Canadians should not be concerned about the controversial Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, says Colin Mayes.
The Okanagan-Shuswap MP offered reassurances about the 31-year agreement, which some have called the biggest since NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).
Mayes contends the FIPA is not a trade agreement.
“We’ve stated as a government that every trade agreement we’re going to sign, we will bring it to Parliament and have it voted on… This agreement with China is simply an agreement that basically states that when Canadian businessmen or business interests are in China, they will be treated the same as Chinese business people, they will have to abide by the same rules,” he told the News.
“That also goes for the Chinese… doing business in Canada – they are treated the same as any other Canadian business. The business community (in Canada) has been communicating to the government of Canada we’ve needed this for the past 20 years… When they go over and set businesses up, they find the rules are different for them than the nationals. So that is simply what the agreement is – we have 25 or 26 of these agreements in the world…”
Mayes adds that when his uncle and a few other business people went to China to do some placer mining, they were told they would have to sell the gold to the government for $50 an ounce and, at that time, it was selling for $350 an ounce.
He said the clause that says 15-year notice is needed to cancel the agreement could be renegotiated if it’s problematic, but it adds stability.
“Let’s face it, if a Canadian company spends a billion dollars getting all set up, and then all of a sudden the Chinese government says it’s not interested anymore…”
In response to criticisms of Bill C-45, the second of what have been termed omnibus budget bills, Mayes said Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair, when he was in the Quebec cabinet, “forwarded a budget with 600 pages and nobody said boo about it… The word ‘omnibus bill’ is being used politically to make it look like we’re bulldozing people over – having people fear we’re going to compromise the environment. That’s not true.”
Fears about protection of the environment have been central to many criticisms of the bill, particularly regarding changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act – now the Navigation Protection Act.
The act’s scope is being narrowed to protection focused on three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers in Canada, just 24 of which are in B.C. In this area, just Shuswap Lake, Little Shuswap Lake and Mara Lake are listed, and no rivers. Mayes argues that the act was created in 1880, needs modernization and was intended to keep waterways open so people could navigate them.
“It had nothing to do with the environment.”
He said the Environmental Protection Act, which he terms probably one of the most stringent in the world, will take care of environmental concerns.
Critics have said citizens will now have to take concerns about waterways to the law courts, but Mayes says that’s not accurate.
“That’s why we have elected people,” he said, noting that residents contacted his office when a waterski course was proposed for Mara Lake.
“If you need some information, some clarity about what’s happening, you take it to your Member of Parliament or your MLA, then they deal with it… If you don’t like the answer, I guess, well, you have to go to court… But if it’s really, really a problem, I’m sure politically we can deal with it.”
He asks why any government would compromise environmental protections.
“That’s absolutely ridiculous, it’s political suicide… I love nature, I love God’s creation – it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t belong to a party that would compromise our environment…”
Asked to comment on what appears to be a generally low approval rating for the Conservative government with regard to openness and accountability as well as the environment, Mayes said people don’t realize, for instance, the positive impact the oil sands are having on the Canadian economy.
He points to his time as mayor of Salmon Arm and the building of the twin-sheet arena, the courthouse and city hall, the RCMP detachment, the seniors centre, and two renovations to the sewage treatment plant.
“We didn’t do a single thing without somebody coming along and telling us we didn’t know what we were doing. Especially in this town, there’s a little group of naysayers…
“Now people look back and say, gee, those were good investments at the time… When you’re making decisions and leading you are always going to attract some criticism.”