On Tuesday and Thursday this week, the House of Commons international trade committee is reviewing the outrageous $130-million NAFTA settlement in the AbitibiBowater Chapter 11 challenge against the Newfoundland government. This was the largest settlement in Canada’s sad history of investor-to-state lawsuits under NAFTA, and it could have major implications for ownership and management of resources, including water.
In August, after the settlement was announced, we called for a public inquiry. Thanks to NDP trade critic Peter Julian, we now have one. Maude Barlow said at the time, “If AbitibiBowater has in any way been compensated for the loss of water and timber rights, as the company is suggesting, the Harper government’s hundred million dollar buyout would turn water into private property.
“Imagine the consequences of handing oil and gas companies operating in the tar sands this same right to draw water or else be compensated,” she said.
Council of Canadians board member Steven Shrybman is the first witness tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. EST after introductory comments from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He’ll discuss the possible implications for water and resource management.
Following Shrybman will be libertarian and private health care lobbyist Brian Lee Crowley of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, and then commercial arbitration expert Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Hall Law School. Van Harten co-wrote an important public statement on the international investment regime that is still attracting signatures worldwide.
Though the focus is the AbitibiBowater settlement, the committee hearings offer an opportunity to criticize Canada’s adherence to what is essentially a corrupt investment protection regime. I’ll be live-tweeting the proceedings from my Twitter account (@StuJT) so you can follow along and retweet if you have an account. Or else you can listen directly on the ParlVu website. Also, I’ll be updating this page throughout both days of hearings.
In the meantime, some reading from last year on the AbitibiBowater case: