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.”


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