Commons.
Those 14 countries that were going to ratify within one week, as assured by the minister, three months later, as of today, 110 haven’t ratified; 108 have. We were told we had a week. We could do it today and we would still be under the 110.
So the purpose is again not to cast dispersions but to speak about this sense of urgency we always fall under. It is our job to review documents and bills carefully, and we can’t count — we know this from long experience, and Senator Baker has highlighted it many times — on the House of Commons to do the analysis. Canadians have to count on the Senate.
I would just like to close by reminding colleagues that Canada has 12 free trade agreements. This is only one measure of the effectiveness but it is an important one. Of those 12 agreements, with 8 of them, our balance of trade has increased, 8 of the 12. Let me give you some of the numbers.
Before we signed NAFTA with Mexico, our trade balance was minus $2.9 billion. It is now minus $24 billion. Senator Martin mentioned Korea. In one year, our trade balance with Korea went from $3.1 billion to $3.9 billion. In Peru, it went from $2.1 billion when we signed in 2009 to the last year we have figures available, $2.4 billion.
I won’t repeat them all. They’re public information, but we have to be careful about the effects of these deals. We have to be particularly careful explaining to Canadians the benefits. We’re a trading nation. We’re highly dependent on trade, but Canadians have to see how it affects everyone, not just corporate Canada, how factories closing means there are opportunities somewhere else. The government has not done a particularly good job of explaining the benefits of trade deals, and that’s something we should look at rather carefully as well.
Colleagues, I just wanted to add those few comments before we refer to committee.