With all the merry-making, we might miss the biggest scrooge sneak since the Grinch flew down to Whoville on his one dog sleigh. Named the most important under-reported story facing Canadians (NewsWatch Canada 2011), the CETA, or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is on the road to becoming binding international law that will limit buy-local of all flavours. By January 2016, Canada Post could become EuroPost and city water from Halifax to Victoria could be run Monopoly-style by Veolia from France. And we thought the ghost of Christmas past was bad.
How does this transfer of power from city councils to foreign corporations work? Enter globalization and a federal Conservative government that prefers global over local, private over public. Eager to participate in the free trade market model, and particularly investment treaties like the CAN-CHINA FIPA, they are handing over the key to our cities not to a quirky little green dude with retro style but to multinational corporations with home offices in the European Union. City transit, education, pharmaceuticals, and more will be pushed towards private foreign management. City councils will be encouraged to abide or suffer the chill.
CETA will be enforced in the controversial “legal” style born from NAFTA — Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). From environmental protection to public health efforts, under NAFTA-invented Investor State, Canada has infamously become the most sued country. Canada has paid out many settlements to multinational corporations or changed policy directions to avoid the mega-fines. Newfoundland and Labrador suffered a multi-million dollar attack for asking Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil to follow provincial legislation that requires a percentage of profits to be re-invested in local research and development. Lone Pine corporation is Investor State suing Canada for 250 million dollars in response to Quebec’s fracking moratorium under the St. Lawrence River. Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation is suing for 500 million for loss of expected exclusive patent rights for their ADHD drug Strattera using trade legalese. Under CETA, Canadian cities will be facing similar struggles and the post-NAFTA risk of policy improvements that goes along with it.
With CETA so hush (even federal MP’s outside of the Conservative trade committee have not seen the full text), it’s like somebody going into our house and stealing what we own while we sleep. Not with red suit and sleigh but through the signing of what Minister Fast calls the boldest economic plan Canada has ever attempted. Canada is the only country in the negotiations that has offered a bulk of city assets to permanent bidding by foreign corporations. According to the EU government trade website, the Conservative government has also committed to providing an online portal for EU corporations of ongoing procurement possibilities throughout Canadian municipalities.
What if our cities don’t oblige? Toronto City Council, as part of its request for total exemption from CETA, asked “the Federal Government to protect the powers of the City to create local jobs, protect the environment, and provide services and programs as it sees fit – from any restrictions to those powers in the CETA.” Approximately, thirty-nine other city councils and school boards have asked for the same thing – to be taken out of the plan. No city wish has been granted.
This season is a time to take pause. What is it we truly desire? What about security on a vulnerable planet? It’s time to grow our hearts a little bigger and look ahead to the future for all the littles who need strong local infrastructure and healthy grassroots. Join Canadian city councillors and thousands of people in Toronto, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, London, Victoria and beyond demanding Canadian cities be taken out of CETA. This holiday season — an exemption for all Canadian cities from CETA — is the ultimate gift.