In 1988, a far-reaching trade agreement was considered an important enough issue to base an election on it.
Not so anymore.
It was in 1988 that Brian Mulroney of the ruling Progressive Conservative Party called an election, in part, because of the Free Trade Agreement proposed for Canada and the United States. In fact, the election was dubbed by some as the Free Trade Election, with the agreement being the dominant issue of the campaign. It was a very controversial agreement, possibly the most controversial agreement of its type in Canadian history.
In 2012, another controversial trade agreement is in the making, set to be signed today, Oct. 31. This time, the public doesn’t get a say. In fact, the public receives no information announcing its importance to Canadians.
The Canada China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPA) is expected to be ratified today, without a single debate or public discussion of this 31-year deal.
According to a Toronto law professor who specializes in international investment law, and others who have studied and oppose the agreement, the deal allows Chinese firms to sue in special tribunals to protect themselves from Canadian government decisions, whether they be municipal, provincial or federal. The same is true for Canadian companies in China.
However, no Canadian companies nor governments will be able to sue a Chinese investor for breaking laws – whether they be environmental, labour-related or other. And, in a new and particularly disturbing twist, the Chinese lawsuits can be kept secret.
With the increasing investment in Canada by China, and the environmental concerns around major projects in this country, Canadians deserve better than this cynical approach to democracy. At the very least, the public has a right to hear details of this agreement before it’s set in stone for three decades.