Dear Prime Minister,
Your father was a brave man. Unrepentant in his drive for Canadian sovereignty. You are of bold and beautiful heritage. I want to acknowledge the courage it takes to hold public office, especially at this time – as the cage tightens on the heart of democracy from Greece to Spain to Canada. This world over, cold and steely, corporate rights drive out sovereign policy decisions. From IMF ransom loans to corporate lawsuits in free trade courts, your father never had to govern under such austere falsity. I feel compassion for your, and every elected official’s, great paradox. Now, in new talks for the North American Free Trade Agreement, please tell me how we can renegotiate NAFTA, Canada’s continental policy driver, without discussing the fact that we are its most sued nation.
Having suffered two thirds of NAFTA lawsuits initiated by corporations, we must not only protect assets from Donald Trump’s wild-eyed maneuverings but also from corporate lawsuits of Eli Lilly, Ethyl and Exxon-Mobil. These of the many corporations who under NAFTA took away agency – in the form of money and/or bylaws from Canadian citizens when they sued us in NAFTA’s trade court. I feel we are family in Canada, or more accurately, we can all try hard to manifest an ethos of family ~ for example, assuring everyone has access to necessary medicine. Under NAFTA our family’s health was directly threatened. It was shocking to me that in 2009, Eli Lily, American pharmaceutical company was allowed to sue us, using NAFTA, for $481 million dollars because they felt their profits were discriminated against when Canada did not grant them a patent monopoly for the sale of mental health drugs here. There was a time, not too long ago, when medicare assured access to medicine. A time we more fully enacted familial relations, and from that time, grew security. Social security serves everyone. It’s the kind of spiritual wellness that is unquantifiable in dollars, in gross domestic product.
When I hear the Foreign Affairs Minister, the Honourable Ms. Freeland, on behalf of the Canadian government, say that “Ottawa remains committed to investor-state dispute settlement”, despite her strategic brilliance, I know she is, on a practical level, wrong. It might be bearable for the short term, it’s certainly fashionable, but it’s a dangerous precedent to entrench these lawsuits further for future generations already dealing with an instability we could name in too many directions. Giving corporations more power of influence upon law does not build security, no matter how organized or financially strong they are; only democracy does that.
I’m happy to hear Ms. Freeland draw attention to labour, environment, gender and indigenous rights. With NAFTA’s history of violation on each of those levels, these themes should hold the core of discussion. But I’m unclear as to what is being proposed. As we know, no trade agreement in history has ever enforced any of those rights. Trade courts are not structured to hear these concerns. Since trade courts are unidirectional – private against public — the legal mechanism requires a corporation to initiate a trade complaint and bars a nation or a citizen from doing so. When the Canadian government speaks of expanding these rights, are you suggesting that we change the content of trade courts and allow the government or the public to sue corporations when they violate rights? Now that would be something to sit down at the table for!
As family, we Canadians wish to protect our mother — from the mighty Athabasca to the Great Lakes Watershed. There is a kind of duty now, at this precarious time, to recognize our role in the global family. What kind of brother, what kind of sister, is Canada being when we commit to deeper proliferation of NAFTA lawsuits? This isn’t about making America great again as President Trump insists or making any one of our countries great for that matter. The highest heights free trade can reach is to leverage a country to out-earn another – but a trade surplus always comes at the expense of another’s losses and always with further production of mother earth’s resources – sometimes engendering dangerous extraction practices. We are reaching in the wrong direction. What’s at stake with trade policy, the design for sale of public assets and goods across the globe, is the future. Far beyond Canada’s win, we have the choice to make central a more certain future. Unequivocally, we cannot provide a secure future for the kids of today, and the kids of tomorrow, if corporations are promoted to a stature above our mother.
It’s much harder to govern now in this time that Leonard Cohen called “the widowhood of every government” in his song, Anthem. What will Canada’s anthem be? What role could we play. By the power of her lungs, the Boreal Forest, the surge of the great rivers of Athabasca to St. Lawrence, and the beautiful faces of all the children we love, it’s worth the struggle to renegotiate with a commitment to our family and our mother. To not only say that human and earth rights matter, but to change trade law to make them real. Otherwise, what’s the point of being at the table. I wish you courage, and the constant remembering of this beautiful land, and tender family, when you and your colleagues renegotiate NAFTA.