Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Today we presented to the parliamentary committee on the TPP

Today three civil society groups, Citizens against CETA, the Council of Canadians and the Social Justice Cooperative made presentations opposing the TPP to the International Trade Committee.  Did we have any effect?

A first impression is that we did not.  In fact one of the independent observers felt compelled at the end of the presentations to point out how obvious the bias of most MPs appeared.

In fairness, it is probable that most of our arguments had been heard before.  On the other hand, with the exception of the NDP's Ms. Ramsey, the focus was clearly on the economic benefits as opposed to the democratic and constitutional constraints of trade agreements like the TPP.

Thus, we presented  from the perspective of democratic values, but we ended up answering questions from an economic perspective.

Here's what we said.


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present. Citizens against CETA is a rather grandiose sounding name for a local group of concerned citizens.We submitted a brief last June filled with statistics refuting the supposed benefits of the TPP. But today I would like to talk about values.

In his meticulously researched book on wealth and income, Capitalism in the 21st Century, French economist, Thomas Piketty, concluded that we were heading into a period of inequality such that the world has never seen. If we are to change that, he said, "we have to bet everything on democracy." 

I believe that inequality continues to grow precisely because, around the globe, democracy is under attack. The aggressors aren’t terrorists or rogue nations. The aggressors are international corporations backed by financial elites. The weapon used is a contract. 

The TPP and CETA are gigantic contracts that define, not what corporations can and can’t do in our country.  Instead, these contracts define what government itself can and can’t do. Any government action, present and future, that is not clearly defined or not written into the contract can be challenged by corporations in those infamous investor-state tribunals where the public good and environmental protection count for nothing. There, all that matters is entitlement under the contract.

According to Osgood Hall investment treaty expert, Gus Van Harten, these contractual agreements have succeeded in doing what no parliament has been previously able to do under our English common law system, and that is fetter or straitjacket future parliaments

I believe that government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to acknowledging the threat trade agreements pose for our democratic rights.  But then, so too are the passengers in the back seat, the Canadian public. The reason in both cases is that we live in an age where economic values trump everything.

I’m a retired social studies teacher. Around the turn of the century every single course that allowed a discussion of democracy and politics was deleted from the high school curriculum  in my province and replaced with economic education courses.  There was a consequence. In the 2011 federal election the last election for which we have a breakdown by age, only 29% of young people under 25 bothered to vote. 

I’m going to suggest that the same neglect of our democratic values has happened in government. Economic values now dominate, more precisely the economic values of neoliberalism with its emphasis on free trade.

This Committee now has all sorts of hard evidence disputing the Liberal Party`s claims about the benefits of free trade. But two  important reports came out last week that I want to highlight.

The first was a Tufts University study on CETA. “CETA", and this is a quote, "will cause unemployment, inequality, welfare losses and a reduction of intra-EU trade.” 

That certainly suggests that CETA is not the “Gold Standard of Trade Agreements” that Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Freeland maintain that it is. Will the prime minister and his trade minister now reverse direction and call for a halt to the provisional acceptance of CETA?  It all depends on what their true values are, doesn’t it? 

The new OECD report is even more interesting, in spite of its blinkered call for more trade liberalization.  Trade as a driver of GDP has fallen steadily since 2009. In fact, trade growth is now lagging growth in the broader world economy this year and that lag is likely to persist Emerging countries in particular are pulling back from a dependency on exports and choosing, instead, to develop internal markets as a means of  increasing GDP.

As for OECD countries, governments are increasingly being forced by their citizens  to question  the benefits of a free trade model that has heightened inequality,caused job losses, and straitjacketed  government`s ability to deal with either.  

Consider the way that the TPP unexpectedly became a major campaign issue in the US elections. Consider Brexit - or last week when  320,000 Germans in multiple cities demonstrated in the streets against the TTIP and CETA. 

These aren’t going to be isolated incidences. According to the recent OECD report, election results and polls in OECD countries are pointing to a shift away from the traditional left–right divide among voters towards anti-and pro-globalization electorates. That`s a very significant development to consider.

As members of the trade committee, you hold an enormous responsibility.  I`m sure  you’ve been watching closely how public opinion is coalescing against these trade agreements elsewhere. But you are also affected by the unwavering, ideological enthusiasm those who control policy in our two major parties still have for free trade. 

How do you choose between ideological faith in free trade on the one side and substantial evidence on the other side that our trade policy will hurt Canadian value added industries, increase inequality and fetter democratic governance?    

Surely it`s with values. What do you value most? Do you believe that you have a responsibility to your children and grandchildren and community to preserve democracy and fight initiatives that promote inequality. Because I ‘m hoping if you do, you will say  a resounding and public NO to trade agreements like the TPP.    

Marilyn Reid   for Citizens against CETA