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Canadian social democrats should (and do) oppose CETA

Reuters photo of Gebert and Mulcair.

Raoul Gebert was the Chief of Staff for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair between May 2012 and January 2015. During this period (and presently) the federal NDP have lacked a clear position on the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). While they have stated they are generally opposed to ‘investment protection’ provisions in ‘free trade’ deals, they are (still) reserving judgement on CETA as a whole.

Last month, Gebert wrote an article titled ‘CETA – a social democratic perspective from Canada’ for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German political foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. That party is pivotal with respect to CETA because it is both a member of the governing coalition in Germany (which will vote on the ratification of CETA on a state level) and is associated with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (a political grouping in the European Parliament, which is critical to defeating CETA at that level).

Gebert writes (in German) that, “All three major parties at the federal level in Canada have rated CETA largely positive. …The provincial governments of all three political currents (Conservatives, Liberals and the social-democratic NDP) have commented consistently positive on CETA.”

He then argues, “The remaining critical stakeholders in Canada are now the dairy sector, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and traditional critical civil liberties groups on the left edge such as the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Health Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives think-tank.” But he says that our concerns about additional state and individual costs on drug costs “find little reverberation” and that issues around drinking water and chlorinated chicken “hardly echo”.

He highlights, “The public debate about CETA since the completion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership has largely subsided.” And he adds, “CETA is therefore largely evaluated positively in Canada and is now expected in spite (or because of) the increasing criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to come relatively quickly into force.”

Gebert acknowledges that “conventional arbitration” is a “red line for the party”, but suggests that the “improvements” recently announced to those provisions in CETA “are an important step to assuring broader social support” at the federal level. He concludes by suggesting this could be a “blueprint” for “progressive forces on both sides of the Atlantic” for a “more responsible free trade act”.

The Council of Canadians takes exception to Gebert’s analysis:

– A September 2015 poll by Environics found that 68 per cent of NDP voters oppose the investor-state dispute settlement provisions found in ‘free trade’ agreements.

– The recently announced amendments to the investment protection provisions in CETA are fundamentally flawed and still fail to require foreign investors – like everyone else, including domestic investors – to go to a country’s domestic courts before seeking an international remedy.

– A December 2013 poll by Environics found that 65 per cent of Canadians oppose longer patents for prescription drugs in CETA and that, even among those who “strongly support” free trade with Europe, 54 per cent oppose a deal that extends patents on brand name drugs.

– A June 2011 poll by Environics found that 52 percent of Canadians oppose opening up of public water and wastewater treatment utilities to European corporations.

– Chlorinated chicken has been a major food safety issue for Europeans during the ongoing United States-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, but is not part of the CETA deal (it should be noted though that Health Canada regulations already allow chicken to be washed and processed in chlorinated water).

– While an October 2015 poll by EKOS found that only 41 per cent of Canadians support the TPP, it would be wrong to imply that opposition to CETA has subsided and is now focused on TPP (in part because both deals contain similar investment protection provisions).

The Council of Canadians rejects CETA and is working to stop its ratification in both Canada and Europe. We stand with the more than 3.4 million Europeans who have signed a petition against the ratification of CETA, noting in particular its investment protection provisions. We have also endorsed the Leap Manifesto which says, “We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects.”

The NDP convention in Edmonton this coming weekend will reportedly hear numerous resolutions relating to the Leap Manifesto. We hope that party delegates will endorse the manifesto and that the party adopts (and strengthens) its own resolution 4.5h which states, “New Democrats believe in … not negotiating investor-state dispute resolutions mechanisms into trade agreements, consistent with the policy of the Labor government and party of Australia.” In April 2011, the Labour government in Australia adopted the principles of ‘no greater rights’ for foreign investors and the government’s ‘right to regulate’ to protect the public interest.

And given the federal NDP has had the full text of CETA since September 2014, it is our hope that the NDP might soon adopt a position and be as strident in their opposition to CETA as they have been against the TPP.

In December 2014, Mulcair told a European audience, “Europe shouldn’t let itself be locked into an agreement that contains such a provision, especially since it’ll serve as the basis for an eventual agreement with the United States. Because ultimately, all these tools, whether it be trade, public spending, natural resource exploitation, or finances, should be at the service of citizens.”

The time is now. If European social democrats are going to defeat CETA in the European Parliament later this year, they need to know that Canadian social democrats are onside with them.