Category Archives: International

photo: Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Harper’s China Syndrome: PM in a Pickle Over Nexen Buyout, Trade Deal


Following an eventful couple of weeks for the Canada-China energy trade file, Stephen Harper finds himself in quite a pickle. The Prime Minster is stuck between his resolute commitment to opening up a carbon corridor to Asian markets and the increasingly politically untenable position of supporting wholesale Chinese state ownership of strategic Canadian resources.

In addition to Harper’s mounting challenges over the proposed $15 Billion buyout of Canadian oil and gas firm Nexen by Chinese state-owned CNOOC, several prominent Canadian voices – including Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Council of Canadians founder and world-renowned trade expert Maude Barlow – have piped up about a controversial trade deal quietly signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month, which they say would give unprecedented rights to Chinese corporations over Canadian resources.

As the tide of opposition to the Nexen deal continues to rise, Harper was forced to acknowledge this week, “This particular transaction raises a range of difficult policy questions, difficult and forward-looking issues.”

That’s putting it mildly.

The Nexen deal is problematic for the Conservatives for three main reasons:

  1. Public opinion is squarely against it, with some 70% of Canadians opposing it and four in ten viewing China as a threat, according to National Post columnist John Ivison (who nevertheless urges Harper to approve the deal as it’s in Canada’s best long-term interests)
  2. The Official Opposition has finally come out against the deal this week and appears poised to make political hay with its position.
  3. Most importantly, by far, powerful American political forces are lining up against the deal – charging that allowing these resources to flow to China constitutes a national security threat (our own CSIS concurs).

On that last point, Congressman Ed Markey, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee of Natural Resources, wrote to US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in July, imploring his office to block the deal (someone needs to inform the congressman that this deal doesn’t technically fall under Geithner’s jurisdiction, but it’s nevertheless a noteworthy and influential objection). Wrote Markey, “Giving valuable American resources away to wealthy multinational corporations is wasteful but giving valuable American resources away to a foreign government is far worse.”

Apparently even the Americans – whose resources these are notrecognize the danger in handing them over to the Chinese!

Meanwhile, with the NDP continuing to nip at the Conservatives’ heels, Harper might do well to ignore the advice of John Ivison and consider the short and long-term implications of accepting such an unpopular deal. Heck, even some of Harper’s own MPs oppose it!

NDP Energy and Natural Resources Critic Peter Julian laid out his party’s opposition to the deal at a press conference Thursday, as reported by the Globe and Mail:

New Democrats “cannot support the rubber-stamping of the CNOOC takeover of Nexen,” Mr. Julian said. “We cannot see the net benefit when we look at a variety of concerns and criteria that have been raised by the Canadian public.” Those concerns, he said, included the environmental and human-rights record of CNOOC, the potential for job losses and the risk of decision-making gravitating away from Nexen’s Calgary head office, plus risks to national security.

It is this “net benefit” test, under the Investment Canada Act, that is at the core of the decision Harper faces – which is expected by October 12, but can and may well be delayed by another month. The NDP has expressed doubt that the Harper Government will conduct this “net benefit” test in a transparent enough manner to reassure Canadians.

According to the party’s industry critic Helene LeBlanc, “By studying this transaction behind closed doors and not specifying what criteria they used to determine what represents a net benefit for the country, the Conservatives have given us no choice. When in doubt, it’s best to back off.”

Conservative Industry Minister Christian Paradis called the NDP’s position “reckless and irresponsible” in a news release.

Meanwhile, Harper’s quiet trade deal with China has drawn heated rebuke the past several weeks, as the two issues inevitably dovetail into each other.

A statement from the Council of Canadians last week noted:

A bilateral investment treaty between Canada and China, which was signed earlier this month and made public by the Harper government yesterday, will put unacceptable constraints on Canadian energy and environmental policy…The organization is once again calling on MPs to reject the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), and to stop signing what are essentially corporate rights pacts inside standalone treaties and Canada’s broader free trade agreements.

The organization’s National Chairperson, Maude Barlow, drew together FIPA and the Nexen deal, stating, “Canadians need to know that as Harper considers selling off Canadian energy firms to foreign investors in China and elsewhere, he’s also signing investment pacts that let these firms sue the federal government when delays or environmental protection measures interfere with profits.”

Council of Canadians’ Trade Campaigner Stewart Trew suggested these deals do little to promote investment, as is their stated mandate. “They are very useful, on the other hand, for extorting governments when things don’t go their way. That could be delays or cancellations to energy and mining projects, environmental policies that eat into profits, even financial rules designed to create stability or avoid crises can be challenged.”

Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May shared many of these concerns with the House of Commons this week, calling for an emergency debate on FIPA, suggesting it bears “grave and sweeping implications for Canada’s sovereignty, security, and democracy.”

In a statement on her website this week, May said, “I pointed out in my notice to the Speaker that this is perhaps the most significant trade agreement since NAFTA, and the fact that it can be negotiated and ratified behind closed doors is very corrosive to our democracy.”

“I also realize that an emergency debate is far from sufficient under the circumstances, but it might be the only opportunity Parliamentarians have to review and discuss FIPA before we are bound to it for the next 15 years, especially if neither the NDP nor the Liberals focus on it during their Opposition Days.”

Whether FIPA receives its due attention politically – let alone gets cancelled – remains to seen, but the more it becomes connected to the clearly unpopular Nexen deal in the coming weeks, the more scrutiny it will face.

The exploding national debate around theses issues puts Harper in a tough spot. On the one hand, the Prime Minister has been very clear about his policy vision for the country – and expanding energy trade to Asia has been the centre plank in this platform, underscored by a visit to China earlier this year, during which energy issues were the main topic of discussion. He has made public and private commitments to Asian trading partners and to the Canadian oil patch.

Moreover, with US leaders promising to become far more self-sufficient in oil and gas resources over the next decade by massively boosting domestic production, there is increasing pressure on Canada to develop new export markets for its fossil fuels.

And yet, as prospects for the proposed Enbridge pipeline continue to wane and opposition mounts to Nexen and this new trade deal, the Prime Minster is gambling his political future on an increasingly unpopular strategy – whether he believes it’s in the country’s best interests or not. Add to that the concerns raised by CSIS last month about threats to Canada’s national security from such deals and you have a recipe for real political problems if the PM continues down this path.

As University of Ottawa Law Professor Penny Collenette put it in the Globe and Mail’s story yesterday, with the NDP jumping on the issue, “Now it is burst wide open onto the political scene,” and becoming “a kitchen table national debate.”

That’s the last thing Stephen Harper’s energy plan needs right now.


Elizabeth May Raises Alarm in House Over Controversial Canada-China Trade Deal


Check out this press release from Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May, raising concerns over a new trade deal with China quietly signed by Stephen Harper last month. May rose in the House this week to state her objections to the deal and call for an emergency debate in the House. (Oct. 1, 2012)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands, will rise today in the House of Commons following the conclusion of Routine Proceedings to request an Emergency Debate on the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). This follows the delivery of a notice of her intention to Speaker Andrew Scheer on Friday.

In her notice, May stated that the “grave and sweeping implications for Canada’s sovereignty, security, and democracy” posed by FIPA – signed by Stephen Harper on September 9, but kept from the public and Parliament until quietly tabled on Wednesday last week – warrants much greater transparency and debate.

According to the Policy on Tabling Treaties in Parliament, FIPA must be tabled in the House for 21 sitting days before it can be ratified. Then, the Privy Council can, without any public or Parliamentary consultation or review, sign it into law.

“I pointed out in my notice to the Speaker that this isperhaps the most significant trade agreement since NAFTA,” May stated, “and the fact that it can be negotiated and ratified behind closed doors is very corrosive to our democracy.

“I also realize that an emergency debate is far from sufficient under the circumstances, but it might be the only opportunity Parliamentarians have to review and discuss FIPA before we are bound to it for the next 15 years, especially if neither the NDP nor the Liberals focus on it during their Opposition Days.”

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Conservationists in Panama push a South Atlantic Whale Sancturay plan prior to the annual IWC meeting

Japan Torpedoes South Atlantic Whale Sancruary on Day 1 of IWC Meeting in Panama


Renowned BC-based whale expert Dr. Paul Spong reports on Day 1 of the 64th annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, taking place this week in Panama.

One of the great things about Panama is the predictability of the weather. When we got here, about the first thing we learned was that it rained at 4pm each day, with the rain accompanied by thunder and lightning, and that the downpour would stop as suddenly as it began. The thunder and lightning bit turned out to be true, as we sat chatting near the venue pool with a couple of Green Vegans yesterday, but “rain” was clearly an understatement. On cue at 4pm, after a great crack and drum roll, the Heavens opened. I tried to take a photo of the waterfall bouncing off the pavement, but the image turned out to be so blurred I regretted not turning on video. Half an hour later it was over, and after that much time again the pavements were dry. Awesome.

Potentially awesome, too, is what is happening in the room here. IWC 64 is looking like the last round in this fight for a couple of years, as the Commission will almost certainly move to biennial meetings, and it’s shaping up to be a brouhaha. I have a feeling the word “enough!” is in the air, and that the folk who are lovers of whales aren’t going to take it any more. They occupy a clear majority of the seats, yet they cannot exert their will, thanks to the corruption spread by Japan with the active cooperation of Norway and Iceland, with Denmark close beside.

This morning, the ambition of Latin American countries to establish a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was defeated once again, this time by a narrower margin than in previous attempts that began in 1998, but still a defeat. The outcome was unsurprising, including to the proponents, but the point was made. A 64% majority supported their proposal, short of the ¾ majority demanded by Commission rules, but enough to be called a landslide victory in other arenas. The fact that a vote was held at all amounted to a watershed moment in that it was the first IWC vote of any kind taken in 4 years. Last year the mere thought of a vote was enough to tear the meeting asunder because of Japan’s fear of things slipping beyond its control. This time, perhaps because of a change of leadership in its delegation, Japan was less strident, though the outcome was the same. No Sanctuary for whales in the South Atlantic. The decision leaves open the door to future commercial exploitation, a future that is clearly on Japan’s mind despite the real world, which includes declining interest in domestic consumption of whales at home, and increasing opposition abroad.

Very sadly, the USA is party to the unholy brew that is pushing whales onto the old track where they are seen solely as resources to be exploited by whoever comes along with a wish list. In this meeting, the wish list includes an “aboriginal” request by St. Vincent and the Grenadines that dates “all the way” back to 1875 (hardly ancient history) when a family whale killing business started up on the tiny Caribbean island of Bequia. At one point in the past there was some sympathy for the old whaler, which was accompanied by a tacit understanding that the hunt would end when he died. Not so. The old whaler has gone but his legacy has been seized by Japan in a cynical move towards the goal of having its coastal whaling operations declared “traditional”, if not strictly aboriginal, and therefore allowed under IWC rules.

Over the past year, the U.S.A. has led an ad hoc group discussion aimed at settling the aboriginal whaling issue at this meeting. Somehow, it came up with the crazy idea that bundling all the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling requests together would be the easiest way for it to secure a 4 or 6 year Bowhead quota for its native Alaskan communities. It’s unsure what tea was served at the ad hoc get-togethers, but the insult of this morning’s vote, combined with the prospect of having to agree to the brutal slaughter of mother and baby humpbacks, was sticking in the craw of many Latin American delegates by the end of this day. Accompanying that thought was the marvelous video imagery of living humpbacks presented by Panama in the opening session – just about everyone applauded enthusiastically, though not Japan. The upshot is a real possibility that a vote will be demanded on the request by St. Vincent and the Grenadines. If this happens, the veneer of politeness that frames this meeting may fray.

Tomorrow, we will find out whether tonight’s party, hosted by Panama, was sufficient to achieve the reconciliation of views hoped for by the new Swiss Chair at the end of this afternoon’s session, or whether the distant sounds of thunder we’re hearing are the drums of war.

Dr. Paul Spong is a neuroscientist and cetologist from New Zealand. He has spent more than 30 years researching orcas in BC and is credited with increasing public awareness of whaling, through his involvement with Greenpeace and the International Whaling Commission.