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We need a Great Free Trade Debate on Canada-EU deal: Council of Canadians

Ottawa – On the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Council of Canadians is calling on provinces to follow the Quebec government’s lead by holding immediate public consultations on this generation’s big deal – the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

“The Great Free Trade Debate never ended; it rages on wherever new corporate rights treaties make profit the foundation of our social economies and throw barriers in front of the public good,” said Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, who famously debated, alongside former CAW president Bob White, the late Peter Lougheed and former business leader Tom d’Aquino in CBC’s Great Free Trade Debate 25 years ago.

“After 25 years of stagnant wages, growing inequality and degraded ecosystems, I’d say it’s time for another great debate on the effects of unfettered free trade, and whether simply signing ever more and bigger deals is the right way to go. Our Prime Minister may not want to have that discussion, but thankfully Quebec’s new government does, at least on the Canada-EU trade deal.”

On Tuesday, the Parti Quebecois announced it would hold a public consultation this Friday, October 5 on the CETA. According to a blog post by PQ Trade Minister Jean-François Lisée, he and Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau have invited over 50 citizens associations, labour unions, business leaders, students, researchers, journalists and opposition MPs to a briefing on the CETA negotiations, which could conclude later this month in a two-week round in Brussels. Participants in the Quebec meeting will not only have an opportunity to ask questions but also to propose changes to the province’s negotiating mandate, even at this late stage.

“We and dozens of other organizations in Canada and Quebec have been asking the provinces for months to open up the Canada-EU trade talks,” said Barlow. “All we want is a chance to affect the negotiations before a deal is signed and it becomes too late to make any difference. We don’t trust the Harper government to sign a good deal with the EU. The provinces owe it to Canadians to follow Quebec’s lead by giving voters a say in what CETA looks like.”

In the past two years, CETA has become increasingly controversial in Canada and the EU for the ways it goes beyond trade. Over 40 municipalities, including Toronto, have opposed procurement rules in CETA that would ban “buy local” initiatives. These cities are also concerned about how well municipally delivered services such as drinking water will be protected (or not) in the deal.

And according to an Ipsos Reid poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians, 69% of Canadians would oppose a deal that extends new patent protections to brand name drug companies. The changes sought by these pharmaceutical giants in CETA, based on leaked copies of the negotiating text, would increase the cost of public and private drug plans by almost $3 billion annually.

“Is CETA about freer trade or is it about shoring up big profits for Big Pharma?” questioned Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “We need the provinces to take a stand against these unnecessary and economically senseless proposals in the CETA if there’s any hope of getting a good deal out of this. Quebec’s public consultation this Friday, however late in the game, offers an example we hope other provinces will follow before they sign off on CETA.”