Recently, Postmedia columnist Michael Den Tandt took exception to Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada’s unrelenting opposition to CETA - the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement (“Canada-EU deal alive, to Greens’ dismay,” the Sudbury Star, Thursday, October 28, 2016). In his drive-by smear of May and the Green Party, Den Tandt left readers with the impression that Greens want to establish an agrarian society that looks like the Shire from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, if the Shire were run by Soviet Commissars. Den Tandt appears to have used little of actual substance in support of this notion, citing only the Green Party’s continued opposition to pipelines and trade agreements.
Had Den Tandt bothered to read “Vision Green”, the Green Party’s in-depth policy and priority handbook (available online for over a decade), he might have been surprised to discover that Greens don’t actually oppose trade deals. What the Green Party, and a growing number of other individuals and organizations take issue with are the corporate rights provisions that have been inserted into agreements, even though they have little to do with “free trade”.
The Green Party of Canada has always embraced the concept of “Fair Trade” – trade that emphasises national and regional sovereignty, human rights, and the environment. Fair Trade doesn’t prioritise the rights of multi-national corporations over those of democratically elected governments and the people who produce the goods and services that fuel our globalized world. Greens have long championed sustainable economic development that enhances our local quality of life as a priority over shifting local wealth into the hands of rich multinationals.
Fair trade is obviously a threat to the successive Liberal and Conservative governments that have bound and continue to bind Canada to trade agreements that are not fair or equitable. Liberals and Conservatives both have embraced agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the recently signed CETA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The Green Party’s fundamental issue with these “free trade” agreements is the inclusion of investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, like NAFTA’s Chapter 11. ISDS provisions take decision-making control out of the hands of democratically elected governments. Secret corporate-appointed star chambers rule on how labour laws and environmental initiatives might infringe on corporate profits. Thanks to Chapter 11, Canada has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most-sued country through trade tribunals, with most actions initiated by corporations impacted by federal and provincial environmental regulations (see: "NAFTA's Chapter 11 Makes Canada Most-Sued Country Under Free Trade Tribunals," the Huffington Post, January 14, 2015.
Free trade obviously isn’t working out the way that many had hoped. While there have been some undeniable successes, these have been offset by the growth of inequality through a widening of the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. Public opposition to these agreements is growing. In an effort to confuse and mischaracterize, neo-liberal apologists use terms like “creeping protectionism” and “backlash against international trade” to suggest that their opponents want to shut down trade between nations. Denigration of their opponents’ arguments through fact-free commentary seeks to marginalize a sustainable economic narrative that runs counter to the flagging neo-liberal agenda.
Elizabeth May and the Green Party have always had a strong vision for a truly sustainable Canada. It is a vision that obviously causes discomfort to those in power, wedded as they are to an economic system that poisons our environment and disenfranchises people. As we move further into the 21st Century, it’s going to become increasingly clear that on a planet of finite resources, the status quo of infinite growth simply can’t be sustained. Greens, with the help of many others, have already acknowledged these limits to growth, and are moving forward by laying the foundations for an equitable and sustainable society.
(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)