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.
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.