What Has Harper Done?On September 9th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement with China, the Canada-China Investment Treaty. The agreement was kept from the Canadian public and Parliament until September 26th, 2012, when it was quietly made public, tabled in the House of Commons. No press release. No technical briefing. The deal is set for automatic approval. No vote or debate will take place in the House. Once tabled in the House, the clock started ticking. 21 sitting days from September 26 (October 31), this treaty will bind Canada.
Red Carpet for ChinaSo what is the Canada-China Investment Treaty? Simply put, it is the most significant trade agreement signed by Canada since NAFTA. Only this time our “partner” is the communist government in Beijing, an authoritarian regime with an appalling record on human rights –and it isn’t getting better. This deal requires that Chinese government-owned companies be treated exactly the same as Canadian companies operating in Canada. Once in force, it lasts a minimum of 15 years. If a future government wants to get out of it, a one year notice is required – and even once the treaty is cancelled, any existing Chinese operations in Canada are guaranteed another 15 years of the treaty’s benefits.
We at the Green Party of Canada believe there are many flaws in that agreement. And we think Canadians should know about them:
1. Open bar for Chinese state-owned enterprisesThe Canada-China Investment Treaty means easier takeovers of Canadian assets, especially in the resource sector. In the context of the possible takeover of Nexen by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), it is crucial that we collectively pause to consider the wisdom of granting Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such an easy access to our natural resources.
2. The right for China to claim damages over Canadian lawsThe Canada-China Investment Treaty allows Chinese companies (including state-owned enterprises) to sue the Government of Canada over decisions that can limit or reduce their expectation of profits. In treaty language, this is called “tantamount to expropriation.” China can claim damages against Canada for decisions at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level. Even decisions of our courts can give rise to damages. The damage claims start with six months of diplomatic negotiation. If that fails, damage claims move to arbitration – behind closed doors.
4. Secret hearingsThe Canada-China Investment Treaty would allow Chinese investors to sue Canada outside of Canadian courts. Special arbitrators would take the decisions. These arbitrators, unlike judges, do not have secure tenures or set salaries. Their decision cannot be subject to judicial review. And the arbitrations are to be secret. Even the fact they are happening is to be secret.
5.Right to be heardOnly the federal government is allowed to take part in the arbitration process. Provincial governments or Canadian companies, even if their interests are affected, do not have the right to voice their concerns during the arbitration process.
6. China’s obsession for secrecyThe Canada-China Investment Agreement makes Chinese lawsuits secret . At any time, we will not know if we are being sued and who will decide the case. We will not know what our government is saying on our behalf. We will not know if Canada has been ordered to change government decisions. This is a complete U-turn for Canada who has always insisted on complete openness in investor-state arbitration, for example when signing the Canada-US-Mexico free trade deal.
7. Restrictions on our use of our own resources
The Canada-China Investment Treaty requires that if, in the future, Canada wants to conserve natural resources (fisheries, water, oil, uranium, forests -- everything is covered), and reduce Chinese access to these resources, we are only allowed to do so to the extent we limit our own use of those natural resources.
What the Greens have doneThe day after the Canada-China Investment Treaty was made public on September 26th by the Conservatives, Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May held a press conference to warn Canadians on the dangers of the treaty with China. The following day, Elizabeth wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons demanding an emergency debate about the deal. The Speaker turned down May’s request, saying it did not meet the tests of an emergency.
So far we are the only party raising the issue, demanding debate and alerting Canadians to the threat -- reduced sovereignty, reduced democracy, all for more Chinese ownership of Canada's resources.
We now call on Canadian citizens to also demand a democratic process for Canada’s ratification of the Canada-China Investment Treaty while we still have time.