As Parliament’s TPP roadshow hits Central Canada, citizens continue to push for more openness and transparency
TPP consultations are making their way through the country, but in response to the limited public participation seen on the first few, the Parliament’s trade committee will now include one hour for public comment in each meeting. Find out where and how you can participate.
Over the past month, Parliament’s trade committee has been studying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – an unfair, undemocratic deal that will strip us of our digital rights and threatens the open Internet.
Having already held hearings across western Canada, this TPP consultation roadshow is now heading east, with hearings taking place over the next two weeks across Ontario and Quebec — and, as ever, we’ll be working to make sure your voices are heard in the process.
We’ve written before about how the TPP’s draconian rules will restrict how we share and collaborate online, and cost our economy millions. And it’s been inspiring to see such a broad coalition of experts, organizations, and everyday citizens coming together to oppose it.
Who’s backing us up? Well, first there is the opposition of academics and scholars like Robert Reich, Michael Geist, Joseph Stiglitz, Noam Chomsky, Gus Van Harten, and many more. Then there is the opposition from well-respected advocacy organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Leadnow, Sierra Club, the ACLU, Council of Canadians, Public Citizen, SumOfUs and others. Then there are tech leaders like Jim Balsillie of BlackBerry and Toby Lutke of Shopify; there is techdirt and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Software Foundation and Free Press. Earlier this year, the Citizen’s Trade Campaign published a letter signed by more than 1500 organizations opposing the TPP.
But more important than any one of these organizations is the huge outcry from citizens in every country party to the TPP, and many who are not, but who recognize that their sovereignty and democratic decision-making will soon be subverted if we allow this agreement to be ratified.
That’s why these consultations are so important: they’re our last best chance to channel this outcry and force our elected representatives to listen.
What’s the state of play in Canada?
Here’s where we’re at: our government has promised us consultation on the TPP. They have not promised that they will not ratify the agreement, but they have at least promised to consult with Canadians first. As a part of that consultation, Parliament’s trade committee has been travelling across the country holding in-person hearings about the TPP. This cross-party committee will be tabling a report in the House of Commons later this year.
The first in-person consultation was in Richmond, BC, on April 18. I attended and presented testimony before the committee, bringing with me the concerns of over 170,000 Canadians who have taken action against the TPP through various campaigns. You can read about my experience at the committee hearing here.
After leaving British Columbia, the committee also hit Calgary, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg that same week. In each city, the committee hearings were met with protest, suspicion, and disappointment.
In Richmond we gathered a group of protestors outside of the Radisson hotel where the hearings were held, greeting the committee members with a huge banner, a JUMBOTRON streaming citizens’ comments, and packing the consultation room with observers.
In Calgary a representative from the Alberta Federation of Labour, a chapter member of the Council of Canadians, and a representative for Friends of Medicare presented alongside a host of industry representatives.
In Saskatoon concerns were raised by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Cypher Environmental Ltd., and the Council of Canadians’ regional organizer for the prairies. The committee was again met by protestors, who described the “closed door event” as disappointing considering the agreement infringes on the rights of Canadians.
In Winnipeg a group of protesters gathered outside the hearings and distributed leaflets before heading inside to listen to speakers who raised concerns that were echoed in the Winnipeg Free Press that same day.
What can we expect going forward?
Looking forward, it seems that the government is hearing the cry from Canadians for more meaningful consultation. In a significant shift, Parliament’s trade committee has now opened up their study process, and will now include one hour for public comment in each meeting. Individuals will be asked to sign up to speak on the day of the event, and will be given speaking priority on a first-come first-serve basis. Considering most members of the public who signed up to be official witnesses were rejected, this appears to be the Committee’s attempt to bring a diversity of individual Canadians’ voices to the proceedings.
Additionally, Global Affairs Canada has announced two public town halls to be held in Toronto on May 25 and Montréal on June 6. These developments seem to be directly responding to the request of OpenMedia and many others to open the consultation to more voices.
In fact, when I spoke before the trade committee hearings in Richmond last month, Liberal committee member Sukh Dhaliwal asked me directly: “Can you tell me what else the government can do so you see that the government is consulting with people?”
And my answer was: “I would say that we would like to see town halls. We would like to see opportunities for actual members of the public, these people sitting behind me, to have their voices heard.”
At least it seems like the government is hearing our calls. But will they actually listen to what Canadians have to say?
Take for example this excellent question posed by Shelby Martin on Facebook:
“The current TPP text allows multinational companies to challenge Canadian laws, regulations and safeguards through a provision called investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS), a private justice system that undermines our democracy. Why should Canadians continue to cede our sovereignty to corporations whose pursuit of profit must be regulated to prevent abuse?”
The omens don’t look good. Although the government continues to fence-sit on the TPP, their spokespeople seem far keener to accentuate positive aspects of the deal, rather than reasons to oppose it. Take for example this recent Global TV interview, in which Parliamentary Secretary for International Trade David Lametti was asked pointedly if the TPP was a good deal for Canada. His answer conveyed some of the ongoing tensions surrounding the government’s consultations and how the TPP is becoming an important battleground.
There are certainly positive aspects from it that that are coming out from our consultations and there are also people who are critical of it, and it’s up to us as a government to assess whether on balance whether this is a good thing or not a good thing for Canada. And we’re not there yet.
It’s worth noting how Lametti nods to the positive aspects, while ignoring the negative impacts and instead focusing on ‘people who are critical of it’.
Tellingly, in this same exchange, Conservative MP Randy Hoback points to one of the most obvious issues with the government’s position:
It’s not a fact that you’re going to change anything in the negotiations. That’s done. It’s just whether we bring it forward and ratify it.
Looking south of the border, trouble is certainly brewing for the TPP, with all three remaining presidential candidates having stated their opposition to the agreement. Whether their positions change remains to be seen, but presently the growing bipartisan opposition doesn’t bode well for the TPP.
This past week also saw a huge leak of documents from the lumbering Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. The TTIP is currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States, and following last week’s explosive leaks, Europeans were up in arms about the potential for the agreement to undermine their democracies and state sovereignty. Sound familiar? Many are now suggesting that TTIP is on a rocky path to destruction, with the French government stating its strong opposition to the agreement, and vowing to block its ratification in the EU.
For North Americans fighting the passage of the TPP, it comes as welcome news that these huge and seemingly unstoppable agreements can be taken down with coordinated citizen opposition.
But in Canada, we still need to work toward demonstrating that opposition as loudly as possible in the coming months. That’s why it’s so important that Canadians turn up in numbers at the trade committee’s upcoming hearings in:
Montreal: Tuesday, May 10
Location: Marquette Room, Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth, 900 René-Lévesque Boulevard West
Public engagement hour: 2pm-3pm
Quebec City: Wednesday, May 11
Location, Jonquière/Lauzon Room, Delta Québec Hotel, 690 René-Lévesque Boulevard East
Public engagement hour: 11:45am-12:45pm
Windsor: Thursday, May 12
Location: Ontario/Erie Room, Best Western Plus Hotel, 277 Riverside Drive West
Public engagement hour: 2pm-3pm
Toronto: Friday, May 13
Location: Carlton Ritz Hotel, 181 Wellington Street West, Toronto,
Public engagement hour 11:45am-12:45pm
For added impact, we recommend you turn up in time to speak during their public engagement hour — speaking slots will be handed out on a first-come-first-served basis, so be sure to arrive early to ensure you’ll be enabled to speak.
We’re also busy cooking up plans with our partners to continue to ensure Canadian voices won’t be sidelined during these upcoming hearings, and during the government’s town halls in late May and early June — so stay tuned to this website and our Facebook page for more!
And if you haven’t yet had the opportunity, don’t forget to send your message about the TPP directly to Parliament’s trade committee, your MP, and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland using our tool at https://LetsTalkTPP.ca