Critics Call Secret U.S.-Canada Talks “End Run Around Democracy”

Posted: March 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


Even though free-trade fundamentalism has been nothing short of a disaster for the public interest everywhere it has been tried (even Ronald Reagan abandoned it only two years into his presidency), its advocates are pushing forward with it, no matter what.  It demonstrates how, for some at least, ideology is more important than pragmatic realities.

Now, in order to circumvent the will of the people, the U.S. and Canada are holding secret talks on building a common security perimeter around the two countries and harmonizing regulation and reducing trade barriers.  If this were such a good thing, why isn’t the public involved in the discussion?  And why does big business get privileged access, but groups representing the public interest are carefully excluded?

Clearly, this isn’t about the public interest.  It is about making rich capitalists richer.  And the public interest be damned – on both sides of the 49th Parallel.  Not a surprise, given that right wingers are in control on both sides of the border.



Critics Call Secret U.S.-Canada Talks “End Run Around Democracy”
By Paul Weinberg

TORONTO, Feb 28, 2011 (IPS) – The just-announced Canada-U.S. security perimetre discussions are comprehensive and potentially wide-ranging and could impact Canadian sovereignty. However, the domestic opposition appears to have been caught off-guard.

It is hard to fight a deal when Ottawa and Washington are offering few details, said Vancouver-based international lawyer, author and commentator Michael Byers in a recent interview with IPS.

“The people who are opposed to this are left pointing at shadows rather than anything concrete,” he noted.

Both Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama were vague in January about what a Canada-U.S. security perimetre would entail in a predicted deal later this year.

Canadian media reports indicate that the negotiators’ high priority includes a formal sharing of intelligence, law enforcement, and migration data by Canada and the U.S. in exchange for greater movement of goods, people and services across the border between the two countries.

Both the Canadian government and business sector are keen on improving the current North American free trade regimes, especially after 9/11 when U.S. international terrorism security concerns slowed down trade and traffic across the border, explained Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and a proponent of a Canada-U.S. security perimetre.

Robertson agrees that protectionist pressure in the U.S. – the latest manifestation being the “Buy America” provisions under the Obama administration – means that gaining an unfettered U.S. market for Canadian companies remains an illusive goal, whatever Ottawa negotiates in the final analysis.

“My view is that in each case we have improved our relative situation. Is it the optimum? No. The day is long, there are always new little barriers coming up,” Robertson told IPS. “We will never give [the U.S.] exactly what they want. We couldn’t do that from a sovereignty perspective and it wouldn’t be practical.”

Robertson predicts that in any deal, Canada will conform its copyright legislation to the U.S. model in exchange for greater export of Alberta tar sands oil (that is bitumen, or “dirty oil” in the minds of its many critics) to the U.S. market via a pipeline – yet to be approved – heading south towards the Gulf of Mexico coast for refining.

Meanwhile, one contentious aspect of a security perimetre could involve the merging of Canadian personal information into North American databases that are accessible to U.S. security and law enforcement

Already, legislation is going through the Canadian Parliament that would oblige Canadian air carriers regularly crossing U.S. territory to get from one part of Canada to another, for the shortest route possible, to make their passenger data available to U.S. authorities.

At a recent Ottawa conference, Michael Wilson, a former Canadian ambassador to Washington and the ex-finance minister in the 1980s Conservative government that negotiated the first Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, was forthright on this point.

“This border agreement does raise some very significant issues on sovereignty, on privacy, on the form of collaboration between both sides. Sharing of information is very important to being able to make this agreement work,” he told reporters.

A second speaker, Michael Hayden, a former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, indicated that a thinner Canada-U.S. border means a common North American approach to security.

“I understand that these are national decisions on both sides of the line. And we’re each free to take the decisions we feel appropriate,” said Hayden, CIA director from 2006 to 2009.

“You just need to understand that if your decisions are markedly different than ours, it affects our view as to how thick the border should be,” he said.

Another observer, Scott Sinclair asserts that business has been given “privileged access” to the secret discussions surrounding the harmonising of U.S. and Canada regulatory standards with regards to products and services.


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