Canada-China Trade Deal and the Lack of Voter Mechanisms
by Peter Ewart - News 250
he Harper government is ramming through legislation regarding the Canada-China Investment Agreement (FIPPA). It is doing so despite widespread opposition from the other parties in parliament, as well as broad sections of the Canadian people.
It appears to many that this investment agreement will further undermine national and provincial sovereignty, as well as democratic processes, and will increase the power of multinational corporations over the interests of both the people of Canada and the people of China. Indeed, in that respect, the agreement (and the pending free trade agreement with the EU) could be worse than NAFTA on a number of fronts.
But the nature of this agreement aside, the actions of the Harper government in sidelining parliament and barreling the legislation through with almost no debate, exposes a serious gap in Canadian political life. There are no established mechanisms by which the Canadian people can directly express their will about important issues like FIPPA except through voting once every four years.
t the present time, many individuals and organizations are mobilizing to stop this investment treaty from going through, or at least create a space for some debate about it in Parliament. They are doing this through circulating petitions, writing letters to MPs, and so on. But the fact is that these methods, while certainly worthwhile, do not have the power of an actual electoral mechanism that empowers the citizenry at the federal level. Under present electoral arrangements, nothing can stop Harper, as prime minister, from pushing the treaty through.
However, one province - British Columbia - actually has an electoral mechanism for its citizens that could be useful in this regard, i.e. the Initiative & Recall legislation. It was through this legislation (imperfect and difficult to use as it is presently constituted) that the unpopular Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) imposed by the Campbell government was defeated in 2011. By mounting a petition campaign that gathered 700,000 signatures, opponents of the HST were able to force a province-wide referendum on the issue (ending with a defeat of the controversial tax).
At the present time, the NDP, Liberal and Green opposition parties are criticizing the Harper government for sidelining parliament and barreling the trade agreement through in the most undemocratic way. As an alternative, they are calling for a thorough study and debate of the Canada-China trade agreement to be conducted in parliament. This, of course, should be done.
However, it is not only parliament that is being sidelined here. Even more importantly, the Canadian people as a whole are being sidelined. Besides calling for more study and debate, the opposition parties, if they are truly serious about stopping dictatorial practices, should also be proposing a voter empowerment mechanism that voters could use to trigger a national referendum on issues of national importance such as the trade agreement.
And the change should not stop there. Reform and renewal of the federal electoral process is long overdue, and at the core of this should be voter empowerment. Because of its anti-democratic and dictatorial practices, which are increasingly alienating Canadians, the Harper government is vulnerable on this front.
Yes, parliament must have its say on the Canada-China trade deal. But the people should have their say also – and there should be a definite mechanism to do so. Peter Ewart