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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:

Localites, we are about to get grinched! by Jennifer Chesnut

The generous season is upon us. Though there is rising hardship across the globe, compared to our sisters and brothers in the Global South, many Canadians have a cup that still overfloweth. We Canucks are busy filling stockings for our little people and dashing down line-ups at the grocery store. For me, what is truly valuable at this dark time of year is a meta moment that rises a little more often. Flashes about what we truly desire from life slip in between the candle gazing, sipping of eggnog, lighting of the hearth. These new-year reflections are a fertile opportunity. One might say a real necessity.

With all the merry-making, we might miss the biggest scrooge sneak since the Grinch flew down to Whoville on his one-dog sleigh. Called the most important under-reported story facing Canadians (NewsWatch Canada), the CETA, or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, is a plan to set up foreign management of our city assets like hospitals, transit, and energy. By Christmas 2014, Canada Post could become America Post and city water from Halifax to Victoria could be run by Veolia from France. And we thought the ghost of Christmas past was bad.

How does this transfer of power from city councils to foreign corporations work? Canada and other democracies use tax dollars to keep city infrastructure publically run and locally controlled. We employ city councils to make these decisions on our behalf so that we have a voice in the Commons. Enter globalization and a federal government that prefers global over local. Eager to participate in the world trade free market model, our federal government is handing over the keys to our cities not to a quirky little green dude with retro style but to multinational corporations from the EU, the US and Mexico. Because CETA has been written behind closed doors, we don’t know its timeline. However, if it’s similar to the length of the CAN-CHINA FIPA deal, we may get a chance to discuss changes in fifteen years, 2028. City transit, postal service, education, pharmaceuticals, and more will be pushed towards private management outside of Canada. These changes will be enforced by trade tribunals that could fine Canadian cities in the same manner the federal and provincial government have been charged under NAFTA. The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, suffered a multi-million dollar attack for asking Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil to follow provincial legislation that requires a small percentage of company profits to be invested in local research and development. Under CETA, Canadian cities will be facing this same struggle. It’s like somebody going into our house and stealing what we own while we sleep. Not under the guise of red suit and sleigh but through the signing of what Minister Fast calls the boldest economic plan Canada has ever attempted.

The globalization of national economies through trade law has been gaining ground for thirty years but recently, many are questioning its intelligence and impact on our cultural and ecological survival. In the late nineties, the MAI, much like CETA in its scope, came close to passing before it was exposed and rejected by the OECD community. If CETA passes the way it is, this will be the first time that local government will lose its power to make decisions as a result of a trade deal. It’s important to note that not all city governments will have their power signed away under CETA. Canada is the only country in the negotiations that has offered city assets for permanent bidding by foreign corporations. The idea is that in offering this cash cow, the Europeans will swallow more North American agricultural products like beef. Vandana Shiva, a leader of the International Forum on Globalization, calls the cow a sacred symbol of living economies. In a country that is beginning to ride the wave of localization, remembering its roots at the local farmers market, and spending more and more of its money at local cultural events, this metaphor transfers well to our cities. Our cities are where our money is and where our power lies to create community and politics we love.

What if our cities don’t oblige? Toronto City Council, as part of its request for total exemption from CETA, asked “the Federal Government to protect the powers of the City to create local jobs, protect the environment, and provide services and programs as it sees fit - from any restrictions to those powers in the CETA.” Thirty-nine other city councils and school boards have asked their Premiers for the same thing – to be taken out of the plan. Though CETA is intended to be signed early in the new year, not one Premier has responded yet.

This season is a time to take pause. What is it that we truly desire? What about security on a vulnerable planet. We want our little people and next generation to have stable jobs. We want them to grow up well and see beyond the consumer facade. Free trade for its first twenty-five years has not destroyed Canada, but since the nineties we have endured increasing cultural erosion and economic instability while the power of transnational corporations grows. Compared to CETA, NAFTA was small, and it took away five hundred thousand manufacturing jobs from Canadian families. This holiday, in preparation for the signing of CETA, let’s ask our premiers for the gift that will help the little people, the elders, the middle class and all, to build stability and stronger local communities. Tap into your New Year reflection prowess. When harnessed collectively, our visions for culture and community are the essence of our power. Join the thousands of people in Toronto, Hamilton, London, Victoria and across the country demanding Canadian cities be taken out of CETA by contacting your city councillor and MPP. Vision can only be potentiated by action. Protect your community’s power to make sustainable and creative decisions far into the future. This holiday season -- an exemption for all Canadian cities from CETA -- is the ultimate gift.

*localization: to make local

*localite: a lover of local

Originally published in London Fuse:

Further details: There is something very unsettling about a state corporation gaining momentous global scope. However, in terms of trade courts over-ruling national legislature if health and social policy challenges corporate profits, only a private corporation can sue a country and not vice versa. Under CETA’s predecessor, NAFTA, Canada has been successfully sued by Ethyl Corp and SD Myers when Canadian policy was used to curb the negative impacts from their products – a carcinogenic gasoline additive and PCBs. As far as I understand, it is not yet possible for a state corporation to sue another country using global (trade) law. These Investor State lawsuits allow a one-way legal process -- foreign corporations suing governments. But with this transmutation of nation power to state-owned companies, you are right, there are many unknowns. Maybe state-owned companies will begin to sue other nations by using global trade law.

The CETA allows for equal exchange with the EU in theory, and there will be some increased profits for specific sectors especially in raw resources like oil and agriculture. Canada’s pork and beef industry and genetically-modified agriculture will likely be a winner from relaxed rules in the EU as a result of CETA. This increase in earnings may not be a positive thing for a citizen of any nationality whose highest values are placed in sustainability not tiny increases in the GDP. Overall, trade deals exemplify trade relationships as they exist already. Canada has a fifty percent trade deficit with the EU. On average, for every 1 unit Canada sells to the EU, we purchase 2 units from the EU.

Canadian companies will have no chance to bid for municipal contracts in European public services. Unknown to many Canadians, over the last five years, the EU has heavily privatized its services. Many Europeans are unhappy with the outcome of this on the public's standard of living and there are hard battles being fought to re-stabilize public assets. Some are being won in places like Paris, France where they have regained public control of water. This, oddly, in the country with the two most powerful water corporations in the world, Veolia and Suez. The EU is not eager to solidify long-term plans for privatization with foreign companies through new generation trade deals. It is only Canada that is offering up this sector, about 70% of our economy. The EU has protected all EU city assets from foreign management under CETA and used the Annexes in the agreement to keep its municipal services out. This is why there has been less alarm about CETA in the EU. The only time that folks in the EU have gotten upset about CETA is when the intellectual property rights chapter of CETA went public and it was disclosed that CETA would restrict internet freedom using copyright law.

Here is one Youtube video that may be helpful: The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - A Primer