Democracy before Profits

On the Other Hand

Canada is a trading nation and desperately needs to trade, but the propensity to sign far-reaching trade agreements that take away a country’s sovereign rights, is dangerous and undemocratic.

Canada has arguably benefited from the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which gave us access to the largest economy in the world.

However, Chapter 11, the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism under NAFTA, grants corporations the right to sue foreign governments without first pursuing legal action in the country’s court systems. These lawsuits are heard in private by a three-person panel of paid arbitrators whose decisions are final and binding on governments.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative, Canada has lost or settled six claims under NAFTA paying a total of $170 million in damages and Mexico has lost five cases and paid out $204 million.  The U.S. on the other hand has won 11 cases and has never lost a NAFTA investor-state dispute case.

Now originally Chapter 11 was supposedly put in place to protect Canadian and American companies from Mexican courts which were not seen as corrupt-free. But instead multi-national companies have used it to thwart governments enacting legislation to protect their environment, labour laws, human rights and resource management programs. Foreign corporations have successfully sued governments under NAFTA, and won, for allegedly interfering with their rights to earn profits.

TransCanada Pipeline, a company headquartered in Calgary is currently suing the United States government for $15 billion arguing its decision to not approve Keystone Pipeline was arbitrary, unjustified and adversely affected their bottom line.

Yet I would argue that much of the trouble Keystone faced in the United States was because of the arrogant behaviour displayed by TransCanada when they took landowners for granted and showed little regard for key environmentally sensitive areas.

You know a company has really screwed up when their actions brought together two historically fierce opponents—farmers and ‘tree huggers’—to fight Keystone.

It didn’t help either that another Alberta company Enbridge in July 2010 had a pipeline rupture spilling heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo River for 18 hours.

Alarms were sounding at their Edmonton headquarters yet operators assumed the alarms could be explained by a bubble in the pipeline. Rather than shutting down the pipeline immediately, they increased pressure for a number of hours to try to clear the possible blockage, pumping even more oil into the river. It took until 2014 for Enbridge to complete the cleanup.

The latest example was a Husky Energy’s ruptured pipeline which spilled 1,600 barrels of heavy oil into the North Saskatchewan cutting off safe drinking water for many communities downstream.
Alberta needs pipelines.

Instead of TransCanada suing the U.S. government over the failure of Keystone, perhaps they and their pipeline pals should work harder to gain the public’s confidence that they can move oil safely across our valuable water and marshlands.

We, the taxpayers of Canada are currently facing $4.5 billion worth of NAFTA lawsuits which will all decided behind closed doors by three unaccountable people.

Governments in a democracy are held accountable for their policies at elections.

Corporations work to generate profits for their select shareholders, officers and directors. The undemocratic investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in trade agreements puts too much influence on public policy into corporate hands. Protecting the most important commodity on earth, fresh water, should never be held hostage by profits of foreign corporations.

Both the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) and Canada-European Union Trade Agreement (CETA) have this lopsided and dangerous dispute mechanism in their respective working documents.

The Trudeau government needs to stop signing these free trade agreements until government sovereignty once again is balanced off against foreign corporate profits.

It’s a trade agreement, Mr. Prime Minister, emphasis on trade! It’s not devolution of power to foreign, unaccountable corporations.

About the author




* indicates required