Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate)
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Pursuant to notice of February 6, 2020, moved:
That, notwithstanding rules 12-2(2), 12-3(1) and usual practice, the Honourable Senators Ataullahjan, Boehm, Bovey, Cordy, Coyle, Dawson, Dean, Greene, Housakos, Massicotte, Ngo, Plett and Saint-Germain be appointed to serve on the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade until a report of the Committee of Selection recommending the senators to serve as members of the committee is adopted or the members are otherwise named by the Senate;
That the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade be authorized to examine the subject matter of Bill C-4, An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States, introduced in the House of Commons on January 29, 2020, in advance of the said bill coming before the Senate; and
That, for the purpose of this study, the committee have the power to meet, even though the Senate may then be sitting or adjourned, and that rules 12-18(1) and 12-18(2) be suspended in relation thereto.
She said: Honourable senators, I move the motion standing in my name.
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
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Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Government Motion No. 9, which proposes to strike the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on an interim basis to review Bill C-4, implementing legislation for the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, otherwise known as CUSMA.
Membership of this committee would be based on the configuration of the committee from the previous Parliament and would remain in place until the Committee of Selection produces a report recommending membership or a new committee is struck.
The precedent for striking an interim committee to deal with matters of a pressing nature is not a new phenomenon for the Senate. Senators will recall that, as recently as December, the Senate National Finance Committee was established for an interim period to review the supplementary estimates so that part of the government spending plans could be implemented and approved before the end of 2019.
Honourable senators, it may take some time for the negotiations on the committee membership to conclude. However, that shouldn’t stop us from taking initiative and getting to work on a pre-study of the agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade studied important legislation on free trade during the last Parliament, including Bill C-30 on the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, and Bill C-79 on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Members of that committee have the necessary knowledge and expertise to do an appropriate and in-depth examination of the effects of this agreement on our trade relations within the biggest free trade zone in the world.
The timely implementation of CUSMA through Bill C-4 is vitally important to Canada. It would enable businesses to benefit from the modernized elements of the new agreement while giving greater market certainty and stability to provinces and territories.
For years now, senators, the Government of Canada has worked in a non-partisan fashion in partnership with provincial governments of all stripes to ensure that Canada secures a good deal with its most important trading partner. It would be an understatement to say that the stakes were and remain very high.
This agreement was secured through what we might call a team Canada approach, involving industry, provincial governments of all denominations, former prime ministers and former cabinet ministers of all stripes. It was very intense work.
Now with this motion, I’m asking, on behalf of the Government of Canada, that the Senate takes the baton and contributes to the effort to bring CUSMA to a successful fruition.
To be clear, this motion does not prevent Bill C-4 from being studied once it has been passed by the other place. However, a preliminary study will position the Senate to proceed to an effective examination of the bill and gain considerable trust from premiers, industry, and our trade partners by indicating that the Senate is ready. As senators know, Mexico and the United States have ratified this agreement and they want Canada to do the same.
As a result, the eyes of Mexico and the United States are on Canada right now and, by extension, on Canada’s upper chamber. If we were to pass this motion and undertake this work, the Senate of Canada would send a tremendously positive signal of momentum to our two trading partners. And I cannot stress enough how helpful it would be at this stage to send such a signal to our counterparts.
From a domestic standpoint, industry leaders have expressed a very strong and united desire for a smooth and effective ratification process, underscoring the need for a collaborative approach among parliamentarians to get CUSMA to a successful and timely completion. If you will indulge me, I would like to quote just a small sample of the views expressed by industry upon the tabling of Bill C-4 in the other place.
The Canadian Steel Producers Association released the following statement:
The CSPA is urging all members of the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada to support this Bill and swiftly ratify the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). Implementation of the CUSMA is critical to strengthening the competitiveness of Canadian and North American steel industries and ensuring market access in the face of persistent global trade challenges and uncertainty. . . . We believe this deal to be a critical step forward for our future and are counting on all Parliamentarians to come together and ratify the agreement without delay.
The Grain Growers of Canada expressed a similar view:
Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) is urging the Government of Canada to ratify the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) as soon as possible. In doing so, Canadian farmers can begin experiencing the benefits of stable, reliable trade with the USA and Mexico. . . . GGC agrees that ratifying this agreement is essential to Canadian farmers and to Canadian trade, and is calling on all parties to come together to support the quick passage of CUSMA. . . .
The success of Canadian agriculture is not a partisan issue . . . We urge all parties to work together to see the legislation through.
From the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association:
We strongly encourage nonpartisan collaboration to enable swift ratification and implementation of the new NAFTA. This is of utmost importance to the Canadian beef industry.
In a joint statement released on January 29, the Business Council of Canada, the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters echoed these sentiments:
We call on Members of Parliament and Senators from all parties to make the ratification and implementation of CUSMA a top priority. Above all else, the agreement restores much needed certainty to our most important trade and investment relationship.
This is about certainty and North America’s ability to compete with the world as an integrated market. It is time for Canada to follow suit and ratify.
Last but not least, all of Canada’s premiers have called on the Parliament of Canada to move quickly on the ratification and passage of this bill. This past January 23, the premiers spoke with one voice through the Council of the Federation. Together they stated:
Canada’s Premiers welcome the ratification of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) by the United States (US) and Mexico. Premiers urge the Government of Canada and all federal parliamentarians to move quickly to ratify this agreement. . . .
Given the importance of this trading relationship to Canada’s economy, Premiers encourage members of the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada to ratify CUSMA as quickly as possible. Timely ratification will enable Canadian businesses to benefit from the modernized provisions of the agreement restoring market certainty and contributing to Canada’s economic prosperity.
Senators, as a chamber constitutionally charged with ensuring that the interests of the regions are properly represented, I believe it is incumbent upon us to hear the clear, unambiguous and unanimous call of our premiers. In my view, given that Mexico and the United States have ratified CUSMA, and given its crucial importance to the Canadian economy, this motion is very much in the national interest. I’m hopeful that as part of the pre-study process, the Senate will rise to the occasion and conduct our work in a collaborative, efficient and effective manner.
More importantly, I believe it will signal to our allies the seriousness that this Parliament places on moving forward with the ratification of this agreement as part of our all-Canada, our Team Canada approach. Thank you, senators.
Government leader, you cited a number of stakeholders who think it’s pressing and important that we rush this agreement as quickly as possible. With any trade deal, you know there are winners and losers, and you can go through a long list of benefactors of a trade deal. You can also go through a list of detractors and people concerned about a trade deal.
You also mentioned how this trade deal is crucial to the Canadian economy and how the government is calling upon Parliament to pass it expeditiously. We also agree that Parliament has to do its due diligence, especially under the context of this agreement.
If this agreement is so crucial, and we know the Americans ratified it many months ago and the Mexicans even longer than that, why didn’t the government, after the election, call back Parliament much more expeditiously than it has — it waited over two months to call back Parliament — in order to do the diligent work required on this deal? It’s crucial.
Thank you for your question. The motion that is put before you is looking forward to the responsibility that we in this chamber have to do our part, as parliamentarians, in the national interest. It is not particularly to the point to ask why it took the government time to form its government or its cabinet, so I will simply repeat what I said before. I assume that we all understand the importance of this agreement for the well-being of Canada, and once again, I urge you all to support the motion for the pre-study so that the Senate can do its job fully and effectively, which is our duty, and make sure the agreement is properly reviewed in this chamber and properly dealt with in an expeditious way.
Thank you, government leader. We all agree that Parliament should take the time to do its due diligence in an appropriate fashion, particularly given the fact that these negotiations were unprecedented. We have never seen a situation in a three-way negotiation where two bilaterally negotiated the deal, and then President Trump pushed our government around for a few weeks, giving him ultimatums when to sign the deal.
Will you make a commitment on the floor of this chamber that this chamber will not be pushed with some sort of deadline of when we should ratify this agreement, but rather give us your commitment that you will allow the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee and this chamber to do its due diligence without undue pressure in terms of timelines from the government?
The purpose of doing a pre-study is precisely so that the Senate has the maximum amount of time for its views to be heard and the maximum amount of time for us to be in a position of not starting from ground zero when the bill arrives. We have tremendous experience in this chamber, and I expect we will put it to good use to make sure this agreement is properly reviewed.
It remains a priority of the government, for reasons that need not be elaborated here, that time is not our friend with regard to the ratification of the agreement and it is important — for the stability of our relationships with both the United States and Mexico, and for the well-being of all stakeholders within Canada — that ratification be done in a timely fashion. To that end, again, I ask for your support when we do arrive at the time to vote on this motion s, that we can move ahead with our pre-study, so the Senate can do its job as Canadians expect us to do.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
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I have a supplementary question. It’s related to the non-answer that we just heard. Leader, Senator Housakos asked a question about why, and in your answer, you said that we shouldn’t be asking whether there are some underlying reasons. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, and we can certainly read the transcript later on, but you implied that there may be reasons why we need to hurry this along. If there are reasons, if we are under threat, then we need to know what the reasons are, and if they aren’t, leader, then you need to say that, because you implied that there may be something there and that if we don’t ratify this quickly, something will happen.
Thank you for your question. It gives me the opportunity to clarify.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has advised me that we were under threat. I was simply taking, if you’ll pardon my legal training, judicial notice or, in this case, parliamentary notice, of the volatile situation that we face with regard to our major trading partner. It is simply the case that with the United States and Mexico having ratified the agreement, all expectations are that Canada will ratify the agreement. That’s the desire of our industry, unions, premiers and this government. Indeed, I have no doubt whatsoever that Canada is a trading country, and this has been a non-partisan effort all the way through.
I am getting used to this role and trying not to fall into traps. I was not intending to allude to any threat, of which I’m completely unaware. But there is always a risk that when you’re dealing with a volatile trading partner, such as we are now, time is not our friend, and that the ratification of this agreement in a timely fashion is in the best interests of Canada.
Senator Gold, Canadians notice that members of the American Congress and American Senate proposed amendments to the trade deal, which were accepted by the American government and then the Mexican and Canadian governments. Is it the position of the Government of Canada that they will accept amendments to the deal from Canadian parliamentarians?
To the best of my knowledge — and thank you for the question — it is not the position of the government that it would be wise to try to reopen negotiations with either Mexico or the United States. I believe it is the position of the government that this is a very good agreement for Canada and that our national interest is best served by ratifying the agreement as was negotiated.
As you know, in the past, the government advised the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee of the Senate that the deal was either accepted or rejected. But given what happened in the United States, I assume the government would be open to suggestions from various industries that could improve the deal for Canadians, as the American members of Congress and Senate did.
I appreciate you’re new to the job, but would you consult with the government, and if there is a different answer than what you gave today, would you inform the Senate?
As I have said in this chamber before, I see my responsibility as being the Senate’s conduit to the government for these types of questions.
There is no doubt that the government remains committed and concerned about making sure that the agreement, its implementation and all the details that follow serve Canadians and all sectors of Canada well. I will certainly inquire and be happy to report back.
Senator Gold, you mentioned in your remarks that both the United States and the Mexican governments approved this deal expeditiously. Of course they did because they drew it up. We were not in the room.
Have you been given an indication from the government that we have no leeway at all in amending this agreement, that we have to be coerced to accept all aspects of this agreement? Can we finally give this agreement the due diligence that we did not give it when it was drawn up?
Thank you for your question. Respectfully, the assumptions and the premise of your question are really quite incorrect.
I am advised that our negotiators, both the professional negotiators and the teams of parliamentarians and others who surrounded them, did a magnificent job in the negotiation, that this is a deal that is significantly improved for Canada over the others. According to the best information that has been provided to me and that I can share here, the assumption that we were somehow coerced into a deal or were not at the table is factually untrue. On the contrary. Canadian negotiators in this agreement, as with CETA and others, are nonpareil. I have every confidence that the agreement to which they were intimately involved at every step of the way was improved significantly because of the professionalism and expertise of our negotiating teams.
In terms of us being intimately involved, I was in Rye Brook, New York, at the state government’s meeting in August, a few months before the agreement was settled, a few weeks before the agreement was put together. I was approached by Dan Ujczo, who is the leading trade lawyer on international trade. He walked up to me and said, “Senator MacDonald, you’ll be interested in this: The Americans and the Mexicans are meeting today to work on the free trade agreement and Canada is not in the room.” So the idea that we were always intimately involved is simply not true.
Second — and I agree with you on this — my experience with our embassy in the U.S. has been nothing but positive. The people we had representing us and working for us in Washington, including the ambassador, showed the greatest of ability. They were very cooperative and very helpful, but they weren’t the problem. The problem was the relationship or lack of a relationship that our government had established with the Americans.
As someone who has been on the Canada-U.S. IPG for 11 years and vice-chair for many years and now the co-chair for about four years, I am very unhappy with the way we handled this relationship with the U.S., our biggest trading partner. We had the pole position in this and we squandered it. We have the right now to find out, since we did squander it, what it cost us.
I can find a question in that statement. Senator, given your experience in complicated three-way agreements with many sectors, chapters and dimensions, you know as well or better than many that issues do arise that sometimes affect only specifically one or two of the partners.
I am advised that, of course, there were moments and occasions when the United States negotiators and their counterparts from Mexico had to work through some difficult issues. There are public matters about labour standards, as you know, not unconnected to positions that Canada has been taking in these negotiations. At other times, there would have been issues that affected only Canada and the United States, and specific meetings would have been held.
The important point, though, is that Canadians can be proud and gratified of the process. The position of the government is — and I cited only a handful who supported this, including members of your party — that this is a deal that is very good for Canada. This would not have been a good deal for Canada if it was coerced upon us or if we were out of the room. That’s not what happened. We should all be thankful that the agreement happened as it did.
Government leader, any access to the U.S. market is outstanding good news for the Canadian economy. However, in this particular instance, this trade deal gives us less access than the original NAFTA agreement. That’s a whole other story.
As government leader, will you give a commitment to honourable senators that when we start the pre-study at Foreign Affairs and International Trade, that the lead negotiator and the minister who was the lead minister on the file will come before the committee? Will you seek that assurance on behalf of the government for us?
Whatever process this chamber ultimately agrees to, I would welcome hearing from the minister and the negotiators. We can work together.
I would be delighted to work together on this. It’s important that senators and Canadians understand the evidence as fully as can be achieved and shared in a public forum. I undertake to work with you and anyone in this chamber to put together a process as quickly and as fulsomely as we can so that we have the full benefit of their input.