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Quebec Solidaire reaches across the Atlantic for a progressive alliance against CETA

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RQIC protest against CETA. Photo: Yves Provencher/Métro

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Quebec Solidaire, a social movement-based political party in the provincial legislature, has written to progressive European parliamentarians for assistance in forming a common resistance to the Canada-EU free trade deal (CETA). The letter was sent on the same day as news reports suggested Quebec Premier Pauline Marois could oppose the Canada-EU deal if the province's interests are not protected. Quebec trade justice activists profited from the new attention to the CETA negotiations by staging an action outside of the provincial trade minister's offices in Montreal on Tuesday.

"First and foremost, CETA undermines the essence of our democratic rights," write Françoise David and Amir Khadir in their joint letter to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). They warn that the agreement "would substantially change the face of Europe and Canada, given that no sphere of activity escapes the accord's reach. It would change not only the rules regarding public tenders, job protection and environmental standards, but also our policies in areas ranging from food production to the protection of culture, as well as telecommunications, water and natural resources… all this in order to favour the interests of big private investors."

In particular, the Quebec Solidaire legislators say that from a provincial standpoint, CETA would:

- endanger our sovereignty and our democratic institutions by placing business interests first. The CETA chapter on investments would be a copy of NAFTA's controversial Chapter 11, which enables companies to sue governments for entirely legitimate measures such as environmental protection;

- allow large corporations to circumvent or challenge regulations regarding the environment and job protection, such as buy-local policies;

- attack all cultural protection policies, because notwithstanding the UNESCO negotiated agreement, there will be no guarantee of exclusion of cultural goods and services. Once negotiated chapter by chapter, this exclusion will be virtually toothless;

- provide unreasonable protection of intellectual property rights that would, among other examples: i) increase the cost of prescription drugs by close to 3 billion dollars a year to the benefit of multinational pharmaceuticals; ii) undermine individual freedoms by forcing Internet providers to reveal to rights holders the contact information of persons suspected of downloading. It should be kept in mind that this regulatory measure contained in ACTA has hereby surfaced again in CETA, even though it had been rejected in Europe;

- facilitate the privatization of drinking water and waste water management services.

The two legislators conclude their letter:

Given this situation, we feel it is urgent to request your advice to help build a parliamentary resistance strategy in Europe, as well as in the Canadian, Quebec and provincial parliaments and to define common demands for major changes in the direction of this agreement. For this to happen, it appears crucial to us to pressure public authorities (national governments, provinces, territories, landers and municipalities) to withdraw their support for CETA negotiations until the public, European parliamentarians and national parliaments have had the opportunity to study the European Union-Canada agreement in detail and proposed desired changes.

Khadir posts a French version of the Quebec Solidaire letter in his January 28 blog entry.

Also on Monday, CBC reported that "Quebec could throw a monkey wrench into any free-trade deal between Canada and the European Union if it's not satisfied with the treaty's contents." Premier Marois told a news conference after her World Economic Forum speech in Davos, Switzerland on Monday that her government could make implementing CETA difficult if it encroaches too much on provincial jurisdiction.

"At one point, when it comes to certain principles with which we are unable to live or agreements that have an impact on our market that is unacceptable, well, I don't think we should give up," she said. Specifically, Marois said supply management was a no-go area for her government, but Quebec will also want to protect the rights of Hydro Quebec to spend public money strategically, or in ways that are designed to encourage local development or local job creation. The premiers' statements prompted a response from International Trade Minister Ed Fast, also attending the corporate schmoozefest.

"The position we have taken is that we will sign a trade agreement only if it is clearly in the interests of Canada," Fast said. "For us, it's not the timing that matters most but the quality of the agreement."

On Tuesday, Quebec trade activists with the RQIC network staged a protest outside the Montreal office of Jean-François Lisée, Quebec's trade minister. Flanked by the now familiar five-metre-tall Trojan Horse, the activists expressed their concern that the Marois government has too easily adopted the stance of the former Charest Liberals on the Canada-EU trade negotiations. RQIC spokesperson Pierre-Yves Serinet asked what use the political sovereignty of Quebec will be if all other forms of sovereignty -- economic, social, cultural, energy and food -- are compromised by CETA.

European Trade Minister Karel De Gucht told the media this weekend that he will travel to Canada next week (February 6 and 7) to try to strike a final deal with Canada. On his way there, De Gucht would stop in Washington, D.C. for the possible release of a High Level Working Group report that will encourage the EU and U.S. to begin their own "comprehensive" free trade negotiations.

The EU Trade Commissioner's visit to Canada seemed to take the Harper government by surprise, with Minister Fast telling a media conference in Nigeria that, "I have not committed to a firm time line. We're not going to be rushed into a deal that doesn't serve Canadians." Fast is currently on a trade mission to Africa.

Photo: Yves Provencher/Métro

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