In his latest MP Report, Dan Albas discusses the Senate spending scandal, saying he’s “long been a supporter of increased transparency and accountability,” and congratulates himself on publishing an annual accountability report detailing his expenditures.
In view of the often appalling, perhaps criminal behaviour of 30 Canadian senators, no one would say his financial reporting is over-the-top.
Nevertheless, does he fully understand what Canadians mean when they call for transparency and accountability?
Let’s look at the free trade and foreign investment agenda of his government for one illustration.
What all of today’s trade and investment treaties have in common is that they’re negotiated in secret.
Whether it’s the Canada-Europe trade deal (CETA), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Canada-China investment treaty (FIPA), or any of the other 50 agreements recently or currently being negotiated, neither the public nor parliamentarians will have had access to the texts until the agreements are concluded by the countries’ negotiators.
Representatives of global corporations are consulted and made privy to details of these agreements as they’re being negotiated, but health professionals, internet freedom activists, environmentalists, organised labour, advocacy groups and all but a few of elected representatives are shut out.
It’s not you and me to whom the government of Canada expresses accountability.
These treaties further fail to respect democracy in view of the investor-state dispute settlement.
This mechanism allows corporations to sue local and national governments if they pass laws or enforce provisions such as rules, standards or moratoriums that will affect their ability to earn profits.
For example, a foreign corporation with investments in the tar sands could sue Alberta if the province sets new rules aimed at reducing the heavy footprint of the tar sands.
A foreign company could sue if an increase in the minimum wage, a banned toxic chemical, a moratorium on fracking, or a buy-local policy reduces profitability.
In effect, foreign corporations become empowered to determine Canada’s legal and regulatory framework, which is a clear infringement of sovereignty.
Sovereignty is further undermined in that a foreign company could sue Canada or one of its municipalities or provinces without ever stepping foot in a Canadian court.
Instead, the company would go before an international panel of arbitrators.
If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in Canadian courts.
MP Ron Cannan, who is a member the International Trade Committee, cheerfully posits that “a rising tide lifts all boats, both from emerging markets and from Canadian companies.”
But today’s trade treaties are not much about trade and improvements in the general economy. For example, only five of the TPP’s 29 draft chapters deal with traditional trade issues.
The other 24 involve the offshoring of jobs, the weakening of food safety standards, reduced internet freedom, financial deregulation, and an even wider array of corporate rights protections.
For instance, Wikileaks has just revealed details of the draft TPP agreement showing that pharmaceutical companies would have more power over public access to medicine, including through a practice known as “Evergreening.”
It lets drug companies extend the life of a patent by slightly modifying their product before getting a new patent.
Fed up in Europe, the people behind the ‘Self-organized European Citizens’ initiative against TTIP and CETA’ gathered more than 2.1 million signatures against the U.S.-Europe trade deal (TTIP).
Public outrage over threats to democracy, the environment, consumers and labour standards led to an announcement this month of a postponement of TTIP negotiations.
Long gone are the days when top-down governments could simplistically claim that “free trade” is about economic growth and sneeringly dismiss opponents as “protectionist” or “anti-trade.”
Bottom-up transparency and accountability have arrived.