Tag Archives: Voodoo Economics

The Liberals’ attitude toward the TPP is actually not completely discouraging

Image description: a massively muscled cartoon of the Incredible Hulk, with the captions "Stop TPP" and "NAFTA on Steroids" (Image credit: Phil Ebersole)

Image description: a massively muscled (like, more than usual) cartoon of the Incredible Hulk, with the captions “Stop TPP” and “NAFTA on Steroids” (Image credit: Phil Ebersole)

As you may have heard by now, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland announced today that Canada will be signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership at a formal signing ceremony in Auckland, New Zealand, in early February.

Freeland hastened to add that signing the deal and ratifying it are two different things entirely, and that on the subject of ratification, the Liberals are still far from making up their minds. In all of her rhetoric, she leans ever-so-slightly in favour of ratifying the deal (“Just as it is too soon to endorse the TPP, it is also too soon to close the door…It is clear that many feel the TPP presents significant opportunities, while others have concerns…”), but is careful to always include the contrary viewpoint as a hedge. Her careful phrasing is a massive departure from the pro-anything-trade-related effusion which typified Stephen Harper and his lapdog cabinet (there’s that famous difference in tone yet again).

Some observers are skeptical of this prevarication and feel certain that, after the whole elaborate public-consultation listening tour show is over, the beholden-to-Bay-Street Liberals will use their substantial majority in the House of Commons to push the deal through.

Initially, I have to confess, that was my suspicion. However, the Libs seem more wobbly on this with each passing month. Back in November, I pointed to incoming Agriculture Minister and Liberal good ol’ boy Lawrence MacAulay’s declaration of support for the TPP as a major indicator of which way the party was leaning. However, parsing Freeland’s carefully equivocal statements over the past several weeks has led me to conclude that she’s either got an extremely strong poker face or she is legitimately uncommitted to passing this deal. Continue Reading

TPP: Canadian government as corporate cheerleader in trade lawsuits

CW – meat & the meat industry.

On December 18, 2015, the day that the U.S.’s country-of-origin labelling (COOL) laws were struck down, a pair of high-profile Trudeau cabinet ministers celebrated.

“This is a real vindication of the power and significance of the WTO dispute-resolution mechanism, which has secured a real win for Canada,” said International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, while Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay proclaimed his intention to ensure that the law stayed dead: “We will be monitoring the situation to make sure there are no problems in this area.”

Freeland and MacAulay weren’t alone in celebrating COOL’s demise; The Western Producer, an agricultural-industry trade publication, crowed that “Canadian cattle and hog producers are getting their Christmas gifts early this year,” and added some effusive quotations from industry spokespeople:

“After all these years, it’s wonderful news,” said Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president Dave Solverson about repeal of labelling legislation that the CCA and others have fought since 2008.

Solverson noted the support of the federal government, past and present, in pressing the issue through the World Trade Organization. The WTO ruled in Canada’s favour four times, supporting the contention that COOL violated international trade rules. [my bold]

What was COOL, you ask? Well, it was nothing more than this: a law (and a popular one at that) which mandated that meat be sold with a label indicating what country it was grown and slaughtered in.

If that sounds like a totally reasonable regulation, you’re not alone. Pretty much the only folks who didn’t like this law were meat-producers, slaughterhouses, and meatpackers in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and of course their loyal lackeys in government.

(If you’re also sick of the federal government constantly fighting on behalf of meat producers, you’ve got a friend in this grumpy vegan, but that’s another post for another day.) Continue Reading

As 2015 comes to a close, these major ongoing issues aren’t going anywhere

This awkward week jammed in between Christmas and New Year’s is when some of the year’s most half-assed journalism gets cranked out, in the form of phoned-in Year in Review pieces, or worse, Top Ten Blanks of 201x listicles.

I don’t have a problem with retrospectives. It’s just that the last week of December is only ever the actual turning point in current events by pure chance or accident. More often than not, major stories are still developing, trends are still unfolding, and it’s too soon to pass judgement on what the legacy of recent events will actually be.

So in my final post of 2015, I’m going to eschew the lazy conventions of the genre by highlighting a few stories which are very much ongoing affairs as the year comes to a close. Continue Reading

TPP update – Liberal support looking more certain, despite dire warnings

For months now, I’ve been writing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership without knowing precisely what of provisions were contained within it.

Negotiated under intense secrecy, the TPP has for a long time been like an ominous raincloud on the horizon, looming and threatening in an indistinct and distant way. Occasionally a draft chapter would make its way into the hands of Wikileaks, and experts in the field would carefully parse through the dense legal language and pronounce the agreement dangerous and a threat to (sovereignty/democracy/the environment/ labour/creativity/etc.), but for all intents and purposes the TPP was a black box.

That in itself was reason to be suspicious. The high-level access to negotiations which was granted to over five hundred of the world’s largest corporations, and the complete and total lack of access granted to pretty much every other affected group, was a pretty strong tell as to whom this deal was going to favour.

As you’ve likely heard, the full text of the deal was finally made public last week. And now that we can actually read the damn thing, all the experts who thought they were alarmed before are having to redefine their definition of “alarmed” to accommodate their new levels of alarmedness.

Chris Hedges, for instance, says of the deal that it is “the most brazen corporate power grab in American history”, adding:

These three agreements [the TPP, TTIP, and TISA] solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.

And before you go and call Hedges an alarmist, consider these facts: Continue Reading

Bursting the Trudeaumania bubble

Look, I don’t wanna be a party-pooper. I don’t wanna piss on anyone’s parade. It’s really wonderful to see so many people being so enthusiastic about federal politics, so inspired by the notion of real meaningful change, and I wish that I could join in on the enthusiasm and excitement.

But I can’t, because as earnestly felt as the swell of goodwill towards the new Trudeau government is, it’s misplaced.

Now first of all, to be clear: it’s obviously fantastic that Trudeau appointed the most ethnically diverse cabinet in Canadian history, as well as the first to feature an equal number of female and male ministers. And I don’t have any patience for those crypto-racist/patriarchal arguments about how cabinet positions ought to be doled out on the basis of merit and not arbitrary quotas. “Merit” is such a fuzzy term, easily defined to mean just about whatever the user wants it to mean, and in a white-cis-hetero-patriarchal-colonizer society, merit has traditionally been almost exclusively an attribute of white cis heterosexual men. (Surprise, surprise.) There’s definitely a place for quotas in an inherently unequal society, because a lot of people who are entirely capable of doing big and important jobs aren’t ever able to try because of systemic oppression.

In fact, good on Justin Trudeau for setting a strong precedent by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet. It will now be incredibly difficult, politically speaking, for any of his successors to go back to male-dominated cabinets of the past.

But representation by members of diverse communities does not inherently mean that the concerns of those communities will be addressed. A lot has been made about the appointment of rookie MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous lawyer and regional chief, as Minister of Justice. And don’t get me wrong – it’s awesome than an Indigenous woman is in a position to do so much to address the injustices that have been heaped upon Indigenous communities by Canadian governments since before this nation was founded, and I sincerely hope that she is able to do just that.

Issues like the ridiculously disproportionate incarceration rate for Indigenous folks, the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the establishment of meaningful nation-to-nation relations using the treaties as a framework, and of course a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, would fall at least partially under Wilson-Raybould’s purview.

All of which is very exciting – but I can’t help feeling cynical. I’ve seen this movie before – a member of a marginalized and oppressed community achieves a position of power in which they can make some meaningful change, and then…they don’t.

The most direct parallel I can think of is Eric Holder, the first black Attorney-General of the United States. Continue Reading

Does it really matter who wins the election tomorrow?

This was the week that the campaign jumped the shark.

I’ve almost started a few posts with that line, but I had a funny feeling I’d need it for later. It’s like when I’m asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten; no matter how badly it hurts, I’m saving my “ten” in case it gets worse.

I’m glad I waited, because good god what a weird final week it’s been. Let’s just take a minute, for instance, and appreciate the fact that Rob friggin’ Ford and his bully brother Doug actually just hosted a Conservative Party rally for Stephen Harper. Ok? Letting that sink in?

The party of law and order, the party that literally just this week was publishing shady ads in Chinese and Punjabi warning people that Justin Trudeau was going to peddle pot to your kids and flood your neighbourhood with junkies, the party whose leader recently made the absurd statement that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco, on one of the very last days of a campaign in which it’s fighting for its life, basically held the #elxn42 iteration of Ford Fest, with recovering alcoholic/crack addict, racist, and alleged extortionist Rob Ford in attendance despite allegations from his former chief of staff that he was a habitual drunk driver while mayor emerging earlier that day, and complete with a barn-burner of a crowd-warmer speech by failed mayoral candidate and former big-time hash dealer Doug Ford, a man who has publicly expressed interest – during this very election campaign! – in taking Stephen Harper’s job if the Cons should happen to lose.

I mean, at a certain point, words fail. “Absurd” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

It must speak to the desperation within the Harper camp. They’re obviously hoping that some of that Ford Nation magic will rub off on their campaign, which is questionable logic to me. How many hardcore Ford fanatics were thinking of not voting Conservative?

At this point, Harper’s trying every trick he can think of to cling to power. This week, the Cons called in all their favours with Postmedia and the Thompson family to secure across-the-board endorsements from virtually every major daily in the country, including the single most absurd endorsement of all time, in which the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives while calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation.

Following up on the furor over the seemingly bought-and-paid-for endorsements, today people in cities across Canada woke up to newspapers wrapped in full-page ads in the style of Elections Canada notices proclaiming that “Voting Liberal will cost you“: Continue Reading

Billionaire media barons endorse Stephen Harper for Prime Minister

Most of the time, there’s a polite fiction in mass media that the obscenely wealthy billionaires and hedge funds which control 90% of the newspapers and TV stations don’t dictate what positions their properties take on major issues. Not everybody believes it, but it’s also an easy thing to just kinda forget about.

Every once in a while, though, the mask comes off, and the heavy hand of ownership makes itself felt.

That was the case these past few days, as across the country, newspaper after newspaper issued torturously worded, illogical, ill-informed, half-baked endorsements of Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party.

For those of you who aren’t up on the intensity of media concentration in Canada, here’s a post I did on it a few months back, or, here’s media ownership summed up in a single simple diagram:

For the record: a private holding company called The Woodbridge Company now wholly owns the Globe, while the Star is technically owned by TorStar, which at one point had a minority stake in the Globe, as did Bell. (It’s cozy at the top.) 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

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