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Campaigning for accountability

Submitted by on January 29, 2010 – 4:55 pmNo Comment

Culture-Politics-2NDP MP Peter Julian can’t understand why, if the ruling Conservatives had nothing to hide, they would hold secrets from Canadians.

Julian says the NDP have 10 reasons they oppose the Security and Prosperity Partnership, an initiative aimed at further integrating Canadian, American and Mexican security and energy policies.

First signed by the Liberals in 2005 and furthered by the Conservatives since, the SPP is being called NAFTA on steroids. The initiative is being blamed for everything from the implementation of no-fly lists to the rapid development of the Alberta tar sands and the future export of fresh water to the U.S.

The SPP isn’t so much contentious in that it makes one country richer and the other poorer, says Julian, but that the elite in each participating country fatten their coffers by implementing policy without consulting with the public.

“Canadians believe profoundly in our ability to make our own decisions,” says Julian, eschewing the SPP’s secretive, top-down approach.

The Council of Canadians say though the SPP cuts across many of their campaigns, the number one issue is the lack of accountability, the lack of democracy.

Stewart Trew, a writer and researcher for the council, says the COC wants the government to, “at the very least, open up the debate on the desirability and the necessity of such an integration project.”

Trew points out that since the North American Competitiveness Council was started in June 2006, the COC has been calling on the government to disband it.

The NACC is a group of chief executive officers from some of the continent’s largest multinationals who, every year, sit with Felipe Calderon, George Bush and PM Stephen Harper to discuss changes to Canadian policy. Needless to say, the public and the media are not invited.

Celeste Cote, a representative of the Students Federation of the University of Ottawa, says the idea of Canada’s leaders meeting in a room with 30 CEOs, deciding the country’s future without consulting its constituents, is fundamentally unjust.

“Canadians aren’t being represented through this, and I really don’t think that companies like Wal-Mart and Lockheed Martin have our best interest at heart,” she says. “They have their own goals. It’s all about profit.”

Cote, who points out that the privatization of education and corporate funding of research are but two of the 300-400 policies being changed under the SPP agreement, believes breaking down trade barriers is coming at the expense of Canadian respect for democracy, health, security and human rights.

Globalization in general, and North American free trade in particular, says Teresa Healy, senior researcher with the Canadian Labour Congress, “seems to preach the free-flow of goods and people, but we’re seeing barriers being put up. We’re seeing corporate interests dominating social interests.”

For the CLC, the challenge to labour rights is not about any absolute number of jobs, but the disparities and poor conditions of the workers employed in Canada being created under the initiative.

“Workers in the transportation industry are finding themselves under increased scrutiny,” Healy says, highlighting that the families of many employees in the industry are given rigorous security checks. “Airline workers are themselves being asked to be agents of security. They are the ones administering the no-fly lists.”

Regulations have diminished in the all three countries under the SPP, Healy says, to meet the standards that industry promotes.

In Canada, one flight attendant services every 30 passengers on board an airplane; in the U.S., one flight attendant caters to 46 passengers. Under the SPP, Canada is to meet the lower standards of the U.S.

“But wouldn’t that decrease people’s safety?” Healy questions. “So whose safety and security is this agreement there to protect?”

Healy highlights that Canada has spent decades building up a strong manufacturing industry only to turn back to a resource-based, boom-bust economy. As the country moves from pumping one million barrels of oil out of the Alberta tar sands to five million, Healy says, “the environmental devastation will be unbelievable”

Healy understands it can be lonely waiting for socialism in Alberta, but can’t comprehend why the pipelines in the province flow south to the U.S., not east and west. She believes Canada, under the SPP, has failed its employees, its economy and the environment.

“Committees are set up to further uranium, oil and natural gas exploration,” Healy says, “most of which will be used to satisfy the energy needs of the U.S.”

The Green Party’s international trade critic, Dr. Janet Eaton, is frank with her analysis of the SPP’s role in the tar sands development.

“We don’t have the oversight anymore – we’re losing our regulatory framework,” says Eaton. “For example, the National Energy Board assessed our pipelines, instead of having the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency do the job, making it easier to develop the tar sands without the needed environmental scrutiny.”

In addition to using valuable natural gas to fuel the machines that extract the oil from the tar sands, Eaton says, it also costs the country three barrels of fresh water to extract one barrel of oil.

By using excessive amounts of water to get the oil, Eaton says, Canada’s most valuable natural resource is being diminished through depletion and contamination.

The Metis Nation of Alberta say many oil sands projects sit below a groundwater channel flowing through the Athabasca River, Canada’s largest aquifer. There have already been “several accidental steam blowouts.” The Metis believe that it’s only a matter of time before the massive underground fresh water system gets polluted.

Minister Julian says when the NDP obtained documents about the SPP through Access to Information requests, energy and fresh water provisions were the most heavily censored.

Julian wonders why, if the Conservatives had nothing to hide, they would make sure that documents pertaining to significant Canadian policy were blacked out.

“You have to look at the SPP as a giant jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of pieces missing,” he says. “We may only have 20-25 per cent of the pieces.”

Remi L. Roy

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