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On August 30, the Globe and Mail published an editorial entitled “Avoiding getting stuck with the bill” that missed the target in terms of the NAFTA debate.

In the context of the settlement with AbitibiBowater, the editorial asks whether the federal government should sue the provinces for contravening to NAFTA. But the real question is should private corporations have the right to sue the federal government for lost profits.

The problem here is NAFTA itself. Without getting into the specifics of this case with AbitibiBowater, there is a larger lesson here. These “free-trade” deals are, essentially, charters of rights for corporations, which grant exaggerated power to private interests. 

Canadians have already bailed-out many industries in times of crisis. But should Canadians also have to pay these companies when we do not bow-down to them?

It is clear we will see more and more cases like this if some clauses of NAFTA are not revised and included in new trade deals with other entities, like the one the Harper government is quietly striking with the European Union.

These corporate lawsuits—and even the threat of legal action—may chill governments and diminish their capacity to act for the common good. Governments should not be penalized for doing their job.

The debate on which order of government should pay is important, but secondary because at the end of the day it’s always taxpayers who get stuck with the bill.

The Globe says, “The taxpayers of Canada need some concrete assurance that they will not have to pick up another such tab.” Yes they should. Let’s scrap a few lines from NAFTA.

Paul Moist, CUPE National president