Recently, my newspaper of record, The Toronto Star, wrote what I felt was an uncritical endorsement of CETA. The part that especially disturbed me was this:
In the case of CETA, the demonization focuses on one part of the agreement, involving a process for resolving disputes between investors and governments. The so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement system would allow foreign firms to challenge European laws if they felt they were being unfairly discriminated against.What the paper failed to acknowledge was that most of the above is more aspirational and cosmetic than it is legally binding.
The critics portrayed this as a way for corporate interests to ride roughshod over local concerns. So the EU amended the deal early this year, with the Trudeau government happy to go along.
They changed the system for resolving disputes, proposing a permanent system closer to a permanent trade court. They added measures aimed at making arbitrators act impartially. And they affirmed the right of governments to regulate to achieve “legitimate policy objectives” in such areas as the environment, labour, health and culture – even if that damages investors’ expectations of profit. In other words, they made efforts to tip the balance away from corporations in favour of the broader public interest.
As usual, Star readers are voicing their views strongly and unequivocally. Each letter is worth reading, but I am reproducing just a few of them below:
Re: Trade deal with Europe should be salvaged: Editorial, Oct. 25As I have written before, one of the foremost duties of citizenship is to be informed and knowledgeable. It is the only chance we have of holding our elected representatives to account. Anything less is a betrayal of us all.
The Star was absolutely correct in saying that CETA is a deal worth saving. Who can argue with something that provides more opportunities for our goods and services and gives Canadian consumers access to European goods at a reduced cost.
But the editorial completely missed the boat when it didn’t indicate what changes to CETA were needed in order to make it more acceptable to all participants and by glossing over the main sticking point, namely the ISDS provisions.
ISDS stands for Investor State Dispute Settlement. In a nutshell, ISDS is a process whereby a foreign corporation (not a domestic company) can sue a government (federal, provincial or municipal) when it feels that a regulation adversely affects its potential profit. The process completely bypasses the court system of the country being sued and the decisions (made by a tribunal of corporate lawyers instead of impartial judges) are final and cannot be overturned.
ISDS is an affront to the sovereignty of any country and should be eliminated from all trade agreements, particularly those involving countries with well-established and independent court systems.
Can CETA be improved? Yes, by eliminating all sections that provide a clear and significant advantage to multinational corporations, starting with ISDS.
Dennis Choptiany, Markham
It’s hard to believe the Star’s editorial board would be lamenting the death of a trade deal like CETA. This is the same type of deal as all the rest. It has been negotiated for the benefit of large corporations and even the best arguments in favour of it are a joke.
Desmond Fisher, Ottawa
I find it astounding that people are surprised that the people of Wallonia, who were informed about CETA’s contents and had the power to stop it initially, did so. I have met zero people who have gone to meetings about CETA or the TPP and felt they were in our best interests.
Harper sold the wheat board to foreign investors, while Wynne sold the well that a town wanted for drinking water to Nestlé to be bottled — both showing government favours profit over public interests.
Just wait until corporations have even more power, which is the real purpose of trade agreements.
What we need are deals that can be discussed with, and supported by, the public. Trudeau promised transparency but is just finishing what Harper started, still behind closed doors.
Well done Wallonia!
Stephen Albrecht, Toronto
I fear your editorial bad mouthing the EU is unfair. And so is Freeland’s tough-guy take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
The investor state dispute settlement mechanism has been problematic for many Canadians and clearly is for Europeans. Your editorial states that’s all been taken care of, but a recent column by Thomas Walkom says the renegotiated arrangement is “non-binding.”
Which is correct? Clear explanation of this has been fairly thin in Canadian media. But the Europeans are communicating quite openly and I feel their concerns about a Trojan horse of multi-national corporate interests using “nice” old Canada to take advantage of the deal should be taken seriously.
Ken Pyette, Toronto