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Not another NAFTA rubber stamp: We need a real debate in Canada on NAFTA 2.1

The Trudeau government says NAFTA 2.1 is the first order of business when Parliament resumes and the Liberals are urging other parties to swiftly ratify the deal.

But not so fast!

In the U.S., lawmakers, spurred on by newly elected U.S. House Democrats, worked over a year on the agreement. In Canada, parliamentarians and the public have had absolutely no meaningful input in the deal.

We can’t let this be a closed circuit, where corporations and the one per cent decide the future of NAFTA. We need a conversation on the fundamental issues – climate change, jobs, public services, family farms, Indigenous rights, inequality, and regulations – that this agreement affects.

With a minority government, it shouldn’t be business as usual. We must demand, at a minimum, a full study of the agreement in committee, and a robust national debate. The NDP and Bloc Québécois have said they want a full debate on the agreement. The Green Party has also traditionally opposed NAFTA.

You can speak up for democracy and fair trade. Take action! Contact Deputy Prime Minister and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Chyrstia Freeland  and your MP and ask for a robust review of this important trade deal.

The Council of Canadians has prepared analysis to help you have discussions in your community and get the message out.

What happened: Timeline

The original NAFTA was signed in 1993. History has shown it has weakened labour rights, environmental protections, and helped corporations attack public interest regulations and the public sector. The Council of Canadians took up the fight against NAFTA and its Chapter 11 provisions that allow corporations to sue governments over environmental and public policy decisions that affect corporate profits. We argued against energy proportionality, which mandates Canada to export quotas of energy to the U.S. We also highlighted our concerns about NAFTA’s effects on public health care and public services, jobs, energy, the environment, water, and democracy.

When he was elected, U.S. President Trump said NAFTA was a bad deal for the U.S. He vowed to either renegotiate the agreement on his terms, or the U.S. would withdraw. President Trump then hatched a deal with Mexico, saying that Canada had three weeks to come to the table with an agreement, or they would be turfed out of the deal.

During this process, Maude Barlow, Honorary Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, presented the Council of Canadian’s negotiating priorities in Getting it Right: the People’s Guide to NAFTA, which was accompanied by action tools such as postcards, letters, polling information, factsheets and videos. Council of Canadians supporters sent more than 30,000 messages to their MPs and placed a television ad on CBC’s Television show, The National.

At midnight on September 30, 2018, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to a rewrite of the NAFTA agreement, renaming it the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) in Canada and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in the U.S. The deal was swiftly ratified in Mexico and implementing legislation was presented in Canada. The Council of Canadians’ analysis is here.

However, it didn’t end there. In November 2018, U.S. midterms ushered in a majority of Democrats to the House of Representatives. With this new majority, Democrats vowed they would not ratify the agreement until important changes were made including binding mechanisms to enforce labour and environmental rights, and the removal of provisions that would make biologic drugs more expensive which in turn would make a public, universal pharmacare program harder to afford.

The Council of Canadians campaigned to push pause on Canada’s implementing legislation, arguing that we must wait for the U.S.’s progressive changes and fight against the new deal’s most toxic provisions. With the 2019 federal election, the implementing legislation was left abandoned on the order paper.

U.S. Democrats successfully negotiated to make changes to the agreement. Canada and Mexico accepted these important changes, signing a new agreement on December 11, 2019. Today, U.S. President Donald Trump will sign it into law.

It is now Canada’s turn. According to Inside U.S. Trade, the agreement must sit 21 days before it is ratified by cabinet. Implementing legislation – the law that changes Canadian law to conform to the agreement – must go through three readings in the House of Commons and in the Senate. At second reading, it can go to a committee for study. At this point, the new NAFTA must go to a committee to be fully examined and debated.

There is already pressure on the opposition to give unanimous consent to wave the prescribed procedure, which is not acceptable. Our jobs, environment, family farms, and our regulations are all at stake!