Friday, 23 January 2015

CETA: Much Theatre … Little Debate

 Published in the Telegram, January 23, 2015

Those of us who oppose the CETA trade agreement between the EU and Canada are grateful that CETA is finally making front page headlines, even if it is for the wrong reasons. If you listen carefully to the words of Ministers Hutchings and King, nowhere do they actually express any doubts about CETA itself. It’s their perceived betrayal by Ottawa over the fisheries development fund that fuels their indignation.

I don’t doubt that our province was misled by the federal government. But have they considered they've been misled in other ways about CETA? Independent research has indicated that CETA will lead to a decline in GDP, exports and jobs, particularly in the manufacturing and processing sectors. But far more alarming than that is the twisty legal language in CETA that will allow transnational corporations to sue us in special, offshore, investor-state tribunals (where Canadian law counts for nothing) if government initiatives risk interfering with future corporate profits.

We shouldn’t underestimate the scope and size of lawsuit payouts. In, 2013, an off-shore investor-state tribunal ordered Libya to pay US$935 million to corporate investors for “lost profits” from “real and certain lost opportunities” on a canceled tourism project – even though the corporate investors had only invested $5 million in the project and construction had never even started.

Could that kind of injustice happen to us under CETA? Our province has already been the subject of two NAFTA investor-state lawsuits compliments of Abitibi-Bowater and Exxon-Mobil. We are especially vulnerable, given that oil and mining companies are the most frequent users of anti-government lawsuits worldwide. Then there is the fact that over half of the investor-state lawsuits worldwide have been instigated by European corporations. CETA is going to give these corporations access to us.

Given that the federal government has stated that in future they will claw back costs and damages from provinces that incur lawsuits, you would think our government would be worried about being sued under CETA. And what about the chilling effect that the mere fear of lawsuits will have on future government initiatives to protect the environment or local economies? Have they considered that?

To be fair, other provincial legislatures are guilty of similar complacency about CETA's impact on democratic decision making. However, our government is now in the unique position of having experienced firsthand how underhanded the Harper government can be in promoting the benefits of CETA. They could take the high road and use this realization as an opportunity to open up the whole CETA can of worms to public debate. They could challenge other provinces to re-examine the extent to which CETA will allow huge corporations to undermine their ability to govern.

That would be splendid leadership. But will they do that? Or will they simply focus on their grievance with the federal government over the fisheries investment fund? What’s it going to be? Continued theater of the David vs. Goliath style – or genuine debate, discussion and consultation about the main event with us, the people who elected them?