Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stands as he is introduced before addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Thursday.
A few people who voted for the federal Liberals must be miffed that their hero, Justin Trudeau, has turned out to be merely an updated version of his predecessor, Stephen Harper, albeit a more handsome and charming one. Harper started with CETA, Trudeau signed CETA. Any hope that the Liberals would bring a different approach to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union was held only by the naïve and uninformed.
As politicos on the left have long known and long warned, Liberals are merely Tories with different party colours.
This week Canadians — or, at least, anyone prominent enough to be worth quoting in the media — celebrate yet another free-trade deal.
Corporatism and globalization win another round. They are the New England Patriots of international politics, seemingly insurmountable.
They can’t lose. The language is stacked in their favour. Anyone who speaks against free trade is labelled an adherent of “isolationism” or “protectionism.”
Even the phrase “free trade” is loaded. Saying you are against freedom and against trade is akin to saying you are against puppies. Whoever invented that phrase was a genius of propaganda.
The great irony is that free trade has nothing to do with freedom and little to do with trade. As opponents of CETA have been saying for years, it’s really about creating conditions to boost corporate profits and power. It is no coincidence that soon after “free trade” entered the public lexicon, so also did “sweatshop.”
On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted 408-254 to approve CETA. Canadians now have to hope that somewhere within those 254 opposing votes is a country or region with the resolve to stop the thing when it is put to a vote in national and regional parliaments.
As CETA opponents in Canada and Europe have pointed out, government projects will be open to bids from foreign firms. Need a highway paved somewhere in New Brunswick or on the Northern Peninsula? It won’t necessarily be done by a Canadian, or Newfoundland, company.
Of course, Canadian and Newfoundland companies could, conversely, win contracts to do paving in, say, eastern Poland, although how exactly that would be a boon to Canadian workers isn’t ever explained by CETA boosters.
Ever cognizant of the usefulness of the justice system in creating more injustice, the CETA drafters thoughtfully included provisions to allow corporations to sue governments if the latter stand in the way of profit-making by, for instance, establishing regulations to safeguard environmental or labour standards.
Chapter 29 of CETA deals with such lawsuits. Or, as the propagandists prefer to call it, “investor-state dispute settlements.” It even has an acronym: ISDS. There must be a course bureaucrats and politicians take that teaches them how to invent such verbiage.
Hack your way through the legalese, and you arrive at “lawsuits.” Companies are empowered to sue governments that interfere with their pursuit of profit.
It was almost painful Thursday to hear Trudeau and sundry cabinet ministers extolling CETA and the benefits it will bring to Canadians, to workers, to the middle class, to puppies.
Despite these supposed benefits, there isn’t a chapter or clause in CETA that gives corresponding power to people. Unions, or individual employees, are not granted the right to sue governments for interfering with their pursuit of jobs or fair wages.
Envision a foreign company that treats and pays its employees poorly winning a government contract in Canada. Could a Canadian union sue the government, on the grounds that its members were unreasonably robbed of work? That loud sound you hear is laughter emanating from the House of Commons.
Real wages in Canada have been stagnant for 30 years. The free trade era started in 1988. Lies and injustice have prevailed and worsened for a generation. The left, generally, gave up the fight. Donald Trump revived it. As the saying goes, even fools are right some of the time.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.