Stephen Harper skipped out on Parliament the day after the throne speech. He'd spent the last one hundred and eighteen days avoiding the legislature -- and he needed an excuse to keep avoiding it. His signing of the Canada Europe Trade Agreement provided that excuse. At the moment, there is only an agreement in principle. But Canadians should think twice before they -- and their representatives -- make the deal binding.
That's because, Tom Walkom writes, the deal is not about trade:
First, as with all modern trade agreements, this one is not really about trade. Yes, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement does remove tariffs on most goods traded between Canada and the European Union. But, with key exceptions — particularly in agriculture — most of those tariffs were low to begin with.
Rather, CETA — like the North American Free Trade Agreement before it — is really concerned with investment, regulation and standards.
The deal is really about making the world safe for investors:
With some exceptions, it would give investors on either side the right to demand compensation from any government action that interferes with private profit.
How this would work in practice remains unclear. But it should be noted that a similar provision in NAFTA has been used successfully by U.S. companies to strike down Canadian laws.
Oddly enough, similar attempts by Canadian companies operating in the U.S. have never been successful.
As for Harper's claim that the deal will create 80,000 jobs, that promise is as believable as his promise to deliver open and accountable government:
Incidentally, Ottawa’s prediction that the pact will create 80,000 new net jobs throughout the entire economy is entirely bogus, since it is based on the absurd assumption that no one can ever be unemployed.
The truth is that the net job effects of this deal won’t be known for years. But, in the short run, it’s a near certainty that some Canadians will lose their jobs.
It would be wise to remember recent Canadian history:
The Canada-U.S. free trade arrangement wiped out entire industries in this country, ranging from furniture-making to light manufacturing — all in the midst of a gruelling recession.
The negative effects of CETA promise to be far less sweeping, since there is not much of Canadian manufacturing industry left to destroy.
There will be winners. Canadian beef farmers, for instance. But Harper's pitch that the deal is in the national interest is dubious. As with all things Harper, the Canada Europe Trade Agreement is not as advertised.
But it did give him a chance to get out of Ottawa.