Ottawa – As another round of Canada-European Union free trade negotiations kicks off in Brussels, Belgium this week, the Council of Canadians is releasing a report accusing the Harper government of misleading, and in some cases deceiving Canadians about the likely effects on public policy, public services and municipal democracy of the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
In April 2012, the Conservative government made its first real attempt to explain to Canadians what it saw as the benefits of the now three-year-old CETA negotiations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper dispatched 18 of his ministers to press conferences across the country, enlisted CETA marketing support from several big business lobby groups, and created a new webpage to try to demystify a deal the Canadian public has heard little about.
“Unfortunately, where there was once a cavernous lack of information about CETA, there is now an abundance of misinformation,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “The Harper government is purposely confusing what critics have been saying about CETA, and is resorting to complete falsehoods in some cases to sell a deal people seem to like less the more they get to know about it.”
According to news reports last week, based on Access to Information requests by Postmedia, the Harper government hastily developed its recent public relations material on CETA in response to growing concern among municipalities that the deal will unfairly limit their ability to govern in the public interest.
Over 40 municipalities, including large cities such as Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton and Victoria, have now asked to be excluded from CETA, in particular its restrictions on public spending and the delivery of public services.
Today’s Council of Canadians report addresses some of the misinformation in the new Harper government propaganda on CETA. Specifically, the report attacks a list of 11 statements about CETA which the government claims answer what critics are saying about the deal. These include the claims that CETA will not affect the government’s right to regulate, will not allow companies to challenge environmental or public health measures, and will not affect the price of drugs. Each of these statements is demonstrably false, as today’s report points out.
“One especially ridiculous claim is that CETA has been one of the most ‘transparent trade negotiations in Canadian history,’” says Trew. “But the text of the agreement is secret. And even if Harper gets to the point of signing CETA, there are few options for making any changes to the deal once it is making its way through the parliamentary process. A truly transparent trade negotiation would let the public see and make changes to the deal now before it’s too late.”
The Council of Canadians says its new report also serves as a broader challenge to Harper’s free trade agenda, including the NAFTA-plus Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Canada was invited to join in June 2012.
“These ‘next generation’ trade and investment deals have less and less to do with trade. They push an ideological ‘free market’ doctrine to the extreme, putting public services, sustainable development and democracy at great risk without any prospect of creating good jobs,” says Trew. “These are trade deals for the 1% that the 99% has a responsibility to challenge.”
To download the new report: www.canadians.org/ceta