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Inside and outside the G20, Harper tries to make the world safe for free trade

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of the Republic of India sign a nuclear cooperation agreement on June 27.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Manmohan Singh, prime minister of the Republic of India, watch their underlings sign a nuclear cooperation agreement on June 27.

I thought I misheard our Prime Minister. “There isn’t really a Canadian economy anymore,” he told a G20 wrap-up press conference. But he said it and he means it. Like his recent predecessors, Prime Minister Harper believes the less a government does and the lower corporate taxes are the better for everyone. Foreign direct investment (FDI) and free trade are sufficient to produce growth in this strange and absolutely false vision, made even stranger if there is no Canadian economy to grow! It wasn’t the only contradiction from the weekend. In fact, the G20 Toronto communique is a mass of inconsistencies.

The biggest concerns jobs. Creating jobs is a priority for the G20, and so is “Strengthening social safety nets, enhancing corporate governance reform, financial market development, infrastructure spending, and greater exchange rate flexibility in some emerging markets.” But shortly after stating this, the G20 commits (albeit meekly) to open markets as a pivotal strategy for achieving these goals, while also pushing austerity and structural adjustment in developed countries facing high deficits.

Austerity = job losses, fewer social safety protections, more privatization and the general siphoning of public money into private hands. Without a fundamental change to the global free trade regime, profits do not and will not trickle down. This was a key message of USW President Leo Gerrard during the Council of Canadians’ Shout of for Global Justice on Friday. “I’m sick of being tinkled on,” he said to a roar of laughter. If you weren’t there in person, you can watch the event online thanks to Rabble.ca.

Harper’s a trickle up guy (up to the CEO level), or maybe trickle across… across borders that is. While he was lecturing the G20 this weekend on the moral certitude of free trade, he was also “deepening our economic partnership” with China and nudging an Indian Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement forward.

In both cases, the prospects are resource-based. Canada’s economy, which doesn’t exist let’s remember, is benefiting temporarily from high prices for good and mineral exports. But that’s unsustainable and increasingly unpopular. Canada and the world desperately needs good green jobs and a transition from fossil-based to renewable energy sources. But six of the 11 partnerships with Chinese firms announced this week by the government are in mining and resource extraction:

– Sinopec’s acquisition of an interest in Syncrude Canada: Chinese state company buys ConocoPhillips’ stake in the Syncrude tar sands project.

– Framework agreement on strategic cooperation in uranium: “Cameco Corp. and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co., Ltd. (CGNPC) signed a non-binding framework agreement committing the companies to negotiate long-term uranium purchase agreements and potential joint development of uranium resources.”

– Framework agreement for investment in unconventional natural gas projects: Joint venture between Encana Corporation and China National Petroleum Corporation for developments in western Canada.

– Selwyn Resources Ltd. and Yunnan Chihong Zinc & Germanium Co., Ltd. joint venture and shareholders agreements: Yunnan Chihong Zinc & Germanium Co., Ltd. (Chihong) to acquire a 50-percent joint venture interest in the Selwyn Project, a large undeveloped zinc and lead project in the Yukon.

– MOU on cooperation in potash mines: Hatch Ltd. and Zhongchuan International Mining Holding Ltd. have partnered up.

– Memorandum of understanding for engineering, procurement and construction management services: “Jilin/Canadian Royalties intends to engage SNC-Lavalin to provide its professional services for the Nunavik Nickel Project.”

The agreement’s with the Indian government are equally unimpressive, and include:

– “A nuclear cooperation agreement which will provide access for Canada’s nuclear industry to India’s expanding nuclear market.”

– “An MOU on earth sciences and mining which will foster improved dialogue on mining and related activities, including bilateral investment.”

The future is neither oil- nor uranium-friendly. A common refrain from the G20 protests this week, chanted loudly by Council of Canadians energy campaigner Andrea Harden last Wednesday, was “leave the oil in the soil, leave the tar sands in the land, leave the coal in the hole.” It makes as much economic as environmental sense. Canada’s economy really will cease to exist without support for manufacturing and strong government efforts to create green jobs.

Another contradiction of the G20 summit was the call for the elimination of extractive subsidies as Harper increases them for the tar sands and asbestos industries.

Harper clearly wanted the final statements of G20 leaders to be more emphatic on the virtues of trade liberalization. Interestingly, the trade section of the final communique was watered down from the version leaked last Thursday. The promise to complete the Doha round at the WTO is at this point laughable.

As CanWest reported earlier this month: “Harper came to power in 2006 vowing ‘to bring Canada back as a credible player on the world stage,’ after years of waning influence. ‘Canadians have always wanted a government that plays a role in the world,’ the prime minister said soon after taking office. ‘I intend to make this a country that leads.'”

He may have appeared to lead the G20 away from a badly needed financial transaction tax and toward austerity but it was smoke and mirrors. There was no G20 consensus on austerity versus stimulus. Countries tried their best to appear united but there are big gaps in policy preferences because national economies are still different and national government policy still matters.

There is a Canadian economy, Mr. Harper. You are just one of its poorest managers in decades.