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The Conservative candidate for Vancouver-Centre confirmed Thursday that his party is alone among the four major parties battling it out in Western Canada that supports a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.
Trade hasn’t been on the front burner during this campaign, unlike in the US where it is a hot issue. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has stated his opposition to a US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, while Republican John McCain supports the deal.
Conservative hopeful Lorne Mayencourt said that the Canada-Colombia deal was negotiated in a way that is “beneficial to both countries," and that free trade agreements “can lead to democracies that are really quite good.”
Mayencourt’s position differs from that of the other candidates, who rejected the deal in a morning debate at the University of British Columbia on Thursday.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't trade with Colombia at all, I'm saying we need to look at the terms and the conditions of the negotiation that Mr. Emerson did with Colombia," said Hedy Fry, the Liberal incumbent in Vancouver-Centre, echoing her party's position on the deal.
Though the Liberals do not specifically mention the Canada-Colombia agreement in their platform, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion spoke against the deal earlier this week.
"The way it was negotiated by the Conservatives we have no guarantee at all that the basic rights will be respected through this agreement, the workers' rights, and so on. It [sic] is why we can not accept it," he said, speaking Tuesday night at the University of British Colombia.
“A free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia would lead to more displacement, more threats and more violence against unionists, Afro-Colombians and Indigenous peoples,” said George Heyman, past president of the BC Government and Service Employees' Union, who visited Colombia with other Canadian union leaders in July.
The NDP has taken a strong stance against the deal, responding in part to concerns from the Canadian labour movement. Forty-one trade unionists have been killed in Colombia this year alone.
"There are some very serious human rights and labour rights issues in Colombia. The Colombian agreement was done without a view to those important concerns, and it should be renounced," said Michael Byers, a UBC professor and rookie NDP candidate.
Adriane Carr, Vancouver-Centre's Green Party candidate, stated that her party is against the agreement. The Greens would seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement if they were elected.
Human Rights Watch calls Colombia the country with the "worst human rights and humanitarian situation in the region, with many serious problems, including massive internal displacement, killings, and enforced disappearances."
The end of negotiations between Canada and Colombia were announced on June 7, days before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade finished its report about the deal. The report was meant to guide the negotiation process, and recommends that for the moment, the government of Canada should not sign a deal with Colombia.
"I'm not really familiar with that, so I'm sorry I can't comment on that part of it," said Mayencourt, who was hesitant to comment further on the agreement.
Mayencourt’s lack of familiarity with the way the deal has been negotiated by the Conservatives drives home the low priority of trade deals in this federal campaign. The text of the Canada-Colombia agreement has not been released to the public.
South of the border, a US-Colombia deal worked its way to the US House of Representatives this spring. The Democrat-controlled congress blocked passage of the deal, in part due to concerns about the human rights record of President Alvaro Uribe's government in Colombia.
The decision of the next Canadian government for or against free trade with Colombia could have implications in the US.
A Canada-Colombia agreement "will give aid and comfort to all the liberalizing forces within the United States who are instantly going to notice it and say, 'If the Canadians are doing Colombia, why can't we?'" University of Toronto political scientist John Kirton told Bloomberg News in May.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.