What’s the big idea behind corporations suing Canadians?
In the last couple years I came across a phrase in trade talk being whispered behind our backs. “Pulling a Canada.” Peculiar. Nothing like the Canadian self-image of champion – in hockey, coffee and geographic beauty. Reading the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) January 2015 report, I think I understand what the chiding is about.
The lawsuits. Did you know that through trade agreements countries are being sued for having policies that diminish the profits of corporations? Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is what this beast is called. In secret trade courts a corporation sues to have a policy removed. Corporations are given special rights beyond citizens to use trade constructs such as Most Favoured Nation or National Treatment (see Trade Justice Dictionary) any time they feel anticipated profits may be shrunk by health, labour, environmental or local laws. There is no mechanism for countries to sue back. Trade-legal outcomes supersede national laws and force changes in policy or risk further payment of hefty fines. Taxpayer money pays them out. ISDS – with its easily forgettable acronym sounds irrelevant. Of course, it isn’t. It’s as intimate a thing as the rules you set in your household and the budget you draft in your bank. Its influence enormous from the wide lens though subtle to see at first. The impact felt not only by your family. Multiply it by the wallets of all the families in your country. That’s the power of a trade deal.
From environmental protections to health care costs, Canadians have been charged with more lawsuits than any other developed nation. The CCPA report summarizes so far under NAFTA, Canada has been the target of 45% of NAFTA’s investor state lawsuits within the three signatory nations. Here is the score: Canada — 35, Mexico — 22, and the US — 20. In terms of payment, the US has not yet lost a case. Canada has lost six paying out 170 million so far. Mexico has paid for five at a cost of 210 million.
Canada has paid Investor State fines to gasoline, paper, and oil companies but we have never had so many transnational companies suing us as we do right now. If all the present cases were to pass in trade courts, Canadian taxpayers would have to pay out over six billion dollars according to the CCPA report.
The rules of the game are clearly wrong. It’s absurd to defend hard-earned laws against the risk they pose to profits of large corporations hosted in the lands of our trading partners. (The people who work diligently day to day in the ground offices of these corporations are neither told nor consulted.) With this emerging international system that behaves like its the law, we are changing the very standards of our lives far into the future.
Is it fair to talk about trade as a game? If we do, it might be appropriate to call it Russian Roulette with our children’s futures. Those with the biggest guns, tend to win. With serious issues facing Canadians and our brothers and sisters across this globe, it’s time to look deeply at what our country is doing with the collective budgets of all our houses. It’s time to ask — who is the winner under this set of rules?