Last week, Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans Pacific Partnership. While doing so, she maintained that her signature was in no way her government's ratification of the accord. There would be, she said, extensive public consultation and debate before the Liberals made that decision.
Murray Dobbin writes that, if history is any guide, the consultation will be shallow and the debate short lived:
For many of us who have dealt in the past with the trade bureaucrats promoting these investment protection agreements, it is easy enough to suspect that Freeland is being deliberately misinformed by her own staff. There is no doubt that the Trudeau government is eager to portray itself as open to persuasion on the TPP. To bolster the position that they still might say no, the government has engaged in a flurry of consultations across the country and has made a point of inviting ordinary concerned citizens to send in questions and criticisms to Global Affairs Canada. Sounds good so far. But it is the execution that raises serious questions about how genuine the consultation will be.
First, the consultations reveal that the vast majority have been with groups supportive of these agreements: provincial government ministers, business groups, industry reps, universities, etc. Of 74 such meetings (as of Jan. 31) there have been just a handful with "students" (but no student council representatives who have actually studied the TPP) and a couple with labour -- the CLC and Unifor. There have been literally no meetings with NGOs that have actually taken the time to closely examine the TPP -- not the Council of Canadians, not the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, not any First Nations (whose solemn agreements with governments can be trumped by ISDS), nor any environmental groups.
The real bone of contention has always been the Investor Dispute Settlement Mechanism. And, again, if history is any guide, things do not look good:
Since NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994 it has been subjected to over 35 NAFTA investor-state claims. Nearly two-thirds of these have involved challenges to environmental protection or resource management. Canada has already paid out over $170 million in damages in six cases (lost or settled) and abandoned most of the "offending" legislation and regulations. We currently face additional corporate challenges totalling over $6 billion in potential penalties for NAFTA "violations" such as the Quebec government's decision to ban fracking under the St. Lawrence River.
It's pretty clear that these trade agreements are written to favour large countries with large economies -- specifically, the United States. It appears that the bureaucrats in Global Affairs Canada do not recognize that fact. But, if there is a clear rejection of the TPP among Canadians citizens then, perhaps, Canada will not ratify the agreement. Perhaps.
In any case, let the debate begin.