CETA: Yet another threat to democracy

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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By Marie Burge (commentary)

Editor: Speaking about the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and other proposed trade agreements, Dr. Jason Hichel, London School of Economics says, “If these deals come into effect, multinational corporations will be empowered to regulate democratic states, rather than the other way around.”

There is a growing awareness in our community that democracy is being undermined at every turn. Many people point to governments as the big offenders. It is a cause for widespread cynicism that the very institutions which citizens entrust with the duty of guarding democracy, namely governments, are the culprits selling out our democratic collective freedoms.

CETA is one of those sell-outs, with major negative consequences for the democratic future of Canada.

The most obvious sign of the lack of democracy in CETA is the negotiations are carried out in total secrecy, with a few gratuitous leaks. In many meetings behind closed doors, unelected, professional negotiators are creating a plan for the future of our country. This is a “… binding international treaty — negotiated in secret, with its exact terms still concealed from the public — to be agreed to without any opportunity for debate, reflection or independent analysis” (Scott Sinclair, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives). Earlier this year the Prime Minister arrived home from a European trip to announce that he had an “agreement in principle”.

Supporters of CETA say “it will improve our economy.” This is worrisome because our predominant economic system itself is undemocratic. We need to ask the question, “improving the economy for whom?” It is clear that CETA aims to “improve the economy” for the top one per cent, not the economy as it relates to the large segment of the population deprived of reliable, livable income. We already have an economy geared towards the rich and powerful. Canadians should challenge government representatives or politicians every time they present a platform of the “economy,” and ask, who controls this economy and who benefits from it? The Canadian Government should be shamed for its efforts to win over the voting population by claiming that CETA could create 80,000 Canadian jobs. This ploy has been used before. It is based on a naive belief that the corporate sector’s gains will result in investments in new jobs. In fact, the opposite is found to be true.

The authorities say, “Trade is necessary.” We, who oppose CETA, are not against trade. In fact, we support trade among nations, but we propose fair trade, in which we mutually benefit from the trade of goods and services of equal value and similar genre. For many years we have listened to the rhetoric of "free trade" such as that of NAFTA enthusiasts. The only thing that was freed by that agreement was the movement of capital from one country into another. It provided freedom for the transnational corporations to ignore sovereign borders and to plant their investments wherever they would produce the biggest profits.

The authorities imply CETA is just another trade deal. Others say it is merely NAFTA on steroids, which is scary enough, but not true. CETA is in a totally different framework. CETA would grant to transnational monopolies a power and control over our country never before experienced. At the same time, it will limit the capacity of democratically elected governments to create independent public policy.

Under CETA, and other agreements which are in the works, elected politicians around the world will lose the power to enact legislation or programs to protect their citizens and the environment in the face of economic disaster or the devastation of climate change.

Similar to NAFTA, the proposed CETA will give corporations the right to demand compensation from any government action that "interferes" with a corporation’s goals, investments, and contracting interests. The Investor State Dispute Settlement, a mechanism of CETA, allows for an investor, a private corporation, to make claims against Canada, a sovereign nation, for any perceived “loss or damages.” All Canadians, including Islanders, should consider some possible impacts of CETA: it could interfere with “buy local” policies for food or any other goods and services; it could give EU monopolies full access to municipal or provincial contracts related to drinking water, sanitation and other municipal services.

Many coalitions, both in the EU and in Canada (including P.E.I.), aware that CETA is not yet signed, are taking action to influence the outcome. The first step is to demand that the contents of CETA be revealed. “There needs to be informed public debate, based on full disclosure of the treaty text. This should happen before Canadian governments, at all levels, make a final decision” (Scott Sinclair). The coalitions are creating awareness of the negative aspects of the proposed agreement, and creating forums for public debate, at the same time encouraging municipal and provincial governments to protect their communities.

There is still time for concerned citizens to mount firm and effective opposition to the CETA. Citizens with a united voice can stop this deal which has the capacity to decrease Canada’s democratic powers as well as those of provinces and territories, and municipalities.

Marie Burge,

Cooper Institute

Organizations: London School of Economics, Canadian Centre, Canadian Government EU Cooper Institute

Geographic location: Canada

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