Last week was an interesting one on Parliament Hill as trade and foreign investment discussions remain an active topic in the House of Commons as well as in many Parliamentary committees. The Opposition NDP remain opposed to foreign investment and the vast majority of trade agreements that have come before the House to date. The NDP have also taken aim at the record of the Liberals when in Government pointing out that, and I quote directly from an NDP statement in the House “there were 10,000 foreign investment applications approved when the Liberals were in power, all of them rubber stamped. They never rejected a single one and never attached conditions”. In contrast and as I reported in last week’s report, our Conservative Government is the first in recent history to reject foreign ownership of Canadian owned resources as laid out in section 20 of the Canada Investment Act. Rejections of the recent Malaysian Petronas proposal and the rejection of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan in 2010 are examples of this. This discussion became more animated recently when current Liberal MP and the front running candidate for leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau announced strong support for the CNOOC Nexen deal calling it “good for Canada”. I reference this to point out that in spite of what you may sometimes hear, the diversity of opinion and democratic debate is certainly just as lively in Ottawa as it is in many coffee shops and letters to the editor throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla.
In last week’s report I also provided a real life example of how foreign investment creates well-paying jobs right here in our region- specifically the investment by the Mitsubishi Materials Corporation that led to the opening of Copper Mountain Mine in Princeton. Last week’s report focussing on the importance of rural resource communities and mining generated a large amount of feedback as many citizens were aware of the importance of mining to communities such as Princeton, Okanagan Falls, Merritt, Logan Lake and elsewhere but in many cases were not aware that foreign investment was involved. That being said, I also hear from citizens who do not support mining, trade and foreign investment as well as hearing from citizens who would be more supportive under different circumstances.
Many of the points raised are of great interest to me. Some have rightly asked; why do we need to rely on foreign investment? While many people can recognize the economic benefits and jobs of these kinds of projects, one has to be mindful that although Canada is blessed with natural resources, our comparatively small population makes it challenging to fund all of these projects with Canadian investment alone. Even the Canadian Pension Plan, like many large funds, diversify the holdings internationally in order to protect the investments and generate a return.
To encourage those who wish to diversify and invest in Canada, it is important to offer protection and certainty overinvestment capital. The need for transparent environmental processes that are straight forward and timely is important. Likewise is the importance to have international agreements in place that outline administrative process and dispute resolution mechanisms. These have all been topics of debate in the 41st Parliament and ones that we have addressed or continue to work on. While government certainly has a role to play in creating a strong and accountable regulatory environment, it is not the government that puts forward potential projects- it is up to the private sector to propose projects whether a refinery, smelter, mine, production facility or otherwise.
A secondary and equally important consideration is that in order to increase value added exports, Canada must have international markets to sell into, which is why our government has put such an emphasis on expanding trade. Whether it be in blocks of countries such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union or bilateral agreements like Canada-India free trade agreement that is currently under negotiation. This is why since 2006 our Government has concluded trade agreements with nine different countries and has initiated negotiations with 60 other countries. Using the example of India, few are aware that Canada and India have a rapidly growing commercial trading relationship – last year the bilateral trade between our two countries generated roughly $5 billion in revenues, a 23% increase over the previous year. While many have suggested these numbers are based on imports into Canada, in reality more than half of this amount, $2.6 billion, is actually based on Canadian exports into India. At a recent Diwali event at the temple in Summerland, I heard a tremendous amount of support for the Prime Minister's efforts to expand our trade with India. It should also be pointed out that it is not just those that have familial ties with India that would benefit from a free trade agreement. Dried vegetables, fertilizers, paper, paperboard, aircraft and related parts are some of Canada’s most common exports into India- coming from all across this great country. India has a market that exceeds 1.2 billion people and has forecast annual economic growth of 6.3 per cent between now and 2017. India is one of many countries that represent an important opportunity that can be filled by Canadian expertise, products and services that create local jobs and support our regional economies. I should also add the International Trade agreements do come before the House of Commons for full debate, much has occurred recently in the debate on a trade agreement with Panama. For more information on any free trade agreement or to share your comments, questions and concerns please do not hesitate to give me a call. I can be reached toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at [email protected]