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Canada-EU Deal: Setback for Harper on CETA, sigh of relief for Canada

Ottawa, ON – Reports that Prime Minister Harper will return to Canada without a “comprehensive” EU deal should be taken with a sigh of relief and not as a setback for Canada, says the Council of Canadians. The Council is one of many environmental, farmers’, labour, student, fair trade and social justice groups on both sides of the Atlantic that are critical of the deal on the table.

“If we thought there was any way Harper could get a good deal out of Europe that would benefit the people of Canada, we would be cheering him on. But he’s exaggerated the benefits, ignored the costs and has already been caught trying to swindle the provinces into giving EU negotiators more of what they want – access to our resources and public services contracts,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians.

Leaked texts over the past two years suggest provincial governments, Crown corporations and municipalities will lose the right to apply local preferences on public spending (“buy local” conditions). CETA will also include an investor “rights” chapter modeled on NAFTA, which continues to attract a growing number of punishing corporate lawsuits against environmental and resource conservation measures in Canada, including a $250-million case against Quebec’s moratorium on shale gas exploration.

Canada is also under enormous pressure from the EU and multinational brand name pharmaceutical companies in Canada to agree to extend patent terms and other monopoly protections, which will inevitably increase the cost of pharmaceuticals for patients and the provinces by keeping cheaper generic competition off the shelves for longer.

“Is this a trade deal or a corporate rights deal?” asks Barlow. “The Harper government got into enough hot water, even with its own party, when it signed an investment treaty with China that gives oil and gas companies 31 years of protection from community resistance to projects or new environmental rules that could hurt profits. How do you think Canadians will respond when they see that Harper has given the same rights to European firms that are just as heavily invested in the tar sands, natural gas fracking projects, pipelines and mines?”

Should the Prime Minister conclude Canada-EU negotiations this week, month or even this year, the Council of Canadians is calling on the government to give the public and Parliament an opportunity to see, revise and even reject the deal if it’s not found to be in our best interests. This democratic step would be unprecedented but necessary given the enormous scope of the proposed agreement, and its potential to radically restrict democratic and policy space for the provinces and local communities.