Sunday, April 29, 2012

Parliament in Review - March 29, 2012

There's been much ado about the NDP's position on trade agreements based on the Cons' recent publicly-funded cheerleading for free trade at any price. But for anybody looking for the NDP's actual view on trade, the House of Commons debates from March 29 offer a rather thorough indication.

The Big Issue

That's thanks to a Parliamentary debate on the Cons' legislation to implement a free trade agreement with Panama. And the NDP made clear that it's willing to reasonably review and support trade agreements in general - but that it won't be bullied into backing deals that give preferential treatment to tax havens and serve to attack international labour rights.

Hoang Mai and Laurin Liu emphasized the former concern when it came to Panama. Helene Laverdiere focused on the Cons' refusal to insist on a tax information exchange agreement as part of the package, while noting that the NDP didn't have similar concerns about a deal with Jordan. (Incidentally, Con MP Mike Wallace recognized that distinction as well - which only shows how dishonest the Cons have been in their recent push to claim the NDP opposes trade of any kind.) And Jinny Sims rightly pointed out that if we're interested in doing anything about tax havens, we need to incorporate that concern into a free trade agreement at the outset - rather than rewarding a bad actor with preferential treatment then hoping for something to change without our doing anything.

On the labour side, Lois Brown pointed to a checklist of as labour rights attached as an unenforceable schedule as justifying pushing through the deal without any further review. But Chris Charlton rightly shot back that a statement of principles isn't the same thing as the binding investor rights forced into the agreement. Jean Crowder pointed out that workers in both countries stand to suffer from the deal, while Dennis Bevington lamented the Cons' determination to lead a race to the bottom.

But the best overall statement of the NDP's position came from Don Davies:
Trade allows goods and services that are within the productive capacity or local expertise or resources of one country to be exchanged with those of another. That is why I can say certainly on behalf of the New Democrats that we believe trade is good. We believe it is desirable. We believe it is critical to our economy.

The question that should be raised with respect to any trade deal is the terms on which that trade ought to be conducted. Are there any principles, policies or rules that should be applied when Canadians consider the exchange of goods and services out of our country and the entrance of goods and services into our country?
(W)e believe that we should have a policy that pursues well-managed trade, not free trade, not a closed approach to trade, but fair trade. That is the approach to trade this party has taken every since the free trade debates opened up in this country some decades ago.

Why do we take this position? We believe that Canadians do not want goods and services that use child labour to enter Canada. We do not want goods and services that are the product of destructive environmental practices to enter this country. Canadians do not want goods coming to this country from countries that have very poor human rights records. Canadians do not want goods and services to enter this country when those goods and services come from an economy that is so fundamentally different from ours, with such lower standards that it actually hurts Canadian employers' ability to compete.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth May noted that the Panama deal figured to influence only a minimal amount of trade, then commented on the dangers of investor-state provisions which allow wealthy corporations to dictate government policy. Megan Leslie wondered whether the dealings between Canada and Panama would set up an exploitative relationship. Pat Martin observed that to the extent there is a disparity in influence, Canada's clout should allow it to help to elevate conditions in the smaller country rather than accepting that our employers will have to compete with Panama's wages and living conditions. Mathieu Ravignat noted that some Canadian companies have exploited workers and countries around the world, and that there's no value in defending the indefensible based on misplaced patriotism. Crowder criticized the Cons' secrecy in negotiating free trade agreements generally. Sims proposed a focus on multilateral rather than bilateral trade agreements. And Chris Charlton neatly summed up the Cons' position as "having espoused the principles of...robber barons".

In Brief

The other legislation debated on the day was the Cons' military justice bill. Jack Harris pointed out that the Cons had once again shredded agreements reached between multiple parties in the previous Parliament in order to dictate the terms of the legislation, while Chris Alexander then had the nerve to demand that the NDP approve the unilaterally-dictated legislation without debate. And Raymond Cote raised a concern about summary trials for minor offences resulting in a criminal record, while the Cons' "dumb on crime" posturing - including a refusal to distinguish between military and civilian crimes - apparently took precedence over "support the troops" when it came to their position on the rights of military defendants.

Meanwhile, Sean Casey rendered Steven Blaney redundant by anticipating his talking points to try to excuse repeated violations of veterans' privacy. Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe and Wayne Marston both noted that the OECD, the PBO and the Government of Canada's chief actuary had all rejected the Cons' spin that there was any need at all to cut Old Age Security, and asked why the Cons would plunge seniors into poverty by choice. In light of the Cons' plans to push through a pipeline owned by PetroChina, May asked when we could expect a national security test for foreign investment. Joe Comartin's Thursday question nicely framed a few of the bills which hadn't found their way before Parliament for some time. And finally, while Jim Flaherty's budget speech received plenty of attention, his attempt to excuse OAS cuts based on their being "far away" rather than, say, remotely justifiable as a matter of public policy looks to have deserved a bit more.

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