Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Note Of Thanks To The Europeans

When I think about him at all, and it is admittedly only rarely, I imagine that Stephen Harper is spending some angry days and nights, probably silently seething. Not only is much of his 'legacy' being systematically dismantled by the new Trudeau government, but it seems that some of his much-cherished beliefs and passions are under attack from an unlikely source, the European Union.

Stephen Harper, I suspect, never met a trade deal he didn't like; the extollment of the corporate agenda through trade deals was and is something very close to his heart, certainly much closer than any concerns about loss of national sovereignty through investment dispute settlement mechanisms. His enthusiastic embrace of CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, provides perhaps one of the best windows into his dark soul, inasmuch as it would further erode signatory countries' abilities to pass, for example, environmental legislation that would result in a loss of corporate profits.

Like his predecessor, Justin Trudeau seems to have a Pavlovian fondness for trade deals, evidenced by his enthusiastic support for CETA, even when he was in opposition. He cannot be looked to for national salvation. However, a ray of hope has emerged from European countries to be affected by CETA. Always seemingly more aware of, engaged in and vocal about democratic threats, critics on the Continent have forced a revision of the investment dispute settlement system:
CETA establishes a permanent Tribunal of fifteen Members which will be competent to hear claims for violation of the investment protection standards established in the agreement. The Members of the Tribunal competent to hear investment disputes will be appointed by the EU and Canada and will be highly qualified and beyond reproach in terms of ethics. Divisions of the Tribunal consisting of three Members will hear each particular case. The CETA text now follows the EU's new approach as set out in the recently concluded EU-Vietnam FTA and the EU’s TTIP proposal.
The above represents a departure from what had been originally intended. Writes Thomas Walkom that in Europe,
politicians and interest groups were horrified by the idea of a trade regime that would allow foreign companies to override domestic environmental, animal welfare or labour laws.
Under intense political pressure at home, the European side forced Canada to renegotiate a controversial part of the agreement that would allow private firms to challenge and ultimately strike down laws that might interfere with profit-making.

Under the renegotiated terms, companies would still have this right. But the adjudicators who heard such cases would not be chosen, as originally envisioned, by the disputants. Instead they would come from a 15-member permanent trade tribunal appointed by governments.

There would also be a right of appeal. As well, the renegotiated text gives more leeway to governments to regulate in the public interest.
While a definite improvement, it may be far less than the gold-plated trade deal claimed by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, who proudly announced
that some amendments have been made to a controversial investment protection clause which had become a sticking point in negotiations between the two countries.

"I'm absolutely confident that Canadian investors and Canadian businesses will have their rights fully protected in this agreement," Freeland said.
What she fails to mention, of course, is that those same protections will be accorded to all the signatories, meaning that the often-litigious corporate world will still enjoy many field days either eroding our sovereign legislation or being paid billions in compensation.

Freeland's press conference, if you have four minutes to watch, seems, through my layman's eyes, to be an exercise in double-speak:

One, I believe, can honestly ask whether her claims of sovereignty protection and investor-rights protection aren't a tad contradictory.

It appears that Maude Barlow sees through this charade:
Not only do the proposed changes fail to address concerns about the investor-state provisions, they actually make them worse. The reforms enshrine extra rights for foreign investors that everyone else -- including domestic investors -- don't have. They allow foreign corporations to circumvent a country's own courts, giving them special status to challenge laws that apply equally to everyone through a court system exclusively for their use.

Even to call the new arbitrators "judges" is a misnomer, as these tribunals will not be taking into account environmental protection, human rights or other non-corporate considerations that a regular judge usually has to balance.
No doubt, our new government is counting on continued apathy and ignorance about this deal. A truly informed electorate, in my view, would never sanction it.


  1. Maude Barlow is right Lorne. Freeland calling this a gold-plated deal is a farce. She is too intelligent to NOT know how our sovereignty is effected. What kind of government sells its countries sovereignty and gives global corporation the right to by pass our laws and have some kangaroo tribunal decide. I found what Freeland had to say offensive. We may have gotten rid of Harper , but his global Neoliberal agenda is being enthusiastically supported by the Liberals. Freelands duplicity is that she can call this deal gold-plated with a straight face.Once again we are going to have to fight our government to keep our democracy. How dare our government use their power to sell Canadian sovereignty down the river, while telling Canadians that what their offering us is excellent for everyone.

    1. What especially concerns me here, Pamela, is that the government may very well be correctly counting on the passivity of Canadians to promote these lies. We have a lot to learn from the Europeans' level of political engagement.

  2. I have a big problem Lorne with there being tribunals at all. It should be the laws and the courts that settle these disputes.If First Nations as an example have the right in Canada to protest against a foreign corporation that has been damaging their land or water and this goes to court. The law of the land in Canada will side with the First Nations, because that is the law and the foreign corporation is violating it. As you know that is precisely why these corporate deals want tribunals deciding. The laws of all democratic nations involved in this deal, all have their own laws and the foreign corporations would be subjected to these laws. Your right about Europeans. I watched a group of protestors in Germany protest against the TPP and other trade deals that have the ISDS clause as destroying their democracy. So they seem to understand and will fight against these deals. What bothered me about Freeland was that she was quite capable of lying smoothly to Canadians. This I found very disturbing. We are back in a position with this new government as we were with Harper in having our democracy threatened. We don't vote governments in, so they can destroy our rights and freedoms.I have been researching and reading about consequences to citizens of Nation States with these deals. The TPP is the final power grab of the global elite Neoliberals. The US is really pressuring The European Union and Canada to go along with CETA and the TPP. Neoliberalism is the invisible democracy destroyer. It's incredible that the global Neoliberals have the power to destroy nation states without the the word Neoliberalism being uttered. I voted for Trudeau with open eyes. My concerns were with what his stand would be in Foreign Affairs and what he would do about the Neoliberal framework Harper had created. I see my concerns were well founded. Rocco Galati is challenging these trade deals as being unconstitutional. He is using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to fight this. How ironic that the very constitution whose idea was Pierre Trudeaus, will now be completely insignificant if his son accepts these trade deals each with their own ISDS clause.The very foundation of our democracy, destroyed by Justin Trudeaus signature.

    1. Very interesting commentary,Pamela. Thank you. It is hard to imagine in but the most dystopian of novels that this should be our fate, where our rights as human beings and citizens of a democracy are but an afterthought to the demands of a corporate oligarchy.

  3. I am not sure I'd attribute Freeland's doublespeak/obfuscation to any nefarious policy.

    No, she is simply incompetent, like most politicians I've run into. Ums and ahs signify a lack of understanding of a file, repeat statements the same. They are just not familiar enough with their work to be fluent at explaining things.

    I believe we should expect our cabinet ministers to become expert in their file, not wander around in a daze. Shes's had the time to do so now and probably spent it on the sherry circuit instead. I bet if you said ISDS quickly to her, you'd get a "huh" in response.

    Not that the end result is any different between laziness/incompetence and some nefarious purpose. We get poor or bad results/policy either way.

    Not helping is the superegos pols have. They believe that a 10 minute briefing makes them expert because they're just so smart. Seen it first hand.

    1. That may be true, Anon, but I would expect better from Freeland based on her own experience as a journalist who did a fair amount of research for her work. I suspect she is very much aware of what she is saying; sadly, she is showing herself to be a typical politician.