The following was printed in the Hamilton Spectator.
By Malcolm Buchanan
The federal government is fast tracking Bill C-30, An Act to Implement the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) through the House of Commons. The bill has passed through the Second Reading stage and has now been referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on International Trade for further review. The government’s intention is to have Bill C-30 adopted as soon as possible that will effectively ratify CETA
Although Bill C-30 is before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on International Trade, the committee declared that it would only take input from a list of witnesses that it selected, and would not hear from anyone else. By limiting consultation and debate about the 1,600 page CETA agreement, an agreement that was negotiated in secret, is an affront to the democratic process. There is no rush to ratify CETA since the 38 national and regional parliaments within the European Union could take two to five years to carry out the ratification process.
Why then should we be concerned about CETA?
Minister Freeland and European Trade Ministers acknowledged that some of CETA’s provisions such as “investment protection, workers’ rights and public services, as well as public procurement and the precautionary principle are still the subject of intense public debate”.
To help gain support for CETA ratification and allay concerns, numerous declarations have been attached to the CETA text. Despite the accompanying statements, including an EU-Canada “Joint Interpretative Declaration Instrument,” fundamental problems arising from the CETA text remain. It must be noted that a Declaratory Statement made by Canada and the EU would not, and could not, amend the substantive provisions of the CETA text, or otherwise exclude or modify the legal effect of the Agreement and it is highly misleading of the Trade Ministers’ to state or imply otherwise. The announced declarations are purely cosmetic and have no legal weight.
One of the major concerns is CETA’s Investment Court System [ICS] which will give corporations and investors power to sue governments if they pass laws that hurt their alleged profits — even if those laws are in the public interest. It does not enable citizens, communities or trade unions to bring a claim when a company violates environmental, labour, health, safety, or other rules. In fact, it creates a parallel legal system, allowing investors to circumvent existing domestic courts. The ICS is discriminatory because it grants rights to foreign investors that are neither available to citizens nor to domestic investors.
CETA severely limits governments’ ability to create, expand, and regulate public services and reverse failed privatizations. This threatens people’s access to high-quality services such as water, transport, social and health care, as well as attempts to provide public services in line with public interest goals.
The federal government claims that CETA will increase GDP by $12 billion, that it will create 80,000 jobs and the newly created wealth will boost income by $1000 per family. These claims have been debunked by economists who predict that jobs will be lost in both Canada and Europe, economic growth would be slower than without CETA, and the rather small income gains would go overwhelmingly to capital owners — not workers. It is predicted that inequality will increase under CETA. Minister Freeland has refused to answer specific questions about the impact CETA will have on the Canadian economy, calling the CETA agreement the “gold standard” of trade deals. The minister’s claims about the benefits of CETA are based on faith, not reality.
CETA will drive up Canadian drug costs by at least $850 million per year. It will also negatively impact fundamental rights, such as the right to privacy and data protection and limit Canada’s ability to roll back excessive intellectual property rights [IPR] that limit access to knowledge and innovation.
CETA has to be endorsed by Canada’s provincial and territorial governments. Ontario has done so by “Order in Council” without public consultations or meaningful debate in the Ontario Legislature as to the merits of CETA. There has been no impact analysis of CETA on Ontario’s economy, environment protection laws, health implications, labour rights and other concerns. The lack of consultation and debate in the legislature is shameful.
CETA has not been vetted by the Supreme Court to determine whether CETA’s proposed Investment Court System is compatible with Canadian law. Already a statement of claim has been filed in Federal Court arguing that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is unconstitutional.
As it stands, CETA is not the “gold standard” of trade deals. It would be a grave mistake to adopt Bill C-30 with is problematic and worrying provisions. CETA is a backward-looking and even more intrusive version of the old free trade deals such as NAFTA and the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
Parliament should not adopt Bill C-30 until the concerns outlined above and others have been addressed in the CETA agreement. If not, CETA will not be in the best interests of Canadians.
Malcolm Buchanan is President of the Hamilton, Burlington and Oakville Chapter of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada