Support for Transparency — The new prime minister was elected on a platform of transparency. On the day of his swearing in, he vowed that openness and transparency would be central to his government. Canadians went in increased numbers to the polls to support this call.
Withheld Until Signed – The Transpacific Partnership, TPP, is not just the first large issue the Liberals face; their response will reveal the level of commitment they have to their platform. The text of the TPP, like its partner treaty the CETA, was withheld from the public and most of parliament during negotiations. Now completed, many, including those from the business community, have said the deal is worse than predicted. Some of the TPP’s issues are: limiting markets for the Canadian auto sector, increasing costs of life-saving drugs and giving corporations the capacity to sue nations when laws and regulations decrease investments guaranteed in the text. Though the significant changes that the TPP brings will shape the regulatory power of all future governments if ratified, the TPP was not debated or mandated by the voting public. We could not even see the text until negotiations finished. Finally, the TPP text has now been posted to the Canadian government’s website.
The TPP is for Investors — There is only about 1% of tariffs for the major trading partners left. People do not need big trade deals for more access to goods. Investors need them for access to future markets like public services, banks, copyright, etc. Who are the investors? They are the corporations given market control over goods, services, finances and judicial powers of signatory nations. A handful of the chapters of the TPP are about goods; the rest are about regulatory convergence in drugs, agriculture, internet and more. The TPP does not increase access for the public to essential services or products, in fact, in some cases, it will do the opposite while investors are eased of the burden of national restrictions in the form of regulations, bylaws, and the constitution. Citizens or nations cannot enforce or challenge any aspects of the treaty; there is literally no mechanism written into the text to do so — only investors have binding rights through the dispute chapter, based on NAFTA’s chapter eleven: Investor State Dispute Settlement. This, in essence, gives the investors their own justice system, in the form of private arbitration panel. One only needs to consider the words — Investor State — to understand who the so-called free trade is for.
The TPP should be decided by referendum — The Liberal government inherited the TPP and close to forty other corporate trade pacts, including the CETA, from the Harper Conservatives. There is no doubt, from a democracy perspective, this is a tricky context to begin a new parliament. However, the Liberals have already said they support the TPP in principle and will wait to analyze the details before endorsing it. Without rigorous Canadian debate in the provinces, territories, and municipalities, and authentic discussion with First Nations communities, it is going to be very difficult for Prime Minister Trudeau’s team to keep their vow of openness and transparency. The Investor State TPP changes the rules of the game for transparency far into the future. Who dictates national and provincial policy? In an open and transparent government, it is the people through elected representatives, not corporations through closed-door deals signed by governments. Very few things deserve a referendum. Giving foreign corporations policy power and permanent rights is worthy of one. The Trudeau government, to be transparent and accountable, should call a referendum on the TPP.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a first speech in office: “Openness and transparency will be our constant companions, and we will work to restore Canadians’ trust in their government and in our democracy. We are committed to the highest ethical standards and applying the utmost care.” If the Prime Minister really means that, he will bring ethics and transparency to where they are most lacking: the new trade deals like the TPP and the CETA.