Photo: Council of Canadians

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When the Harper government concluded negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in October 2015, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau stated, “The Liberal Party of Canada strongly supports free trade… The Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it.”

But while Trudeau expressed his support for the TPP in principle, he asserted that the Conservatives had “failed to be transparent through the entirety of the negotiations — especially in regards to what Canada is conceding in order to be accepted into this partnership.” He highlighted, “Canadians deserve to know what impacts this agreement will have on different industries across our country.” And he concluded that if the Liberals were to form government, they would “ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement.”

This week, in an open letter on the TPP to Canadians, trade minister Chrystia Freeland writes, “After attending public town halls, participating in over 70 meetings and round tables, and receiving feedback from thousands of Canadians who have written to me, it is clear that many feel the TPP presents significant opportunities, while others have concerns. Many Canadians still have not made up their minds and many more still have questions.”

What does polling tell us? An EKOS poll commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada in Oct. 2015 found that 41 per cent of Canadians support the TPP, while 38 per cent oppose it. That is at best lukewarm support for the deal and the gap widens significantly on specific questions:

  • 61 per cent say the TPP will mean job losses in Canada (24 per cent disagree)
  • 49 per cent say it will mean greater income inequality in Canada (30 per cent disagree)
  • 45 per cent say it mean environmental damage in Canada (36 per cent disagree)
  • 11 per cent say it will mean higher wages in Canada (72 per cent disagree)

And yet when Council of Canadians chapter activists have emailed their concerns to the Trudeau government about the TPP, the responses from Global Affairs Canada have not acknowledged those concerns, they’ve challenged them. While Freeland says, “Just as it is too soon to endorse the TPP, it is also too soon to close the door,” that is not the tenor of the government’s responses.

In response to our concerns about job loss, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision, extended patents for Big Pharma, and Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) tainted milk, the government says:

  • “Our government supports free trade — it will help to open markets to Canadian goods and services, grow Canadian businesses, create good-paying jobs, and provide choice to Canadian consumers.” (And yet we know a study by Tufts University found that the TPP will cost Canada 58,000 jobs and increase income inequality.)
  • “With respect to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), the TPP will not impair the ability of Canada or its partners to regulate and legislate in areas such as the environment, culture, safety, health and conservation. Our experience under the NAFTA demonstrates that neither our investment protection rules nor the ISDS mechanism constrain any level of government from regulating in the public interest.” (And yet we know Canada has been subject to 35+ NAFTA investor-state claims since the deal came into force on Jan. 1, 1994. Sixty three per cent of those claims have involved challenges to environmental protection or resource management measures.)
  • “Regarding drug patents, the TPP affirms the World Trade Organization Doha Declaration on the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement and Public Health to ensure access to life-saving medicines in public health emergencies.” (And yet in her comments on the TPP, the director-general of the World Health Organization has stated, “If these agreements open trade yet close the door to affordable medicines we have to ask the question: is this really progress at all.”)
  • When we raised BGH in a letter, the government did not respond. (The CBC has reported that dairy producers outside of Canada do not have to follow the same rules as Canadian farmers. In Canada, it’s illegal to administer BGH to cows to boost their milk production, whereas in the United States there is no such restriction. The TPP opens up 3.25 per cent of the Canadian dairy market to imports that could be tainted with BGH. An Environics poll in July 2015 found that 87 per cent of Canadians were either very or somewhat concerned about the TPP lowering Canadian food safety and quality standards.)

A genuine public consultation should not be about disregarding (or ignoring) concerns being expressed, it should be about listening to those concerns. As Freeland travels to New Zealand to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday, we call on the government to do better, to listen to and acknowledge the concerns being raised.

To write the government about the TPP, send your comments to [email protected]

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. He has worked in solidarity with revolutionary Nicaragua, advocated for the rights of prisoners in jails and federal prisons, taken part in civil...