Edmonton, Alberta — The mood of Canadians in this former oil-boom Province borders on the grim and disgruntled. The provincial government has announced a 20% cut in the education budget which has provoked an unusual demonstration before the Parliament building of several thousand objecting high school students. It seems everything is being cut back except the 11% unemployment rate. Only a few days ago, Canadian voters threw out the Conservative, pro-NAFTA government, reducing that ruling Party’s numbers from 154 to a mere 2 members of Parliament and elevating the former opposition Liberal Party to a massive majority. Two other parties received around 50 seats each.
The new Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, confronts his first issue — what to do about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which he voted against earlier this year and which he pledged during his campaign rounds to renegotiate. Will he waffle and wobble the way Bill Clinton did, until the global corporations gave the White House its marching orders?
You may recall that in October 1992, then challenger Clinton listed twelve “fixes” that had to be attached to Bush’s NAFTA before he would approve the trade agreement. Well, eleven of them never reached the negotiating table for the side agreements. Truck safety, food safety, democratizing procedures, labor issues were among the ignored pledges of Bill Clinton.
But NAFTA is a three legged stool and Canada is one leg. For once in its subordinate relationship to the U.S., Canada can send this “pull down” NAFTA to the cleaners all by itself and do a service to the peoples of Mexico, United States and its own citizens.
Chretien will probably wait for the outcome of the NAFTA vote in Congress later this month. If the pact goes down on Capitol Hill the normally cautious Chretien will not have to be the first to act against NAFTA. Inside, he is angry over the sell out of Canadian sovereignty over its own water and energy resources, by requiring exports to the U.S., that marked the 1988 U.S.-Canadian trade agreement. But he knows what the absentee corporate owners of much of the Canadian economy can do to that economy if he stands up to them.
Sooner or later, a Canadian Prime Minister with Chretien’s kind of majority will have to choose between economic models that stress self-sufficiency or ones that require excessive global dependence.
In an unexpected way, this is a similar scenario for the U.S.A. Global corporations seek global interdependency between nations in order to pit one against another to obtain cheaper labor, more lax laws and more corporate welfare handouts. These companies essentially drafted much of the NAFTA agreement to set up autocratic tribunals that will decide in secret whether our higher food safety, truck safety, pollution control, conservation policies, recycling and other matters are non-tariff trade barriers against imports. No citizens can challenge these tribunals (only governments can), all submissions are
confidential and there is no review in our courts.
What business do trade agreements have in either over-riding our local, state and federal laws and standards or requiring sanctions indefinitely. The answer is big business wants it that way, so they do not have to contend in more open and democratic arenas with consumers, taxpayers, workers and conservationists.
The unwillingness of Clinton’s government to thoroughly inform the American people about the details in this massive NAFTA trade agreement, the seedy horsetrading that Clinton is offering undecided members of Congress, the chummy, secret strategy meetings and events with large corporations at taxpayer cost -these reflect the antidemocratic and autocratic trail that follows the NAFTA drive.
Moreover, Clinton is making false promises. His labor and environmental side-agreements that supposedly improved NAFTA now, the Clintonites admit, turn out to be unenforceable “understandings” with Mexico and Canada that can be violated without losing full standing under the main agreement.
He claims that NAFTA will reduce illegal immigration from Mexico; yet MIT economist Lester Thurow says that cheap American corn and beans will dispossess millions of Mexican peasants and their families-who will head north.
He offers costly deals to get more votes in Congress without telling the citizenry what their cost is and how they will be paid for.
You probably have opinions or questions about NAFTA. Call the White House NAFTA office at 202-456-6785 and let them know what’s on your mind. They’ll be surprised you know their direct number, but don’t be surprised if their answers are as slick as their boss. By the way, ask them to send you the two volume NAFTA agreement; your taxes have already paid for it.