You may have heard that Christmas, er, election season is coming early this year. The signs are all around us (figuratively; wait a few weeks for the signs to literally be on every lawn). From the campaign-style announcements of big cash giveaways, to the barn-storming leaders’ tours through key regions, to the swirling rumours that our Fearless Leader is going to visit the Actual Head of State’s Puppet Representative to get ‘er Majesty’s permission to dissolve Parliament, cause that’s how we roll here in Canada, still, for some reason nobody’s ever been able to convincingly explain to me, it seems that everywhere you look, the election is in the air.
Some have questioned the timing of this election call, given that by law, the actual election day is more than two months away. If the rumours are true, this will be the longest election Canada’s had since the twenties – and you gotta remember that back then, YouTube’s market penetration was WAY lower, and so politicians had to go around the country by train to make sure their vicious personal attacks got heard by key constituencies in swing ridings.
These things took time, y’see.
But this time around, the logic seems to be that under new campaign finance laws (which the Conservatives unilaterally passed without consulting either the Opposition or the public) the Conservatives are pretty well set up to have way more money than any of their opponents. (Funny how that works out.) So the longer the campaign is, the more the Cons will be able to outspend the opposition.
In other words, if you’re already fed up with the constant drone of radio commercials basically implying that Justin Trudeau is a stoned fratboy who wants to have sexytimes with terrorists and fritter away your hard-earned tax dollars on daily visits to the hair salon, you may want to consider either leaving the country or hiding in the woods until late October, cause that shit’s about to kick up several notches.
Of course, pissing on/belittling/slandering your opponents doesn’t by itself win elections. It’s also necessary to massively distort and oversell your own accomplishments and plans. The Cons had no doubt been counting on running on their strong economic record, but given the latest monthly data (Scotiabank analysts called it “ugly”, which lemme tell you won’t be good for the economy’s self-esteem at all), it seem that they’re going to have to come up with something else to pompously monologue about for the next two and a half months.
Enter the TPP – that once-obscure “trade” treaty which has shot to recent prominence as negotiations near completion. Apparently Harper & Co. are pushing for the deal to be done within the next few days, so they can start bragging about their Herculean international prowess right out of the election’s starting gate.
Now, regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’m no fan of the Trans Pacific Partnership, for reasons that you can click on those links to find out about if yer curious. And it frustrates me to no end that Harper can basically sign on to this treaty without any approval from or consultation with the people of Canada, or our representatives in Parliament, or even the members of his own cabinet.
But in the face of such circumstances, all we can do is keep ringing the Holy-Shit-This-Is-A-Bad-Idea alarm and aggressively shaming and ousting any politician who supports signing on to a top-secret treaty that we can’t see but which corporate lobbyists played a key role in writing.
In many ways, the current TPP negotiations, happening in parallel with ongoing deals TISA and TTIP, seem like the endgame of the neoliberal-corporate agenda, an ascendant triumphalistic celebration of pure private profit. And as the latest (extremely timely) Wiki-leaks demonstrate, prioritizing profit over public interest will have some profound consequences.
To recap: Negotiations are underway in Hawaii on the final text of the TPP, which, no, we’re not going to get to see. (Maybe in a few years. If we’re good.) One major stumbling block is Canada’s reluctance to eliminate what’s called supply management, which is basically a guarantee to dairy and poultry farmers that they’ll be able to sell their “products” at predetermined prices. This provides them with more certainty, and pretty much keeps smaller farmers in business.
Australia and New Zealand have been aggressively trying to negotiate supply management off the books in Canada, which would open us up to dairy imports from way Down Under. New Zealand, just as an FYI, has a completely different dairy system – they’re pretty much dominated by one company, Fonterra, which controls nearly 90% of the dairy market in New Zealand, is the world’s largest dairy exporter, and has a history of health and environmental violations.
Now, to read the mainstream media coverage of the negotiations, you’d think the only thing potentially wrong with the TPP is this whole supply-management angle – there hasn’t been a peep about, for instance, the devastating impact new copyright policies will have on Canada, or the extreme dangers of the treaty’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.
Coverage has at times resembled reporting on a major sports contract, with reporters desperately seeking insider information on what’s being said at the negotiating table.
For instance, let’s look at the CBC’s credulous reliance on a New Zealand trade envoy’s second-hand gossip:
Other parties around the bargaining table are growing exasperated with Canada for stonewalling their demands to pry open its dairy market as part of a major global free-trade deal.
But cracks in the Canadian government’s position have begun to show as an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership appears within reach, says a trade envoy for the New Zealand government at the talks in Hawaii.
Even so, protectionist stances by Canada and Japan on dairy-market access remain rigid and could even prevent the pact from being signed this week, Mike Petersen told The Canadian Press in an interview Thursday.
“It is so small that it’s hard to take it seriously at this point,” Petersen said of an offer by Canada to unlock the door to its dairy market.
“Frankly, the discussion’s at such a level that it’s become incredibly frustrating if we really want to get a decent deal out of here.”[…]
While the Harper government has been reluctant to discuss the status of negotiations in public, Petersen said it’s an open secret at the Hawaii meetings that the Canadians want to wrap things up by the end of the week.
“They’re quite convinced that ministers will leave this place on Saturday with a deal to take back to their respective countries,” said Petersen, who works closely with New Zealand’s trade minister and its negotiating team, but is not at the actual table.
He said the fact Canadian negotiators are actually discussing dairy-market access at these meetings is significant, because they have refused to talk about it in the past.
Petersen declined to go into details about the cards Canada has put on the table, but he said it will have to offer more concessions on dairy access at the ongoing talks than it gave up while negotiating its free-trade deal with the European Union.
This is like 75% of the nearly-substance-free article, and the key detail is that Petersen is an obviously biased source who isn’t actually involved in actively negotiating the deal and is mostly just interested in talking shit. As we saw above, New Zealand has a strong interest in breaking down Canada’s barriers to dairy imports. It’s more than a little disingenuous for this Petersen fella to pretend Canada’s being stubborn and obstinate.
But the real beauty of this article – and ones like it across the mainstream media – is that it distracts your attention from what’s actually in the deal by putting the emphasis on what might be in the deal. There’s been a strange reluctance in Canadian media to even acknowledge that several draft TPP chapters have been released by Wikileaks, and that their contents are pretty frightening.
This is a glaring omission and a total shit-the-bed moment for media outlets, particularly the CBC, which, it turns out, has a lot to lose from this particular deal.
As Wikileaks revealed two days ago, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as the CBC and Canada Post may be targeted for privatization by the TPP:
The letter indicates a wide-ranging privatisation and globalisation strategy within the Agreement which aims to severely restrict “state-owned enterprises” (SOEs). Even an SOE that exists to fulfil a public function neglected by the market or which is a natural monopoly would nevertheless be forced to act “on the basis of commercial considerations” and would be prohibited from discriminating in favour of local businesses in purchases and sales. Foreign companies would be given standing to sue SOEs in domestic courts for perceived departures from the strictures of the TPP, and countries could even be sued by other TPP countries, or by private companies from those countries. Developing countries such as Vietnam, which employs a large number of SOEs as part of its economic infrastructure, would be affected most. SOEs continue to fulfil vital public functions in even the most privatised countries, such as Canada and Australia…
WikiLeaks’ editor, Julian Assange, said: “The TPP erects a ‘one size fits all’ economic system designed to advantage the largest transnational corporations. In this leak we see the radical effects the TPP will have, not only on developing countries, but on states very close to the centre of the Western system. If we are to restructure our societies into an ultra-neoliberal legal and economic bloc that will last for the next 50 years then this should be said openly and debated.”
This is potentially huge news. Granted, the letter in question was written in late 2013, and may not reflect the current content of the TPP – but there’s no way for us to actually know, because, in case you forgot, the text is top secret and the government won’t answer specific questions about its contents. Assange is quite on-point when he describes what a radical policy shift this is and how completely public-consultation-free the entire process has been.
Given the radical implications of this potential policy change, you’d think major media outlets – like, I dunno, the friggin’ CBC – would at least report on this particular Wiki-leak.
But here’s what they had to say:
Bupkiss. Literally not one word.
There have been pieces critical of the deal published in recent days, including this epic take-down in the Financial Post which compares the complicated treaty to “one of the Imperial Walkers from Star Wars — a lumbering, bureaucratically designed nightmare of dubious effectiveness.” This Winnipeg Free Press op-ed questions whether Canada will really benefit from the deal, citing the potential for lost jobs in multiple sectors.
But in all of my reading on this story, I’ve yet to see one single mainstream Canadian media outlet even mention the fact that portions of this deal are available for the public to read, thanks to Wikileaks. (The one exception is this dismissive passing reference in a National Post story which doesn’t even name Wikileaks as the source of the leak and which underplays the seriousness of the material.)
You don’t need to venture far out of the mainstream to find mention of the leak – HuffPo Canada even did a write-up! – and this is at once ridiculous and unsurprising. Ridiculous because it’s clearly in the public’s interest to report on this story, and unsurprising because it’s completely consistent with the tone of the media’s reporting on this subject.
The coverage, again, has focussed almost entirely on process, like a play-by-play commentary of an intensely ponderous chess match. The content of the deal has received some passing mention, and the fundamental ideology behind it has been pretty much ignored.
That ideology, which is pure naked neoliberal profit-glorification, is at the heart of the most noxious provisions of the deal. From the nightmare which is ISDS to the most current revelation, the TPP aggressively prioritizes private corporate profit over all else. As the Council of Canadians notes, this will completely undermine the missions that crown corporations like the CBC and Canada Post were set up to accomplish:
“The TPP will hinder our state-owned enterprises from acting in the public interest,” says Sujata Dey, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “The very mission of the CBC – telling the bilingual and multicultural story of Canada – will be reduced to simple profit making. Likewise, Canada Post will no longer function as a nation builder, but as a private company. The essence and mandate of our crown corporations are being traded away in favour of private corporate profit.”
In other words, the TPP is nothing to brag about.
As negotiations potentially wrap up over the weekend, let’s all cross our fingers and hope for a complete and irrevocable breakdown in talks.
Failing that, brace yourselves for a ten-week onslaught of Harper & Co.’s free trade braggadocio, and a relentlessly pro-corporate decade-plus to come.