At the conclusion of negotiations that produced the far reaching Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), local cartoonist Vince Flynn provided a rather unflattering and sobering assessment of the pact. His cartoon showed then Conservative Trade Minister Ed Fast saying, “I think we gave them everything they asked for.” The text of the 12 nation agreement had not yet been made public and I hoped the cartoon was more for the sake of humour than to convey an accurate portrayal of what was agreed upon.
All we knew at the time was that the agreement had been negotiated in almost total secrecy behind tightly closed doors, as though the various governments understood they were doing something enormously shameful. To me it smacked of young boys guiltily puffing on their first cigarette behind the family barn. Although we might want to believe its tentacles will not reach into our beautiful valley, the agreement has the potential to impact each of us directly.
Most of us have little understanding of the international trade regulations that already enable foreign corporations to extract huge sums from our governments. One example of this is the terms the World Trade Organization used to rule against a successful clean energy program in Ontario which had created thousands of jobs. Similar regulations targeted a moratorium on fracking in Quebec. The Sierra Club says the TPP will impose further limits on government efforts to combat climate disruptions.
The agreement has already been signed by the Liberal government. If ratified by Parliament, it will give foreign corporations even greater powers to sue governments for billions over laws and policies they contend will limit their profits.
To me it is incomprehensible that corporations will be able to challenge our environmental laws, not before a Canadian court, but before a tribunal of private lawyers. These 3 lawyers will not be accountable for their decisions and there will be no appeal process. They will have the power to order governments to pay firms for future profits they could have hypothetically earned if the protective policies were not in place.
Siphoning off of public funds is one way each of us will be impacted. It will ensure governments have even less resources to maintain our already stressed medical system, build schools, repair bridges and highways, and much more.
Government officials typically ignore concerns about threats to the environment, claiming there are provisions that protect against abuses. George Kahale III, chairman of the world’s leading legal arbitration firm says of the highly touted environmental safeguard in the pact, “the entire provision for protection of the environment is negated by 5 words in the middle. The supposed safeguard is actually much ado about nothing.” His firm has defended various governments in lawsuits by international corporations.
The TPP is all encompassing and includes much more than the environment. Many seniors and others in the Similkameen Valley will almost certainly be hit hard in their wallets when they go to renew their medical prescriptions. D G Shaw of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance says “generic drugs will come onto the market less quickly and patients will have to wait longer for affordable medications.” Also, pharmaceutical companies will be more able to sue governments over policies they don’t like. Even under existing rules, they are already doing this. At the federal level, the giant pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, currently has a lawsuit against the Canadian government for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated its Zyprexa patent. One observer suggested this is “the shape of things to come.”
Jim Balsillie, former Co-CEO of RIM, believes “signing the deal could be Canada’s worst ever policy decision.” Professor Ariel Katz, law professor at the University of Toronto agrees. He warns that “ratifying the TPP would lock Canada into a deal that could not be modified even if issues surface down the road.” He asks, “why would anyone in their right mind do this?”
Especially in regard to the environment, I’m puzzled by the Liberal position. Justin Trudeau proudly announced at the Paris climate conference, “We’re back. We’re here to help.” But his statements indicate he may favour ratification of the TPP by Parliament. Is it the citizens of Canada he intends to help, or multinational corporations? The TPP will impact us. If we’re concerned about greedy corporations blackmailing and plundering Canada, now is the time to inform our PM and our representatives in Parliament.