Trade tsunami threatens sovereignty
New agreements will curtail governments’ ability to favour local firms for contracts, by Maude Barlow and Sid Ryan, Toronto Star, November 27, 2009
In 1988, Maude Barlow was asked by The Council of Canadians founder, Mel Hurtig, to become that organization’s chairperson, according to page 92 of The Fight Of My Life, by Maude Barlow. She was acclaimed to the voluntary position of chairperson in October of 1987, according to pages 109 & 110 of the same book. (The Council of Canadians website is not helpful in resolving this discrepancy.) Brian Mulroney, a true American patriot (Ralph Nader referred to Mulroney as “Prime Minister of Canada, on loan from Washington.”), was about to be re-elected (the great ‘free trade’ election of 1988), and while he once opposed (or professed to) free trade, he was now quite gungho for it.
Maude had been watching the establishment maneuver to impose a Canada/ U.S. free trade deal on those countries, while she and other concerned Canadians examined these goings on and exchanged information with each other that revealed the intentions of the free traders to be bad. At the same time, Maude increasingly made herself available to work with other activist Canadians to educate the public about the dangers that this trade deal, which had nothing to do with actual free trade, posed to Canada. She largely succeeded in that, but the resource-rich Right still managed to help their man Brian Mulroney take control of Canada.
Despite a few victories for activists fighting to preserve a Canada that in many ways worked for all Canadians, the Right has mostly steamrolled since then and has, by now, mostly erased that Canada. What’s left is just a sentiment, in my view. Maude wouldn’t agree even though she certainly saw, early on, that the capitalists’ plan for Canada was to redesign it. She (with co-author Bruce Campbell) wrote, on page 15 of ‘Take Back The Nation 2’ (1991, 1993), that “The free-trade agreement is the bedrock of the Conservative /corporate agenda to reshape Canada as part of a new continental order. This new order is about shifting power from governments to corporations. It is about limiting the capacity of Canadian governments, present and future, to actively determine the course of economic development. It is about breaking down the structures of the national economy and preventing Canada from establishing an activist industrial policy, ever.”
In the Toronto Star article at the top of this post, Maude notes that: “Transnational corporations have long sought to eliminate the ability of governments to favour local companies and workers when public funds are spent to build schools and hospitals, stimulate the local economy, hire health-care workers, or even buy food for local daycare centres. These same corporations also don’t much care for government actions that affect their bottom line – like regulations to combat climate change. Three new trade deals will provide powerful tools for challenging both types of government actions,” which she then looks at.
(1) Ontario-Quebec Trade and Cooperation Agreement
(2) The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement
(3) The Harper government’s response to ‘Buy America’
She then takes a look at each proposed program and how it will be bad for the majority and concludes that “This “perfect storm” of new trade deals now on the horizon obliterates local democracy and counters the global movement to fair trade, sustainable local economies, local food production and protection of natural resources. They must be stopped.”
I remember vividly my first online activism. It happened not long after I had started to immerse myself in class politics, reading Chomsky and seeking out the alternative media. Then I came across mention of a proposed agreement that activists were alarmed about. I took a look and then felt the same alarm and added my voice to those other voices trying to warn fellow Canadians about the proposed Multilateral Agreement On Investment, or MAI for short.
I’ve got Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke’s ‘MAI – Round 2’, but somehow never got around to picking up whatever preceded it. I’ve also got Maude Barlow and Bruce Campbell’s ‘Take Back The Nation 2′, but not whatever preceded that. But I have enough books by Maude and other authors from her world that there won’t be any crucial information I missed.
Not long ago I told the story of the MMT scandal (a gasoline additive pushed by Virginia-based Ethyl Corporation, which may or may not still exist, banned by our government as harmful to Canadians’ health, and then unbanned by our government, thanks to new free trade rules – such as those the MAI would impose, but to a far greater extent) to someone I work with, a real hardass rightwinger, who, when he heard the details, simply said “That doesn’t work.” He completely agreed with me that this example of free trade was an example of something other than free trade. (Alas, He’s an older gentleman and won’t be changing his mind about capitalism.) But sometimes it pays to be informed and ready for the time when you get an opening and need only to tell your story.
The Right certainly understands that attitude. Naomi Klein recounts on page 166 of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ how Milton Friedman formulated that very doctrine: “It was in 1982 that Milton Friedman wrote the highly influential passage that best summarizes the shock doctrine: “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.””
Noam Chomsky would appreciate Friedman’s insight here. Chomsky has explained the way the mainstream media helps to manipulate public opinion by the two-pronged approach of propaganda (‘pushed at us’ information, which is the kind of information that most folks, I’m sorry to report, will possess) and then limiting the opportunity for people to do much else other than regurgitate it. That is accomplished via the imposition of concision. Say what you must very quickly for you have almost no time in which to say it. Commercial media disallows people who get the chance to express their opinions in public from speaking at length, which would be required if, say, someone said something that wasn’t just a regurgitation of conventional thinking. Statements expressing novel or radical thoughts would reasonably require explanation which would require time, which commercial media, conveniently, doesn’t intend to allow.
For one thing, You don’t want to sour the mood, as Chomsky explains in the book ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (page 17). Advertizers want people to be in a good mood so that they can sell them stuff, since it’s assumed, probably correctly, that you are more likely to want to spend money if you’re in a good mood. And you don’t want anyone with dangerous political thoughts to really be free to spread his or her anticorporatocracy propaganda, Do you? Check out this YouTube video in which Chomsky explains concision and it’s utility to the establishment.
* edit, September 24, 2012 – YouTube yanked another account and the above linked-to Chomsky video is unavailable from that subscriber. I would not be the least bit surprised if YouTube one day yanked everyone’s account in some fashion. Try this link to Chomsky’s explanation of concision:
When Maude, and others, set out to get the facts on the free trade deals that elites were busy pushing, so they could in turn inform us, they faced one obstacle that has diminished, but not disappeared (thanks to the internet), in the years since. “Immersed as I was in the politics of equality, I had been only vaguely aware of these issues. I realized… that I had a great deal to learn. It was the beginning of a journey of discovery that would lead me, in the process, to fall in love with my country. I read voraciously and talked to everyone I could find who could help me learn its rich history.” She then notes that “My schooling had not provided me or anyone I knew with the kind of historical analysis or framework from which even to approach these questions.” -pg 95.
Indeed. She’s come a long way. Her organization is one which many who today share her concerns can turn to for such information. But the Council of Canadians is sort of cursed with having to be the bearer of bad news rather than, like commerical television, showering us with feel good, sunny, happy images and stories. And so, Here she is reporting on the capitalist establishment’s latest efforts to get MAI-like rights for corporations that will only further harm the majority if they are given over to those corporations. Oh well. They are just the messenger. I for one, am glad they’re there.
I’m reminded by this deja vu situation of something written in ‘MAI – Round 2’:
“Written by the International Chamber of Commerce, the MAI would give private corporations not only the legal status of nation-states in every signatory country, it would also give them – and them alone – such powerful tools to enforce their newly acquired rights that governments would be compelled by law to safeguard corporate interests over those of their own citizens…
“Many Canadians breathed a deep sigh of relief in April 1998 when the OECD announced a six-month moratorium on its latest attempt to conclude negotiations on the MAI. This was the second time the deadline had been missed…
“All, however, have declared the MAI dead in spite of the fact that OECD secretary-general Donald Johnston (a Canadian) has promised to revive and ratify the deal in 1999. That the MAI is history has become the accepted wisdom in Canada – and it is wrong.
“It is wrong for several reasons…
“Most important to note, however, is that the MAI is not a stand-alone deal but a vital component of a long-term search by transnational corporations for international laws to protect their interests and supplant nation-state rule with what we call corporate rule. These powerful institutions are hardly going to pack up and back off at the first sign of opposition.” -pages 3 & 4
Indeed, They are a macho bunch, playing the macho, Darwinian game of ‘riches for the strongest’ and I don’t see them ever backing off. Not at the first sign of opposition or at any point. They are glory seekers. They are takers. When they take from others, they get those victims’ attention and that’s what glory is. There’s no glory if it’s unseen. How do you get them to be nice?
I am sorry that there have to be ‘people’ like that. But that’s how it is – for now. There will be judgment for individuals and, eventually, for this godless world. Right now, Those who want to survive could do worse than care about democracy. But that alone won’t save them. Certainly, Trying to win in the evil game of ‘riches for the strongest’ won’t work. People need to understand that that game’s the problem. We need a new game. That requires us to first care, for from caring all solutions flow. Then we need to deliberately, and with conviction, set about building a civilization in which all (peace-loving humans) can live in peace and security.
But we need to lose our arrogance. ‘We’ are not God.
“Unless Jehovah himself builds the house, It is to no avail that it’s builders have worked hard on it. Unless Jehovah himself guards the city, It is to no avail that the guard has kept awake.” -Psalm 127:1