Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, September 19, 2014.
On September 12, 2014 the controversial Canada-China Foreign Investment and Promotion Agreement (FIPA) was ratified by the Harper government in a secretive manner, blatantly unbecoming of its important nature and long term consequences. Harsh criticism by many, loud accusations of a major sellout and the chills of having our country’s values betrayed once again by a government that seems to forget its true mission, that is all part of the package.
The sad part is that few knew about it until it happened. It makes one wonder how much of what is important to our well-being as a democratic country we know and how much do we have a say in.
The Hupacasath First Nations legally challenged the treaty in a Court of Law when it was first announced in 2012, arguing that such an agreement violates the constitutional rights of Aboriginal people. While the case managed to delay the signing of the treaty, it did not stop it. Nor did the solid facts provided by Osgoode law professor and global authority on investment trade deals and international arbitration panels, Gus Van Harten, in a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to reconsider the terms of a deal that he deems unfair to Canada.
Yet a strange level of secrecy made the treaty seem almost surreal to the busy citizens like you and me wrapped in the stress of everyday life. Some news outlets announced it, some did not, and overall it did not get a front seat with the major media outlets because… well, because it didn’t.
Media and us people relying on it for the daily newsfeed, function in a form of an awkward symbiosis: it’s not the truly worthy news that get the front page because they are not entertaining enough to most people, and the few to whom they are cannot bring up the numbers in a way that counts, financially speaking. More often than not, people want glimpses of celebrities lives, whether they are ill, get married, have babies or die. Sad but true, and double-edged sword; we can shape our society with our choices but do we exercise them the right way? If we don’t someone will make them for us. The very topic of this column is one sad example.
Among other things, the treaty in question gives way to Chinese investors to challenge and possibly even change Canadian laws, should existing laws happen to interfere with their investment plans. Worse yet, lawsuits to address that will not be decided in a court of law in Canada but abroad. ‘Hands off’ never sounded more threatening to a country, its constitution, natural resources and ultimately, its democratic values.
To not know the implications of such an agreement because we were not presented with it before a decision was made should make us wonder about how the upcoming elections should turn out. Being in charge of a country that has so much potential is no light deed. Understanding that today’s decisions shape our children’s tomorrow should make one stand in awe of it and ask themselves: do I really have what it takes?
The Canada-China Investment Treaty has just become the argument that it takes a lot more to keep our national dignity intact. Unlike other investment treaties, the terms are extremely unfavourable to Canada, and there is a high risk of future lawsuits that, should we lose, might just see us pay our sanctions in natural resources and large sums of money.
But… it’s a done deal and so it will be for the next 31 years, with a 15-year minimum term. Toss it and turn it on all sides, that’s a long time to be locked in any form of agreement, more so when your treaty partner has a clear upper hand.
In a democratic society, this kind of agreement should’ve taken all pro and cons arguments in, from all members of parliament and from the general public. None of that happened.
The press release that accompanied the signing also mentions the sectors of interests for the Chinese companies that want to invest in Canada: mining, oil and gas extraction. If you’re still rattled by the Northern Enbridge pipeline indignity, the treaty will seem more lugubrious than ever because once October starts (treaty comes in effect starting October 1), who knows what lies ahead.
We should not oppose treaties, far from that. Our history is witness that treaties work; they helped build Canada into what it is today. If we play it right and fair, if we keep it good for Canada. If our democratic values and sovereignty are respected by the leaders who oversee the signing of any treaty, our leaders that is, then other countries will sign their part knowing that we do not sell anything, but trade.
Advantageous to both parties, that’s how treaties are defined. History has plenty of examples of fair treaties (two-sided, benefiting both parties) and then plenty of examples of unfair ones (one-sided). We’re old enough to know the difference.
Fairness and transparency are never to be taken for granted, and no treaty signed by our government should, at any point in time, give anyone the impression that Canada is for sale when it’s not.