Meera Nair

looks like it is up to the Conservatives

In Posts on February 7, 2016 at 6:58 pm

On Friday, counterpunch published a detailed article by Murray Dobbin, concerning the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and what appears to be a fog of ignorance in the halls of our Federal Government. Dobbin writes:

[The] consultation process has not penetrated the ideological bubble created by … trade department officials. In spite of the fact that by far the biggest concern of critics of the deal (including Joseph Stiglitz and a United Nations report) is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) feature (the one that allows corporations to sue governments for regulating) … [Minister Freeland] seems to be either ill-informed or misled about its impact.

Dobbin raises concerns as to how meaningful the Government’s purported consultations are proving to be. Apparently, in response to queries from Canadians concerned about ISDS, Global Affairs Canada has offered assurances that there is nothing to worry about. As quoted by Dobbin:

“With respect to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), the TPP will not impair the ability of Canada or its partners to regulate and legislate in areas such as the environment, culture, safety, health and conservation. Our experience under the NAFTA demonstrates that neither our investment protection rules nor the ISDS mechanism constrain any level of government from regulating in the public interest.”

Dobbin does not hesitate to point out the utter falseness of such a statement; not only has ISDS been used repeatedly against Canada, but particularly to inhibit measures taken by Canada to address environmental concerns. (We can only wonder if our Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, has been made aware of this.)

Environmental concerns overlap with health concerns. To add another story to Dobbin’s account: a sad day it was, when Canadians’ health placed second to American profits. Briefly, in 1997 the Canadian government of the day banned a manganese-based gasoline additive (MMT), deeming it harmful to human health. MMT’s American producers, Ethyl Corporation, took issue with this decision. It claimed expropriation, an actionable offense under the ISDS framework brought in by NAFTA. Facing a $350 million challenge, the Canadian government opted to settle. To fulfill the terms of the settlement, the ban was reversed and the country left poorer by some $19 million dollars (more than the entire budget for Environment Canada’s regulatory and compliance efforts at that time).

These details, and much more, were provided by Ken Traynor (Canadian Environmental Law Association) in 1998:

Most of the industrialized world does not use MMT as an octane-enhancer in gasoline. It is banned in many of the most smog-prone areas of the United States, including California and much of the Eastern Seaboard. Eighty-five percent of US oil refiners have confirmed that they are not currently using MMT. Alternatives exist and they are not that expensive. … And we’d get better air as a bonus.

If NAFTA did not exist, MMT would still be banned in Canada. Ethyl would have had to convince the US government to go to bat for it with the Canadian government, or sue Canada in a Canadian court. In a Canadian court, a judge can balance corporate property rights with the public interest, something glaringly absent from the deliberations of NAFTA arbitration panels.

We have two physicians in our Cabinet, the Honourable Carolyn Bennet and the Honourable Jane Philpott. Are they aware that any progressive action they may wish to take, should first be evaluated to ensure a foreign investor will not see its expected profits diminish? For that matter, what does our Minister of Justice, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould think of the operation of ISDS? To put it plainly, if multinational corporations may operate in Canada, removed from all obligations to observe Canadian regulation or judicial oversight, do our citizens have any recourse to justice?

Canadians’ best hope for detailed discussion in Parliament may lie in the hands of our Official Opposition. Granted, they are the party that championed the TPP (and its further entrenchment of ISDS), but as Rick Mercer pointed out last week,  current Conservative Members of Parliament have comfortably reversed their stance on a number of issues already. If our Loyal Opposition will continue with their self-induced amnesia, ISDS would be a worthy issue to confront.

All levity aside, a good starting point for all recently elected members of Parliament is an article by Lisa Sachs and Lise Johnson of the Columbia Center for Sustainable Investment. Published in November, through the Globe and Mail, Sachs and Johnson encouraged the new government to pay close attention to ISDS: “[In the TPP] we see a further evisceration of the role of domestic policy, institutions and constituents, and greater liabilities for governments and domestic stakeholders.”

 

in defense of fair dealing

In Posts on January 18, 2016 at 5:18 am

A response to Heather Menzies and the Globe and Mail.

Last Thursday, the Globe and Mail published an op/ed penned by author Heather Menzies, chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. Ms. Menzies claims that a provision of law, fair dealing, is responsible for a decline in the income and well-being of Canadian authors. While she is perfectly entitled to her opinion, her argument is based on a number of inaccuracies.

At the outset, it must be noted that the system of copyright, since its inception as statutory law in 1710, was never intended to operate as a grant of absolute control. Rights offered in the name of copyright were limited, for the vital reason that the goals of the system of copyright (creativity and innovation) rely on some degree of unauthorized uses of prior works. The mantra that more control brings about more creativity is no more than political theatre; the age of Shakespeare, the industrial revolution, and even the 20th century offer enough evidence that creativity has thrived in periods of lesser control. Nevertheless, fair dealing enthusiasts will agree that it is as important to respect the rights afforded to authors, as to respect the use provided to future authors via fair dealing.

Ms. Menzies writes: “Authors have always made copyright legislation work for them, even though it originated in a 16th-century move to restrict the right to copy texts to the Stationers’ Company, a booksellers’ cartel based in London, England, and had nothing to do with writers.” It is true that copyright’s entrance into law was at the behest of booksellers eager to protect their assets, not necessarily their authors. Yet some authors obliged with the trope of the starving author during negotiations. In the three hundred years since, with the same trope, the rights of control in the system of copyright were systematically expanded, while the rights of unauthorized use were inexorably whittled away. Given that, at the present time, copyright is more expansive in breadth and depth than it has ever been, if authors are still starving, perhaps copyright is neither the problem, nor the solution.

As to the role of collective licensing in the management of educational uses of copyrighted material throughout Canada, it is true that Access Copyright facilitated this effort in the past. As to why post-secondary institutions no longer wish to rely on Access Copyright’s services, Ms. Menzies omits to indicate that in 2010 Access Copyright sought a 1300% increase in fees, demanded absurdly intrusive reporting requirements from institutions, and took it upon itself to redefine the very nature of copyright. (A privilege that Parliament, and no other, enjoys.) Yet post-secondary institutions continue to spend millions of dollars in purchasing and licensing fees, and make these payments directly to copyright owners. As to where those funds go after that point, it is not for an institution to say.

Furthermore, even though “education” was added to the allowable purposes of fair dealing through the amendments which came into force in 2012, three Supreme Court decisions upholding fair dealing in teaching and learning, and research, were all based upon the earlier language of fair dealing. That detail is also omitted in Ms. Menzies’ account. Instead, she opts to equate the decline of authors’ incomes with the later expansion of fair dealing and invokes a PricewaterhouseCoopers study to present dire consequences for education in Canada in the years ahead.

That study, commissioned by Access Copyright, was based upon very narrow parameters. (I provide analysis in “With due respect to PricewaterhouseCoopers.”) The study focuses upon revenue streams within the educational publishing industry and finds that revenue has declined over recent years. This observation is correlated to heightened attention paid to fair dealing by educational institutions, arriving at the seeming causality that fair dealing is to blame. Whereas in reality, there are more options for obtaining quality content at lesser or no cost. Teachers may avail themselves of publicly available material from the internet, open-access content, and material expressly developed by other teachers and local communities. As with any market, when more options are available, former monopolies must see their market-share decline. And lurking in the background of recent trends was nothing less than the global economic mayhem that began in 2008, which ensured that, across all walks of life, individuals and institutions had less money to spend. Yet the study’s authors appear unaware, or unconcerned, about larger macroeconomic conditions.

Finally, Ms. Menzies invokes the realm of First Nations’ writings and the importance of protecting their writers. No argument there. Our pantheon of writers is worthy of praise and we all benefit when that roster swells. Yet Ms. Menzies will not acknowledge that of the writers we laud today, many enjoyed their public education before the mania to count the number of words a teacher or librarian might share with their charges became the educational norm. Those writers enjoyed a more open reading environment in their classrooms; times being what they were, it was not necessary to speak of “fair dealing.” But it was fair dealing.

It would be only fair to suggest that such openness contributed to the success of members of The Writers’ Union of Canada. That they should now begrudge future generations of writers that same benefit, is truly disappointing.

dear Ms. Freeland

In Posts on November 8, 2015 at 5:38 pm

The Honourable Chrystia Freeland
Minister of International Trade
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6

Dear Ms. Freeland,

I am pleased to see your invitation to Canadians to familiarize ourselves with the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) and provide comments to the government. Such an overture is much appreciated, particularly in light of the style of governance that has gone before.

But, the Canadian public may need some help in understanding the issues presented through 6000 pages of text. The media are most likely their expected guides in judging the merits of the TPP. Unfortunately, the media has shown little interest in covering, let alone assessing, what may be the most deleterious aspect of the TPP, namely the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism. (At this blog, some coverage can be found here, here, here, and here.)

This mechanism, brought to Canada through NAFTA, ostensibly secures business investments from seizure by hostile governments. Sugar plantations and oil fields in alien jurisdictions come to mind. But ISDS windfalls have come through, not for Canada, but from Canada, for international corporations seeking redress when they have felt their profits unfairly curtailed by domestic regulations.

Just prior to the conclusion of the TPP negotiations, Brook Baker (Northeastern University) and Katrina Geddes (Harvard University) posted a paper describing the rise in global applications of ISDS, from 50 instances in the first 50 years of the existence of the mechanism to 608 in the last 15 years. They write:

This sea change in investor-state claims was triggered by the belated realization that not only could investors bring claims against banana-republic confiscations but against emerging economies and even advanced democracies whenever their expectations of profit were thwarted … Accordingly, foreign corporations have used investor-state dispute resolution to challenge a broad array of environmental and land use laws, government procurement decisions, regulatory permitting decisions, financial regulations, consumer protection, public health, and public safety laws, and a range of other public interest policies (p.11).

Baker and Geddes draw attention to Canada’s current difficulties under ISDS: a $500 million challenge from Eli Lilly, all because our courts had the temerity to invalidate a patent which did not live up to assurances. Eli Lilly also complained that our system of patenting was not to their liking. It may be their prerogative to complain about our system, but it should not be their right to change it. Like any other regulatory measure, Canada’s system of patenting was set by a Canadian government, in full compliance with existing international norms. Eli Lilly had every opportunity to press their concerns through Canadian courts. They did, and they lost. The story should have ended there. Yet ISDS offers a venue for Eli Lilly to take a course of action that would render our courts’ decisions irrelevant.

As I noted in an earlier post, the former Harper Government presented the TPP investment protection measures in glowing terms. While such a rosy outlook did not ring true, it is plausible that, having curtailed the Civil Service from doing its job of meaningful scrutiny, the mandarins in Mr. Harper’s office truly did not know better. But with the release of the text we now know that what is encoded into the TPP is ISDS at its worst. Experts who condemned the agreement before it was released have been vindicated, cold comfort as that may be.

Among those experts is internationally acclaimed economist Joseph Stiglitz. In your 2012 publication, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, Stiglitz appears in your acknowledgement of scholars who became “important sounding boards and advisors (p.290).” It is no secret that Stiglitz views the TPP as a charade of a trade agreement; among his recent columns is this assessment:

… These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.

Perhaps the most invidious – and most dishonest – part of such agreements concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against the risk that rogue governments will seize their property. But that is not what these provisions are about. There have been very few expropriations in recent decades, and investors who want to protect themselves can buy insurance from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a World Bank affiliate (the US and other governments provide similar insurance). Nonetheless, the US is demanding such provisions in the TPP, even though many of its “partners” have property protections and judicial systems that are as good as its own.

The tone from the participating governments of the TPP is that the agreement is good for business; they rely upon the implied orthodoxy that business well-being translates to citizen well-being. However, you have questioned this orthodoxy. In Plutocrats, you describe a heated exchange in 2011 between then-Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and write:

Are the interests of the state and its big businesses synonymous? If not, who decides? And if they do clash, does the state have the right—and the might—to curb specific businesses for the collective good (p.255)?

That our Minister of International Trade has your background suggests that the TPP will be examined comprehensively. That our civil service has been unshackled suggests that qualified personnel with backgrounds in law, commerce, human rights, and trade negotiation will be encouraged to exercise their expertise with vigour. That Prime Minister Trudeau has promised transparency suggests that, whatever decision is reached concerning the TPP, Canadians will be fully informed as to both its merits and demerits. If Canadian sovereignty must continue to be diminished, we expect to be told the truth.

But, I choose to be optimistic. The state will not be limited to serving only as a handmaiden to business. My optimism stems from an encore remark in Plutocrats:

The issue, instead, is whether the interests of business and of the community at large are always the same and, if they aren’t, whether the government has the will, the authority and the brains to defend the latter, even against the protests of the former (p.261).

You and your colleagues have been given the authority. Your collective credentials remove any doubt as to the brains. What remains to be answered is the question of will.

I wish you all the best in your endeavors.

Sincerely,
Meera

Meera Nair, Ph.D
Edmonton

 

Update — January 25, 2016

Minister Freeland has posted an open letter, detailing the state of the TPP Agreement. It is encouraging to read that the Federal Government has undertaken widespread consultation, and is committing to fully evaluate the agreement in a transparent manner: “… this should include extensive, non-partisan consideration, analysis, and testimony from all regions, sectors, and backgrounds. Most importantly, this process will be fully public.”

Freeland also states the Canada will sign the agreement in February, but emphasizes that signing the agreement now does not commit Canada to full ratification in two years.  (Readers may remember Howard Knopf’s explanation during discussion of the WIPO treaties, that signing is like dating, whereas ratification is like marriage.) Freeland echoes the simile; stating that, by signing, we preserve our status as “a potential full partner in the Agreement, with all of the rights and powers that go with it.”

Canadian opinion concerning the TPP Agreement is divided. It will not be possible for any government to please everyone. Whatever decision is ultimately arrived at, if it is chosen by knowledgeable, non-partisan actors, with the aim of making the best possible, overall decision, and, with frank acknowledgement of the more deleterious consequences, then Canada will have been well-served by its government.

 

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