Elizabeth May comments on the new NAFTA

by Elizabeth May | February 3, 2020 12:17 pm

Madam Speaker, I want to start by acknowledging that we are here today, as every day, on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation.
We are currently debating the new NAFTA. The Green Party considers this to be a real improvement over the first version of NAFTA, now that chapter 11 has been removed. That chapter was detrimental to Canadian laws and regulations and beneficial to U.S. corporations. That chapter also hurt our health and environmental protection regulations.
What is more, the section on energy in the former NAFTA will be rescinded when the new NAFTA comes into effect. This is good for us because Canada is the only NAFTA country that is still required to comply with the old export levels, which in fact undermines our own energy security.
The changes that have been made are something of a surprise given the history of trade agreements. I have long been an opponent of trade agreements that put corporate profits above sustainability, above community health, prosperity and well-being. The case of this agreement, CUSMA, is the first time, certainly in recent decades, that any trade agreement represents an improvement over what has preceded it in giving up more clout in protecting the environment and reduced the corporate powers that have been expanding ever since the neo-liberal era began.
In fact, it was in the first NAFTA that the notion of investor-state dispute resolutions gained traction, particularly in the developed world. My colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, has already spoken to this and provided some details about investor-state agreements.
I will add a little more personal detail. Before ever being involved in politics, I was always involved in the environmental movement, whether as a lawyer, or in government or with environmental groups. As executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, we ran straight into the very first application of chapter 11. When NAFTA was being debated within Canada, the pernicious anti-democratic impacts of chapter 11 were unknown.
We debated many things about NAFTA in the country, but no one talked about investor-state provisions. It was something of a sleeper in the first version of NAFTA. We woke up to that sleeper when I was involved in a citizens campaign to try to get rid of a toxic gasoline additive in the country called MMT manganese-based toxins.
I worked with neurotoxicologists from Montreal, particularly Dr. Donna Mergler from UQAM. I worked with the car manufacturers because this MMT as a gasoline additive gummed up the onboard diagnostics in the car, potentially violating the warranties. It was the first time to have a coalition of environmental groups, carmakers and scientists all saying this toxic gasoline additive had to be removed.
Under the minister of the environment at the time, Sheila Copps, we managed to get rid of this toxic gasoline additive, only to have Ethyl Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, bring a suit against Canada. We were shocked by this first chapter 11 challenge. In a secret tribunal, it made the case that this was going to cost it money.
It is important for members of Parliament to understand how important it is that we get rid of these provisions in every other trade agreement. The agreements need not say that the actions Canada took, under former environment minister Sheila Copps, were in any way in objection to trade. They were not hidden, veiled protective measures; they were what they said they were. Getting something that was bad for human health, compromised the onboard diagnostics to ensure that pollution was controlled by the engine itself. All of these things were caused by MMT. There was no doubt about that. However, the government at the time under, former Prime Minister Chrétien, decided to settle with Ethyl Corp., fearing the worst out of the secret tribunal.
We had to pay, as a country, taken out of the A-base budget of Environment Canada, millions of dollars to Ethyl Corporation of Richmond, Virginia. We had to repeal the law we passed to keep this stuff out of our environment. On top of everything else, we wrote a formal letter of apology that Ethyl Corporation could use around the world to peddle this toxic stuff in other countries.
There are many more cases like that. There is S.D. Myers of Ohio which challenged the decision to stop the export of PCB contaminated waste.
Probably the worst of all is the most recent case of Bilcon. A U.S. corporation brought charges against Canada for the proper use of our environmental assessment law, properly applied, the version that occurred before the 2012 demolition of environmental assessment in this country, which is still not repaired, and was able to claim that the environmental assessment panel had not been fair to this company. It would have threatened the survival of one of the world’s most endangered whales, the right whales of Atlantic Canada.
I could go on, but I need to move to other sections of this agreement. It is very important that we understand the difference between two chapters. I have noticed some speakers through this debate have mistaken chapter 19, the dispute resolution portions that we are pleased to see remain, and chapter 11, a resolution of disputes between two parties who should never have the right to challenge each other, that a private corporation that is in the United States under chapter 11 of our current NAFTA has superior powers and rights to a Canadian domestic corporation. That is still the case in the countries we deal with in the TPP. We put investor state in there.
Horrifically, it is the case with the Canada-China investment treaty which the Harper cabinet passed in secret and never came to this place. It still binds this country to allow state-owned enterprises of the People’s Republic of China to secretly sue the government if we do anything that gets in the way of their profits. That is a legacy from the Conservatives which they do not seem to know about.
We have seen such damage from investor-state provisions. We need to track them down and remove them wherever they are. CUSMA is a huge improvement and sets the pace for getting rid of them elsewhere.
I am pleased to see the end of the energy security chapter. It was really strange. Mexico had no corresponding provision in its requirements to the United States. Only Canada made a commitment that we would not restrict any of our energy exports beyond the proportion that we had been selling to the United States over a period of time.
If we were selling 60% of our natural gas to the United States, we would have to continue to do that under the current provisions, which will be gone with CUSMA. Even if we were running out of natural gas, we would still have to export 60% to the United States. They were very strange provisions and we are glad they are gone.
I want to turn to three areas that have not received much attention in this debate. One is the improvements in the environment chapter and although not as strong as what was promised by the Liberals, we certainly have stronger language, and for the first time, a component of NAFTA dealing with gender rights and indigenous issues.
In the environment chapter, I am really pleased we were able to withstand efforts by Donald Trump to eliminate something that many members in this place may not have known of at all, which is the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.
That commission is led by the environment ministers of the United States, Mexico and Canada. They work together to protect our environment in every country. A truly democratic provision would give each citizen of the United States, Canada, or Mexico the ability to file a complaint against a decision that would be harmful to the environment.
Any citizen or NGO of Canada, the U.S. or Mexico can bring a complaint to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation to say our government is reducing environmental protections because it wants to promote trade. It is now protected and is better funded.
I want to underscore that although it is not everything we wanted, I am pleased that indigenous handcrafted products can now be duty-free. I am pleased that various indigenous provisions of this agreement highlight the importance of indigenous people throughout Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. I am also pleased there is at least some language that the goals of all of our trade agreements and multilateral co-operation have to focus on the rights of women and girls.
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Source URL: http://elizabethmaymp.ca/parliament/2020/02/03/elizabeth-may-comments-on-the-new-nafta/