Canada is negotiating a new trade deal with the European Union. The proposed deal poses a serious threat to local democracy and public services across this country.
European, Canadian and U.S. companies have long worked to advance their privatization agenda through trade negotiations. To date, Canada has successfully shielded municipal and provincial services like education, health care, water, social services and waste disposal from trade agreements.
For both the European Union and the Conservative Government of Canada, the primary goal of these negotiations is to expand market opportunities for multinational service corporations. Many of the world’s largest corporations active in the privatization of public services are owned by European companies.
Talks were officially launched on May 6, 2009 in Prague and will continue in Ottawa, October 19—23. Ongoing negotiations are scheduled to conclude by the end of 2010.
In 2005, talks between Canada and the European commission began for two main reasons. One was the barriers presented by public services being under provincial control, and the other was European opposition excluding public services from trade rules.
The Europeans have now received direct assurances from Canada that provincial governments and the public services they are responsible for would be fully bound by the treaty.
The goals of the discussions are to eliminate barriers to trade and investment. These so-called “barriers” are the instruments that allow public agencies to keep programs and services accessible to keep communities strong through local purchasing and to regulate in order to protect workers, the environment, and public health.
Importing a Failed Privatization Model
Restructuring in Europe over the past several decades has led to a massive increase in the privatization of public services including water, energy, telecommunications, postal, education and social services like child care.
Under new EU trade rules, governments are no longer allowed to give preference to local or non-profit providers hampered from regulating to protect and improve their local economies and communities.
The Harper government will welcome European pressure to follow suit: privatize and de-regulate, and tie the hands of provincial and municipal governments.
A powerful corporate lobby is backing Harper’s political agenda in these negotiations. More than 100 corporations have formed a group called ‘The Canada-EU Roundtable’ and signed onto a declaration supporting the Canada-EU agreement.
The list includes water multinationals: Suez and Veolia from France; pharmaceutical giants Bayer AG; Glaxo SmithKline and Merck; infrastructure companies SNC-Lavalin; Bombardier and Bilfinger Berger AG; and genetically modified seed producer Monsanto Canada, along with huge energy and mining companies and financiers active in public-private partnerships.
What is at Risk?
Trade treaties by definition reduce the capacity of democratically elected officials to make decisions in the public interest and restrict governments’ ability to regulate. They do this by imposing requirements to financially compensate the private sector for lost market access where private companies are active.
In this way, trade agreements discourage expansion of public services such as health care and child care. These agreements also often prohibit government from requiring that companies hire local workers or purchase locally made products, compromising the vitality of communities.
Because of a clause in the existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whatever is given up in negotiations with the EU will also become subject to trade rules with the United States and Mexico. NAFTA’s ‘most favoured nation’ clause (article 1103) states that each NAFTA country will provide the same treatment to all countries with which it engages in trade relationships.
So, if we give European water or health companies access to our provincial services, we may well have to offer the same access to U.S. and Mexican companies.
The ability of local governments to control, provide, regulate and protect essential public services from privatization is clearly threatened.
What we want:
People in both Canada and Europe want public services that are owned and operated by democratically elected governments and run on a not-for-profit basis. There is no place for trade deals that prohibit keeping our services and infrastructure public and keeping our tax dollars flowing back into our communities.
Like Canada, many European countries have a strong history of social democratic programs and strong public services. Let’s learn from our best practices and keep corporate profits out.
Email or call your Member of Parliament and talk to them about your concerns.
To find your MP: www.parl.gc.ca and enter your postal code.
Send a copy to Minister of International Trade, Stockwell Day: DayS@parl.gc.ca