Tories claim Canada-Europe free trade deal will boost Canadian jobs. Unions disagree.
With NDP, Liberals and civil society groups criticizing Canada's secretive CETA agreement, VO continues our series on the pact's impact on Canadians' water, democracy, jobs and health. Part III examines the deal's employment claims.
“We're not against trade, my God!” said Paul Moist, national president of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), when The Vancouver Observer asked him about Canada's free trade agreement with Europe. “Canada's a trading nation.”
The devil, one could argue, is in the details. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) recently finished its ninth and final round of talks and is now being hammered out by bureaucrats. But its intense secrecy means that the Canadian public knows precious little about what the Conservatives boast will be the “most ambitious” trade agreement in history.
- Part I: Canada-EU free trade agreement called corporate Trojan horse
- Part II: Canada-EU free trade: water privatization not happening, authorities insist
- Part III: Tories claim Canada-Europe free trade deal will boost Canadian jobs. Unions disagree
- Part IV: Canada-Europe free trade: City of Victoria votes against 'clandestine' CETA deal
We do know that CETA contains a dispute process that sets transnational corporations up against governments, and restricts the freedom of municipalities and provinces to tender contracts. We also know it will be presented – complete – before Parliament later this year for approval, if all goes according to plan.
For the head of Canada's largest union, it's the secrecy that is most frightening.
“Our number one concern is the lack of transparency,” added Moist, CUPE's national president. “Trade unions in Europe get information sessions in the European Parliament.
“We'd like the opportunity to appear before a parliamentary committee. . . (but) because of their parliamentary majority on the trade committee, the Conservatives blocked a suggestion from the NDP that CUPE be allowed to speak. . . If it's a good deal, it'll stand the test of open, transparent discussion.”
More Canadian jobs from Canada-Europe free trade?
For Moist and other top labour leaders, the secrecy of CETA underscores what is seen as a deep-seated fear of popular discontent amongst officials – particularly in light of contradictory job creation predictions that spell either doom or delight for Canadian workers if the deal passes.
From the government's perspective, the deal would dramatically increase exchange with Europe – by 20 per cent, official figures suggest. That, said international trade minister Ed Fast, equates to more jobs in the wake of the financial crisis.
“It would also grow our economy by $12 billion or the equivalent of 80,000 new Canadian jobs,” Fast said at an event. “Translated, that would equal somewhere in the order of $1,000 in the pocket of every family in the country.
“Workers in every region of Canada – in our aerospace, aluminum, wood products, transportation, fish and seafood, and renewable energy sectors to name just a few – are counting on us to gain increased access to the European market.”
150,000 Canadian jobs would be lost to Europe: CCPA
Critics, however, note that Fast spoke of “the equivalent” of 80,000 jobs – it's an easy enough catchphrase to repeat, but will CETA actually create any new jobs in Canada?
“I just don't see the job creation,” Moist said. “It's more of a wish and a prayer. I don't see it adding to jobs.”
Last year, economist Jim Stanford crunched the government's numbers in a report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). According to his analysis, the predicted job gains are not only unrealistic – they may, in fact, be completely backwards.
Rather than 80,000 new jobs (or their “equivalent”), Canada would actually lose up to 150,000 under CETA, Standford argued in his detailed report Out of Equilibrium.
His reasoning is based on the fact that Canada has a substantial “bilateral trade deficit” with Europe – which means that we import far more than we export. Currently, that deficit is $15 billion in goods, and close to $4 billion in services.
The result of this unequal playing field is a net loss of employment here, Stanford writes, and that's without free trade. The hardest hit sectors from CETA, he believes, will be in machinery, chemicals, motor vehicle, and electronic equipment; only agriculture and minerals are predicted to grow, but not enough to offset the losses.
Under CETA, that trade deficit stands to increase even further as barriers and tariffs are reduced – a process of “liberalization” touted by neoliberal economists.
“Free trade with Europe will take a bad situation for Canada, marked by large deficits and lost jobs, and make it much worse,” he concluded. “There is no historical basis to conclude that free trade agreements are good for either Canadian exports, or for Canadian trade balances.
“Despite this observed failure, signing more free trade agreements seems to be the default policy response in Ottawa to Canada’s worsening global trade performance.”
With the deal on the verge of being signed on both sides of the Atlantic, the government is in no mood to have its economic forecasts called into question. Signing an increasing roster of trade liberalization ('free trade') deals around the globe is seen as an imperative to preserve Canada's economic position in the world economy.
Trade with EU will grow economy: Foreign Affairs department
“With one in five Canadian jobs dependent on trade, a trade agreement with the European Union has the potential to benefit Canada enormously,” said Rudy Husny, press secretary for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, in emailed comments to the Vancouver Observer. “Increased trade will lead to more jobs, which in turn will create economic growth for Canadian workers and their families.”
Beyond the emailed statements – reflecting the government's repeated assertions about job creation and economic growth – DFAIT turned down repeated requests for phone or in-person interviews.
Ken Lewenze, president of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union, echoed Moist's and Stanford's concerns about manufacturing jobs under CETA.
“Rebuilding a strong, vibrant and innovative manufacturing sector in Canada by signing more free trade agreements is like saying our society can be healthier if only we ate more chocolate,” he said. “It’s backwards logic.
“The past decade, over half a million manufacturing workers have lost their jobs. Most, like Caterpillar workers in London (Ont.), have seen these jobs vanish for good. Part of this decline is a result of policy decisions under free trade deals that have enabled private corporations to move capital across borders, regardless of the public good and often without consequence.”
Possible penalties for "discrimination" against European corporations
That public good – for unions and other advocacy groups – includes the right of municipalities and provinces to set policies as their see fit, as well as access to affordable generic medications.
While the government has insisted that nothing in CETA will hamper government health or environment policies, it is undisputed that the deal will impose penalties if contracts are tendered in a way seen as "discriminatory" against European corporations. Ensuring local companies benefit from public contracts? Discrimination. Forcing corporations to hire or buy locally? Possibly discrimination.
“It is hard to accept that any international agreement should prevent municipal, provincial, territorial state or federal governments from investing public resources in job creation, community economic development and economic renewal through its purchasing policies,” wrote the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) in its evaluation of CETA. “In a period of severe economic downturn and job losses, neither Canada’s nor the EU member states’ interests would be served by trading away the power of governments to support economic renewal and job creation.”
For some, however, the fact that Canadian unions are universally critical of the deal is unsurprising. Unions formed a backbone of strident opposition to trade liberalization over the past several decades, arguing that free trade would hurt labour standards, human rights and the environment.
Whether turning the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) into a key election issue in 1988, or joining gigantic street protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999 and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2001, the labour movement has played a key opposition role to trade liberalization.
“The fact is they are ideologically opposed to an agreement that hasn’t even been completed yet,” former trade minister Peter Van Loan told reporters. “I have no difficulty dismissing that and focusing on the fact that this is a free trade deal that offers enormous upside potential for Canadian jobs.”
For labour leaders, it's still not too late to mobilize public opinion against CETA – particularly in BC where next year's provincial election offers an opportunity to bring the deal to light.
“Canadians should be speaking to their elected officials,” Moist said. “Democracy should not be a one-way street in Canada.
“People should be speaking to their local officials. With a (BC) election next year, we're urging people: if anyone knocks on your door, ask (about CETA). We need to educate.”
Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the citizen advocacy group Council of Canadians, concurs.
“This is a good political moment in BC to have a public debate on this – one that might determine the future of these negotiations,” he said.