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Big news week for CETA as re-count shows 50 municipal resolutions on Canada-EU trade deal

The week started with former B.C. premier, now high commissioner in London, England, talking to CTV news anchor Kevin Newman on Sunday, March 11 about the status of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. It’s a generally frustrating watch. Campbell repeats the government’s unsubstantiated claim that CETA will create 80,000 new jobs in Canada and put $1,000 in every family’s pocket. Newman mentions the deal has become controversial among some groups and in particular municipalities, citing the Toronto motion seeking an exemption.

How many municipal resolutions are there now? 50! No there weren’t any new ones this week, I just put some on the map that were missing and voila – we hit the 50 mark, with at least two more in the pipes this coming week. (More on this below.)

Also on Sunday, Council of Canadians Health Campaigner Adrienne Silnicki and I had an op-ed published in The Hill Times that challenged the logic behind a Big Pharma campaign in support of CETA called “Protect Healthcare Canada.”

We wrote:

If anyone can be accused of over-simplifying the intellectual property rights issues it’s Protect Healthcare Canada – a curious campaign from Canada’s largest business associations, Big Pharma lobbyists, biotechnology firms and the for-profit health care industry. Their goal is not an enhanced public health care system, as the name suggests. It is to convince Prime Minister Harper and the premiers to agree to all the patent-related changes the EU is pushing for in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA.

“Why CETA?” asks the Protect Healthcare Canada campaign on its website. Because “research is vital to protecting and improving Canadian healthcare,” and “strong intellectual property (IP) protection is essential to Canada’s prosperity and our future.”

Some inconvenient facts get in the way…

The article’s subscription only but we’ll have a copy on our site soon enough. For a sense of what we wrote, check out Adrienne’s recent blog on an NDP conference in Ottawa this month on how CETA will affect health costs in Canada.

Thinking optimistically, the Protect Healthcare facade is one of the few corporate voices supporting the CETA negotiations in Canada. Outside of them and the Canada-EU Roundtable for Business, the deal is barely mentioned by the usual suspects (CCCE, Chamber of Commerce, etc).

Not only that but CERT has a hard time defending CETA when the opportunity lands in its lap, as it did when Toronto’s executive committee heard witnesses in support of a motion calling for an exemption from the agreement. The business community didn’t show up to argue against the motion. But on Monday, March 12, a week after Toronto voted to be taken out of the deal, CERT executive director Jason Langrish called the 36 Toronto councillors who supported the motion, and anyone who would deign to resist his smallish lobby group’s plans for Canada, ignorant of trade and investment agreements. Charming.

Well, the dirty rabble raising questions about CETA now includes both of Canada’s official opposition parties. On Tuesday, March 13, the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) tabled a report on the CETA negotiations in the House of Commons. I wrote about that report here and pulled out the NDP and Liberal dissenting opinions and recommendations. Since then, a Liberal statement from Wayne Easter has come out criticizing the process for developing the report, and news articles have appeared in French and English media about the dissenting views and growing controversy surrounding CETA.

“The report on CETA negotiations, tabled yesterday by the International Trade committee, is one which is premature at best,” said Mr. Easter. “The CETA free trade deal has been described as more far reaching than NAFTA, yet the Committee has only heard from 28 witnesses and has never left Parliament Hill for hearings.”

The Liberal press statement explains, “When the International Trade committee studied the original free trade agreement with the United States it heard from 147 witnesses and travelled the country; when it investigated the NAFTA trade deal, it heard from 124 witnesses and again travelled the country. The Committee owes it to Canadians to consult far more extensively than it has.”

On March 14 and 15, the Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette and Le Devoir also reported on the dissenting opinions of the opposition parties to the majority Conservative trade committee report on CETA, saying the government now has 120 days to respond to it.

“Critics of the deal on both sides of the Atlantic argue that parts of CETA could have effects on domestic jobs, as they make the privatization of public services a likelihood and increase the prices of consumer goods and pharmaceutical drugs,” writes the Sun.

“The NDP and Liberals said the deal, as it is being sold now, doesn’t appear to take into account whether public services will be protected, or give local governments the chance to make local procurements when tendering contracts.”

Around the same time, the Vancouver Observer printed two articles by David P. Ball on the ongoing Canada-EU trade negotiations. Part 1 takes an eagle-eye view of the negotiations and what’s at stake while Part 2 looks at whether and in what ways water and water services could be affected by the deal.

“Water’s in the deal – there’s no doubt about it,” said Steven Shrybman, a public interest trade lawyer with Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, quoted in the second Vancouver Observer article. “Water is subject to international investment-services agreements. (CETA) leaves public policies on everything from health care to water up to international tribunals and trade dispute panels that are fixated on – and whose only mandated is – serving the interests of capital.”

Last but not least, after doing some housekeeping (mostly cleaning through the inbox), it appears we’ve hit the 50 mark for municipalities, associations or school boards to have passed motions on CETA, many of them calling for an exemption! That’s not counting proposed motions in Oakville and Brampton, Ontario. Presentations by the Comox Valley chapter to various municipalities were highlighted in the Valley Echo. And though Comox decided not to seek an exemption, the mayor recognized that the UBCM had taken a strong position already.

Outside of the usual Google search, I’ve noticed an exponential increase in #CETA chatter on Twitter. Not too long ago, the @CETAWatch feed set up by the Council of Canadians seemed to be the only source broadcasting information and news about the negotiations on Twitter. Now a search for #CETA or “Canada EU Trade” displays dozens of hits per day, the vast majority opposed to the negotiations. We have a fight on our hands and it can only grow louder from this point.