A month ago Canada and the European Union (EU) reached a tentative deal on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The bi-lateral deal has been called more far-reaching than NAFTA, a forward-looking expansion of globalization, and if you’re a Canadian citizen, it’s likely you’ll be receiving a Christmas card of Stephen Harper and the hefty document wearing matching sweaters sometime this December. So – you might be thinking – if CETA is so prescient, what can it tell us about the future of democracy?
1. The Straw Man. First, a hierarchical leader lays out targets, based on metrics anyone who’s read the intro chapter of an economics textbook could comprehend (chant it with me: G-D-P, G-D-P). Then, a trading partner is found and economic models (assuming full employment and that all up-tick in investment funnels back into production) are drawn up.
2. Secrecy. Nothing is officially released, no public consultations held by parliamentary committees, and even as leaks come out and the original, pie-in-the-sky numbers are incontrovertibly shown as exaggerations, they stick with them.
3. Last Call Syndrome. Like a hormone-addled drunkard eyeing the remains of the dance floor – as scandal ensues and approval ratings drop – the leader will lower already-low standards, and pull the thing together. An EU analysis reported its leaders ‘gained more than they expected, and might have settled for less if Ottawa had pushed harder.’ The fact that the EU’s economy dwarfs us (over nine times larger than Canada’s), and that we have a trade deficit with them, makes this especially treacherous in terms of potential net employment loss.
4. Corporate Welfare. Let’s start with the pharmaceutical patent extension which will cost provincial governments $1-2 billion dollars annually starting in 2023. Harper has said he’s open to footing the bill for this. Yes I mean Stephen Harper, whose public expenditure record reads like a franchise of slasher films. Then there’s the hand-cuffing of provincial and municipal governments to use public-works contracts to promote local industry, as well as making it impossible to reverse privatizations – even if they are not meeting public needs. Next, financial services liberalization (remember, the thing we resisted in NAFTA, that helped us avoid a mortgage crisis), that incentivizes the repeal of regulation while bringing a benefit to Canada that an RBC analyst augured will be ‘very small.’ And finally, the ‘investor-state’ settlement mechanism, allowing multinational companies to sue our government for, well, governing; in ways they don’t like that is.
Fear mongering you say? In the last five years alone Ecudaor was fleeced $77 million for regulating soda, German faces $1 billion for its energy policies (Quebec is having an analogous problem, thanks NAFTA!), and Exxon just bled Newfoundland for $65 million for adopting a profit-sharing energy policy (again, NAFTA). While developing countries lobby the World Trade Organization to keep policy doors open, Canada and the EU are essentially forming a ‘coalition of the willing’ to close these doors. It’s a dangerous and vulgar precedent that could have global ramifications.
5. Malaise. ‘Anti-trade’ is like political kryptonite in the year 2013. So far our democracy seems to be sitting this one out.
Christopher Friesen is a writer and neuroscience student who bangs his head against the global economic system daily.
Published in Volume 68, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 20, 2013)