Yesterday, Bill C-79, the bill to implement the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TransPacific Partnership passed the House of Commons’ second reading by a vote of 242 to 48. Otherwise known as the modified TransPacific Partnership (TPP), the bill was supported by the Conservatives and Liberals and opposed by the Greens, NDP, and Bloc Québécois. To check what your own MP did, check this out: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/votes/42/1/883/
The government dramatically cut short the debate. The bill went to the floor a few hours on Monday, and was completed by Tuesday evening. Bill C-79 was the House’s first piece of legislation of the fall sitting.
While it still has to go to third reading and the Senate generally, the bulk of debate in the House of Commons happens in the second reading. This is why it is truly unnerving especially coming from a Liberal government who vowed to undo Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s legacy by being transparent around trade agreements.
People were strongly opposed to the TPP. Remember: 95 per cent of those who contacted the House of Common’s Trade committee opposed the agreement. In Global Affairs’ own consultations, 99 per cent of more than 18,000 people who wrote told the government that they opposed the TPP, according to an Access to Information request submitted by the Council of Canadians.
After President Trump pulled the U.S out of the agreement, the remaining 11 countries secretly carved up a deal which was pretty much the old deal with some minor adjustments. With a stroke of a pen, they added “Comprehensive and Progressive” in front of the old agreement.
But adding the word progressive didn’t melt away the numerous problems with the deal. ISDS or corporate courts remained in tact. The old toothless and meaningless environmental and labour chapters remained. While the Liberals championed “gender” and Indigenous chapters, none of those ideas made it into the final agreement, just some pretty words in the front of the preamble. There are numerous problems around public services, procurement, GMOs, labelling, and much more. Farmers and auto workers were given the short shrift.
In essence, the only thing that changed was the outer wrapping, not the actual content.
In other TransPacific countries– at least in the democratic ones– parliamentary process is not about steamrolling Parliament. Take, for example, the United States. Before they pulled out, Congress had lively and animated debate over Fast Track provisions that would have brought forth the TPP.
In New Zealand, they had a comprehensive process over both the old TPP and the new TPP. In Australia, they had a number of independent government commissions—including the Productivity Commission pronounced against ISDS in the agreement. In Japan, I met parliamentarians who have vital debates in their Diet. Perhaps, the Canadian government admires Singapore, a CPTPP country where no Parliamentary process is required.
When an agreement is so important and extensive, at the very least, it needs a proper debate. And as I have often argued, our trade agreements are blank cheques. There is no independent economic analysis, and scant parliamentary understanding of what is actually in the agreement. Instead, it is decided that we need trade ergo, we need a trade agreement. And the contents are of meagre importance.
CETA is a case in point. Since its implementation, Canadians exports to Europe have shown no actual growth. Yet, CETA was sold as the new Eldorado with wild claims of 80,000 new jobs and wild growth in GDP, which were contradicted by the Parliamentary Budget Officer and many others.
With the great NAFTA show to the south of the border and its ongoing reality show, many are too distracted to focus on the TPP. The House of Commons may have failed in its due diligence to analyze and debate the bill. Perhaps, it is time for the Senate to truly be the house of “sober second thought” and undo the House’s damage.