Corporate trade and investment deals

No ‘real change’ on TPP? Trudeau cheerleads for deal with other world leaders

Mainstream media continue to ignore dissenting views on massive new trade and investment agreement
Photo: Steve Rhodes

During the final weeks of the campaign, Justin Trudeau repeatedly said he had to withhold final judgment on the TPP until he had read and deliberated carefully on the full text of the trade and investment agreement.

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Now, however, before his new Liberal government is even sworn in, he would appear to be joining with other key world leaders in promoting the deal.

According to Reuters, “Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Canada's prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau agreed to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), both seeing the free-trade deal as beneficial to the region, Japan's foreign ministry said in a statement.”

What is the new prime minister’s real position on the TPP, and will we actually get a public and open debate on this agreement in Canada’s 43rd Parliament?

It could have been a game changer. With just two weeks left in the election campaign, the Harper government triumphantly announced they had reached a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership after prolonged negotiations on the massive trade and investment agreement involving 12 countries.

Nothing to see here folks

The NDP, hoping to turn around their slump in the polls, spoke out sharply against the deal. Tom Mulcair and his party, however, were unable to gain any real traction on this issue as Oct. 19 loomed. Why not? In large part because of the mainstream media consensus in favour of the TPP. Editorials and op-eds saturated the pages of Postmedia and other major outlets. The message: Nothing to see here folks, please move along.

Readers of the mainstream press would have had no idea that critics of the TPP included Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, whose commentary on the subject has been widely published in the U.S. and worldwide. If you only read the major newspapers in Canada, you also would have had no idea that Doctors Without Borders was raising serious concerns about the TPP costing lives in the world’s poorest countries due to concessions on drug patents for the big pharmaceutical companies. And readers confining themselves to Postmedia outlets or the Globe and Mail would scarcely have known that a fierce debate was raging over the TPP even in the United States, with major opposition in Congress and from the two leading contenders for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Trudeau criticizes lack of TPP transparency

The Liberals, by then beginning to surge ahead in the race, took a more ambiguous position when the TPP issue exploded on to the campaign trail in early October, promising to “take a responsible approach to thoroughly examining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

In a campaign statement, Justin Trudeau criticized the Conservatives for the opacity of the process, “The Harper Conservatives have failed to be transparent through the entirety of the negotiations – especially in regards to what Canada is conceding in order to be accepted into this partnership.”

Trudeau and the Liberals promised a, well, real change in approach from the Harper Conservatives when it came to a final decision on the TPP:

“The government has an obligation to be open and honest about the negotiation process, and immediately share all the details of any agreement. Canadians deserve to know what impacts this agreement will have on different industries across our country. The federal government must keep its word and defend Canadian interests during the TPP’s ratification process – which includes defending supply management, our auto sector, and Canadian manufacturers across the country.

If the Liberal Party of Canada earns the honour of forming a government after October 19th, we will hold a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement.”

Over the weekend, however, media reports on the PM-elect’s Oct. 30 conversation with Japan's prime minister suggest that Trudeau was being less than transparent about his real position on the TPP.

The Japan Times reported, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Canada Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau agreed Friday that the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact will bring benefits to the region.” Reuters picked up the news, and it was published in major Canadian newspapers like the Globe and Mail today. A readout of an Oct. 20 phone call with Barack Obama, published online by the White House, suggests that Trudeau shared similar, positive words about the TPP with the U.S. president, who is a key proponent of the agreement in the face of substantial domestic opposition.

Has Trudeau, on the eve of the swearing-in of a new Liberal majority government, already jettisoned his pledge of an “open” and “public” debate over the TPP? Has the Liberals’ position changed since the campaign, or was their ambiguous language just a way of camouflaging a fait accompli?

Some clarification and transparency is in order on these matters, especially given the new government’s campaign promises to be open and consultative with Canadians. Ricochet has submitted several questions and a request for comment to the PM-elect, and will publish the answers if and when we get them.

The corporate media failed the public interest when, in the crucial final days of a federal election, it omitted substantial critical perspectives on an historic trade and investment agreement.

So we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for the mainstream press and the main Ottawa pundits to hold Justin Trudeau’s feet to the fire on the TPP, despite international media reports that would seem to contradict his campaign statements.

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