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CETA And Canadian Unions: A Squandered Opportunity

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Consumer rights activists hold banners to protest against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA. (Photo: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer)

The TPP is all but dead. And following the stunning October 14 vote in Belgium, it seems CETA may very well be on its deathbed. This is a huge blow against the big business agenda of the Justin Trudeau Liberals. Sadly, Canadian unions and the New Democratic Party can take little credit for it.

The labour movement and its many civil society allies across Europe, including farmers and environmentalists, have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to protest the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor at the University of California says the TPP is unlikely to survive the opposition to it in Europe and the United States Senate.

However, the likely demise of the TPP has not appeased the European left. They view CETA as providing a Canadian backdoor into Europe for U.S. corporations seeking to use the reviled "Investor State Dispute Settlement" (ISDS) provisions of TPP to sue sovereign states for potential lost earnings and profits. European union members and their allies correctly argue that cosmetic changes made to placate critics of ISDS still give foreign corporations access to a private court system replete with judges hand-picked by the business elite.

CETA still faces a rocky road before it receives final approval in Europe.

The Federation of Young European Greens has come out strongly against CETA on their website believing it is a Trojan horse for TTIP, "CETA has been called TTIP's "precursor" and "cousin." It is generally considered by civil society to be a Trojan horse for TTIP. CETA's proponents are attempting to make it easier to pass the widely criticized provisions of TTIP by already making these a fait accompli through the EU-Canada treaty.

A crucial example is the so called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, which TTIP has faced harsh criticism for, and which is also included in CETA. It looks increasingly likely that TTIP will fail, but CETA would give multinational corporations similar leverage over states and democratic legislation processes through their Canadian subsidiaries. According to US-based think tank Public Citizen, 81 per cent of U.S. corporations that would be able to use ISDS under TTIP would be able to do so under the EU-Canada agreement. CETA is TTIP through the back door."

On October 18, a meeting of the Council of the European Union will vote on three key decisions regarding the provisional implementation of CETA. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, perhaps a bit over-confident, was scheduled to be in Brussels on October 27 to join European leaders to sign onto CETA.

However, CETA still faces a rocky road before it receives final approval in Europe. Belgium, as a result of the legislature vote in its Wallonia region, said no, and several other countries have expressed varying degrees of opposition. The Europeans have good reason to fear these special courts along with their friendly corporate judges. Canada, the record shows, has been sued 37 times by foreign corporations claiming billions of dollars in lost earnings and profits under a similar special corporate tribunal system within NAFTA.

On September 17 the German labour movement led European protests against CETA in seven major cities across Germany. An estimated 320,000 protesters filled the streets to say "nein" to a lowering of environmental standards, and to reject the outsourcing and privatization of jobs.

Clearly, there is a major difference between labour's response to CETA in Europe and the attitude of the unon leadership towards CETA in Canada. Here, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) neither mobilized nor educated the membership base the way European unions managed to do. The CLC website is devoid of any meaningful reference to CETA and its consequences for workers and public services in Canada. This is a country bound by a long-standing and harmful trade deal, NAFTA, yet it has not had a serious parliamentary debate on the two latest proposed agreements.

We still bear the brunt of so-called free trade. While the Canadian economy has grown, equality has not. Statistics Canada data shows that workers' inflation-adjusted average wages have stagnated while CEO incomes have risen. The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives publishes an annual survey that measures the time it takes the average CEO to make what the median worker earns in a year. This year, it took just 12 hours.

While the Canadian economy has grown, equality has not.

The CLC sent the wrong signal to the Liberal government in Ottawa -- basically taking a laid-back approach to CETA and granting the Trudeau government a free pass on the deal. They should have drawn on the resources of the entire Canadian labour movement to match the efforts of the German and other European unions and put thousands of Canadian workers and their allies on the streets of at least seven Canadian cities in an inter-continental display of solidarity against CETA.

Instead, the CLC issued a statement of solidarity with German workers just one day before 320,000 of them took to the streets to defend German and Canadian jobs and public services. This was a lost opportunity to visibly demonstrate unity with our European sisters and brothers, beyond mere media releases and last-minute pro-forma public pronouncements.

And that does not even begin to describe the failure of the union-based New Democratic Party to address the threat of CETA. The silence of the NDP parliamentary caucus on this matter is utterly deafening. It underscores the need for a radical change of direction at the top of the party.

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