We count on our governments to run a broad range of public services which help society and the economy function — from health care and education to water treatment, social programs, and everything in between. By making sure that everyone has fair access, we ensure a good quality of life for Canadians. But international big business doesn’t like publicly-run services, or the regulations that protect them. To them, public services are just one more thing to make money on. The CETA threatens to privatize and deregulate many of our public services. In fact, everything could be up for grabs, including municipal water systems, electrical utilities — even our mail delivery!
Especially during economic hard times, we expect our governments to use our tax dollars to create jobs and business opportunities in our local communities, provinces and territories. One way governments do this is by deciding to purchase the goods and services they need (sometimes called “procurement”) from local companies. But the CETA threatens this! European corporations want unrestricted access to the purchasing that our provincial and municipal governments do.
E.U. trade negotiators have requested that drinking water services be included in the CETA, opening the door for large European multinational water companies to stake a claim in Canada’s public water systems. Under the CETA, companies would gain unprecedented access to municipal water services and maybe even a claim to the water itself.
The E.U. has made it clear: they want all of our public services covered by the CETA — including health care. The trade deal will expose Canadian medicare to privatization pressures more than past free trade deals did. European health service companies will have greater access to our medicare services, especially in provinces that are already opening the door to private surgical clinics or other privatized care. Worst of all, under the rules of NAFTA, we’ll have to offer the same access to private health corporations from the United States!
Free trade agreements over the past few decades have contributed hugely to the global ecological crisis we find ourselves in today — global warming, depletion of natural resources, collapsing ecosystems, and global food and water crises. Today, Canada is seen around the world as a climate change pariah. This has a lot to do with our federal government’s unquestioned support for tar sands development — the largest single environmental disaster on the planet. Trade agreements make it much more difficult to introduce stricter rules to protect the environment. At the same time they encourage more extraction, production and trade, which increase greenhouse gas emissions. The CETA will allow transnational corporations to ignore or challenge our environmental regulations, and it will impede our government’s ability to make new ones. Canada should be strengthening its environmental laws and honouring its commitments to existing international environmental agreements — not making more free trade agreements that guarantee corporate rights.
Our farmers have a very hard job to do — producing the food that we need to survive. Over recent decades our farmers have faced increasing challenges and obstacles as a few giant transnational corporations have gained control over every part of our food system. The CETA will now make this situation much worse! It will give biotech, pharmaceutical, pesticide, seed, and grain companies powerful new tools to force farmers to buy gene patented seeds at high prices. Worse, it will almost entirely eliminate the rights of farmers to save, reuse and sell seed! Corporations could seize farmers’ crops, equipment, and farms, and freeze their bank accounts if they are found with crops from patented seeds that they did not pay royalties on — even if their crops were “genetically contaminated” by natural cross breeding from neighbouring fields! In addition, policies that encourage the use of locally produced food are under threat. As our farmers face the future challenges of global warming and declining fossil fuel availability, they will need more support in order to keep us supplied with healthy food. Trade agreements just support greedy corporations.
Canada’s cultural protections are basic to our identity, while our communications networks are essential to business, government and public services. Since it’s so important, we have laws requiring telecom and broadcasting companies to be majority owned and controlled by Canadians (foreign investment is allowed, but only up to 47 per cent). But CETA will remove this restriction, allowing foreign companies to control Canadian broadcasting and communications services!
What will we lose if this happens? Foreign control of our broadcasting will mean less Canadian content on our TVs and radios, and that threatens our cultural identity. Under the CETA, our governments could lose the ability to protect and promote Canadian arts and culture! It could also affect our sovereignty and our universal access to telecom services. Our laws ensure basic telecom services are provided to everyone — including Canadians living in remote areas. But that may change if foreign corporations gain control of our telecom services, and cut services that are not profitable without regard to our needs.
Canada has recently offered qualified support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While this is a welcome step, the right of Indigenous peoples to “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” before any development happens on their lands is often not respected federally or provincially. Mining, oil extraction, dam construction and other environmentally destructive economic activities often take place on or close to Indigenous people’s lands without their informed consent. The Alberta tar sands are a perfect example. Indigenous concerns, such as rivers being contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals, continue to be ignored. The CETA would undoubtedly run up against Indigenous rights as all trade agreements do, by giving corporations added powers to get their way, developing where and how they want.
Canada has a huge trade deficit with the E.U. That means we import more goods and services from the E.U. than we export to them. In 2008 we imported $17 billion more in E.U. goods than we exported, and a lot of this was in high-end goods like autos. Our trade deficit in services was also large — $4 billion in 2007. This is a sign that Canadians are being deprived of good-paying jobs in manufacturing, technological innovation and high-end services. The CETA will likely make this situation worse. Prime Minister Harper’s vision for Canada is to make us a global energy and resource superpower. He wants to open up foreign markets to increase our exports of raw materials like oil and petroleum products, diamonds, gold and other metals. But remember, Canada has already lost over 550,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs in recent years. Putting more focus on the resource sector will only hurt our manufacturing even more.
The CETA also threatens the rights of all workers. CETA negotiators will say “not to worry,” labour standards will be maintained. But any agreement on labour standards will be meaningless if workers’ rights are corroded by investors’ rights or left unenforced. Instead, we need stronger enforcement of labour law, especially for migrant workers and others facing precarious situations.
If our governments, which we elect, can’t regulate on our behalf, or use our tax dollars to support our local economies when needed, all due to trade rules that put corporate rights first, then the CETA is actually a threat to our democratic system. But wait — it gets worse! CETA negotiators are planning to give transnational corporations and foreign investors the right to sue our governments over policies or decisions that they feel prevent them from making profits — even if those policies or decisions are in the public’s interest! It’s NAFTA all over again. That free trade agreement has the infamous “Chapter 11” which allowed many such lawsuits and challenges to Canadian laws by foreign investors. Who pays the suit if the government is found guilty? We do — the Canadian people!! With our taxes!!