Here we go again—with less than two weeks to go before Canadians were to decide on their new government, the old Conservative government signed a tentative trade agreement that will (if ratified) have a profound impact on the future of Canada. And the worse news is, we are voting in an election without knowing much of what is in the deal.
What we do know is that a lot of things that Canadians hold very dear were on the table and the Conservative government was looking to trade them away: public services, extended patent protection for Big Pharma, and giveaways in agriculture and the auto sector. Yet the negotiations have been in secret—so secretly, in fact, that 70% of Canadians have never heard of the TPP. Workers have had absolutely no input into this process, and opposition parties have been kept in the dark. But corporate lobbyists have been front and centre throughout.
Harper has pledged to put the treaty, once it is written up as a legal document, to a ratification vote in Parliament. But if re-elected, he could decide not to do that and use what is called Royal Prerogative to force the deal. Or, he could ignore Parliament if the vote doesn’t go his way—it would just be a non-binding motion, without legal force. (Read 6.2 and 6.3 of the treaty-tabling process here.)
Here are just a few things to be worried about.
First, the trade agreement may require that Crown Corporations (like the CBC, Canada Post and others where PSAC members work) may have to be run solely for profit. In fact, government support for any service that can also be provided by the private sector could be considered an unfair subsidy and be subject to lawsuits launched by international corporations. These legal challenges would then get decided by secretive and unelected trade tribunals.
I am not being paranoid. Canada already gets sued a lot under NAFTA. Even legislating against the use of a dangerous, polluting additive to gasoline meant that we had to pay off a wealthy corporation, and agree to let them go on pumping these toxins into the air. (Thankfully, this additive has now been phased out.)
The fear of being sued is going to send a chill on government activity, that’s for sure. And the terms of the agreement will be used as an excuse to open up the federal public service to more privatization. Under free trade agreements, this is a one-way process. Reinstituting government control of privatized services would leave us open to more lawsuits. Our public healthcare system could be devastated by the treaty’s provisions. And those who are already spending far too much for pharmaceutical drugs will be paying even more. Patents will be extended, making cheaper generic drugs less available. The cost of life-saving drugs, in fact, will rise substantially around the world, affecting the poorest countries most.
Will the TPP be good for Canadian business? Certainly not for the dairy sector, which will now have to be subsidized to keep afloat. And the estimated effect on the auto sector will be the loss of 24,000 jobs. You really have to wonder how good a deal this can be for Canada when Stephen Harper had to immediately promise a big chunk of money to the auto industry to compensate for losses. What of our economy as a whole? Even the pro-business press is sceptical about its benefits.
The TPP draft document has already become an election issue, as well it should. Both of the main opposition parties have pledged a careful review of the TPP, once the final document becomes available. Thomas Mulcair has stated flatly that he will not be bound by the Harper goverment’s decision. The Liberal promise, though, is somewhat vaguer, promising “consultation.”
Obviously, close study of all of the details of the TPP is essential. But for those of us who were excluded from the process—nearly everybody in the country—we can’t trust it. Right now, the TPP is just one more reason to vote out the Conservatives.