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North Shore chapter tells TPP hearing about Digby Neck quarry NAFTA challenge

Council of Canadians organizers Robin Tress and Angela Giles were at the TPP protest yesterday morning outside the hotel where the TPP hearings were being held.

The Council of Canadians North Shore chapter presented to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade hearing in Halifax yesterday. Committee members visited the Atlantic provinces this week seeking input on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Chapter activist and Unifor Local 2215 member Darlene McIvor raised concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision in the TPP and specifically the Digby Neck quarry controversy.

The ISDS provision in the TPP would allow transnational corporations to sue the governments of the twelve signatory countries over public interest legislation that impacts their future profits. A special tribunal would make the ruling outside of the regular court system and award costs to the transnationals.

A similar provision exists in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In March 2015, The Globe and Mail reported, “A NAFTA arbitration panel has ruled against Canada in a claim by a U.S. company that wanted to develop a quarry in Nova Scotia, although a dissenting member of the panel warned that the decision will be seen as a ‘remarkable step backwards’ in environmental protection. Bilcon proposed the expansion of a quarry near Digby on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in September, 2002, but the Nova Scotia and federal governments rejected it after a joint review panel recommended it not proceed. The family-owned company – which is registered in Delaware – will now seek [$130 million] in damages after the arbitration panel declared that it was denied a fair environmental hearing.”

That article adds, “The Bilcon decision has raised a number of concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement provisions that are commonplace in international agreements, ranging from the North American free-trade agreement, to the Canada-China foreign investment agreement, to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

This past June, CBC reported, “While the company seeks compensatory damages, the federal government has applied to the Federal Court of Canada to set aside the ruling on the grounds the panel exceeded its jurisdiction. [Despite the federal government’s support for ISDS provisions in ‘free trade’ deals] it says a Canadian court — not a NAFTA tribunal — is where the company must turn if it objects to a decision made by a Canadian environmental assessment. …[But] Bilcon has applied to the Federal Court of Canada to put the judicial review on hold until the arbitration panel decides how much Canada owes the company. Canada said if Bilcon gets its stay, it will be another 18 months before Canada’s application to set aside the arbitration panel ruling will be heard.”

The stay hearing was held on June 22 in Toronto.

A September 20 media release notes, “The Sierra Club Canada Foundation and East Coast Environmental Law and their legal council at EcoJustice are applauding the recent decision to proceed with a federal court process to determine if the decision to reject the Digby Quarry was in line with our obligations under NAFTA. …The good news is that the Federal Court of Canada decided has denied Bilcon’s application. This means that the company will not receive compensation before the Canadian court has had its chance to make their ruling.”

That court case is now expected to be heard in Spring 2017.

In addition, the House of Commons committee studying the TPP heard on Monday from our Saint John chapter (on how the TPP would increase drug costs and weaken food safety), on Tuesday from our PEI chapter (on how the TPP would boost US military power in Asia-Pacific), and on Wednesday from our St. John’s chapter (on how it supports trade, not a corporate bill of rights).

The Council of Canadians has also been encouraging people to send their comments on the TPP to the parliamentary committee. To send your letter before the October 31 deadline, please click here.

The twelve countries that have signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership have set a deadline of November 2017 to ratify the deal.