deregulating canada to death

This week, the Competition Policy Review Panel released  a report containing 65 recommendations to the Canadian government.

This week, the Competition Policy Review Panel released  a report containing 65 recommendations to the Canadian government.

Boiled down to its essentials, the report calls for less regulation: on foreign takeovers, bank mergers, uranium mining — in effect, on anything that gets in the way of international competition.

Thomas d’Aquino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and Canada’s leading anti-regulationist, praised the report to the skies.

It is “sweet music to our ears,” he rhapsodized, and “a phenomenal blueprint for taking Canada into the 21st century, and unblocking a lot of the things we’ve all been talking about for 15 or 20 years.”

What the council of chief executives has been talking about for years is the integration of Canada into the US economy under the shadowy Security and Prosperity Partnership, and the globalization of trade under a host of programs and partnerships, all designed to maximize corporate power at the cost of national sovereignty.

Whether the review panel’s report will have the desired effect of strengthening Canada’s position in international trade is a matter of speculation.

No doubt the panel’s business acumen is impressive, but the nature of trade in the 21st century remains in doubt. What will be the effect of the dwindling oil supply on the container ship economy?

But assuming that the report is based on clear thinking, that following its recommendations will improve Canada’s international position, does that mean that Canadians should be ready to embrace unbridled foreign ownership?

When foreigners purchase Canadian companies, they purchase the right to grab our resources and move the jobs to the Third World. Companies operating in Canada enjoy privileged access to Canadian resources, from cheap stumpage on crown land to free use of fresh water. The potential for abuse is extreme.

Canada has proven all too willing to permit corporations to convert pristine fresh water lakes into toxic cesspools. The best-known examples of this are to be found in the Alberta Oil Sands, but mining companies across the country have the right to apply to turn lakes into tailing ponds.

In 2006, Aur Resources acquired the right to use two Newfoundland lakes as waste dumps. There is no reason to believe that these lakes will ever be returned to their natural state, or that the salmon, trout, and otters that used to live there will ever be back.

To legalize the destruction of the two lakes, a schedule was added to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations of the Fisheries Act. Once a body of water is placed on Schedule Two, it’s more or less doomed. To date, 14 lakes and streams have been placed outside the protection of the Fisheries Act.

But what difference does it make whether the companies involved are Canadian or foreign? A Canadian-owned mining company can dump just as much effluent in a lake as a Chinese or American one. The danger lies in our ability to enforce regulations in the future.

Like it or not, we are all going to be a lot more concerned about the environment as the century progresses. The post-oil economy will present challenges such as we’ve never seen before, the cost of shipping food all over the continent will become prohibitive, and local food sources, like fish for instance, will become ever more important.

Today’s rush to deregulate will in time become a rush to re-regulate, to protect what’s left of resources, not out of a sense of duty, but for our own survival. When a company can simply pull up stakes and move to another country, what hope do we have of enforcing our environmental standards?

The Harper government appointed the Competition Review Panel, and without question it got the report it was looking for.

The panel’s recommendations may be good for business in the future, but are they good for Canada?

Another panel, less focused on profits and more concerned about the long-term future, might have recommended exactly the opposite.

 Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.