Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference after the signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 30, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Vidal)
The federal government is ramming ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) through Parliament in a process as undemocratic as the deal itself.
Bill C-30 to implement the trade deal with Europe was brought before Parliament for second reading this week, and is expected to pass by today. Trade committee hearings into the bill, which normally start after second reading, have already begun and are due to wrap up November 29.
That sets the stage for the bill to be passed by Christmas, effectively ratifying CETA with little public consultation. In fact, two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew to Brussels in October to sign the deal, the committee declared that it would only take input from a list of witnesses that it selected, and would not hear from anyone else -- including the public.
As Angella MacEwen, chief economist for the Canadian Labour Congress said, "This is hardly a shining example of how to govern inclusively, transparently, or progressively."
I couldn't agree more. You might argue that because CETA was discussed three years ago when the former Harper Government brought it forward, we don't need extensive consultations now.
If you thought that, you'd be wrong.
Putting aside for now all the problems with CETA, which we will get to, the world has changed since Harper told Canadians about CETA in 2013.
For one thing, there was the Brexit vote last June, in which the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The pending exit of Canada's largest European trading partner changes the very nature of the deal. How it has changed, exactly, needs to be discussed and debated with business, labour, academia and the public. The question needs to be asked if we even want to be in a trade deal that does not include the U.K.
These are all good questions, and need more discussion than a couple of committee dates crammed in before Christmas with only a select few hand-picked witnesses.
Protests against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels, Belgium Sept. 20, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Eric Vidal)
One of the major concerns with CETA, as with the TPP and other trade deals, is its Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. Such systems give corporations the power to sue governments if they pass laws that hurt their profits -- even if those laws are in the public interest.
There was so much concern about this provision that Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland earlier this year used a legal scrubbing of CETA to revise its ISDS provisions, which she said addressed the unease many people had with ISDS.
As Unifor and others have pointed out, however, the changes are largely cosmetic and leave in place the basic threat that corporations could force governments to change laws they don't like. That is a fundamentally undemocratic provision in CETA, and must be debated further. If Freeland or others want to make the case to Canadians that the changes made to ISDS earlier this year substantially change the nature of those provisions, they can do so at public hearings.
There are other concerns with CETA, as well, from the price of medications to the impact on farmers. These worries need to be aired, as well, and debated publicly.
With the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States -- something that seemed inconceivable a month ago, let alone three years ago -- and his America-first policy, the world of trade has changed significantly.
One clear lesson of the Trump election is that working people have had enough of governments who push ahead with policies that only seem to hurt those at the bottom of the economic ladder. In the U.S. they felt like they weren't being heard and supported Trump because they thought he was listening.
By ramming CETA through Parliament with a bare minimum of consultation, Ottawa risks pushing more people into the arms of right-wing ideologues.
We can't let that happen. Trudeau acknowledged over the weekend that trade deals have disproportionately benefited the rich, adding "I think that's wrong."
On that point he is right. To do something about it, we need to step back, consider how the world and CETA have changed over the past three years, and take the time to address the very real concerns Canadians have with this and other trade deals.
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The trade pact needs the consent of Canada's provinces and EU member states to become law. So far, it's looking good on the provincial front: Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan's leaders have all praised the deal, and Ontario seems open to it assuming it can get compensation for some of its industries that will be harmed by the deal. Pictured: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso shake hands following a joint media availability Friday, October 18, 2013 at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
Canada will partially extend patent protection for brand-name drugs, which would delay the introduction of cheaper generics by up to two years. Officials say it will be eight years before any impact of these changes show up as higher costs for provincial drug plans. Earlier reports have suggested the cost to the health care system of extended drug patents could run between $1 billion and $3 billion annually. Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association: The EU trade deal will "delay market entry of cost-saving generic prescription medicines in Canada in the future, increasing health-care costs for provinces, employers that sponsor drug plans for their employees and Canadians who pay for their prescription medicines out-of-pocket." The federal government has suggested it will compensate provinces for higher costs as a result of the agreement.
Domestic car producers will be able to increase sales into Europe to 100,000 units from about 10,000 today under relaxed rules. The EU will phase out its 10-per-cent tariff on imports, and Canada will phase out a 6-per-cent tariff on European car imports. That could be good news for Canadian fans of European luxury cars, as those vehicles will be cheaper. But that, in turn, could be bad news for Canadian auto manufacturers. Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Auto Analysts: "I don’t think anyone can definitively know what the impact of the current EU Agreement will be on the automotive sector. ... The [Canadian] industry peaked in the year 2000 and has been struggling since and, indeed, just finished one of its worse decades in history and continues to deteriorate. Was this the long term result of FTA and NAFTA? We don’t know but it could be."
Canadian beef farmers increase their quota by 50,000 tonnes, in addition to 15,000 tonnes for high-quality beef. Pork farmers will see their quota rise to 80,000 tonnes from the current 6,000. But producers will have to convert to hormone-free product for the European market, which experts say can add about 15 per cent to costs. Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association: "The removal of long-standing barriers in this agreement, such as high tariffs, finally enables Canadian beef producers to benefit from the high value that the European beef market represents." Dairy Farmers of Ontario: "It will take income from Canadian dairy farmers and their communities and give it to the European industry."
Companies will be allowed to bid on major government procurement contracts right down to the municipal level. A joint study showed the new access will give European companies leeway to bid on federal contracts worth between $15 billion and $19 billion an year, and municipal contracts worth $112 billion a year. Critics say that, because of the common practice of "hiring Canadian" in government contracts, EU access to them could mean job losses in Canada. Trade Justice Network: "Canadian governments would lose a powerful tool for spurring job creation and economic development."
Foreign takeovers of Canadian firms now require a formal federal government review if the deal is worth $1 billion or more, but this agreement will raise that to $1.5 billion.
Labour and consumer groups fear CETA could lead to the privatization of Canada's water supply and infrastructure. According to early leaks from the negotiations, Canada did not try to protect water resources as part of the trade deal. The Council of Canadians writes: "This deal will give French companies Suez and Veolia, the two biggest private water operations in the world, access to run our water services for profit. Under a recent edict, the Harper government has tied federal funding of municipal water infrastructure construction or upgrading to privatization of water services. Private water operators charge far higher rates than public operators and cut corners when it comes to source protection."
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