Liberal trade critic Scott Brison has been instrumental in helping the government get its legislation on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement through the House of Commons by proposing a friendly amendment which guaranteed Liberal support in the face of fierce NDP and Bloc opposition. It passed Second Reading on Monday and now heads to committee. I caught up with Brison after Question Period today.
Q: C-2 has now passed Second Reading, and I take it that’s with your amendment?
A: The government confirmed in the House of Commons that they would support our amendment at the committee stage.
Q: And that’s coming up in the next couple of weeks?
A: I’m not exactly sure the first day it’ll be coming up in committee, but it’ll be in the near term.
Q: This is something you put in a lot of work into. Is committee going to be something you’ll have to put in a lot more work to get it passed?
A: It’s not just me. It’s a core principle of the Liberal Party that the right kind of economic engagement can strengthen human rights engagement. We believe this amendment strengthens the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement on human rights, and in terms of its capacity to strengthen human rights transparency and accountability in Colombia. Some experts are predicting that this will set a benchmark for the treatment of human rights in free trade agreements because the fact that we are talking about human rights in Colombia is a product of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and is evidence to the principle that human rights engagement is strengthened by economic engagement. Some have expressed concern that once the free trade agreement is signed, there won’t be as much focus on human rights after. This amendment will ensure that on an ongoing basis, certainly on an annual basis, every single year, human rights issues in Colombia will continue to be part of Canadian dialogue and discussion, and that in and of itself is an important step forward. We’re looking forward to hearing witnesses on both sides of this and engaging effectively at committee. The good news is that even after C-2 has passed, on an annual basis these reports can be tabled both in the Canadian House of Commons and the Colombian Congress, and can be discussed both at the trade committee and at the human rights committee level of the House of Commons.
The NDP and other purveyors of mischief and misinformation have claimed that Colombia will be responsible for writing the reports on Colombia. The fact is that both governments – Canada’s government and Colombia’s – will write two reports – one on Canada’s human rights and the impact of this agreement, and one on Colombian human rights. So there will be a Canadian report on the Colombian human rights impact assessment of this agreement, and there will be a Colombian government report, which will be important because it gives us the capacity to compare the two, and to ask questions about any discrepancies and to engage civil society on the issues. The Canadian government – and we have a very robust foreign service – in bringing together our DFAIT people and our CIDA people, we can do a very solid analysis of Colombian human rights.
Q: There’s also been criticism in the past few weeks about the elections in Colombia and how this affects that.
A: The people who are critical of the elections now are the same people who were critical of Uribe seeking a third term a few weeks ago. You’ll never satisfy them. The fact is, the independence of Colombia’s judiciary and of its electoral process has been demonstrated by the court’s refusal for President Uribe’s constitutional amendment to allow a third term, and by his immediate respect for that decision. If there are any other issues or irregularities, we will certainly be engaged in their investigation, but the fact is we have trade relationships with countries that are in some countries not democratic. We have trade agreements with countries that have a different approach than we do. What I find shocking is the absence of any criticism from the NDP of the Chavez regime in Venezuela, and I find the hypocrisy absolutely startling. They close their eyes when they are dealing with a brutal dictator like Chavez, simply because he is of their own ideological leanings. It’s the height of hypocrisy for the NDP to remain silent on Chavez and be so over the top on Uribe.