The NDP and the SPPUncategorized
Unfortunately, by the time this paper is published, Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper will already be engaged in a new round of secret talks on the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) in Montebello, Quebec with U.S. President George Bush and Mexican president Felipe Calderon.
Since this meeting was announced in June, my constituents have been letting me know through increased calls, e-mails, letters and personal contacts about their grave concerns about the SPP and its implications for Canadian sovereignty. I share those concerns, as does the rest of the NDP caucus and our leader Jack Layton. That’s why we’ve consistently and clearly opposed the SPP since it was announced by then Prime Minister Paul Martin in the spring of 2005.
According to its boosters, the SPP is simply a commitment to greater cooperation among Canada, the US and Mexico, with the aim of increasing our mutual security and prosperity. Is that all there is to it? Not likely. Thanks to leaked documents and hard investigative work by the NDP and groups such as the Council of Canadians and Canadian Labour Congress, it’s become clear that the SPP is just the latest version of the deep integrationist agenda we’ve too often had pushed on us by right-wing governments and multinational corporations.
The mainstream media does not often cover the NDP’s efforts to expose and oppose this agenda, so I’d like to outline some of them here:
In June 2005, NDP trade critic Peter Julian put our party’s SPP position on the official record, saying in the House of Commons, “maintaining Canada’s cultural diversity and strength is not negotiable. Maintaining social services that are integral to the lives of all Canadians cannot be traded away. Maintaining Canada as a free and sovereign nation is fundamental to our future…. The NDP will fight this threat to our nation with all our heart and all our soul.”
And so we have. United as a caucus we have continued to press the often secretive Conservative government for transparency and full disclosure on the SPP. Last fall, after Conservative cabinet ministers and government officials from Canada, US and Mexico quietly met with North America’s top executives behind closed doors in Banff, we spoke out together with the Canadian Labour Congress and the civil society group Common Frontiers. Peter affirmed our commitment to uncover the secret negotiations and again raised the alarm, saying: “What this means for Canada is lower standards and quality of life in many areas, such as food security, air safety, environmental norms, health care and labour rights. It’s a recipe for lowering standards in our country.”
In February 2007, when Mexican and US officials visited Ottawa for another SPP meeting, we upped the pressure again, using the NDP’s time in Question Period to draw media attention to the issue, and publicly calling for the Harper government to pull out of further talks on continental integration. We condemned the sellout of Canada and put the Conservatives on the defensive. As Peter said, “Canadian sovereignty is not for sale to the highest bidder and the federal government has no authority to push for a North American Union without a mandate from Canadians.”
In March, the NDP again brought attention to the subject by submitting a dissenting opinion to the Standing Committee on International Trade, saying its report on Canada’s Trade Policy “lacks balance because it fails to represent the views of many of the progressive groups and associations that came and presented to the Committee on issues of fair trade. The perspective and hard work of groups such as trade unions, associations for fair trade, experts and economists, who in total represent millions of Canadians and hundreds of thousands of workers is ignored.”
Probably our most significant victory so far was in April, when we forced the first ever parliamentary hearings on the SPP, including three days that were televised. The hearings took place at the Standing Committee on International Trade, and the transcripts are now online. See here .
While only a first step, securing these hearings was a significant victory. It’s also one that would never have happened without the efforts of our NDP caucus, because we have been the only party in Parliament to consistently oppose the deep integration agenda. Despite the Conservatives’ attempts to derail the hearings (with the help of their manual of obstructionist, anti-democratic tactics), we still succeeded in airing important questions and information about the threat the SPP poses to our energy and water security, drug policies, and labour standards, among other topics. Those concerns are now part of the official public record. We asked experts from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Council of Canadians to present at the hearings and they provided some welcome and necessary balance to evidence given by business and industry groups.
Meanwhile our caucus has also been continuing to collaborate with our friends in the labour movement and civil society groups. Earlier this summer we were appalled by the curtailment of these groups’ freedom of speech when the government made it impossible for them to organize a peaceful public forum in Papineau Quebec, in conjuction with the nearby SPP meetings this August. In support of them we registered an official objection with Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day. Peter will be representing our caucus at a Council of Canadians public event in Ottawa during the Montebello meetings.
Most recently the NDP has submitted a motion to the International Trade Committee which we expect to be debated there in the fall. It reads, in part, that the Government of Canada should, “stop further implementation of the SPP… until there is a democratic mandate from the people of Canada, Parliamentary oversight, and consideration of its profound consequences on Canada’s existence as a sovereign nation…” Our caucus has also filed numerous federal access to information requests to uncover further SPP details, and we will make the results of those public as we’re able.
Our goal in all this work has been to secure a full parliamentary debate and review of this agreement. And while we’ve been very effectively and ably led by Peter Julian as the critic for trade, the SPP is so wide-ranging that it requires a team effort to address the various policy implications. At least a dozen members of our caucus have been involved.
One of the policy issues that particularly concerns me about the SPP is the regulation of pesticides. During my time as a city councillor and board member of the Capital Regional District, as well as MP, I’ve worked to enact bans on the cosmetic use of pesticides because of my concerns about the unnecessary health risks these toxins pose. But in a 2006 SPP report, stricter residue limits were identified as a barrier to trade. If the SPP proceeds will we be forced to accept weaker pesticide regulations for the sake of harmonization with the US. We know that US pesticide limits are frequently higher than the ones in place in Canada’s or European Union countries so clearly, this is not the direction we should be headed. The worthwhile goal of increasing trade should not override the obvious risks to human, environmental and animal health. This is just one of the many reasons I’m so concerned about the SPP.
Thankfully, we are now seeing a new level of awareness about the SPP and the threat it poses. The NDP, along with its labour and civil society partners, has been a vital part of creating that awareness. There is much more to do, and we will continue to play a significant role in this fight, including when we return to Parliament in the fall. As a New Democrat you should know that the caucus you elected is aware of the dangers posed by the SPP and is working hard to expose and defeat Harper’s pro-corporate and deep-integrationist agenda.