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Thursday, December 13, 2012

"The Secret Vampire: Sucking the Lifeblood out of Canadian Cities" by Jennifer Chesnut

Why have forty city councils and school boards asked to be excluded from CETA? Isn’t it just a trade deal?
In the context of corporate global austerity, city politics may be the best hope we have for creating sustainable, kind communities and reversing the shaky trajectory we run on this earth. In the city we have close access to the leaders who write the policy that impacts our day to day lives. We are able to talk face to face from our hearts with our city councillors who decide how much we pay for our housing, how clean our local water is, and how many jobs will be secured for our youth, family and friends eager to work. When urban democracy is thriving, the citizens drive the city hall agenda. But a great threat lurks quietly in the wings. Given the dubious title of the most under-reported story facing Canadians (NewsWatch Canada 2011), it isn’t the boogeyman or the devil. It’s something much more tangible if you are willing to read between the lines. Brace yourself: it’s the new generation trade agreement, the most radical form of free market capitalism.  Think the ugly Canada-China FIPA by Prime Minister Harper. Now, widen your lens. The CETA is trade’s worst incarnation, and it is going to suck the lifeblood out of your city.
Writers of horror prose watch out. These free trade political dystopian policies may compete for reader interest if the masses get trade savvy. Imagine a wide force with gaping maw swooping the European Union over the great Pacific to take up residence in a Canadian city near you. Its goal: to siphon off any city assets it can get a hold of. Your water, your energy services like hydro, your hospitals, your transit, your local food, and more are slated to be opened for purchase and control by European, American and Mexican mega corporations. This means the quality and cost of these essential day to day needs and all the jobs associated with them will be decided by a huge corporation with a CEO who doesn’t live in your country let alone your city. Note: none of the other countries are giving up their city assets to foreign corporations. This is highly uncommon for a country to willingly offer. Sounds like the Canada-China deal isn’t the only thing odd about Canada’s long-term trade plans.
This could be another moment to ridicule Canadian trade policy except we don’t have a second to waste. CETA aptly stands for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement.  And it is the most comprehensive bill of sale you can imagine. CETA the secret vampire will be nibbling at our local food movements and indeed, there are also surely going to be many more gushing bites. Many cities are resisting CETA because its laws will restrict municipalities for making sovereign economic choices. Some of the worries of city council: the city of Stratford’s public investment in its regional food network is at risk. Toronto’s local job creation plans such as its highly successful, local transit construction is at risk. Hamilton fought to bring the care of its water back in house after a messy experiment with privatized water. Under CETA’s grasp, as soon as water is open for bidding to private foreign corps, Hamilton won’t be able to get it back. 
Unlike national budgets, free trade deals last decades. New generation deals restructure the way government operates and downloads the responsibility of healthcare, education, natural resources and more to foreign corporations to turn a profit in the hope that the wealth will trickle down to the people. Though it’s not easy to get out of a trade deal, especially a country like Canada with such a wimpy trade record, some countries learn from their mistakes.  Australia decided after being sued by Du Maurier that they would never sign up for another agreement that is enforced by investor state lawsuits. In a nutshell, these trade tribunals allow corporations to sue countries for their regulations that keep local jobs, rivers clean, and bad chemicals out.  Australia was successfully sued for 55 million when Du Maurier’s profits were threatened by a government plan to ban cigarette ads aimed at youth. Australia had to keep the ads and its citizens forked over the money with their taxes. The people got nothing in return but a loss of their rights to make good choices for their kids. And by the time they run out, all the changes have been made and you are either dead or too old to remember what it was like back then. CETA may haunt your community for eternity.  
Bloody powerful, suavely deceptive, seemingly benign but hungry.  And just like the after-effects from being bitten, the CETAs impacts will be slow but certain. First a dullness of municipal economies, then the paling of the palour of local culture, slowly our cities from Halifax to Nunavut to Victoria will lose the ability to make their own decisions. CETA will have an exasperating long shelf-life.  Like a vampire, the CETA and other trade deals are very hard to kill once created.
If you like local good paying jobs, properly funded hospitals, schools and other public institutions, farmers markets, water bottle bans, a creative new vision for your city, then CETA is the one lurking in the dark. You are not going to like its style one bit. And the forty councils and school boards including the city of Toronto, Thunder Bay, North Vancouver and more have asked to not be included in this long term plan. But why have none of their city council voter certified requests been granted by the provinces? Ontario has forty cities and a school board who have asked to be written out of it in part or full. CETA is a reason to talk to your city councillor and member of provincial parliament about the quality of life for your family. Friends – enough with the CETA nightmare. The province of Ontario, it’s time to get back to work
Hang the garlic from the rooftops. Get calling your elected member of parliament – city, province and national.  The secret vampire is near completion and it can be beaten. Not with a magic bullet but with the sure-fire way of people engaging in the community where they live. Speak up. Read. Breathe. Imagine a fate better than CETA.

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