10.21.2013 07:08 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: how the Opposition can use CETA to win votes

Compared to 1988’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA), this year’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is getting a pretty easy ride.

In 1988, Liberal leader John Turner vowed to “tear (FTA) up” if he became prime minister — and, owing to a very strong debate performance, he very nearly received the opportunity to do just that.

Turner and Ed Broadbent’s NDP told Prime Minister Brian Mulroney the FTA would destroy Canadian sovereignty.

But, on election day, Mulroney won a second massive majority — 169 seats to Turner’s 83 and Broadbent’s 43.

Since CETA was announced last week, we haven’t seen similar political blowback. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau issued a carefully worded statement: “We are broadly supportive of CETA, though we have yet to see its details.”

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP struck a similar tone — also in a statement, but (oddly) issued by a backbencher, not Mulcair: “New Democrats welcome progress towards a comprehensive new trade agreement with the European Union.”

For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, so far so good. No one wants to fight an election over CETA. Yet.

In the coming 2015 election, Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair may be fiercely competing for progressive voters, who traditionally are unenthusiastic about such trade agreements. A similar scenario played out in the 1980s.

What, then, are the parts of CETA that could be vote winners for Trudeau or Mulcair? There are five.

One, there may be a lot of job losses.

Much-quoted Unifor economist Jim Stanford projects as many as 150,000 jobs could perish, mainly in the manufacturing sector.

Given there were, in fact, many plant closures in the wake of the FTA, this prophecy does not seem all that far-fetched.

Two, there will be higher drug costs.

Pharmaceutical companies will argue CETA’s extension of patent protection will boost health care research and innovation — but an aging Canadian population is unlikely to be convinced. Under the terms of the deal-in-principle, drug companies are to receive up to two years extra patent protection, potentially costing provincial treasuries (and citizens) billions.

If the Grey Power lobby is angered, watch out, Team Harper.

Three, “buy local” or “buy Canadian” programs may be in peril. Farmers and rural Canada are now warily eyeing prohibitions in CETA against efforts to boost local businesses, and particularly family farms.

Leaked trade documents suggest such popular programs — and even pro-Canadian government procurement — will be wiped out under CETA. Already, influential rural lobbies like the dairy farmers are loudly voicing their opposition.

Four, some natural resources may be on the table. Other leaks, for instance, imply that even Canada’s water — and its delivery — may be offered up for privatization. If the final deal does so, there will be political fireworks aplenty.

Five, the entire agreement is shrouded in secrecy. Free trade advocates will argue that one can’t negotiate a complex deal in the media, and they’d be right. But it’s equally true that, until all of CETA is public, the deal is ripe for all manner of political mischief-making.

Will CETA be at the centre of the 2015 election campaign?

Time will tell.

But if coming polls show Trudeau and Mulcair splitting the big anti-trade progressive vote, you can count on it.

12 Comments


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    david ray says:

    this agreement to have a deal in a few years’ time is with the EU right? The same EU whose members include Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and of course Greece. That EU? The one hanging by a thread after being screwed over by Wall St. It is to laugh. I doubt there will be an EU in 2 or 3 years time.


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    Cameron Prymak says:

    I remember the hype about the agreement in tbe 80s and there is no doubt people now see things through the lens of off-shored, out-sourced, right-sized globalization.

    To me the problem is the middle class has been taking the brunt of the ‘transformative dislocation’. What politicians and some economists point to on their graphs showing employment levels as they will be affected by the global.movement of capital is in reality people, people with families who are now old enough to compare their prospects pre and post FTA.


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    Like you said, it could be an election issue. Will the Czech visa thing be a one-of or will it snowball and encourage 27 others to try and take us for a ride? Some of them may see this as a unique no-brainer classic leverage opportunity. I hope to hell not.

    I will count them chickens when they finally hatch.


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    Supertim says:

    Obviously the FTA did not destroy Canada, so Turner and Broadbent were wrong. I’d rather our political parties take sensible positions for the country and not ones they know are wrong, just to win an election. It is no wonder we hate politicians.


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      james Smith says:

      Please, keep the big lie going. The FTA has not made Canada prosper. The low value of the Loonie to the US Dollar in the ’90’s and early 2000’s did that. How’s that dollar at par working out for the manufacturing sector? The day after FTA Gillette closed Canadian manufacturing, followed by many, many other companies, some who don’t even warehouse in Canada any longer. If the FTA killed thousands of jobs our country would be that much more diverse & prosperous if we had engaged in sector by sector trade agreements.


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    dave says:

    I am sure that before the 1988 election I was able to go to my local library (in a relatively out of the way little city) and read the NAFTA agreement. I could see that it was an agreement to give a protected tier of legal staus to corporate citizens of both countries.

    This one seems weird; seems to the ‘free’ in free trade would connote open and transparent discussion, informing all of us what we are dealing with. Yet our BC gvt has said that they had to promise to keep their mouths shut to take part in the consultations.
    ‘Free’ and all this (paranoid) secrecy just seem to me to be at different ends of a spectrum.


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    JH says:

    So what you’re saying WK is that they’ll have to come out from cover to oppose CETA? Dangerous.
    Course they could try to walk the line, but quite frankly I’m not sure either Mulcair or Trudeau have the ability to do that. And if Quebec stays as firmly onside as it is now, that’s a big problem for both of them.
    Harper’s problem is that of herding cats and I’m not sure he has the temperment to do that for 2 years.
    Gonna be fun.


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    e.a.f. says:

    Quebec, wants to go its own way. they may not vote in favour of a free trade agreement with europe. what exactly will this do for us. It hasn’t done much for some european countries. Britain at least kepts its own currency.

    an agreement may not go over so well with the buy local set. some places its a big deal, especially when there are a number of small food producers.


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    Ronald MacD says:

    “Will CETA be at the centre of the 2015 election campaign?
    Time will tell.
    But if coming polls show Trudeau and Mulcair splitting the big anti-trade progressive vote, you can count on it.”

    Since when is protectionism “progressive”? It’s a comforting promise but it totally misleading Canadians.

    Really, Warren, you well know that the name of the game is now “global” and Canadians cannot isolate themselves from that brutal reality. Even if there were a Liberal-NDP government, they too would have to yield to global pressures to open up Canada to international trade. Currently we are trapped into the US market and protectionism would only drive us further into the arms of the Americans who would invoke NAFTA if they desired. The status quo is simply stifling Canadian manufacturing.

    Harper is trying to ship Canadian crude oil not only to the Pacific but also the Atlantic to liberate us from the continental US controlled market. I hope nobody here believes that Ontario manufacturing can survive in it’s present state of US entrapment. We need to venture into Asian and EU markets to keep Ontario factories humming, or else we just become hewers of wood and drawers of water, again!


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    Marc L says:

    Warren, there is nothing “progressive” about protectionism. Protectionism KILLS jobs over the long haul. And quoting Jim Stanford on the issue is disingenious…Jim will always oppose trade deals, no matter where or when. Marxists always oppose free trade.


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    Robin says:

    I can’t shake the feeling that the Harper Conservatives (Harper really) see Canada’s place in globalization as the providers of raw materials for more advanced economies with more efficient and cost effective manufacturing and refining infrastructure and skilled labour. With Free Trade Agreements that, hopefully, include free movement of labour regardless of citizenship, we may see more and more highly trained and educated workers and professionals migrating to other countries. The income gap between jobs in the resource sector corporations and the earnings of people working in the service sector may create challenges. Therefore, it may be prudent to develop well designed royalty, licensing and taxation regimes that can redistribute wealth to ensure community services and infrastructure, especially public transportation, are provided and housing is affordable. We will see. The devil is in the details, of course. And we don’t know what the details are yet.

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