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Friday, January 4, 2013

Is Canada losing its marbles? by Jennifer Chesnut

Growing up in Canada in the eighties, I got a bit dusty around the marble pits. There was the ceremonial reveal of the marble bag from pocket. Mine was a velvet purple with gold stitching. It suited my little girl need for beauty and soft perfectly. I thought the label Crown Royal referred to Queen Elizabeth so it felt a rather stately carriage for my little shinies. But it wasn’t the bag I loved. It was the spherical sculptures inside gently clinking their light translucent bodies. My collection expressed the wink of a cat’s eye, the wisp of the wind and the shimmer of silver minerals from somewhere deep in the earth. These my seven year old gems.

Out on the edge where tarmac meets playground, I remember digging many holes with tan corduroys rolled at the ankles and rayon chemise sleeves pulled above knobby elbows. I, like my fellow competitors, meant business from beginning to end. Us marble enthusiasts were bent on protecting our shiny assets. With front teeth missing, one of the only things we owned was these beautific rolling spheres. Value and rule were continually reinvented by our big imaginations. Is that very different from the global system of economics today? The marble game was serious business.

I wish our federal government took what Canadians owned more seriously. I wish they remembered the shiny-eyed value of the little people’s assets over policy table, especially free trade, foreign investment negotiations. The CETA, or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is the largest rolling of assets Canada has ever sat down for. Much wider in scope than CAN-CHINA Foreign Investment treaty, more impactful on Canadian urban life than the TPP, this comprehensive plan is the most high stakes game Canadians like you and me have ever played. Do you know that we have been playing since 2009?

Called the most important under-reported story facing Canadians (NewsWatch Canada), the CETA is a new generation trade deal negotiated behind closed doors. It is not so much concerned with tariffs and trade of goods but intimate items never before offered to non-Canadian entities. Ready to roll with the signing of CETA in early 2013, our prized possessions such as city services: water, transit, energy, aspects of hospital and education are being pulled from the public purse. The content of this policy shift is the traditional Commons, nature-made and human-sustained for generations, including modern cultural offerings like the internet. The water that we drink, the land on which we walk, the systems we have created for health and education are all in our care for the people that are coming. Does the Canadian federal trade committee, so focused on competition, remember that?

In an unprecedented decision, municipal assets under the jurisdiction of city councils coast to coast will be given equal opportunity for foreign management by companies that could include Veolia water corporation, BP Shell and others. The corporation who can parcel together the cheapest bid will set the rates, decide the environmental and health standards and ultimately, oversee the particulars of the jobs in the sector they manage. The CETA will permanently open contract bidding of Canadian city assets to corporations across the European Union (EU), the United States (US) and Mexico. Though crafted to encourage competition with European corporations, the US and Mexico will be invited into the bidding process because of NAFTA rules that mandate all new trades must include NAFTA partners. 

As a Canadian who is first a global citizen of the earth, it’s not that I don’t value many influences from European thought. Development in the arts, sciences, philosophy, have been encouraged by centuries of accumulated wisdom. Some solid environmental protections have come from Europe, for example, bans of genetically modified (GMO) agriculture. It was France that through committed research showed that we can restore at-risk bee populations by no longer using GMO seed. I think we are all are thankful for these many blessings that have propogated culture and made the planet a little more stable. I'm glad they also shared the latte with us. However, CETA will get us no closer to the European ethos of slow and style or increase our environmental protections. What it will do is allow their largest corporations, which are actually rootless transnational entities, to make important decisions involving our environment and city infrastructure to suit their needs. It would be wise to never forget in these fragile times that transnational corporations are not evil but their shareholder-at-the-top structure requires them to base every decision on their mandate -- which is to make ever higher returns. Do we want this impulse to be the source that shapes Canadian cities and landscapes now and far into the future?

Ultimately, the CETA game is not an equal competition. The EU, many times larger than us, has a 50% trade surplus over us. That means that for every one item we export to them, we import two. Trade deals don't change these relationships, they only increase the amount of items being moved around the globe. This scenario is much like what we had with the US when we negotiated NAFTA, an un-savvy bargain with all sort of giveaways like the Canadian magazine industry. It is unsurprising that among global trade enthusiasts, countries are sometimes disparaged with the saying “pulling a Canada”. Another reason why CETA is not a fair deal is that the EU is pulling out its smallest marbles while Canada is offering the big crocks -- raw resource management, crown corporations and city assets, especially public services.

Canadians have the right to decide together whether they want to play this high risk game wagering many of our precious shinies. Over our first free trade agreement with the US and Mexico, though much smaller than CETA, we had an election. Sitting with a London city councillor, he said CETA requires a referendum. No doubt, many other councillors feel the same. There is the city council of Victoria, Thunder Bay, Mississauga, Toronto, Niagara Falls, London and many more who don't agree with the CETA negotiations so much that they have asked their premiers to fully exclude them. These sub-national elected representatives understand that like in marble matches, whoever plays must play for keeps. Now in the Canadian version of marbles, if players call the game not for keeps at the beginning, then the trade is not permanent. What if we did the same with the CETA? In a way this is already happening. Through thirty-nine full exemption requests, and forty other partial requests, future-invested, local-savvy city councils and school boards are asking that their premiers walk away from a game with too much at stake.

Wanna play? Only you can decide.

One website with more information on trade and the CETA is

Crocks:  a term for the large marble; also part of a colloquial expression meaning nonsense.

Originally published in London Fuse:

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