Tomorrow – Friday, November 2 – Prime Minister Harper and the Privy Council can legally ratify the Canada-China Investment Treaty (FIPA). Assuming that China also ratifies the treaty, there will be no turning back for Canada – for decades.
“The combination of this investment treaty and the weakening of our environmental laws introduced in the two omnibus budget bills is very worrying,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands. “The new lower standards established by Stephen Harper will be seen as the new norm, and they will apply not only to this FIPA but the many others he has signed without Canadians’ notice and approval.”
The Canada-China Treaty is unlike the last significant agreement Canada signed with a powerful economic partner – the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under NAFTA, member countries (Canada, the United States, and Mexico) can exit the treaty with a six-month notice.
The Canada-China Investment Treaty is much less flexible. Both countries are bound to the potentially dangerous terms of the deal – which include China’s right to sue Canada for damages relating to decisions made by any level of government – for an initial 15 years. (The main investor in this case is and will be State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) which are ultimately the Government of China. NAFTA gave corporations, not governments, the right to sue.)
After the initial 15-year period, if a future government wishes to exit the treaty, a one-year written notice is required. However, any investors from China already in Canada will continue to be covered by the agreement for another 15 years – until 2044.
What if we had signed an agreement giving the People’s Republic of China this kind of power over Canada back in 1981 – 31 years ago? The threat of angering our investment partner could well have prevented us from introducing major social and environmental legislation, including the establishment of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (since neutered under Bill C-38, the Conservatives’ omnibus Budget Implementation Act in the spring).
“This treaty could tie our hands for the next three decades when it comes to protecting our environment and our communities,” noted May. “It will limit the democratic and sovereign rights of our children and our grandchildren.”