In a packed hall near the southern shore of Vancouver’s False Creek, Elizabeth May, the leader of the federal Green party, detailed what imperils our country and our world. During her speech at the Green party gala on November 16, she touched on the dire threat of climate change -- but it was her depiction of her fellow members of Parliament which might have counted as the most astounding and disillusioning.
In a message she repeated in front of a cheering crowd of 1,300 in Victoria on November 19, she pointed out that many of her colleagues -- NDP, Liberal, and Conservative -- are directed on how to vote on various pieces of legislation. And, in light of that, they simply don’t read much of the legislation which lands on their desks. They don’t have to, they reason -- and, as she suggests, if they did, they might be appalled by what they’re voting for. So they just avoid the trouble and refrain from reading it at all.
Consequently, the Canadian democratic tradition of responsible governance is in peril. Our politicians are not informing themselves about important pieces of legislation. And they’re letting things through which will benefit corporations while hurting many people -- all without their consultation.
This is where the pending ratification of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) enters the picture. This FIPA, a treatise which enforces binding obligations in favour of foreign investors, will not be Canada’s first with another state, but it certainly ranks among the least transparent. It will also do far more to serve the interests of Chinese investors than Canadian citizens.
“Its main role is to protect Chinese-owned assets from legislatures, governments, and courts in Canada, and vice versa,” writes Gus Van Harten, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Investment Treaty Arbitration and Public Law. “Because there is more Chinese investment in Canada than Canadian ownership in China, the treaty’s investor protection mechanism puts disproportionate risks and constraints on Canada.”
There’s far more to this proposed treaty than many of us currently know. And it’s time our leaders communicate this reality to the people. Fortunately, there are some leaders still willing to do just that. Elizabeth May was the first to ring the alarm on FIPA. After Stephen Harper signed the FIPA agreement on September 9 without broad consensus, May asked, 10 days later during question period, when the text of the treaty would be made public. A week later she held a press conference, raising the possibility that Canada would become a “resource colony” if FIPA went through. It was only on October 31 -- nearly two months after Harper’s first move -- when the leaders of the Liberal party and the NDP finally raised the issue during question period.
May’s example speaks to the power of independent thought when many of our elected officials have no real incentive to engage in such a thing themselves. The Green party -- federal, provincial, and municipal -- represents the interests of those engaged in clear and sustained analysis of the issues that will affect us all. In times like these, the people deserve representatives who embody these pivotal practices.
This article was originally co-written with Andrew Weaver for the Georgia Straight.
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