Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trudeau needs to change NAFTA to protect Canadian water

Maude Barlow, National Chair of the Council of Canadians, criticizes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for avoiding any confrontation with US President Trump on the issue of water and NAFTA.

Barlow has just issued a report called: Water For Sale: How Free Trade And Investment Agreements Threaten Environmental Protection Of Water And Promote The Commodification Of The World’s Water. The report looks at the trade threats posed to global water supplies by different trade agreements including NAFTA. Barlow notes:
“NAFTA rules that already trump domestic water protections could be made far worse with the upcoming renegotiation of the deal. Trump is attacking water protections in the U.S., locking in deregulation in ways that would make it very hard for future presidents to undo. Trudeau is doing the same here by not restoring the Navigable Waters Protection Act, despite his promise to do so. These realities, combined with Trump and Trudeau’s refusal to remove Chapter 11 from NAFTA, put water protection in the crosshairs.”
The World Health Organization(WHO) recently issued a dire warning that almost 2 billion people are drinking water contaminated with faeces. The contamination puts people at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio according to Maria Neira who heads WHO`s public health department. She added: "Contaminated drinking-water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoeal deaths each year and is a major factor in several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma," While on average countries had increased funding for improving access to safe water and sanitation, still 80 percent said that they still did not have enough financing to reach nationally-set targets.
Modern trade free trade and investment agreements contain sections that undermine laws and regulations that protect water. Water must be removed ├ás a commodity to be traded in all such agreements to protect it, Barlow argues that that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) must be removed from NAFTA and other trade agreements. ``People and their governments must be given the right to restrict trade from places or in conditions where water and local communities have been harmed. Foreign investors must return to using the domestic courts of the countries in which they are operating and with whom they have a dispute. The political moment to have this debate has arrived.” However, Trudeau does not even seem to be bringing the matter up. The mainstream media is unlikely to discuss the matter either,
In trade deals, corporations would like to see water considered to be a commodity to be traded. It can also be treated as a service allowing for privatization of services that provide water. It is also treated as an investment. All of these descriptions allow water to be subject to clauses in an agreement that challenge water protection laws. Barlow argues that water should specifically be excluded from such provisions.
Wikipedia describes the ISDS provisions as follows:Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) or investment court system (ICS) is a system through which individual companies can sue countries for alleged discriminatory practices. The practice was made widely known through the Philip Morris v. Uruguay case, where the tobacco company Philip Morris sued Uruguay after having enacted strict laws aimed at promoting public health.
ISDS has been criticized because the United States has never lost any of its ISDS cases, and that the system is biased to favor American companies and American trade over other Western countries, and Western countries over the rest of the world. Chapter 11 of NAFTA contains ISDS provisions,
The provisions allow one NAFTA party in Canada, US, or Mexico) to bring charges directly against the government of another NAFTA party before an international tribunal avoiding local courts. There is no other situation in international law where private parties are able to sue a state without showing the domestic courts are not independent or reliable, A sample of a case brought against Canada is S.D.. Myers versus Canada that the company won:S.D. Myers v. Canada Between 1995 and 1997 the Canadian government banned the export of toxic PCB waste, in order to comply with its obligations under the Basel Convention, of which the United States is not a party. Waste treatment company S.D. Myers then sued the Canadian government under NAFTA Chapter 11 for $20 million in damages. The claim was upheld by a NAFTA Tribunal in 2000.
The renegotiation should take place through a transparent process with all stakeholders involved not just corporations and politicians. Consultation with the public on the issues is also important. Another important part of the NAFTA agreement that needs to be deleted is the proportionality clause as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Saskatchewan premier Wall faces protests at dinner party he hosts

Hundreds of protesters from more than a dozen groups converged outside the Premier's Dinner location in Saskatoon where Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gave a keynote speech.

Hundreds of people rallied outside the Premier's Dinner venue in Saskatoon Thursday night, where Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall gave a keynote address. The dinner was held at Prairieland Park, Hall A. The dinner was hosted by the ruling Saskatchewan Party led by Wall. Drivers on nearby Ruth St. found themselves surrounded by sign-waving protesters speaking through megaphones. Wall's popularity has dropped since he introduced a budget with many cuts.
Among the more controversial moves was to do away with the provincial bus service run by the provincially owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) as described in a recent Digital Journal article.
Cindy Harrison, a spokesperson for Stop the Cuts, a coalition of 12 organizations that organized the rally noted that cutting the STC would hurt rural people particularly: "We think the cuts are unfair and they were done without consultation and we're not willing to accept them. Saskatchewan has one of the highest rural populations in Canada. The cuts to STC will hit rural populations." She noted that while the protesters were feasting on hot dogs, those attending the dinner were paying $250 dollars a plate. Harris said that cash for access system was unfair when Wall was cutting services to the people of Saskatchewan. Federal Liberals have had similar events to raise funds.
Wall defended the right of the protesters to express their views:"We live in a kind of a society where people I think are not just free but encouraged to express what they believe. We know people are upset and obviously they're going to express that dissent as they did today and they should be welcomed and encouraged to do so. I knew before the budget was introduced that this was not going to be a popular budget and we made these difficult decisions because we strongly believe they're in the best interests of the province and the long-term interests of Saskatchewan."
A recent Mainstreet poll commissioned by Postmedia reveals the effects of the provincial budget, released last month, on Wall's popularity. In October Wall had a 52 percent approval rate but now only 46 percent approve of the job Wall is doing while 45 percent disapprove, with the remaining 9 percent undecided. The Mainstreet vice-president said that the poll numbers were mainly a result of the budget. Wall lost most approval in the two main cities Saskatoon and Regina whereas he did better in rural ridings. The budget itself was approved only by 26 percent with 45 percent disapproving. 51 percent disapproved of doing away with STC while only 18 percent approved. The poll was conducted March 30 and 31. 1,704 people were surveyed, using landlines and cellphones. A random sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.37 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hundreds of Manitoba nurses rally at legislature to oppose cutbacks

Last Wednesday, hundreds of nurses and other front-line workers protested at the Manitoba Legislature about budget cuts they claim will compromise patient care in the province.

Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurse's Union said:"We want the government to put patients first and focus on making investments and improvements in health care." About 600 nurses and other protesters gathered at the steps of the provincial legislative building. They oppose the government plans to close three emergency rooms and also cut the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority budget by $83 million. The government has also ordered health agencies and Crown corporations to cut 15 percent of management positions among other cost-saving measures in the health care system.
Half of Winnipeg's Emergency Rooms will be closed in the cutbacks. This will mean patients in emergency will need to travel further and also that there may be delays as well. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority may attempt to privatize some services as it tries to achieve $83 million in savings. The shortage of doctors in rural Manitoba is bound to get worse as the Health Minister Kelvin Goerzten confirmed that the government would also axe a program designed to attract doctors to rural and remote parts of the province. The Conservative government has massive support in most rural areas and yet the government is punishing those who are most supportive of it.
The nurses union represents about 12,000 employees across the province. The union fears the cuts will affect nurses' ability to provide quality care for patients. Mowat said of the government claim that it wanted to decrease wait times: "I don't understand how decreasing the number of emergency rooms is going to decrease wait times. We have to see the concrete plan … where are all these people going to go?" Mowat said that there had been no consultation about the proposed closing of the three emergency departments with the group. She said that patients will be put at risk as they need to travel further. She said that nurses and other front-line workers needed to be consulted on these issues saying: "Step back, and do some consultation with the front-line nurses to ask them. We agree that the system needs work, we agree that there are inefficiencies. We can help them figure out what those inefficiencies are. Nurses know a lot about patient care and no one asked us."
The Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said he had an obligation to reduce wait times. He said this means making tough decisions now to ensure a better future. However, to reduce wait times one surely might need to spend more money on staff and consult nurses and other front-line workers as to how this might be achieved. Goerzen is doing the exact opposite. His response explains nothing but is hopeful froth: "My hope of course is that in the years ahead that people will look back and say, 'Was it easy? No. Was it challenging? It was. But was it the right thing to do? Absolutely,." They will look back and say: "Why did I ever vote for the Progressive Conservatives." The Premier Brian Pallister said that he understood why people are concerned about the health care changes but said they should not fear.
Perhaps Pallister gets health care in Costa Rica where he has a luxurious property at which he hopes to spend six to eight weeks every year. His home in a rich part of Winnipeg on Wellington Crescent is worth about $2 million. The home is 9,000 square feet and has a seven car garage and a basketball court.
Katie Bryant, an emergency room nurse at Victoria General Hospital said: "People with life-threatening illnesses and life-threatening problems are going to have to be travelling further to hospitals to get the care that they need and that's unsafe and it's putting people at risk unnecessarily. I wish that they would have consulted more with front line staff and more with people that are there every single day, triaging these patients, taking care of these patients on wards, dealing with families, who are now potentially going to have to travel even further to visit loved ones."
The grant program to attract doctors to remote and rural areas of Manitoba in 2001 and changed in 2010, gives medical students grants of $12,000 in each of their four years at medical school and also further grants to physicians establishing a practice in Manitoba. For each year students were given the grant they were required to six months in an under-services part of the province upon graduation. The cut will save the government about $4.2 million a year. However, it will also leave some rural and remote areas even less able to find physicians serve them. It will no doubt have zero effect on the health care received by Pallister and his family.
Health Minister Goerzen said that money was not one of the most motivating factors in doctor's decision as to where to practice. But it might be a consideration for poorer medical students to have $12,000 each year to pay for their education expenses! Goerzen said: "We are going to put together a more central, provincial strategy in terms of how do we attract and retain doctors. We're moving the resources and attention to the things that actually motivate doctors to come and stay in the province." He said that the new approach would involve a more coordinated approach that would not see rural regional health authorities fighting each other for doctors. It sounds as if the government is going to centralize decision making taking any local control over health care facilities and funding away from them. Recruiting more doctors was a central plank in the Conservative platform. How this is to be accomplished has yet to be revealed. What the government has done so far is to ensure that Winnipeg has less emergency services and that rural areas will have even more difficulty recruiting doctors to serve their communities.

Friday, May 12, 2017

PM Trudeau defends Canadian dairy system

Trudeau defended Canada's dairy supply management system noting that every nation including the US defends its agricultural industries as much as it can.

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Canada has a supply management system fodairy products, poultry and eggs. It is discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. Trump recently criticized the dairy system during a speech in Wisconsin a cheese-producing state. In an interview with Bloomberg television Trudeau points out that the US actually runs a dairy surplus with Canada. Trudeau noted that the system worked quite well in Canada and said: "Let's not pretend we're in a global free market when it comes to agriculture. Every country protects, for good reason, its agricultural industries." Trudeau made his response after Trump again attacked the Canadian dairy industry as well as lumber, timber and energy sectors. It is Canada that should be complaining about the energy sector under NAFTA. If Trump's slogan is America First, under NAFTA Canada comes second.
As an article in Rabble notes:The proportionality clause says that if the government of any NAFTA member country takes action that cuts the availability of energy for export to another NAFTA member country, it must continue to export the same proportion of total "supply" that it has over the previous three years. If it cuts energy available for export to another member country, it must also cut the supply of that energy domestically to the same extent.The proportionality rule means that Canadians cannot have priority access to their own energy supplies. Richard Heinberg, a noted California energy expert said that proportionality is unique in all of the world's trade treaties. Heinberg claims that "Canada has every reason to repudiate the proportionality clause, and to do so unilaterally and immediately." With the opening of NAFTA Trudeau has every opportunity to do this. However, he has yet to reveal what he intends to change. He has not mentioned this clause, no doubt for good reason. The US would never accept it being dropped. The US wants Canada to be first and foremost a reliable source for oil and gas who will not put the needs of Canadians above those of the US.
I doubt the issue will even make it to the mainstream press. What we have instead are attacks against the management supply system by international dairy bodies that have already been captured by the neo-liberal policy agendas that will profit large corporations. A recent Globe and Mail article by Campbell Clark, takes on the task of attacking the system and predicting its demise:The end is coming for Canada’s supply managed dairy market, not immediately, but almost inevitably. That’s not because U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed the Canadian system is unfair to U.S. farmers. The hypocrisy of a President who crows about an America First trade policy while demanding access to Canada’s market makes one of the best arguments for keeping the protectionist system. But the political market for supply management is weakening. For Canadian politicians, it will soon be more valuable to give it up in trade talks than it is to use it to buy the votes of dairy farmers.The article points out that from more than 100,000 dairy farms in Canada the number had declined to 11,260 in 2014. Half of these are in the province of Quebec but even there a Conservative MP Maxine Bernier is running for his party's leadership on a pledge to eliminate supply managed. It should be noted that the Conservatives have only 5 seats in Quebec in the federal government.
Campbell notes that the US wants concessions. Canada could trade doing away with the supply management system in order for greater market access for steel pipes, lumber, or exemption from border taxes. US lumber and steel companies may object to any such deal as it conflicts with Trump's America First doctrine. However, Trump may very well abandon that as he has other campaign promises especially as Steve Bannon seems to be losing influence and Wall Street and the military appear to be winning power in his administration. While the strength of dairy farmers under the supply-management system may be waning it may still be strong enough to keep its protections under NAFTA.
Trump has said that the US will report within two weeks what it is intending to do with NAFTA, that he promised to renegotiate.
Trudeau said he planned to move the trade conversation ahead "in a way that both protects consumers and our agricultural producers". Trudeau also noted about Trump: "He has shown if he says one thing and actually hears good counter arguments or good reasons why he should shift his position, he will take a different position if it's a better one, if the arguments win him over." Trump does often flip flop but Trudeau is being overly kind in suggesting Trump's reason for doing so.
There is no sign of the renegotiation being an open transparent process, or that there will be any public consultations on this exceedingly important issue. It is likely to be done in secret behind closed doors with the most important stakeholders giant international corporations having a significant presence. A list of demands from the Council of Canadians can be found here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump targets Canada's dairy farmers under NAFTA

U.S. President Donald Trump promised, during a visit to Wisconsin a cheese-making state that he will defend U.S. dairy farmers who claim they are being hurt by Canadian protectionist trade policies.
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Under the present NAFTA agreement Canada's dairy sector enjoys protection by high tariffs. There are also production controls that ensure the prices for products are sufficient for farmers to make a living. The Canadian dairy system is not a free-market system but involves supply management by the Canadian Dairy Commission(CDC):
The Canadian Dairy Commission (French: Commission canadienne du lait) is a Canadian government Crown corporation created in 1966 under the Canadian Dairy Commission Act (1966–1967). According to the Act, CDC is mandated to "provide efficient producers of milk and cream with the opportunity to obtain a fair return for their labour and investment, and to provide consumers of dairy products with a continuous and adequate supply of dairy products of high quality."The CDC also chairs the Canadian Milk Supply Management Committee that coordinates industrial milk supply in Canada. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food is responsible for the CDC. The U.S. and some other countries hate the system since global companies want a purely market-based system in keeping with neoliberal policies in the interests of global corporations.
Trump said in Kenosha, Wisconsin: "We’re also going to stand up for our dairy farmers. Because in Canada some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others.” While Trump did not detail his concerns he said that his administration would call the Canadian government led by PM Justin Trudeau to ask for an explanation. The explanation is that there would be no NAFTA without protections for aspects of the economy that are supply-managed such as dairy products. Negotiators worry about the political fallout from any attempt to do away with the system. The system is described here:In total, there are about 17,000 Canadian farms that operate under Supply Management; this is about 8 percent of all farms in Canada. The dairy industry is the largest of the three supply-managed industries in Canada, with 11,280 farmers operating in 2016 [6]. There are about 2,700 poultry farmers, and fewer than 1,000 egg farmers. Dairy is the largest industry of the supply-managed industries, but it is also Canada's third largest agricultural commodity in terms of farm cash receipts, making it a significant commodity for Canada [7].
Trump again threatened to eliminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if it cannot be changed in the way he wishes. Trump said: "It's another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it's not going to be happening for long." Trump naturally emphasizes negative effects of NAFTA on U.S. workers but it has had negative effects in Mexico and Canada as well. The appended video from 2006 shows some of those effects. If NAFTA is reopened for negotiation then Mexico and Canada should demand changes — not just the United States.
Some of the demands that Canada should make are listed by the Council of Canadians: "... if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is to be renegotiated, then it must be fundamentally changed, meaning at minimum its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), energy proportionality, and water as a good, service and investment provisions must be removed. We also argue that the negotiation process must be done in an accountable and transparent way that includes public consultations." The proportionality provisions prevent the Canadian government from ensuring that there are sufficient supplies of goods to supply Canadians before exports of those goods are allowed. The proportionality provisions apply to oil and gas:
"The deals say that Canada must maintain at least the same level of oil and gas exports to the United States as it had supplied for the past thirty-six months. Only if Canadian consumption is cut proportionately, and then only in times of crisis, could the Canadian government claim jurisdiction over its own energy resources."
So far there has been complete silence as to what changes the Trudeau government is seeking in NAFTA. Neither the U.S. nor Canadian government have suggested that the negotiation process be transparent and accountable, or that there will be any public consultations. Usually trade deals are held behind closed doors with mainly government and corporate representatives taking part.