"As you read these lines, 50 or so invitations will be arriving at the offices of civil society members, including citizens organizations, unions, corporations, researchers, journalists and opposition party members," writes Quebec's new trade minister, Jean-François Lisée, in his latest blog post. "They were invited by me and my colleague, Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau, in an exercise in transparency," he continues, referring to a consultation this Friday on Quebec's place in the Canada-European Union free trade negotiations.
The blog was written on the same day that Harper's own trade minister, Ed Fast, assured journalists Quebec was on side with the CETA project, and that a deal was still possible by year's end. Pierre-Marc Johnson has been retained by the Marois government to finish what the Liberals asked him to start. The Globe and Mail reminds us that the PQ has traditionally supported free trade.
Still, Quebec media describes an uncertain scenario where the provincial government could still throw the talks for a loop. Marois has issues in particular with the lack of information coming from negotiators to members of the legislature. The civil society briefing is an attempt to correct the transparency issue.
As Lisée suggests, the Parti Quebecois will be taking suggestions as well as questions from civil society groups during this Friday's session, which will "allow us to make clear the recommendations we will make to caucus, the Council of Ministers and the Premier regarding the mandate to give our negotiating team."
The civil society meeting was organized based on recommendations from the Réseau québécois sur l'intégration continentale (RQIC), which works closely with the Trade Justice Network in Canada to shed light on the CETA negotiations. Both networks and their member organizations have consistently pushed the federal, provincial and territorial governments to hold some form of consultation prior to signing any deal with the EU. Quebec's offer of transparency, as modest as it might be this Friday, is an example other provinces should be required to follow.
Though the text of the EU deal is almost complete, the provinces have a lot of say in what it looks like. They could, for example, make sure CETA:
- Excludes water services and other municipally delivered services as the EU is trying to do but which no province has yet asked to reciprocate;
- Excludes an investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism, which allows corporations to sue Canada, outside of our accountable legal system, for lost profits due to delays, cancellations or new regulations affecting their profits;
- Excludes municipal governments from procurement rules that will substantially limit their freedom to use public spending as an economic development tool, or way to create jobs and protect the environment;
- Does not cave in to Big Pharma demands for even more monopoly protection on brand-name drugs, which will only increase the cost of public health care while creating few new jobs.
We have a long-standing ACTION ALERT on our website asking the provinces to "Show us the deal, give us a say!" Please use the email form on that page to direct a letter to your own provincial government and trade minister asking them to follow Quebec's lead by organizing consultations as soon as possible.
A next and probably final round of CETA negotiations happens in Brussels between October 15 and 26. What better moment could there be to make sure our provinces are not signing a bad deal that will have permanent effects on Canada's economic and social future?
Click here to send a letter to your provincial government today.