Dear Editor,

On behalf of Trade Justice PEI and its community organizations and members, we want to draw attention to some questionable claims made recently by local and national politicians and media commentators.

Particularly in conjunction with talks related to the tentative Canada-United States-Mexico (CUSMA) trade agreement, there has been a concerted effort to portray Canadian public opinion as being supportive of this and other so-called free trade deals. And while we acknowledge there are some polls that might support such an assessment, we also know that there are other polls whose results would challenge such an evaluation.

In addition, it’s important to note that Canadian public opinion on the series of so-called free trade deals implemented over the past 30 years has varied considerably over time. For example, EKOS polling in the years since the first Canada-United States Trade Agreement (CUSTA) was signed in 1989 shows a significant roller coaster pattern, with support dropping below 30 per cent at one point and rising to just above 80 per cent at other times.

More to the point, we wonder how most Canadians could respond to a pollster in a confident and informed fashion, given the lack of transparency and due process used in pursuit of the trade arrangements. After all, like most trade deals based on the misnamed “free trade” model, the recent CUSMA deal (or NAFTA 2.0, as it’s sometime called) was negotiated in secret, avoided meaningful input from Canadians both before negotiations began and after the tentative deal was reached and was never put to the people of Canada for approval.

The other major factor that should be considered here is that, based on polls conducted by Environics Research, it appears the more Canadians learn about these deals, the more they oppose them.

For example, when poll participants discovered that CETA – the deal between Canada and the European Union – would prevent Canadian cities and towns from giving preference to Canadian or local companies when spending public money on goods, services, new buildings or public infrastructure projects, 77 per cent said that municipalities should have the right to give preference to Canadian or local bids.

Similarly, 65 per cent opposed provisions that would lengthen patents on brand name prescription drugs and pass on higher drug costs to consumers and public health systems. The cost to Canadians of that one provision alone could be $1 billion a year!

Another 54 per cent opposed giving non-Canadian companies investment protections or allowing them to sue Canada in private courts when they feel public policy or environmental safeguards interfere with their ability to maximize profits. This provision has already cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Finally, 80 per cent believed Canadians should have a say on whether or not these trade deals should be accepted and that public hearings should be held before they can be ratified or passed into law by Canada’s Parliament.

(Unfortunately, this poll did not ask about the erosion of Canada’s supply management system and the potentially disastrous impact that such a loss could have on many Canadian dairy farmers, including many on P.E.I.)

Currently, the tentative CUSMA deal is awaiting ratification by the legislative bodies, including Canada’s Parliament.

As such, Canadian voters still have a chance to have their say on CUSMA by contacting their local Members of Parliament and the political parties represented in Parliament. Canadians can ensure that democracy prevails and send a strong message about how negotiations for our future should be conducted by directing their elected representatives to delay ratification of CUSMA until the Trudeau government can provide:

(a) a more fulsome report to Canadians on the contents of the deal;

(b) an objective and independent analysis of its potential costs and benefits; and

(c) a plan for a series of public town hall meetings and meaningful discussions with Canadians in every province and region of Canada.

Submitted by Rosalind Waters of Georgetown Royalty and Ron Kelly of Charlottetown. They are both members of Trade Justice PEI, a coalition of 20 community groups and individuals who are concerned about Canada’s current free trade agenda and believe it’s time for trade that is more democratic and environmentally sustainable, respectful of the rights of Indigenous peoples and shares the benefits of trade more fairly.

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