CETA is big news, but do we really understand why?

Aside from the direct negotiators, the only people aware of the details are the lobbyists for big corporations that have the most to gain or to lose by the agreement.

All eyes have been on efforts by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland to get the CETA trade deal finalized, but for the wrong reasons, writes Angelo Persichilli.

By ANGELO PERSICHILLI

The Hill Times  –  Oct. 31, 2016

TORONTO—The saga about the signing of the free trade agreement between Canada and United Europe raises many questions that are very difficult to answer. For example, is it possible that a population of a little region like Wallonia can stop an agreement of such importance and magnitude? Is that democracy or anarchy?

I don’t believe that democracy is well served by this and I will come back to this later.

But is democracy better served by the way Canada handles the same issue? We know that there are people against CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and others in favour. But do we even know what we are talking about?

We criticize politicians, governments, and negotiators, but I am sure that despite the negotiations starting in May 2009, not many people, including many journalists who write about the present dispute, know exactly what they are talking about.

What we know is the typical “executive summary” acknowledgment like, if implemented, this free trade agreement would eliminate 98 per cent of the tariffs between Canada and the European countries. Aside from the direct negotiators, the only people aware of the details are the lobbyists for big corporations, like pharmaceutical multinationals, that have the most to gain or to lose by the agreement. This is not a criticism against them. They are doing their job. I am disappointed at ourselves because we, as voters, don’t do ours.

As we did with FTA and NAFTA, Canadians were divided along ideological and political parties’ lines, without really knowing or caring about the content of the agreements. For example, Canada unions were against the free trade agreement with United States because, they said, it was taking away Canadians’ jobs in favour of the U.S. jobs. At the same time, American unions were against the free trade because … America would lose jobs in favour of Canada. Let’s not forget, the Liberals opposed FTA during the 1988 election campaign, but it was them who expanded the agreement to include Mexico with NAFTA after they came to power in 1993.

I don’t expect that every journalist or reader should be aware of the details of international agreements. In fact, that’s the reason why we delegate our politicians to take care of our interests. At the same time, we should be mindful that there are other organizations and lobbyists, with less votes but more money, that can sway the decisions of politicians to defend the interest of the corporations and not the interests of the people who elected them.

That means our job doesn’t finish at the ballot box and we should be more vigilant. To do that, we need media do a better job at informing people and not focusing on peripheral issues. At the same time, voters must not sheepishly follow party lines and be in favour today and against tomorrow, depending on if their party is in government or opposition.

Now, we focus on CETA only to judge the decision of the trade minister to storm out of a meeting room or because there is a delay of a couple weeks in getting a signature of an international agreement that has been in the works for almost 10 years.

Without the Wallonia issue, CETA would be now signed and sealed without Canadians really knowing what the government had signed on our behalf. This doesn’t look to me to be the intelligent way to serve the democracy.

And this takes me to Wallonia, the Belgian region that extends the concept of democracy to a point that it kills it.

The concept of democracy is based on the rule of the majority.

What I see happening in Europe is the other way around with 3.5 million people of Wallonia, who kidnapped an agreement, holding hostage more than 500 million people in the 28 countries of the European Union. They, of course, can do it because this is part of the EU’s legislation. But this is one of the reasons an ambitious organization like the EU can’t work. Searching the consensus of all members is the ultimate goal of any democracy, but making decisions ONLY after reaching consensus means that you kill the main raison d’etre of a democratic process, which is the rule of the majority.

Someone said that an imperfect democracy is better than a perfect dictatorship. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t improve the imperfect democracy we have.

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