Time for a real debate on TPP

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Published in the Huffington Post February 10, 2016

Now that the Trans Pacific Partnership has been signed, maybe we can have the honest, open and transparent debate that Canadians were denied during the federal election – and which the new Liberal government in Ottawa has promised.

Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed the TPP last week, saying it was merely a formality before the deal could be put before Parliament for debate. So, let’s have that debate. There’s certainly a lot to talk about.

A Unifor study last fall found that weakened regional content rules threaten 20,000 well-paying jobs in Canada's auto sector alone. Another study, cited by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, pegged the total jobs risk at 58,000.

The deal would also make it easier for companies from TPP countries to bring in potentially unlimited numbers of temporary foreign workers without worrying about proper certifications or wage floors established for other such workers. And temporary foreign workers would continue to be blocked from becoming full citizens. Any worker coming to Canada for a job should have the right to apply for full citizenship. If they are good enough to work here, they are good enough to become citizens.

As well, there are concerns about the impact of tighter patent laws on drug prices, the TPP’s anti-democratic investor-state dispute mechanisms, major concessions on dairy and poultry marketing boards and many other issues that need to be explored.

There is no rush for Canada to ratify the deal, especially when it looks like the U.S. might not. The TPP has little to no support among those currently vying for either the Democratic or Republican presidential nomination – which means that by year end, the U.S. will likely be led by a president who does not support the deal. 

Even Democratic contender Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State when the TPP talks began and through its first 15 rounds of talks, is backing away from the TPP. “We need to be sure that new trade deals meet clear tests:  They have to create good American jobs, raise wages, and advance our national security,” she said. “The bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don’t believe this agreement has met it."

That’s the kind of thinking we should apply to our own assessment of the TPP – is it good for Canadian workers? Will our families benefit? Does it help us to build the equal and caring society, with opportunities for our young people that we want?

If not, why ratify it?

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark would have us rush into signing the deal. But this is the same panicked thinking that put the Harper government in a position of weakness when it was negotiating the deal – begging to be let in, and giving away the store just to be part of the club.

We must not let Clark or anyone else push us into ratifying TPP without a lot of debate about what is actually in the deal, and an honest assessment of its impact on the Canadian economy and Canadian families.

Clark is looking for a wedge issue to use against the New Democrats in an election expected in the next year. With NDP taking two seats from Clark’s Liberals in last week’s byelections, she is hoping to scare voters into supporting her and the TPP.

Sound familiar?

Stephen Harper tried, and failed, to do exactly the same thing in last fall’s federal election. He refused to talk about details of the deal, and just wanted us to sign on out of some fear of being left out – in other words, bargaining from a position of weakness. Clark would have us continue to do the same.

That message was soundly rejected in the federal election, and it must be rejected now. The direction of our economy can’t be decided out of fear, panic or intimidation from our leaders.

Canada is a strong country with rich resources and a skilled workforce. We can and must negotiate trade deals, the TPP included, form the position of strength that gives us.