Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On FIPA, Justin Trudeau, and Chauncey Gardner

Last night while checking my Twitter feed, I noticed several people expressing their deep disappointment over the fact that Justin Trudeau led his Liberal Party to vote with the Harper regime against an NDP motion to inform China that it will not ratify the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). While much has been written about the pact, the chief objections seem to revolve around the following:

- it will severely circumscribe our ability to regulate our environment, since any such measures that lead to loss of corporate profit would result in compensation demands from the aggrieved businesses;

- lawsuits will take place in secret tribunals outside of Canada;

- the negotiations have been conducted in secret, completely devoid of transparency;

- as opposed to NAFTA, which can be cancelled with six months' notice, FIPA will have a lifespan of 31 years

- China will be able to circumscribe local preferences on suppliers and employment.

To be fair to Trudeau, the Liberals are on record as saying they oppose some of the provisions of the deal, but were not prepared to side with the NDP motion to definitively declare the deal dead, banking instead on the possibility of changing some of the treaty's terms.

Nonetheless, the reaction of disappointment toward Trudeau's vote got me thinking about his dearth of policy pronouncements and the fact that in the run-up to the leadership convention, so many were projecting their own hopes and interpretation onto the blank canvas that he touts as a strength, since he claims to want to talk to Canadians about their concerns and priorities. Indeed, all we know about where he stands comes from his announcements about concerns for the middle class, youth unemployment, and similar platitudes.

Which got me thinking about a book I read several years ago, later made into an outstanding film featuring the peerless Peter Sellers in his last performance. Entitled Being There, it told the tale of a simple man, Chauncey Gardener, a gardener who is forced out into the world upon the death of his employer. In some ways a savant, he knows nothing except the world of gardening, but is mistaken for a well-educated, affluent upper class man, and ultimately his 'counsel' is sought by the high and mighty of society, who infer deep meaning, never intended by the speaker, from his literal and simplistic observations.

Clearly, Justin Trudeau is no savant. But then, the movie was not so much about Chauncey than it was a sendup of the credulity and shallowness of the people around him, searching for meaning and wisdom where there was none.

Perhaps these two clips best demonstrate my point:


  1. Sounds like the Liberal's policy on NAFTA. We say we don't like parts of it and we'll change it later (but we won't).

  2. Excellent point, doconnor. Kind of calls into question the whole notion of party renewal under Justin, doesn't it?

  3. The book and the film were about remaking people in our own image. That's bad policy -- whether for a marriage or a country, Lorne.

  4. Only if and when a much-needed level of maturity is brought to the table by everyone, Owen, the prospect for real change seems rather remote.

  5. It also reminded me Lorne, when the Liberals under Dion said they would support the anti-scab legislation brought forward during the Harper minority govt. It went to 2nd reading, and than the Libs reneged on their promise to support it.
    Again, said something about "changing" it.
    After that, Dion was booed from a platform at a prolongation rally in Ottawa, by CAW union workers in the crowd. He was called a "scab" in chants.
    Another very regressive moment.

    1. Another very regressive moment... of which, regrettably, there have been so many, Jan.

  6. Loved this- what an insightful observation...