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Protection for our cheeses or protection from the Taliban?

October 31, 2013

2-minute read

In times like ours of accelerated islamization in Québec, we cannot possibly ask the government to do everything. Of course, in an ideal world, it would worry about the consequences of the pipeline through which Enbridge will transport dirty oil across Québec and it would put an end to austerity which has revealed itself counter-productive both for the economy and for services to the population.

But one must prioritize, and the government launched a battle against religious symbols in the public service. Now the attack is taking up all the space available in public debate.

Presumably, this need to prioritize also explains why Marois’s government calls upon collective aspirations to deny fundamental rights on the one hand, but on the other hand has no qualms when it comes to transferring to stateless administrative courts powers invested in the state of Québec.

That is exactly what the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which Canada is about to sign with the EU, has in store for us. This type of free trade agreement locks up a certain number of legal provisions so that the people’s elected officials cannot infringe upon them. Cases of litigation are brought to transnational courts devoid of any democratic legitimacy.

Back at the end of the 90s, negotiations for the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) fell apart when NGOs learnt about the secret negotiations. The public, now aware of what was being discussed behind closed doors, rejected the idea that its government would abdicate its powers in order to protect the interests of investors.

Yet, that which MAI did not achieve on a global scale was already being put in place by regional treaties (e.g. NAFTA) or bilateral ones (between two countries).

Incidentally, the American company Lone Pine Resources based its $250M lawsuit —filed in October against the federal government— on NAFTA’s Chapter 11. The company blames Ottawa for Québec’s moratorium on shale gas production, which prevents it from earning the profits so long dreamed about. The ecological aspirations of the citizen movement which stood up against shale gas production is obviously taken out of the equation. On the contrary, Lone Pine deems “capricious” Québec’s governmental decision.

This time, as part of the Agreement negotiated in secret with the European Union, we know that Québec’s cheese makers will jeopardized, that public utilities (including Hydro-Québec) will not be able to favour local suppliers when awarding contracts, that it will be increasingly hard to use generic medicine and thus to limit drug costs, etc.

The Réseau québécois sur l’intégration continentale (RQIC) denounced this week in an open letter the profoundly antidemocratic nature of the process.

And that’s not even all. The free trade agreement being discussed is innovative in that it calls upon a “negative list” approach. It means that negotiators have not written down the agreement coverage in the official documents, just a list of what is not (yet) covered by the Agreement. In short, the Agreement will cover all that can be or that will one day be “commoditized” — and that is not explicitly mentioned in the exclusions.

How can a nationalist government gladly agree to put a straitjacket on its own parliament vis-à-vis foreign investors? Was it feeling less courageous when it confronted them than when it stood up before employees wearing a headscarf and explained its preference towards firing them to consolidate “Québec’s values”?

In any case, it seems as though we must sacrifice our small cheese makers to favour instead European multinational companies. Québec’s government is delighted by a potential compensation from the federal government for those that will be losing money. It seems useful to point out that we’re still waiting for payment of similar “compensations for losses” promised when the US-Canada free trade agreement was signed, more than 20 years ago.

In short, we sure would like to protect cheese makers, but unfortunately it seems as though secularism does not provide for the separation of state and international markets. Collective choices are important when we’re talking about headscarves, but not when we’re talking about the economy.

One must learn to prioritize and Marois’s government has chosen to do all that can be done to avoid the banks of the St. Lawrence River falling into the hands of the Taliban. I guess it’s just too bad for cheese makers.

This article was written by Guillaume Hébert, a researcher with IRIS—a Montreal-based progressive think tank. 

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