Well, surprise, surprise! The irascible John Crosbie expresses his love for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union, and his disdain for Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians.
While extolling his own political and personal virtues and accomplishments, Crosbie’s Nov. 2 Telegram rant (“Free trade makes sense, then and now”) heaped unyielding and unquestionable praise on CETA and dismissed and denigrated those with a dissenting opinion.
In the first instance, the full text has yet to be released, so it is difficult for anyone to give a truly informed and definitive position on the deal.
But, based on what we do know, there is no doubt that CETA will be beneficial to big corporations and investors, but not to most Canadians.
There are several issues about this new-generation trade deal that are deserving of much more information, scrutiny and public debate than the superficial, self-serving rants and blessings of a former politician.
One very critical issue that Crosbie conveniently ignored, and hopes most Canadians will as well, is the matter of investor-state provisions in CETA.
These provisions are technically called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms. They are the most obscure and least understood aspects of trade deals but the most offensive and insidious.
They are provisions in trade treaties that fundamentally grant the right to investors (huge, wealthy multi-national companies) to directly sue governments. These provisions are being used by large trans-nationals to challenge a variety of legislation, regulations, policies — and even a country’s court decisions that are broadly interpreted to interfere with that company’s right to make profit.
Public health, environmental protection and human rights (particularly labour rights) are typically the target areas.
These legal challenges are heard by international tribunals made up of high-priced international trade lawyers who have a vested interest in siding with companies. This investment trade arbitration scheme is becoming an ever-growing industry with major law firms promoting their expert “government-suing” services.
In this province, the best example of an ISDS is the infamous Chapter 11 clause of the NAFTA.
In 2011, Stephen Harper paid a record-setting $130-million settlement to AbitibiBowater to avoid a Chapter 11 challenge. (The Council of Canadians considers such an intentional capitulation as a subtle privatization of water by Harper.)
In 2012, ExxonMobil won its challenge to Premier Danny Williams’ insistence that it spend a few paltry millions of dollars on research and development in the province. The company agreed at the time, but then used NAFTA. It asked for $65 million but the award has yet to be determined.
Under NAFTA, Canada has had twice as many claims against it (34) compared to the U.S. and Mexico. Canadian investors have had zero successful claims, while we have paid out more than $160 million. There is some $2.5 billion in eight outstanding claims by U.S. investors, including a $500-million challenge by Eli Lilly against several Canadian court rulings on drug patents.
Given this NAFTA experience and the prolific litigation habits of EU companies, CETA will spawn a huge increase in these challenges, except for the first time, provinces and municipalities will pay any awards directly.
Gone will be the days of a fighting premier like Danny Williams taking on the big multinationals on behalf of his citizens to extract the maximum benefits from resource development. Foreign investors will be calling the shots and under the protection of their iron-clad “bill of rights” in CETA.
So, Mr. Crosbie will have to forgive me if I question and reject his platitudes regarding CETA. I suggest that he get over the fact that Maude Barlow and the council dared to challenge him during the NAFTA debate.
Despite his self-proclaimed wisdom and righteousness, citizens of this country and their civil society organizations are allowed to have and voice dissenting views without pompous consternation from the political elite.
Just like the fishermen of Petty Harbour on that fateful day of July 2, 1992, I hope that Maude Barlow and many more concerned Canadians will continue to stand up and speak up against trade deals that are not really in the public interest.
Ken Kavanagh is chairman of the St. John’s chapter of the Council of Canadians.