As suspected, the federal government and negotiators working on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU are claiming that periodic briefings with civil society organizations and business after each round of talks are as good as public consultations. Steve Verheul, Canada’s lead negotiator on CETA, told the Commons Committee on International Trade on Tuesday (see minute 39:10 of the recording) that he has been “consulting closely with civil society… and they’ve certainly made their views clear on the various issues.”
But on February 23 this year, 20 of the groups that have participated in these briefings wrote to Trade Minister Peter Van Loan (pictured) that, “These hour-long sessions do not represent in any way a public consultation, which is long overdue for the CETA agreement.” The letter stated, “in past trade negotiations, the public has been kept largely uninformed and unengaged until a full agreement was reached and we were presented with a final text… We respecfully submit that such a process should be unacceptable to a government that campaigned on a promise of transparency and accountability.”
Minister Van Loan responded to this letter a little over a month later. He claimed, “The Government of Canada is committed to keeping Canadians informed of the negotiations and to consulting as extensively as possible to ensure an agreement meets the needs of Canadians.”
Do you feel consulted? Harper’s trade minister more recently told Canadian Business magazine “there should be more of a spotlight on these negotiations.” And negotiator Verheul said on Tuesday that he needs the input “from all of the Canadians that have an interest” in order to get CETA to a place where it will be broadly publicly accepted when it comes time to sign the deal.
Of course broad acceptance of a hopelessly flawed, misguided and dangerous (for public policy and Canadian jobs) agreement is a delusion and the Harper government knows it. Hopes and promises of shining a light on CETA or consulting broadly are simple doublespeak.
We have, already before us, a draft consolidated text from January that was made public in April by the new Trade Justice Network. But Mr. Verheul won’t discuss the contents of this official draft when asked, and the Harper government and provinces (which are at the table) pretend it doesn’t exist so they can keep negotiating with the EU in secret.
It is not the responsibility of the public to beg and plead with the federal and provincial governments to hold public debates on matters as important as the economic future of Canada. A responsible government would hold its trade policy up to public scrutiny and see if it survives the test. Faced with an irresponsible minority government in Canada, we have to speak loudly and clearly.
To send a letter to your MP demanding answers and a public debate on CETA, use our Action Alert here.
For more information about CETA, including reports, fact sheets, legal opinions, video, and a Civil Society Declaration on the deal signed by 24 organizations and counting, click here.