The One Question to Ask a Conservative Candidate in This Election

He did it. Stephen Harper dropped the writ and we’re heading into a 78 day election campaign. Oh joy!

I’m serious.

I intend to have a real conversation with my Conservative MP, the ditzy Joan Crockatt.

I expect our conversation to go something like this:

Ding dong.

(Dog erupts into manic barking. Mr Soapbox grabs his collar and hauls him away from the front door. I step out and greet Joan who’s wearing a bright smile and is surrounded by minions trying to keep her out of trouble).

Me: Yes?

Joan: Hi, I’m Joan Crockatt. I’m your MP. Blah, blah, blah. I hope I can count on your support.

Me: If you can answer ONE question for me  Joan, you’ve got my vote.

Joan Crockatt calling the PM (see below)

Joan: Oh goody. Shoot.

Me: What on earth are you guys doing with the TPP?

Joan’s face darkens as she struggles to remember what the TPP is.

Me: The T-P-P. The Trans Pacific Partnership. You know, the 12 country trade deal with the US, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei.

Your international trade minister was in secret meetings all week trying to nail it down but the deal fell through.

Joan brightens. She just remembered that the dairy farmers put pressure on Harper not to reduce the quotas and tariffs on foreign milk, cheese and dairy products. She checks out my house in the City and assumes I’m furious with anyone who dares stand between me and my cheap imported yoghurt.    

Joan: Don’t worry dear voter. Mr Harper will finalize the TPP on the campaign trail and when he’s re-elected he’ll make sure that you’ll have all the inexpensive milk, cheese and yoghurt your little heart desires.

Me: Actually I’m on the dairy farmers’ side. Kudos to them for being able to throw a spanner in the works.

Why does the Prime Minister want us to give up our sovereignty to satisfy a foreign corporation’s bottom line?

Joan: What?

Mr Harper pondering sovereignty

Me: The TPP, like NAFTA and CETA (our pact with the EU) and FIPA, gives foreign corporations the right to sue our government for passing laws that protect our environment, our health and our right to cheap drugs if those laws cut into their profits.

Joan: What?

Me: Joan, it’s the ISDS clause—the investor-state dispute settlement clause.

So far Canada has been hit by 36 NAFTA claims for passing laws that benefit Canadians.

These cases are decided by secret arbitration panels made up of domestic and foreign lawyers, not the courts. Their decisions can’t be appealed.

Do you know who these people are Joan?

Joan: Um, no.

Me: Well, neither do I, but they have unlimited power to interpret treaties, laws and court decisions and impose penalties that we taxpayers have to pay.

Joan: Surely you’re overstating the issue.

Me: Really? Eli Lily filed a $500 million suit to stop us from getting cheaper generic drugs. Lone Pine wants $250 million because Quebec imposed a fracking moratorium. ExxonMobil’s sub Murphy Oil won $17.3 million because Labrador and Newfoundland required the world’s most successful company to dedicate .33% (point three three percent!) of its revenue to training local workers and Bilcon wants $300 million because a federal/provincial environmental assessment resulted in it not getting a permit to build a quarry and marine terminal on Nova Scotia’s environmentally sensitive coastline.

There are 8 more cases pending. The total fines run will run over $2 billion. That’s $2 billion in taxpayer dollars that will not go to healthcare, childcare, security or infrastructure.

Joan: Well, that’s the price of free trade.

Me: That’s what Harper says, but France and Germany disagree.  The CETA with the EU has the same investor-state dispute settlement clause, but France and Germany are balking at handing their sovereignty over to a pack of lawyers and businessmen, perhaps because the last time they lost their sovereignty it was due to war.

So back to my question: Why is Mr Harper pushing Canada into the TTP?

Joan furrows her little brow and says: Let’s call Mr Harper and ask him.

(*Dialing on cell phone*)

Mr Harper talking to Joan Crockatt

Hello? Mr Harper sir? It’s Joan “I’ll do whatever you say” Crockatt. I’ve got a voter here who wants to know why you’re prepared to sign the TPP which contains the investor-state dispute settlement clause…

(Muffled squawks)

Yes Sir. Thank you Sir.

Joan smiles sweetly: Mr Harper says he’s the only leader you can trust to deliver a strong economy and keep us safe from terrorists. He says Justin Trudeau has nice hair but just isn’t ready and Tom Mulcaire has a nice beard but is a pinko…so can I count on your vote?

I look at Mr Soapbox who’s finally managed to calm the beast and say: “Roy, release the hound!”


Conservatives predict disaster if Canada fails to join TPP. Why?

We’ve signed NAFTA with the US and Mexico. We have FIPAs with China and Russia. We’re putting the final touches on an aggressive trade agreement with India and have trade agreements with everyone from Armenia to Venezuela.

So why do we need a different trade agreement (NAFTA 2.0?) with the US, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei (Brunei?). 

The cardinal rule in business is never assume a risk you don’t understand.

The same holds true in a democracy.

It’s time for Mr Harper to make the TPP an election issue. He’s just extended the campaign period to 78 days. That’s 26 more days than Brian Mulroney had when he made NAFTA the center piece of his campaign.

If Mr Harper wants Canadians to trust him as the only leader who can protect the economy, he needs to demonstrate why Canadians should share his blind faith in unfettered free markets.

It’s called putting your money where your mouth is.

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40 Responses to The One Question to Ask a Conservative Candidate in This Election

  1. jerrymacgp says:

    Free Trade, in all of its various permutations since the first Mulroney-era Canada-US FTA, has done nothing to protect Canadian jobs. Instead, it has changed Canada from a branch-plant economy, which it once was, into a closed-plant economy, where the only jobs growth is in the minimum-wage service sector. And, trade isn’t really free, unless you’re a corporation: Canadians who shop across the border, either in person or online, still have to pay duty on their purchases.

    Sadly, none of the major parties, not even my own NDP, have had the courage to propose a bold policy on trade, like tearing up NAFTA and coming up with something that truly benefits Canadians. Instead, all we have is timid incrementalism.

    • Jerry, good point. Canadians are finally starting to understand two things about these deals: (1) despite the hype they’ve done little (if anything) to diversify our economy and (2) as the lawsuits roll in we’re in a worse position than we ever were with respect to protecting the environment and creating new jobs. Given the importance of climate change and the economy it’s reasonable for us to expect the leaders of all of the federal parties to the TPP, NAFTA, CETA, FIPA, FTA etc etc etc on the agenda.
      Oh and on the topic of incrementalism, if our government is only prepared to take baby steps, might I suggest following in the footsteps of Germany and France and pushing back on the ISDS clause.

      • lenoresc28 says:

        Way back when I knew “Free Trade” was wrong for all the problems that have ensued. (Kind of like “free love” in the 60’s.) But too many who believed they REALLY understood business and the economy chose to ignore the very problems occurring which many others warned them about. That is, of course, aside from those who knew but didn’t care and thought it would be good.
        Thank goodness, more Canadians are finally starting to really understand.
        And great piece by the way!

      • Thanks Lenore. I just checked the federal government’s web page on trade agreements. It appears there are 60 plus in place with everyone from the Andean Community to Uruguay and another 20 odd FIPAs and and FTAs under negotiation. No wonder the Globe and Mail described the TPP negotiations as so complex that only a few trade experts understand them. With that many agreements already in place or being negotiated, it must be getting really difficult for the negotiators to be sure they’re bargaining away things they still have the right to bargain away.

  2. Ted says:

    The Abitibibowater deal is another example of the ISDS type clause under NAFTA. This company closed shop in NFLD so Danny Willaims retaliated and under the NAFTA tagreement, taxpayers were on the hook for $130 million. An infuriated Harper vowed that in future, it would be pronvinces on the hook for these imposed fines (even though they had no say in the NAFTA deal). Earlier Canada lost to Ethyl Corp regarding a carcinogenic fuel additive that the government tryed to ban. Taxpayers lost the battle under NAFTA and the Ethyl Corp added another $13 million to its coffers. The only leader willing to discuss the free trade agreements (actually it would be btter to label them coprorate bills of right) is the Green’s Elizabeth May. The main charge regarding these free trade agreements appears to come from The Council of Canadians and the CCPA. The TPP, CETA, and all the other free rtrade agreements need to be top of mind when your friendly upbeat wind-up consertvative candidate comes knocking on our doors.

    • Thank you, Ted and Susan!! These are the chronological accounts that we need to see in the face of Canadians continually!! I only wish I had your skill in relating these facts. Instead, I will continue to appreciate your dependable contributions …. keep ’em coming … and I will pass them on to the best of my ability! Merci et bonne chances! 😉

      • I’m sure I speak for Ted when I say thanks for your comments Jane. I know you’re working hard on these and other issues, your support means a lot!
        Take care.

    • Ted, thanks for this additional information. You’re absolutely right when you say that The Council of Canadians and the CCPA are fully engaged in this issue. I was pleased to see people like Osgoode Hall law prof Gus Van Harten join the debate with the publication of his book Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada’s Lopsided Investment Deal with China
      The CCPA devoted its July/Aug newsletter to this issue. It presents a very clear picture of what’s wrong with these trade agreements. And just to be clear, Canadian corporations are just as ruthless in taking advantage of the ISDS process to bring little countries in which they have investments to their knees. Here’s the link

  3. Wonderful post Susan! Thank you for your clarity (and humour). I can’t understand why we have to follow along when we are not getting anything for following along! If this continues we won’t be able to stand on our own two feet in the world economy.

    • Thanks Linda. Given we both have a legal background I thought you might be interested in the rationale for ISDS. When we entered into NAFTA with the US and Mexico, we (and presumably the US) decided the only way to avoid being shafted by Mexico’s corrupt courts was to set up an independent arbitration process. Maybe that logic worked for corporations back then, but it’s a little silly to apply it now. If France and Germany are prepared to risk going through the local courts (and we little people are stuck with local courts whether we like it or not), then surely global corporations can manage it. Law prof Gus Van Harten analysed 140 decisions made by these arbitration panels. He found–surprise, surprise–that arbitrators adopt an investor friendly interpretation, and that’s why corporations will lobby Harper hard to make sure the ISDS process stays in these agreements.

  4. Granny Grump says:

    Thank you all. After reading your posts I’ve got a much better understanding of these trade deals. They made my spidey senses tingle but I didn’t have enough info to grasp all the implications.

  5. Ted Hopkins says:

    Yes, this is the one question, but include TTIP and TiSA.

    • Ted, I had to look these up. TTIP is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The TiSA is the Trade in Service Agreement. Both include an ISDS clause. Given their scope and reach I can see why you’ve added them to the list. Makes one wonder just how much further we have to go before we’ve managed to hand the governance of our countries over to global corporations.

  6. Bruce Jackson says:

    The call for an election did it not come before the omnibus budget bill was passed into law or did I miss something?

    Just wondering?

  7. jvandervlugt says:

    Hello Susan. Thank you for an interesting blog. I am relieved that you are aware of these different agreements and issues and can write a concise summary for someone like me, an average Canadian, who with working full-time and running around doing different things is not up-to-date on her politics.

    What struck me with your blog is that Harper is at it again, calling down his competition, Trudeau and Mulclair. My mother always said name-calling does not look good on anybody.

    In his stupid commercial which I just hate, he only attacks Justin Trudeau. My spouse made an interesting comment, he said Harper doesn’t attack Mulclair, does he not think he’s competition? To me, if Harper doesn’t think Mulclair is competition, that’s another example of Harper’s short-sightedness.

    I “liked” the Mulclair FB page because once again, like the late Jack Layton did, I feel like the NDP are trying to reach me, instead of Harper, talking above me–to a suit. Mulclair also is sending out a positive message of “time for change.” I remember when Mulroney was in power I got the feeling he was ready to sell us to the US. I get the feeling Harper will do the exact same thing. He’ll sell us out to the oil executives. I don’t know who I’m going to vote for yet, I know who I’m NOT going to vote for and that’s Harper. Thank you for keeping us informed.

    • Joanna, the Globe & Mail today said Harper is in a bit of a bind because in order for him to get a majority government he needs to knock both Trudeau and Mulcair out of the game. However if he succeeds in turning voters away from Mulcair, the polls indicate that they’ll go over to Trudeau, not the Conservatives. Who knows, it’s early days. Lke you I’m not impressed with attack ads, but, hey, it’s Stephen Harper, what else would we expect?

  8. Darryl Kesslar says:

    I appreciate the article and have long agreed that these trade deals and more amount to ‘corporation rights’ over citizen benefit.

    I am, however, curious about the trade disputes and fines that may have been fought and won by Canada ( read corporations based or wholly owned by Canadians)

    Do you have any of those statistics?

    My gut tells me that it would be minimal and I’m definitely not tying to imply that if it ‘balances out’ that everything is good.

  9. Cute but I can assure you she would walk away as soon as you mentioned TPP. I doubt she’s cleared for confrontations and her retinue would move her along right away.

  10. Carlos Beca says:

    The saddest part of your post is the fact that despite all of the absurd stuff in these agreements, the Conservatives manage to convince people that these deals are just what we need to become a wealthier country. No one knows of these disputes between Canada and other countries and I just read for the first time that it is actually not decided in courts but simply by groups of lawyers and business men that more likely take cuts from these disputes. The fact that pseudo educated people like Stephen Harper promote these deals and the fact that those in the opposition do not oppose them aggressively is treason in my view. All of this will one day explode and then we will have all the gurus and experts asking why such a perfect system went wrong.
    It is time to shut all of this crap down.

    • Carlos, these ISDS arbitrations are very lucrative for lawyers. The CCPA newsletter (I keep quoting it because there is so little information out there about the inner workings of these panels) says legal costs average over $8 million per case, sometimes as high as $30 million with 80% of that going into lawyers pockets and that lawyers who sit on panels can make up to $3000 a day.
      Apparently three Canadian lawyers are part of the top 15 lawyers who sit on these panels. They are Marc Lalond, Henri Alvarex and Yves Fortier. Mr Fortier was on the board of directors of a company I worked for as corporate counsel. I found him to be a gracious and generous man. That was years ago before he became a prominent figure on the international legal scene so I can’t speak to how he’d respond to the CCPA’s comments. In any event here’s an article that describes how arbitrators have lobbied against governments trying to restrict the language in trade agreements to reduce their negative impact on environmental, labour and other laws.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I figured this is what was happening but it is worse than I thought. TPP is the crime of the century and if approved it will have serious consequences for us mortals. For the elites and the corporations it is one more step to paradise. Here is one more directly related to it

        Not surprising at all, but has anyone in the government or the opposition mentioned this?
        Nope and they will not. I doubt that even the NDP will stop this deal. The Liberals would not either because they are in the same boat, and Justin Trudeau has his days counted especially when today it has been announced that in the middle of the election people from his own party are moving to the NDP. People these days move to whatever gives them a possible seat in the house. In the meantime our own Alberta Government’s only public statement of the last couple of months was yesterday when the premier was responding to Harper’s unbelievable attack. The first thing he said was that she cannot put a budget together. Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t the Conservative government’s federal budget delayed 3 months because they wanted to fudge it?
        Harper has a serious mental problem and more importantly he is a malicious human being. It is astounding to me that people even think of voting for this man. Not only is the democratic process on the ropes but our ethics and principles as a society are seriously damaged.

      • Carlos, great point about it being a little hypocritical of Harper to complain about the Alberta NDP government when he himself delayed his budget for months in order to fudge it. Elizabeth May made that point very well last night in the debates.

        Back to the TPP for a moment. I couldn’t figure out how the dairy producers were able to put the brakes on the TPP negotiations. There are only about 12,700 dairy farms across Canada with an average of 77 cows each–not enough people (voters) to have political leverage. It turns out they were irrelevant. The Canadian government was going to bulldoze over their concerns. Then at the eleventh hour Canada discovered that the US is doing a side deal with Japan which will seriously impact our auto industry (lots more voters there) without talking to its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico. Now Canada and Mexico are scrambling to come up with a better auto deal. Japan says it’s shocked that the US didn’t clear the deal with its NAFTA partners, and the US isn’t saying anything at all. If that’s the kind of behavior we can expect from our NAFTA partner what’s the point of these trade deals in the first place?

      • carlosbeca says:

        Well as far as what happened with the car deal between Japan and the US and not presenting a word to their NAFTA partners, this to me is a typical US attitude. This is why they are loved around the world. They will do anything either for the benefit of their industries like in the case of their war machine or to always be the winner regardless of what they have to do to accomplish it. That became very evident in what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bombs as well as after in the horrific war in Vietnam. Never mind all the invasions after that including the great fiasco in Iraq. The interesting fact though is that they are the ones who pretend to be the war referees in the world. They have the biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world and they do not want anyone else to have them because God knows what happens if they fall in the wrong hands. Wrong hands? So far they were the only ones that have used them killing 125 thousand people with one drop. It is pathetic no matter how you look at it and it is mind boggling to me that it is still tabu to talk about the reality of these situations. Noam Chomsky is the only person who confronts these realities the way they are and he is vilified for it. Interestingly enough he has not been assassinated yet. People prefer to say that he is a radical operating in the political fringes.

    • Jim Wallace says:

      I believe what you say about the Conservatives convincing people that we need these deals, and the reason is that there is no-one prepared to give us any information about them. We sit and watch the crappy TV news that we are served, form a PC point of view (in my mind) and are not given any points to consider so we have no chance of understanding. You are so right that we have to shut all this crap down!!

      • Jim, you raise a very important point about how difficult it is to get the full story on these deals. And yes, the government keeps its intentions under wraps, but the news media needs to do a much better job at ferreting out what’s going on.

  11. Mikhail says:

    Typical liberal question. You got one thing wrong: “but the deal fell through”. Uh, no, it didn’t; a session ended without an agreement. Oh, and you can’t count, either. That’s FOUR questions.

    So, if you haven’t got your facts straight and you can’t count, why should we trust your judgment?

    • You shouldn’t. Canadians need to make up their own minds on the pros and cons of these trade deals. Harper said the TPP will “form the fundamental trading network of the entire Asia-Pacific region”. An interesting comment given that it doesn’t include China. The NDP said it will oppose any agreement that undermines supply management, which protects the dairy and poultry industries. The Globe reports that the dairy issue is the result of a chain reaction caused by New Zealand dairy producers wanting greater access to US markets and US dairy producers wanting assurance they’ll have a place to sell dairy products displaced by New Zealand imports. Great, but where are the Canadian dairy producers going to sell their dairy products displaced by the US dairy producers? The NDP will make TPP an election issue and we’ll all get a chance to decide for ourselves whether the benefits of TPP outweigh the risks.

  12. Carlos Beca says:

    Here is a very interesting report

    • Thanks for this report Carlos. While some people may disparage it because it’s written by a union, it’s my understanding that its author economists Jim Stanford is very well respected. I don’t much about the other economist, Jordan Brennan. It was interesting to watch Harper in the debate last night refuse to acknowledge that his government had done an abysmal job on the economy. As Elizabeth May said, he was “cherry picking” his so-called “facts”. I think people are starting to see through his rhetoric. Hopefully they’ll vote for chance in October.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I agree that May was fantastic to get Harper on his toes. Not surprising because she is the best politician in the House and the only politician in Canada I trust. Too bad that she is in a party that with the First Past the Post cannot go anywhere.

        Harper is a devious person and despite the fact that some people tell me he actually believes in what he is saying, I strongly believe that he knows very well that he is a fluke and he just lies like a Pro. He is a fascist within a system that does not allow him to show all the full colours. The lies about the Senate, the environment and everything else were appalling and in my opinion neither Trudeau or Mulcair took full advantage of it. Instead of talking about wanting to go to Paris to represent Canada or having politics in the bones, they should have attacked him with facts which are available everywhere. Even I have them. In this report, for example, it is clear that he is the second worse prime minister since Pearson. Whatever he spins is a bunch of lies. Even in the economy he has not been able to get one, only one budget surplus and he has added 150 billion to the country’s debt. These are the facts. I would have pounded this on his head in that debate until he passed out. Without drama nothing will change. He knows how to play the game very well. This is why he is happy that Elizabeth May is not invited for the other debates. She can easily get on his nerves because she fully knows the reality behind his spinning life. Not sure about the other two.

  13. Carlos, back to the TPP for a moment. The Economist ran an article about the TPP entitled “Into the home stretch”. (July 25, 2015) It was written before negotiations broke down in Hawaii. The article supported the TPP (not surprising given The Economist’s right wing bent) but including a few statements that were very troubling. It said “gauging the exact benefits of the TPP is tricky, not least because the trade talks are still confidential….Even when the details are known, it will still be hard to assess the impact.” The article goes on to say that “for the TPP to really make a mark” it has to draw in China and that the hope was that once the rules of commerce were agreed to, it would be harder for China to change them. Good luck with that! If the 12 original signatories want access to China’s market they’ll have to give China pretty well what it wants. That’s certainly what Harper did with the Canada/China FIPA.
    So what I take from The Economist article is that Harper pushed us to sign a trade deal without knowing how it would benefit the Canadian economy and unless the TPP eventually captures China, the benefits will be hit and miss in any event.
    And Harper wonders why we don’t trust him!

  14. Pingback: TEA & TWO SLICES | On Harper's Follies And An Alternative To Diner En Blanc At Crab Park | Scout Magazine

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