Sunday, May 13, 2007

CPAC Sunday

I’m not usually a CPAC junkie, but today’s airing of the May 3rd meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade was fascinating.

If the long title sounds familiar, this was earlier in the same series of meetings where Tory chairman Leon Benoit had his meltdown last week. The Committee is studying aspects and ramifications of the Security and Prosperity Partnership initiative (SPP, and don’t call it a treaty - not yet, anyway), and is hearing from a broad range of witness from business, labour, policy and citizen groups.

At the May 3rd meeting televised today, one of the BQ members put forward a motion that the Committee recommend that the Government take steps to finally and officially exempt water and bulk water exports from our NAFTA obligations. Currently, the only protections against water export are provincial ones, and those are vulnerable to challenge.

This would seem like a no-brainer for a quick vote, except one of the NDP members suggested adding two words ("...and federal") to one sentence. Apparently this was too much for a Conservative member, who first challenged the accuracy of the line on some basis or other, and then insisted on having the clerk photocopy the revised motion and put it in front of him since he was having trouble remembering such a complex amendment.

Before the clerk got back from the copy room, the clock ran out. Benoit was determined to end on time, despite being asked to extend things a few minutes so the CPC member could get his copy and vote. The vote was deferred to the next meeting, which was… oh, yeah, that meeting. Well, I suppose they’ll get to it eventually.

If you think you can take it, meeting transcripts up to April 26th are available at the Committee website. It’s interesting reading just for the insight it provides into the attitudes of the committee members and their respective parties toward SPP. The NDP are very obviously against it; the Bloc almost as much so. The Conservatives seemed to be going by the usual Conservative assumption that "what is good for business is good for everybody", but I did notice that Conservative member Dean Allison was always careful to refer to business as "small business" - because really, this is all about the little guy.

Another word the pro-SPP camp seems to like is the word "stakeholder", referring to anyone they feel has a legitimate reason to be involved in SPP-related negotiations and working groups. As far as I can tell, they consider "stakeholders" to be those with something significant to gain or lose financially from the outcome. This does not, apparently, include anyone whose name doesn’t end with "Inc." or "Corp.". The rest of us are invited to visit their informative website.

The Liberal committee members seem to be asking mostly technical questions without really addressing the larger issues and controversies surrounding SPP. I suppose this could be seen as taking a balanced, open-minded approach, getting all the information before taking a stand. It could also be seen as fence-sitting, which is what I suspect the official Liberal policy is on this right now. We’ll see how long they can keep that up.

Interestingly, a rather public crack in the SPP’s official "nothing sinister going on here" line appeared earlier this week in the Ottawa Citizen:
Canada lowers standards on pesticide use on fruits, vegetables to match U.S. limits


Edit - Oh yeah, I almost forgot about this one:
Canada about to introduce no-fly list for airlines

I thought Bruce Campbell of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives summed it up nicely at the end of the second meeting:
"It's great to have regulatory cooperation, as I said, but how far do you go? That's the question. What are the limits to regulatory cooperation? When does it become a real compromise of policy flexibility and democratic accountability?

"It's sort of like the question of the frog in the pot of hot water. If you put a frog in boiling water, the frog will jump out immediately. If you put the frog in a pot of cool water and heat it gradually, the frog will not jump out and will be boiled alive. It's that sense of this very slow, incremental, sometimes fast, under-the-radar process that is the basis for my concern and the concern of a lot of groups and individuals in Canada."


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