By Kevin J. Arsenault (guest opinion)
On Sunday April 13, 2014, the Latin American Mission Program (LAMP) conducted a lively workshop titled: Two World Views: CETA and Pope Francis.
Over 20 participants worked in small groups discussing the principles and values driving the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations. These principles and values were then contrasted with statements on the economy made by Pope Francis in his recent document, The Joy of the Gospel.
Participants then identified potential negative effects that CETA may have in P.E.I., as well as possible actions to prevent those negative impacts.
Participants were very concerned the draft CETA agreement continues to be kept under a shroud of secrecy. Although the federal government announced several months ago that an agreement-in-principle had been reached, very little was actually disclosed about the agreement at that time.
Even federal opposition parties have been unable to obtain information; so, not surprisingly, no serious or informed debate on the “pros and cons” of CETA has taken place. This secretive process is completely unacceptable for a democratic country.
Despite the secrecy surrounding CETA, workshop participants discussed elements of the agreement which have been “leaked” which strongly suggest that CETA will weaken P.E.I.’s ability to retain control over important areas of economic and social development.
These include: (1) provisions that prevent local governments to hire locally, have “buy-local” campaigns, or implement moratoriums with deep-water wells or fracking; (2) extending patent protection to corporations for brand name drugs by up to two years, estimated to cost Islanders between $3 and $6 million annually; (3) encouraging corporate agriculture and food processing at the expense of local organic food production; and (4) reinforcing the Trade Disputes Mechanism which permits European investors (corporations) to sue Canada whenever they feel that public policies or regulations (originating at all levels of government) interfere with the corporations’ profit-making ability.
The dominant world view driving CETA holds that economic well-being increases for everyone when corporations are permitted to gain “comparative advantage” over their competition in an unregulated global marketplace. Governments must therefore allow corporations to pay lower taxes and tariffs, qualify for more government grants and investment incentives, and be allowed to offer lower wages and benefits to workers. Otherwise, corporation will move their operations to other countries with cheaper labour rates and lower taxes.
CETA clearly relies on a dominant economic world view that claims that when the rich are permitted to prosper, economic benefits “trickle down” and lift the standard of living for everyone. Pope Francis, on the other hand, insists that the trickle-down economic theory: “... has never been confirmed by facts, [and] expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”
He challenges the “absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” insisting that “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”
Pope Francis is also critical of the mentality behind the corporate world view because it “... rejects the right of states charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.” He goes on to express a prayer that there would be “... more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, [and] the lives of the poor.”
Workshop participants worry that CETA will further weaken our collective right to determine our own economic, social and political future. They were adamant citizens have a right to know what politicians are deciding on our behalf, and insisted there must be meaningful public discussion on what the federal government is prepared to sign into law before that happens.
On behalf of workshop participants and all Islanders, LAMP is asking the provincial government show true leadership on this critically important issue by demanding accountability from the federal government on CETA, insisting on more transparency regarding the contents of the draft CETA agreement, and by holding public consultations on CETA followed by appropriate actions to protect the democratic, economic and political rights of all Islanders.
Kevin J. Arsenault of Fort Augustus is a LAMP workshop co-ordinator.