Canada European trade deal represents a chance to get it right

The Harper government is busy negotiating a trade deal with the European Union, but it isn’t on most people’s radars.  This may change as parliament returns but either way, it is time for more transparency and consultation from your federal government on this front.

This is not a diatribe against trade.  It is essential to our economy and to think otherwise would be irresponsible.  What needs to be stressed is that the negotiations for the proposed Canada European Trade Agreement (CETA) need to be done in a way that increases our opportunities without siphoning jobs away from Canada as we have witnessed under the  North American Free Trade Agreement.  It must be negotiated to preserve our values on things like health care, labour standards and environmental protection.

So far the government has made it clear that it will not accept any direction or suggestions from anyone who doesn’t fully support their vision on the subject.  In his first major speech as Canada’s Trade Minister, Ed Fast came out swinging at New Democrats calling us “anti-trade” and “protectionist”.  The suggestion that we are either of these is irresponsible – who in this country is actually against trade?  What Minister Fast has done is apply some convenient labels that somehow excuse him from actually discussing the important points we are raising.

New Democrats are fully aware that trade represents nearly half our GDP and that building our economy so it can better sustain more quality jobs can only happen when we develop new international markets for our value-added goods.  Any objections we have had with trade deals in the past have had more to do with their inability to protect Canadian jobs while opening our country to foreign ownership without appropriate conditions attached.   Deals that completely deregulate market places and leave government coffers bare deserve criticism.  We should be pursuing agreements that open doors for business without tying our hands at home.

We also need to consider how we support our businesses as they navigate an increasingly global marketplace.  The countries we are competing with support their global businesses with domestic industrial policies that strengthen their presence in the global market.  The Harper government has no such industrial strategy. 

 Trade deals can create jobs or ship them overseas. They can foster growth that supports our social programs or put these very programs at risk. They can promote human rights abroad or undermine Canadian values at home.  And, they can enrich our communities with new opportunities—or hollow them out.

Given what’s at stake, you would think the government would be consulting with Canadians and addressing our concerns.  But they aren’t.  Instead, they are slinging around accusations and framing the debate in black and white terms that does little for political discourse in Canada.   Frankly, that’s not good enough.

Certainly, trade must be a priority, but every agreement should deliver a clear net benefit to Canada. This means bargaining hard for deals that open up new markets while protecting Canada’s public services. This means fostering quality job creation by promoting exports of value-added goods over bulk exports of raw materials. This means making sure public health, environment and human rights concerns are front and centre.  That’s what New Democrats will continue telling this government and hopefully, they will get past name calling and listen.