Tag Archives: TPP

“A difference of tone”: in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper

“The biggest difference between a party led by me and one by Stephen Harper will be one of tone.”

Justin Trudeau

Our soon-to-be-sworn-in Prime Minister spoke those words way back in April 2013, when he was in the midst of the Liberal leadership contest, and that was the moment when I was officially done with him.

Not that I didn’t have issues with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “tone”, or his “style”. (And let’s just take a moment to savour that phrase: “former Prime Minister Stephen Harper”. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Add a “disgraced” at the beginning for maximum enjoyment!) Harper’s “tone” was pretty consistently condescending, bullying, mean-spirited, and paranoid. A change of tone in politics would be pretty nice, I suppose.

But if “tone” is the biggest change we get when Justin Trudeau moves (back) into 24 Sussex, then all this hullabaloo about “real change” amounts to nothing but a steaming mountain of bullshit. Because “tone” was the least bad thing about Harper’s tenure in the PMO.

Unfortunately, in many respects, our PM-to-be’s platform aligns with the outgoing Conservative Party on several critical issues.

Let’s look at a few of them, shall we? Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: TPP fails to make an impact, is still important anyway

Last week I typed my weekly summary of the election news amid the ongoing TPP negotiations, and rumours were flying that a deal was imminently going to be announced, or, alternatively, that talks were irrevocably breaking down.

As it turned out, neither rumour was true. It wasn’t until mid-morning the next day that exhausted negotiators and trade ministers trumpeted the successful conclusion of the secretive deal.

The focus of my piece last week was the parties’ and media’s divided focus between issues of substance, like the TPP, and race-baiting sideshows like the niqab debate. It’s unfortunate but true that race-baiting sells more newspapers, drives more traffic, and quite likely mobilizes more voters than does in-depth discussions of trade policy, and so it was no surprise to see the initial fanfare surrounding the TPP’s completion quickly give way to yet more discussion of the niqab, with the Prime Minister telling the CBC’s Rosemary Barton that the Conservative Party is looking into proposing a ban on public servants wearing niqabs. The statement came in an interview which purportedly focussed on the economy and the TPP’s passage, and yet Harper’s off-hand comment dominated a few news cycles and provoked even more hysteria and outrage.

And so while Thomas Mulcair still insistently points out his party’s nominal opposition to the deal (about which more later), and while Harper frequently mentions it as a major accomplishment, the TPP’s impact on the campaign so far seems to have been negligible. It’s been largely absent from the leading headlines of the day, and if its passage impacted anybody’s poll numbers, it did so in such a minor way as to be unnoticeable.

Since then, we’ve learned relatively little about the actual terms of the agreement – but the little we’ve learned has been dispiriting. Wikileaks managed to get its hands on what appears to be the final version of the chapter on intellectual property, which is every bit as horrendous as critics had feared. OpenMedia described it in almost apocalyptic terms:

Internet freedom group OpenMedia warns that the leak confirms Internet advocates greatest fears, including: new provisions that would induce Internet Service Providers to block websites without a court ruling, 20-year copyright term extensions, and new criminal penalties for the circumvention of digital locks. Reacting to the leak, OpenMedia’s Digital Rights Specialist Meghan Sali had this to say:

“Canadians are going to see their democratically-created laws over-written in favour of laws that benefit giant, U.S. media conglomerates and censor the Internet,” Sali said. “And while the government has been busy trying to convince Canadians of the so-called benefits of this pact, they’ve silently traded away our digital future behind closed doors.”

Meanwhile, the costs to Canadian businesses embedded in the deal are still shrouded in mystery, although a couple of preemptive bailouts of major industries don’t bode particularly well for the country’s economic prospects under this new economic order. Prime Minister Harper promised an unconditional bailout of the dairy industry in a shameless attempt to buy the votes of farmers; they’re guaranteed to be compensated for losses of any kind, not just losses resulting from the implementation of this sick excuse for a trade deal. This bailout is certain to be embraced by many dairy farmers, given the massive collapse in Canadians’ consumption of milk over the past two decades. What Harper’s dairy bailout accomplishes, aside from political damage control, is essentially a massive subsidization of an increasingly unpopular industry – one which has a surprising amount of political clout, as animal rights activist and farmer Yan Roberts points out: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: The TPP and the niqab fight for centre stage

As we enter the final two weeks of the longest election campaign in living memory, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on a stunning contrast.

For the past four days, negotiators from the twelve nations participating in the super-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership have been feverishly bargaining in Atlanta, Georgia, straining to get a deal done. As The Alfalfafield goes to the presses for the day, the rumours are that a deal is close, but we’ve heard these rumours before many times. (For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the TPP, here’s my summary from back in July, as well as more coverage from The Alfalfafield on the subject.)

The plain truth of the matter is that until every detail is worked out, everything could fall apart – and that’s my abiding hope. However, the steady drumbeat of upbeat rumours and selective leaks from insiders suggests that the principal negotiators want to at least create the impression of progress. The Japanese trade minister has apparently made it clear that he’s leaving Atlanta tonight for a long-scheduled meeting in Turkey tomorrow, so there’s a sense of now-or-never-ness to the whole affair. It’s preposterous that trade ministers who have in many cases gone several nights without sleep are being pressured to make concessions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and swell the profits of major international corporations on the basis of a man’s need to catch his flight on time, but such is the reality of the TPP. When you take a step back and look at it, the whole process is damned illogical.

After months of being a softly-simmering back burner story, over the past few weeks the TPP has stepped into the spotlight of Canadian news. But as I wrote earlier this week, the media’s focus has been narrowly focussed on the two under-negotiation issues of changes to Canada’s system of supply management in dairy farming and restrictions on the sourcing of auto parts, with precious little mention of the deeply problematic aspects of the agreement which have been public knowledge for quite some time: Continue Reading

The Unkillable Trans Pacific Partnership

This is one of those times that I hate being right.

A few weeks back, with negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership on the rocks after representatives from Japan and the NAFTA countries failed to reach an agreement on auto policy, some pundits were saying that a deal this year was now looking impossible, given the election timelines in various TPP member countries. But I wasn’t so sure:

Given how high the stakes are and how close the deal is to slipping away, I have a funny feeling that we’re going to see some desperate last-minute negotiations. And if Harper slips in the polls, it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that cobbling together a “major trade deal” in the final weeks of the election campaign was the path to victory. Never mind about what’s actually in the damn thing – the public won’t get to read it, by some accounts, until four years after it’s ratified.

If you’re attending all-candidate meeting or if you get your door knocked by canvassers, please consider bringing up the TPP. And for all our sake, don’t vote for any candidate who supports this terrible deal. Meanwhile, watch out for a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon sometime within the next two to three weeks. There’s too much potential profit on the table for the major players in this negotiation to let this opportunity slip away.

Literally two and a half weeks later, we’re on the eve of – guess what? – a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon. Continue Reading

TPP update – watch out for last-minute negotiations in the next few weeks

When we last left the TPP, it was on life support.

That was waaaay back in early August, when supposedly final negotiations in Hawaii completely broke down over fairly major differences. This gave hope to folks like me who have long been terrified of this insidious “trade” agreement.

(For some background on the Trans Pacific Partnership, see my summary here.)

But just as zombies are hell-bent on devouring brains, international corporate interests are hell-bent on extracting profits and rents wherever they can, and so the pressure to get a deal done – and soon! – is relentless.

Part of the big rush is related to Canada’s upcoming election; negotiators seem determined to seal the deal before we go to the polls October 19th. For the life of me, I’m not sure what they’re worried about; as Green Party candidate Paul Manly points out, the Big Three Parties are uniformly in favour of this sovereignty-destroying, regulation-eroding, wage-suppressing calamity of a treaty. Regardless of this election’s outcome, Capital will get what it wants out of these negotiations.

Another major component of the time pressure has to do with next year’s US election. Due to arcane Senate rules, any treaty must wait several months before receiving approval, meaning a deal must be sealed within the next few months to avoid running into the heavy-duty American election season, when nothing of substance can get done because the parties become completely incapable of cooperating.

(And we trust these people to make decisions on our behalf?)

Over the past week, negotiators from Mexico, Japan, Canada, and the United States met in Washington to try to resolve outstanding disputes surrounding the auto sector. But it seems that they weren’t able to resolve their differences, at least according to this Japan Times article: Continue Reading

Vote if you must, but set yourself some standards and don’t settle!

This is the final entry in a series on the question of voting and whether it’s a worthwhile exercise. Parts one, two, three, four, five, and six 

It’s the summer election campaign that nobody wanted and everybody’s going to get subjected to.

This morning, our Fearless Leader visited the Governor-General to ask for the Queen’s permission to dissolve Parliament, which of course he got, the whole ridiculous monarchistic ritual being a meaningless and banal anachronism that gets right under my skin but which isn’t the subject of this post and which therefore I’m going to tie to a balloon and let go.

*Deep breath*

Harper didn’t get to make the triumphant declaration he’d been hoping for today, as TPP talks broke down badly over the weekend. He’d planned on launching the campaign by boasting about how he’d signed Canada on to the “biggest trade deal in history”, but instead trade envoys left Hawaii with little more than some upbeat spin – and no date set for the next round of talks. Rumour has it they won’t meet again until at least November, setting this up to be a campaign issue, which is actually so exciting for me.

Instead, the campaign immediately devolved into an argument about money, which is probably the worst and most crass kind of argument there is. Harper’s claims that the new form of campaign financing instituted by his party’s widely panned “Fair” Elections Act mean that parties, not taxpayers, will be on the hook for election expenses – a statement which, as Elizabeth May quickly pointed out, is a blatant falsehood. The former Chief Electoral Officer for Elections Canada estimated that the extra costs to taxpayers would run in the tens of millions.

These extra costs are being incurred, of course, because the election campaign we’re staring down is set to be the longest in nearly a century. And that only happened because Harper thought it would be to his advantage, because a longer campaign means he can spend more money – an extra $675 000/day. As the Globe and Mail put it, “If the election can be bought, the Tories will win easily.”

Fortunately, there are other factors at play here, including a strong and earnest desire on the part of many many Canadians for change in government. And for what it’s worth, The Alfalfafield’s official long-range prediction, from eleven weeks out, is a narrow NDP majority, a massive collapse in Liberal support, and an election-night resignation from Stephen Harper. (This will be followed by four years of resigned disappointment on the part of long-standing and principled Dippers, who aren’t much going to like the spectre of an NDP government.)

The question we’ve been considering in this space for the past six weeks is whether or not this whole election drama matters, and it’s fitting that our series concludes as the election opens. For some context, let’s return to the problem as it was posed in our initial entry: Continue Reading

Exploring the latest Wiki-leak on the TPP – CBC, Canada Post in danger

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.  Continue Reading

Getting “left behind” on the TPP is fine by me – we shouldn’t buy into this race to the bottom

It’s been called the sleeper issue of this fall’s federal election campaign, but my riding’s Liberal candidate sure seemed surprised that I brought it up when he came knocking on my door earlier this week.

I got home from work just in time to catch Arif Virani in the hallway of my building. I gotta admit, I was pretty impressed to see him out canvassing on a weekday afternoon three months before the election – and I was excited to give him a piece of my mind.

I saw a certain look of resignation in his eyes when I mentioned Bill C-51 – and indeed, he had a well-thought-out reply to the oft-made criticisms of that bill. (It was an argument that I didn’t particularly buy into, but it was a thorough and well-prepared one, and one I imagine he’d had to make pretty frequently.)

But he had quite clearly not heard about the Trans Pacific Partnership from nearly as many people in his door-knocking.

I made it clear to him that the TPP is for me one of the biggest issues of this year’s election, and that any party that can endorse that sovereignty-destroying nightmare of a “trade” agreement won’t get my vote. (I didn’t mention that I’m not entirely certain I’m going to vote anyway – didn’t want to undercut my argument!)

To his credit, he didn’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but instead frankly acknowledged that he didn’t know much about the issue, beyond the squabbling over supply management which has dominated recent coverage of the mysterious deal: Continue Reading

ICYMI – Canadian and Ukrainian PMs sign deal to screw over Ukraine’s working class

It’s a great misfortune that the very words “trade agreement” have been known to cause eyes to glaze over, yawns to spring unbidden to mouths, and minds to wander. “I should probably do the laundry when I get home,” you think, “but I don’t really want to,” as some blowhard drones on about the significance of CETA or the TPP (that second one’s by yrs truly, btw -I am that blowhard!).

Trade agreements are notoriously boring subjects. They are stuffed with arcane legal terminology and have an absolute alphabet soup of acronyms, and they are entirely lacking in sex appeal, action shots, and gripping human interest angles. For precisely these reasons, they don’t sell newspapers or attract viewers. The most exciting visuals you’re gonna get out of them is a formal signing ceremony, replete with the flags of the member nations and earnest besuited politicians earnestly mumbling about the incalculable benefits of free trade and the incredible economic opportunities that will ensue from this agreement – a scene much like this one:

That’s right – Canada just signed a free trade agreement with Ukraine! Surprise! Bet you didn’t hear about it.

But before your eyes go all focussed-on-the-middle-distance-y and your mind gloms on to the first thing it can find to distract you from the menace of listening to me talk about the nuances of a bilateral trade agreement with an eastern European nation, just let me say that I promise to do my best to make it entertaining. (Although I can’t do anything about the total lack of sex appeal, I can promise you some rock and roll if you stay tuned to the end.) Continue Reading

Trans-Pacific Partnership – the scariest trade deal you’ve probably never heard of

A few weeks back, a poll by Environics Research Group for Trade Justice Network, “an umbrella group dedicated to challenging the secretive process by which international trade deals are generally negotiated”, released a poll showing that three out of four Canadians have never heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Assuming my readership is roughly representative, that means that for 75% of people reading this, this is your first introduction to the horrorshow of a trainwreck of a landmine which is the TPP. So, fair warning – there’s not much good news in this post, not many glimmers of optimism, no clear path forward. This is a story about a disaster in progress, a disaster which has been carefully concealed from the public.

There’s something darkly ironic about the CBC reporting on ERGTJN’s poll results, because they’re very much part of the problem. They haven’t exactly covered the story in great depth – a Google search reveals that the term received a mere ten mentions on their site all year up until their article about the poll, with half of these being passing references and the other half being related to the squabbles in the US Congress and among US Presidential candidates over the super-secretive trade deal. If you’re wondering why Donald Trump easily has four times the name recognition of the TPP while possessing way less than a quarter the relevance, look no farther than the mainstream media.

If you’re one of the 75% who don’t know what I’m talking about, I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is ostensibly a free-trade deal being conducted between twelve Pacific Rim nations, including Canada, which will vastly empower corporate interests while in large measure sacrificing the national sovereignty of all nations involved.

The full extent of the damage this treaty will do is unknowable, because we’re literally not allowed to know. The treaty will remain secret until four years after it is completed and signed and ratified and brought into force.

Does that sound absurd to you? Almost as though it couldn’t be true?

Because, unfortunately, it is.

Economist Robert Reich explains it succinctly in this (admittedly US-centric) video (h/t Lorne over at Politics and its Discontents): Continue Reading

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