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Canada-European Free Trade Agreement (CETA)

According to a new confidential document obtained by the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC) dated June 5, 2013, Canada is apparently willing to do whatever it takes to finalize negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and prepared to bow to the demands of the European Union in several key areas of difference. Meanwhile, Quebec is standing by, and in some cases condoning the last-minute concessions.

The document reveals that in contrast to what the negotiator for Quebec, Pierre-Marc Johnson, has maintained from the start, the public contracts of Hydro-Québec will not be excluded from the agreement provisions. More than 35 percent of calls for tenders issued by the Quebec government corporation for contracts awarded to contractors or suppliers will be open to European companies. This corresponds to $390 million annually for the purchase of goods alone.

Hydro-Québec is one of the main drivers of our economy,” stated RQIC Spokesperson Pierre-Yves Serinet. “Not only does it generate significant revenue for the Quebec government, it also contributes to regional and local economic development and creating and maintaining quality jobs by favouring companies in this province. With this action, the Marois government is giving away its capacity to direct spending and generate spin-off benefits for the Quebec economy. This is a major concession that we find unacceptable.”

This is particularly alarming considering that the EU has also made gains with regard to protecting private investment. A review of the document reveals that the European definitions of fair and equitable treatment and indirect expropriation will be retained, opening the door to an increase in investor-state lawsuits.

Canada is agreeing to give excessive rights to EU companies that from now on will not hesitate to take our government to court whenever they find that the policies legitimately adopted in the public interest by any federal, provincial or municipal government are holding back their profits,” noted Mr. Serinet.

Meanwhile in October 2012, Minister Jean-François Lisée assured Quebec’s presence alongside Canada in an effort to reduce the scope of provisions limiting our governments’ capacity to fulfil their roles. “When Pierre-Marc Johnson says that the time is right, as quoted recently in Le Devoir, are we to conclude that Quebec is throwing in the towel and supporting this concession on the part of the federal government? If CETA is ratified in its present form, the people of Quebec have to wonder what time zone he’s in,” added Serinet.

Concerns are also raised in relation to monopolies and government corporations, as the document indicates that the overall objective is being achieved and helps to ensure that there is no way to circumvent the obligations of the CETA or deny access to markets when public authorities are acting through private entities.

Does this mean that a service contract awarded to a private company is a privatized service that cannot be re-municipalized under any circumstances without incurring exorbitant penalties even if it remains under public authority?” asked Mr. Serinet. “The Quebec government urgently needs to put its cards on the table in these discussions and clearly expose the impact of the CETA on the SAQ, Hydro-Québec, public transportation systems, water distribution services and others.”

The document outlines numerous other gains for the EU at Canada’s expense. One of the most worrisome, from the viewpoint of maintaining provincial areas of jurisdiction, is the clause on the extent of CETA signatories’ obligations.

The document describes outcomes fulfilling the EU’s ambitions. For example, it reveals that Canada assumes full and entire responsibility for any measures adopted by the provinces and agrees to take “all necessary measures” to ensure compliance with the CETA.

The RQIC is consequently calling on the Quebec government, and Minister Lisée in particular, to fulfil its promises to show transparency to civil society and allow informed public debate on the CETA.

The government of Quebec needs to assure us that it retains the right to reject the agreement if it is not in the best interests of all Quebecers,” Mr. Serinet concluded.