Prime Minister Harper's announcement on Friday that he'd concluded a new corporate rights pact with the European Union was greeted by instantaneous support from media pundits, editorial boards and business lobby groups. Only part of that reaction (from business groups) was planned by the government. The rest was spin albeit highly effective spin based on the unanimity of praise for a deal that has not been made public yet.
Most early news articles reprinted a set of (rehashed and discredited) assumptions about the EU deal as if they were the inevitable economic outcome of its possible ratification. (Yes we still hope we can stop this deal before then, and that there are very good reasons to.) The CBC reprinted much of Harper's 44-page promotional brochure on CETA and even created cute new graphics for an interactive explainer which seems to have been taken off the site. If you missed that, you can still find all the impressive numerical data here, like that the population of Europe is 500 million (which it isn't, actually).
Luckily we have the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The CCPA's senior trade researcher Scott Sinclair asks 10 questions about CETA in an article today at nationalnewswatch.com, and he reminds us that much more than a trade deal, CETA is "a constitutional-style document that affects patent protection for drugs, foreign investor rights, local government purchasing, public interest regulation and many other matters that are normally decided by elected legislatures after public debate."
Questions like "Why are the thoroughly discredited projections of economic gains from the CETA being treated as facts?" and "Why does CETA include an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism?" The latter in NAFTA has been used more than 30 times to challenge Canadian public policies outside the courts, in private tribunals, resulting in more than $160-million in awards or settlements being paid to U.S. corporations.
"Both the European Parliament and an official Sustainability Impact Assessment have questioned the need to include investor-state dispute settlement in the CETA," writes Sinclair. "Canada and Europe have highly regarded court systems that protect the rights of all investors regardless of nationality. There is no justification for including investor-state arbitration in the CETA, but unfortunately it will now be used by foreign corporations to attack public interest regulations on both sides of the Atlantic."
Sinclair's last question, "Where will all this end?", is important, not just because what Canada didn't give up to get the EU deal done could end up on the chopping block in future agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's an important question to ask about the approval process for CETA, and whether there will be any real opportunity for the public to affect the deal, or if it's a fait accompli.
International Trade Minister Ed Fast said today that the Canada-EU deal won't change between now and it being introduced into the House of Commons. But we know from experience there is no way to amend an agreement after that point. It's a simple yes or no vote for MPs where nuance disappears.
This is, of course, exactly how the Harper government likes to operate. You are either with the Conservatives or with the child pornographers, terrorists, etc. The Prime Minister told media on Friday that there is no point in considering the opinions of anyone critical of CETA because they are just ideological extremists. He's now using CETA promotional material to recruit new members to his party, you know, if you'd rather not be associated as an "anti-trade" terrorist).
For an agreement that, as Sinclair shows us, is about much more than trade, we shouldn't accept this blatant disregard for democracy.
The federal and provincial governments should be putting time and money into town halls across the country where public input has a real chance of changing the CETA deal itself, or taking out parts that clearly don't make sense (e.g. longer patents and higher drug costs). I don't know how much hearings like that would cost, but we could start by reallocating what Harper has promised the provinces in compensation for any economic fallout from the deal.
The Trade Justice Network has started a petition to make this review happen. You can sign it, and find out more about the EU deal (including from leaked texts) at http://tradejustice.ca. In the coming weeks we'll be providing new resources to help people get through the spin on CETA, and new tools you can use to engage your friends, neighbours and politicians on what we are still sure will be a bad deal for this country.
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