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Canadians and Europeans set to oppose Harper’s CETA

In a recent Globe and Mail article, reporter Campbell Clark argues, “Stephen Harper could really use an angry, implacable opponent blasting him for signing free-trade agreements. Without it, the voters might not really reward him for the deals he’s done.” He continues, “More generally, free trade is now widely accepted, so opposition beyond a relatively small minority depends on whether the trading partner is a little scary to Canadians. South Korea isn’t. Neither is the EU.”

But is Mr. Harper’s “free trade” deal with Europe really so widely accepted?

An Environics poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians found that even among people who “strongly support” the idea of “free trade” with Europe, 63 per cent believe local governments should continue to have the right to prefer local bids on public contracts. The leaked CETA text shows that local governments will lose that right under CETA.

And that poll also showed that 65 per cent of Canadians oppose longer patents for prescription drugs. Even among people who “strongly support” the idea of a “free trade” agreement with the EU, 54 per cent oppose a deal that extends patents. Again, the Harper government agreed to longer patents according to the leaked CETA text.

Undoubtedly as the leaked text is further studied (the text still has not been officially released by the Harper government, something now even the Globe and Mail editorial board has called for), Canadians will find further cause for concern with the so-called deal.

Mr. Clark also completely misses the point that Europeans may not be in favour of a “free trade” agreement with Canada.

The German and French governments have publicly objected to the inclusion of the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the deal. That concern is not likely to go away during the complicated ratification process in the European Parliament and the national legislatures of the 28 member countries of the EU.

Also, this summer a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and CETA was launched in Brussels. The initiative calls for an end to negotiations on both of these deals and demands instead a new approach to European trade policy that puts people and the planet before corporate profit. It is expected that in just a few weeks time a one-year campaign will begin to collect at least one million signatures across Europe in support of this initiative. If successful, it would compel the European Commission to respond and for a full hearing to take place in the European Parliament.

And let us not forget that the Multilateral Agreement on Investment was almost fully completed before the text was leaked, people mobilized, and the French government announced in October 1998 it would not support the deal (followed then by other countries) effectively scuttling the deal. 

If Harper is looking for a “tussle”, as Mr. Clark contends, he’ll find one with the voting public in Canada and with Europeans unimpressed by the prospect of “free trade” with Canada and the US.

CETA is far from a done deal.