Neoliberal times make referenda essential
Where governments recklessly refuse to exercise due diligence and flout democratic values the public must insist on its right to referenda.
It has been said that democracy is a fragile egg easily broken and there are those more than willing to break eggs persistently.
Democracy is about process and most importantly the integrity of the process.
You can go through the motions- a democratic pretense-and no democracy really exists. You can make claims of openness, transparency, being consultative while the outcome is a forgone conclusion. The above three, are aspects of the democratic process but where the integrity of process is subverted democracy simply doesn’t exist.
I have been party to hearings and on committees where we were going through the motions of democracy but we all knew in our heart of hearts the fix was in, that our presence and our efforts were mere window dressing. There was just the pretense of democracy.
We live in a time when the pretense of democracy is manifest and the shattered eggs make a rather gooey and toxic mess. Such is the case with the ratification of the TPP. The government tells us the signing is mere formality. We are told over the next two years there will be public consultation and it will be debated in Parliament.
My experience tells me and the present political culture tells me this is all hogwash. When the TPP arrives back in Parliament two years hence it is going to be jammed through, a slam dunk, a done deal and Canada will be one more huge step closer to a corporate oligarchy.
The present political culture tells me so because these are neoliberal times where the free market economy reigns supreme, corporatism is unfettered and nation states and their sovereignty are being sacrificed. Governments here and abroad are more than willing to sacrifice their populations to neoliberalism and they have been doing it incrementally for decades-right back to the time of PE Trudeau and before.
Now comes the Grand Slam; the TPP, TTIP and TISA. As I have stated elsewhere these agreements are “neoliberalism on steroids.” Existing agreements have gutted the middle class, accelerated inequality and poverty and now we are blindly going that one huge step further. Our social indicators are being slaughtered.
“Neoliberalism” is a word that never crosses politician’s lips, but most pander to it. It is only marginally part of our political dialogue when it should be front and center. They practice the politics of abdication at ruinous expense to the public good, the integrity of our democracy and our sovereignty.
“Too big to Fail”
In the 2008 Wall Street crash 700 billion dollars was spent bailing out banks that were too big to fail, but fail they did and the American tax payer got to pick up the tab for their freewheeling corruption and incompetence.
The concept of too big to fail also infests the US Congress where massive omnibus bills are jammed through containing the good the bad and the ugly. Legislators are faced with all or nothing choices. Articles in the bills that deserve rigorous scrutiny receive little or none as they are recklessly passed into law.
The Harper government imported the omnibus bill to our Parliament as a way of jamming through all sorts of odious legislation with little scrutiny. One of his ministers admitted he hadn’t even read the bill he was sponsoring.
In British Columbia, recently, our health minister was caught unaware his senior bureaucrats had signed a 7 million dollar contract with a multi-national for work normally done by volunteers. So much for the due diligence of the guardians of the public good and the public purse.
Now we have the TPP arriving as a massive omnibus bill and clearly designed as being too big to fail. It is being misrepresented to us. It is clearly deleterious to our social fabric as proven by the effects of the NAFTA and other such agreements. It is clearly another corporate power grab- as governments are all too willing to preside over their own redundancy. Where they should be leading, they follow.
Ratification by Stealth and Intimidation
The two year ratification period was designated by sly foxes used to smashing eggs indiscriminately.
We are told now that signing the TPP is only a formality; but two years from now (and I will put money on it) we are going to be told it has already been signed and final ratification is only a formality-bumped from one formality to another we have a fait accompli.
Two years allows time for the TPP to become entrenched as part of the present predatory neoliberalism capitalism that honest economists are decrying as ruinous. Time buys acceptance and acquiescence and the foxes are well aware of this. It also paves the way for the TTIP and the TISA.
On the coat tails of ratification by stealth comes ratification by intimidation. Not only are these massive agreements daunting to legislators; they are even more so to the public. Legislatures require massive time and resources to properly scrutinize trade deals that have been years in the making all behind closed doors. It is very easy for them to be lured into the trap of nothing more than cursory examination. Governments are expected to follow the pack, sign on, and damn the consequences.
As for the public, so busy dealing with the taxation and indebtedness imposed by neoliberalism and previous agreements, of necessity, submission be becomes the operative word.
The Essential Binding National Referendum on the TPP
Younger Canadians are not aware of our constitutional wars of the 1980’s centered around the Meech Lake Accord (MLA) and the Charlottetown Accord (CA). We were a divided country on the verge of balkanization.
In 1987 the Mulroney government introduced the Meech Lake Accord. It was conceived to get Quebec’s signature on the constitution and to pacify its separatist movement. For the likes of PE Trudeau who came out of retirement to strongly oppose the MLA it was a blueprint for the country’s ruination as it granted Quebec, “distinct society” status and paved the way for its incremental withdrawal from Confederation.
The MLA failed ratification by the provinces. It was then repackaged as the Charlottetown Accord and the government held a binding national referendum in 1992. Voters repudiated the Accord decisively- a referendum that was a profound exercise in direct democracy.
The TPP is being sold as free trade, as a partnership, and an agreement. It is in fact none of these. It is mostly about investor and corporate rights. It is not really a partnership as it is a collection of smaller Pacific economies dominated by the US as the world’s largest economy. In the context of geopolitics it is not really an agreement. Just as the US conscripts it’s NATO “partners” for its endless warfare in the Middle East it is now conscripting Pacific Rim countries in its trade war with China. This is the real essence of what is the TPP. Trade wars, like military wars come with high costs, few benefits and the foot soldiers- the smaller countries- are going to take the biggest hits.
While the TTP is all about conscription it is also constitutional in nature as it will impact on our social, political and economic structures and practices. In 2016 we face another constitutional crisis as we did in 1992 and it is incumbent on the government to recognize this and call a referendum- sooner than later.
They are trying to sell the TPP as something other than what it is. They are playing for time as they practice the politics of abdication. Our only response can be to force our agenda on them in the form of a binding nation referendum.
We live in a time when government cannot be trusted to defend the public interest. It is all too willing to yield to the demands corporations make of them. They are too willing to see the public purse pilfered. This retreat from governance has been ongoing for decades and it must come to an end.
Government must regain our trust. In the meantime we must practice democracy in its most fundamental and purest form. There must be a binding national referendum on the TPP no later than June 30th 2017. It is up to us to make it happen.
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Robert Billyard ©