continental integration against our wishes

Each week, after this column appears in the Yukon News, it’s posted to the internet, where it attracts about 150 visitors a day on average,…

Each week, after this column appears in the Yukon News, it’s posted to the internet, where it attracts about 150 visitors a day on average, from as far afield as Seychelles, China, and New Zealand.

But on one day last September readership swelled to more than 5,400. On the following day it reached 1,300 and then slid back to normal.

The subject of that unusually popular column was a secretive meeting of the North American business and political elite which had just convened in Banff, Alberta, where the topics under discussion included “Toward a North American Energy Strategy”, and “Demographic and Social Dimensions of North American Integration.” Delegates had been bused in under cover of darkness, and the guest list was a guarded secret, so it was difficult to confirm or deny the rumoured presence of Donald Rumsfeld, Stockwell Day, or almost anyone else.

The meeting was held in secret because the North American public responds badly when it hears the facts about the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

So far no one has conducted a poll that asks the questions I would like to pose to the public about the ever-deepening integration, or disintegration, of the North American regulatory regime, questions such as: Do you believe privately owned corporations should hold the bulk of political power in North America?

Do you favour trade rules in which the right to corporate profit trumps all national, provincial, and municipal regulations including health, public safety, environmental, and labour laws?

Should Canada and Mexico be colonies of the United States?

Should the United States be a puppet of the military industrial complex?

The truth, even when more timidly stated, tends to turn poll respondents against the ongoing continental integration project.

The website World Public Opinion.Org reports that 51 per cent of Americans favour NAFTA until given the news that it’s an agreement to “reduce trade barriers” to allow for “greater flow of goods and services,” whereupon the number drops to 43 per cent. A 2004 Ipsos-Reid poll put the following statements to Canadian respondents:

“Canada should establish an energy policy that provides reliable supplies of oil, gas and electricity at stable prices, and protection of the environment, even if this means placing restrictions on exports and foreign ownership of Canadian supplies.”

And, “Canada should maintain the ability to set its own independent environmental health and safety standards and regulations, even if this might reduce cross-border trade opportunities with the United States.”

Ninety per cent agreed with the first statement, and 91 per cent with the second.

Deep integration is a planned framework of agreements that will make it impossible for Canada to restrict exports or foreign ownership, or to set independent environmental, health and safety regulations. Ninety per cent public opposition helps to explain why deep integration proceeds, if not in secret, then at least secretively, without discussion in Parliament and with no more than cheerleading coverage in the corporate press, and why a story on that weird clandestine meeting in Banff would draw so much public attention.

A stated goal of deep integration’s most up-to-date blueprint, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, is “to streamline and update regulations” in order to “strengthen North America’s energy markets.”

This project faces double challenges in Canada.

Coupled with 90 per cent popular opposition is the fact that many of the environmental, labour, and public health regulations to be streamlined exist at the provincial level, and are not the federal government’s to give away.

Enter TILMA.

According to Vancouver columnist and author Murray Dobbin, writing in last Thursday’s Tyee, The Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement between Alberta and British Columbia, a kind of interprovincial deep integration, is sponsored by the Harper government, and eventually destined to include all of Canada, deftly encompassing provincial regulation in future international agreements. TILMA comes packaged with some high-sounding principles.

It also enshrines the right of a “party or person” to bring along their home province’s weaker rules when doing cross-border business.

NAFTA already has similar provisions, but they only apply if a regulation discriminates against foreign competition.

TILMA removes this requirement, and provides redress up to $5 million. So if you come from Alberta to do business in BC, and more stringent regulations there bite you on the bottom line, you can sue the government for the difference. Just think how secure and prosperous we’ll all be when we have the same deal with Alabama and Mexico.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership is about the security of corporate profits and the prosperity of billionaires. It’s about subverting democracy and shifting power to corporations and wealthy individuals.

The only good news for the 90 per cent of Canadians who prefer not to hand over sovereignty so cheaply is that deep integration, though a creeping reality, is not a fait accompli.

As the US government’s SPP web page points out in its “myths and facts” section, “the SPP is not an agreement nor is it a treaty.” It is instead, “a dialogue to increase security and enhance prosperity.”

You see, it’s only a dialogue.

Surely if all 90 per cent of us dig our heels in, we can still back out.