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WIN! Trudeau government set to announce ‘formal consultation process’ on NAFTA

Trudeau will hold some form of a public consultation on NAFTA, but how meaningful will it be and will he listen?

The Council of Canadians has been calling on the Trudeau government to hold meaningful consultations with both the public and First Nations on the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Since January 27, we helped generate 11,989 letters backing our demand to the government through this online action alert.

On May 24 we further highlighted in this blog that the United States Trade Representative had opened a public consultation on the “negotiating objectives and positions” the U.S. government should take into the NAFTA talks. That process includes both the opportunity to send in written comments as well as to present oral testimony at a public hearing. We highlighted that the online form even allows Canadians to submit comments and that the Trudeau government had no similar process in Canada.

We have also amplified these demands through social media.

This afternoon, Global Affairs Canada announced, “We would encourage you to participate in this [U.S.] process. Canada will also soon launch a formal consultation process, which will include a dedicated website and Canada Gazette notice seeking input from Canadians on the modernization of NAFTA. We will provide you more information on how to participate in this consultation process in due course.”

It would appear that public pressure — your pressure — made this happen.

On May 18, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was claiming, “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.”

But we pointed out there was no online consultation portal, and that there had been no public hearings, either with the broader public or Indigenous peoples. We also highlighted that there was only the generic reference on the Global Affairs website 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.”

We will continue to call for public hearings, not just the “dedicated website” the government is now promising.

We also understand that the Trudeau government’s record of listening to public input on trade (and other issues) 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.

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