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Trump asks for public input on NAFTA talks, while Trudeau refuses public hearings

The prime minister smiles and waves, but will he listen?

Almost 10,000 people have now responded to this Council of Canadians online action alert that tells Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “It is imperative that the renegotiation process [for NAFTA] be fair and transparent, and include full consultation with the public, civil society and Indigenous peoples.”

The federal government has not responded to our request on this basic demand, but they have made one curious claim.

On May 18, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland stated, “In recent months, with respect to NAFTA, my colleagues and I have been listening to Canadians from across the country and from all sectors and backgrounds. We will continue to consult closely with the provinces and territories, industry, unions, civil society, think tanks, academics, Indigenous peoples, women, youth and the general public. This will enable us to assess what matters most to Canadians and to advance our interests.”

Despite this assertion, there is no online consultation portal, and there have been no public hearings, either with the broader public or Indigenous peoples.

At best, there is a generic reference on the Global Affairs website (last updated on May 5, 2017) that says, “If you have questions or comments about this free trade agreement or the environmental and labour cooperation agreements, we would like to hear from you.” Beyond that, the Canadian Press reported this past March that the government is consulting with “the private sector”.

And, of course, the Trudeau government has been consulting with (disgraced) former prime minister Brian Mulroney on how to proceed with the talks.

Postmedia Network columnist Tom Parkin highlights in this article that, “Trudeau has provided very little information about Mulroney’s role. Canadians don’t know if Mulroney has been cleared by the PM or Cabinet to speak for Canada. We don’t know his objectives. We don’t know his sources of income. What security and conflict screening has been done. What confidential business information is being shared with him.”

In a surprising contrast, a public notice on the website of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) now states, “To assist USTR as it develops its negotiating objectives and positions for the agreement, the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC) invites interested persons to submit comments and/or oral testimony at a public hearing on matters relevant to the modernization of the NAFTA.”

That notice adds, “If you want to testify at the hearing, you must provide written notification and a summary of your testimony by Monday, June 12, 2017. Written comments also are due by Monday, June 12, 2017. A hearing will be held at 9 a.m. in the Main Hearing Room of the United States International Trade Commission, 500 E Street SW., Washington, DC 20436, on Tuesday, June 27, 2017.”

This is the online comment form and remarkably it appears to allow Canadians to comment to the USTR on the NAFTA renegotiation. We will be checking-in with our American allies about this option and considering encouraging submissions to this portal and perhaps even requesting to speak at the public hearing.

While we are under no illusion that the Trump administration is anything other than racist, misogynist and acting in the interests of the 1 per cent, it is still notable that the U.S. has a formal process of public consultation on NAFTA.

To add your voice to the demand for public hearings in Canada and with First Nations, please click on this online action alert now.

We understand that the Trudeau government’s record of listening to public input on trade is weak. While Global Affairs did seek public input on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade did hold public hearings, that public input was largely ignored.

The Standing Committee’s report provided no breakdown of the nearly 50,000 e-mails it received on this issue, nor does it note that every individual who spoke at their public hearings expressed concern or opposition to the deal. Furthermore, even though Global Affairs received more than 30,000 submissions on this issue, Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne has not provided an analysis of those public comments. Instead, Champagne has committed to pursuing a TPP agreement (without the United States) that could be concluded by November 10-11 of this year.

Still, public input and accountability should be fundamental aspects of how the federal government conducts itself on all matters.

The renegotiation of NAFTA could begin as early as August 16.