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Canada sued the most over trade deals, environmental protections

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Posted January 28, 2015 by Dr. David Suzuki in Economics
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With FIPA, NAFTA, Canada has traded away environmental rights

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao upon FIPA signing in 2012

In 1997, Canada restricted import and transfer of the gasoline additive MMT because it was a suspected neurotoxin that had already been banned in Europe. Ethyl Corp., the U.S. multinational that supplied the chemical, sued the government for $350 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement and won! Canada was forced to repeal the ban, apologize to the company and pay an out-of-court settlement of US$13 million.

Designed to protect corporations

The free trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico was never designed to raise labour and environmental standards to the highest level. In fact, NAFTA and other trade agreements Canada has signed — including the recent Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China — often take labour standards to the lowest denominator while increasing environmental risk. The agreements are more about facilitating corporate flexibility and profit than creating good working conditions and protecting the air, water, land and diverse ecosystems that keep us alive and healthy.

Canada’s environment appears to be taking the brunt of NAFTA-enabled corporate attacks. And when NAFTA environmental-protection provisions do kick in, the government often rejects them.

Quebec sued for fracking moratorium

According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, more than 70 per cent of NAFTA claims since 2005 have been against Canada, with nine active cases totalling $6 billion outstanding. These challenge “a wide range of government measures that allegedly interfere with the expected profitability of foreign investments,” including the Quebec government’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Quebec imposed the moratorium in 2011 pending an environmental review of the controversial gas-and-oil drilling practice. A U.S. company headquartered in Calgary, Lone Pine Resources Inc., is suing the federal government under NAFTA for $250 million. A preliminary assessment by Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement found fracking would have “major impacts,” including air and water pollution, acrid odours and increased traffic and noise. Fracking can also cause seismic activity.

Canada sued the most

According to the CCPA, Canada has been sued more often than any other developed nation through investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms in trade agreements. Under NAFTA:

Canada has already lost or settled six claims, paid out damages totaling over $170 million and incurred tens of millions more in legal costs. Mexico has lost five cases and paid damages of US$204 million. The U.S. has never lost a NAFTA investor-state case.

Harper blocking watchdog

NAFTA does, however, have a watchdog arm that’s supposed to address environmental disputes and public concerns, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. But Canada is blocking the commission from investigating the impacts of tailings ponds at the Alberta oilsands.

Environmental Defence, the Natural Resources Defense Council and three people downstream from the oilsands asked the CEC to investigate whether tailings leaking into the Athabasca River and other waterways represent a violation of the federal Fisheries Act. According to the complaint, the tailings ponds, which are actually much larger than what most people would think of as ponds, are spilling millions of litres of toxic liquid every day. Environmental Defence says the CEC found “plenty of evidence that tar sands companies were breaking Canadian law and lots of evidence that the Canadian government was failing to do anything about it.”

It’s the third time in the past year that Canada has prevented the commission from examining environmental issues. Canada earlier blocked an investigation into the protection of polar bears from threats including climate change and one concerning the dangers posed to wild salmon from B.C. fish farms.

Citizens, environment left out

Trade agreements are negotiated in the best interests of corporations instead of citizens. On top of that, federal and provincial governments keep pinning our economic hopes on volatile oil and gas markets, with little thought about how those resources could provide long-term prosperity. Recent plummeting oil prices show where that leads.

These priorities are screwed up. We end up with a boom-and-bust economy and the erosion of social programs as budgets are slashed when oil prices drop. Skewed trade deals allow corporations to override environmental protections that haven’t already been gutted, and create a labour climate in which wages, benefits and working standards fall.

It’s time for Canada to recognize that a diversified economy and citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment are more important than facilitating short-term profits for foreign and multinational corporations.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

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About the Author

Dr. David Suzuki

David Suzuki, Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way.

9 Comments


  1.  
    Priscilla

    And this is the kind of environmental destructive crap Harper left as his legacy




  2.  
    scotty on denman

    I’ve never read the NAFTA; I assume something must cover poisonous, dangerous or deleterious products. How is it such a case wasn’t made to defend against the gasoline additive that Canada contended was unhealthy for our citizens? Is there no appeal in the NAFTA tribunal system, or is it just a rubber kangaroo that hops for privateers only?

    Will Canada sue if Keystone’s rejected? I mean, it carries an unhealthy substance with which investors expected to avail the American market vis a vis NAFTA. It would appear the damages claimed would be related to the huge markets denied, no?

    Nearly Always Favours The Americans—should be, according to this report: AFTA—Always Favours The Americans.

    At an NDP candidate nomination meeting, the abrogation of NAFTA was floated (there is a six-month abrogation provision in the Agreement), and the union faction unanimously derided the other, bigger “faction” of ordinary party members and citizens attending. One got the impression the labour movement held NAFTA in high regard. That was decades ago. I wonder how the labour movement feels about NAFTA now?

    I’ve often wondered what an abrogation scenario would look like. I’m still against the Agreement, and always was for exactly the reasons above. We were assured it was safe. “Is it safe?” we asked. “Oh yes! Totally safe, safeguards, safety, safe as milk…” we were assured.

    Do our neo-right governments put up a token defence, knowing the American investors will win?




  3.  
    nonconfidencevote

    Its somewhat ironic that corperations have more “rights” than people that are directly affected by their actions.
    Corperations can break the law but they will never be incarcerated.
    They pay fines and continue on.
    Business as usual.
    Corperations dont vote.
    Corperations recieve huge tax breaks and or financial loans from govt.

    So why( if the Companies dont vote, demand money from govt in various forms, pollute the air, ground and water, break the law…..)

    Why do politicians kneel down before these companies with cap in hand asking for their continued blessing?

    Could it be financial contributions?
    Could it be garanteed employment after politics is over?
    Could it be the jobs and votes?

    Could this all be a huge conflict of interest for the politicians involved?
    Perhaps instead of going after the companies it might be more effective to focus on ALL politicans and their conflicts of interest.
    Pass a law auditing all corporate deals Time to expose the sweetheart deals with compulsory audits. Leave no stone unturned.
    The audit results must be published 30 days before an election. No exceptions.

    I can dream cant I?




  4.  
    Tony

    The amounts paid out in settlements so far are just the beginning. Given the length of these settlements – 30 years in one case – the costs are going to mount astronomically as the years go by. This is money lost to every federal programme and ultimately, all Canadians. Knowing this and if having read “Party of One”, I don’t know how any reasonable person can vote for the CPC in the coming election.




  5.  
    Patricia

    Maybe this will finally make him lose his credibility towards the people that actually vote for him. They don’t care about aboriginal women disappearing, the land being completely destroyed or people being free… But they DO care about their money. Hopefully this will be good enough to make all those false flags not have the effect they had hoped for.

    No matter what party you usually vote for, you are still a HUMAN LIVING in CANADA, and if there is no more Canada to live in, your money will be useless. We are all on the same team. Team staying alive and protecting our future.




  6.  
    Hugh

    The TILMA between BC and Alberta also has investor-rights provisions. TILMA was rammed through in 2006 with claims of:

    $4.8 billion in GDP benefits and 78,000 new jobs in BC.

    The benefits claimed are totally bogus and very similar to benefits claimed for the CETA between Canada and EU.





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