U.S. President Donald Trump hasn’t been shy about wanting a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. That’s great – because we should give him one.
Canada needs to fix two chapters in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) immediately. If we don’t get changes to these two chapters, Canada should walk away from this poorly negotiated deal altogether.
First, consider Chapter 6 of NAFTA. It dictates that the U.S. gets to have access to Canadian oil and gas and it prevents us from charging them anymore than we would charge to Canadians.
If NAFTA mandates American access to our oil and gas, how will we ever phase out the oil sands? How will we ever say no to the continuous development of what is Canada’s single biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions? (Did you know that in order for the oil sands to function they must also consumer massive quantities of natural gas, on top of massive quantities of water? How’s that for a one-two-three punch to our environment?) It is ridiculous that a country 10 times our size should have perpetual access to our fossil fuels.
As for having to charge the U.S. the same price as Canadians, there may come a day when we want to enact price controls to protect Canadian consumers – not reward our southern neighbours. There’s no sovereignty (or common sense) in Canada having an energy policy created in lockstep with America. Smart, sovereign nations don’t do this.
As Michael Byers comments in his excellent book Intent for Nation, Mexico managed to get a full exemption for its own formidable oil and gas sector. “If a developing country could do it, why couldn’t we?”
Who’s in charge?
The second chapter that must change is Chapter 11. Thanks to this terrible section, Canada is the most sued country in North America – and the majority of the times it is caused by American business interests challenging our environmental protection laws.
A 2015 study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found that more than 70 percent of claims over the past 10 years have been brought against Canada. That number is rising continuously.
For instance, a company with headquarters in Calgary but registered in the U.S., Lone Pine Resources Inc., sued the Canadian government for $250 million. Why? The Province of Quebec declared it was halting natural gas fracking and declared a moratorium on the dangerous practice, for both Canadian and foreign companies. However, Lone Pine argues it was not consulted before the ban nor compensated for its potential revenue loss.
A trade deal with investor protection clauses like NAFTA has been an environmental nightmare for Canada, not to mention a demonstration of an absence of our sovereignty. The result is that our governments have been increasingly uneasy in bothering to impose or enforce local environmental, health and safety standards on U.S. companies operating in Canada (or Mexico).
In another case cited by Byers and others, Ethyl Corporation, a U.S. chemical company, challenged a Canadian ban on the importation and use of a gasoline additive (and suspected neurotoxin) known as MMT. Canada lost a preliminary decision so ended up repealing the ban, apologizing to the American company, and then paid them $13 million in an out-of-court settlement. All this was occurring at the same time as individual U.S. states were banning MMT because of the environmental and health risks!
Time for a New Deal
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a rare opportunity to deal with these concerns decisively. NAFTA will soon be on the table, put there by an American president desperately trolling for support. Across the negotiating table from Trump and his team will be a globally popular leader in Trudeau who is determined to lead Canada down a progressive path. We have the momentum and we have the economic power and global reputation to be as formidable as we wish to be in negotiations.
We do not have to be what America wants, or even needs. We have to be the greatest version of ourselves, as a nation, that we can possibly be. Chapter 6 and Chapter 11 of NAFTA prevents this. It takes away our power. It harms our environment. It imposes itself on Canada’s future.
Let’s speak up to the Trudeau government on this issue before negotiations begin. Simply email the prime minister here and ask that he renegotiate Chapter 6 and Chapter 11 of NAFTA in Canada’s favour.
It’s time to take back what shouldn’t have been given away in the first place.
–Roderick Benns is the author of five books and is the publisher of the Precarious Work Chronicle, a social purpose news site. To comment on this blog, visit Facebook or Twitter @roderickbenns.