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COMMENTARY · 27th October 2012
Al Lehmann
ON THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE

Dear Sirs and Madam:

I find myself continuously puzzled and dismayed by the ongoing actions of the Conservative Party of Canada, the party to whose caucus you belong and whose policies presumably you support.

Conservatism has long been understood to mean a general concern for retaining the status quo, that is, for defending the successful or worthwhile aspects of society against runaway, hasty, and often ill-considered change. Yet I find that it is precisely these changes that your party is instrumental in promoting. Unless you ascribe to an era in which language becomes totally plastic (and thereby more or less meaningless), the Conservative Party is not conservative.

You might ask, of course, what aspects of society I am referring to that are generally held to be worth conserving. The following seem to fit, at least from my experience of the country for well more than half a century.

1. Stable, fair economic arrangements

Naturally, "fair" is a loaded word. To me, "fair" means that the owners of the country, its citizens, get an equal opportunity at economic success. True, citizens are not equal - some inherit wealth, some are born to unwed mothers, some have been sexually abused as children in residential schools, some are more intelligent than others, and so on. Each of us gets his genetic and nurtured "poker hand" and plays it as well as he can. Life is not a poker game (winner take all), however, and citizens should be encouraged to continue to play the game of "Citizen," not fold. Thus, in a civil society, opportunity should include options for education, reasonable health care, minimum wages that reflect the costs of living, and other social backstops that encourage success and achievement at all levels of society. It also includes decent public pensions paid through tax revenue to all older citizens who, all things considered, usually have done the best they can through life. For decades, Canada has provided these opportunities. However, more recently they have been under assault (wildly accelerating tuition fees at colleges and universities, greater difficulty accessing funds from EI, plans to delay retirement pensions, etc.).

To be "fair," the Conservative Party seems to live and breathe "the economy," although its slavish adherence to Chicago School concepts of economic management frequently do not live up to my (and arguably most Canadians') ideas of fairness outlined above, especially with such actions as raising the pensionable age. However, the economy is not the only measure of human and societal satisfaction.

(Despite that assertion, it is also fair to note that economic decisions taint or flavor most human actions. As has been wryly noted, in politics, "no matter what they're talking about, they're talking about money." Money does seem central to political decision-making, but it is not the only consideration. However, the Conservative Party has governed as if it is the only consideration, marking your actions all too frequently as hasty and ideologically-bound rather than as the product of widely sought evidence and broad consideration.)

2. Respectful, democratic decision-making

We live in a country that has devoted itself to democracy for one and a half centuries. True, there have been many (too many) instances in which various forms of corruption have sullied our notions of public participation, betraying the public's trust. However, overall we have enjoyed a broadly successful and civil political process in this country. Given our constitutional framework and our parliamentary system, one would expect that respect for division of powers and for parliamentary debate would be of higher value than partisan positioning.

Despite these observations and the evidence of our history, the Conservative Party is governing less and less as one respectful of our proud traditions and more and more as some kind of smug bully. It's as if the knowledge that with a parliamentary majority ("we can get our way - whee!") you have determined essentially to do whatever you want (or perhaps more to the point, whatever the Prime Minister and his closest advisors want).

The omnibus bill strategy for forcing through legislation that might otherwise be inconveniently delayed or objected to is a despicable process, one that demonstrates contempt for the population at large. Millions of citizen voters who have idealistically and rationally elected opposition (and government) members are being metaphorically spat upon by your party's strategy. You are denying the opportunity for contentious legislation to be adequately examined. This ongoing development can only breed contempt for your party in turn, a contempt that you should realize or learn is growing.

A second aspect of your undermining of democracy is highlighted in your party's resistance to the investigation of the robocall scandal. Surely one of the most important roles of any governing party is to defend and strengthen the integrity of our democratic processes. (I'm desperately trying not to be too naive here.) Yet your party, several of whose representatives stand accused of benefiting from illegal campaign practices, seems to prefer its grip on what might be found to be corruptly held power rather than demonstrate (rather than merely claim) its claimed innocence, innocence that could be established through appropriate investigation. The overall impression is that your party is guilty and corrupt. Is that what you wish Canadians to believe to be true? I'm certainly beginning to believe it.

3. Care for the geophysical integrity of the country

Canada has been extraordinarily lucky to have a huge physical area occupied by relatively few humans. As such, our nation is comparatively unspoiled with respect to the integrity of its natural systems--landscapes, waterways, etc. Canadians have long understood that maintaining this integrity (to the best of our ability) is a debt owed to our coming descendants, as well as to the other citizens of the planet who are not in a position directly to share our natural bounty.

To this end, doing everything reasonably possible to protect our natural species, our landscapes' varied habitats, the cleanliness of our watercourses, and so on should be some of the highest of conservative values.

Again, your party has acted imprudently, aggressively and even arrogantly on most environmental issues. Your omnibus budget bill contained numerous ill-advised cuts that can only lead to broad damage on our environmental front. Further, your characterization of environmentalists, Canadians who for comparatively little remuneration focus their lives on protecting our natural endowments, as "enemies of Canada" is divisive, preposterous, and insulting. You know the issues. You have seen (and presumably dismissed) the arguments put forward on a variety of environmental issues by various organizations and individuals. Your party does not seem to care for Canada as a physical entity beyond its status as something to be mined and sold. Such a stance is amazingly short-sighted and irresponsible.

4. Respect for First Nations, minorities and women

Perhaps the action of which Prime Minister Harper can be most proud was his extension of an apology on behalf of Canada to First Nations for the atrocities committed through the residential school program. Well done. At face value it is a generous recognition of past wrongs, an apology long overdue. (Of course, talk is cheap, especially coming after the cancellation of the previous government's accord with First Nations, which had sizable financial commitments.)

Despite this laudable act, it appears that your government is preparing to ignore the broad-based opposition to a number of industrial projects (e.g. the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, among others) expressed not only by First Nations, but also by tens of thousands of other Canadians.

To his credit, Mr. Harper voted against the "testing of the waters" motion to begin opening the abortion debate again in Canada. Women need to be in control of their own reproduction processes. If ONLY women were to investigate and rule on abortion issues it would have far more credibility. Until men are made pregnant, they should not be part of legislating reproductive issues.

5. International Relations

The government of Canada should be very wary of entering into international treaties that will affect all Canadians for years, perhaps generations, to come, without soliciting the broadest possible examination and input into the decision.

Mr. Harper's promotion of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Agreement, and especially the haste with which he proposes to bring it into force, is again, utterly puzzling. Recent publications by critics of this agreement suggest that it has some glaring weaknesses and the potential to do serious damage to Canada and Canadians, not the least of which is its ability to supersede Canadian constitutional rights, court decisions, etc. What is the rush? One cynically imagines that this is a back-door way for decisions regarding oil (and other natural resource) exports to be made by forces beyond government blame ("Oh, gosh, we just have to build that pipeline/mine/fish farm; our international trade agreement forces us to).

Such agreements are complete abdications of sovereign power, concessions that in another age would have been termed treasonous. These are not conservative actions. However, they seem to be becoming Conservative actions.

If these agreements are truly beneficial for Canada ("net benefit" seems to be a key word in Conservative decision-making these days) these benefits ought to be transparent enough to be broadly shared with Canadian citizens. At least with NAFTA we had a long, contentious national debate. Your government has been nearly completely "cloak and dagger" on this issue, however, as if you have something to hide. Do you? What are you ashamed of?

__

I could probably dig into other areas of governance and explore them at greater length, as well. However, you must get my drift by now.

My question is this: When are some of you Conservative MP's going to stand up for something greater than party solidarity and "ideological purity" as defined by the Prime Minister's Office? For a party that supposedly celebrates democratic freedom and independent thought you seem like a group of spineless clones, repeating a party line in a fashion hardly distinguishable from the methods of such historical publications as Pravda.

I and thousands of Canadians like me are loathe to believe that Canada is being run like an elaborate fraud scheme or a rigged game, one in which truly conservative values are being systematically betrayed in order to serve some egotistical, commercial minority. Yet this is precisely the impression your government is increasingly presenting Canadians, all behind bland talk about "protecting the economy" (blah, blah, blah…).

You MP's are the Conservative MP's on the Standing Committee on International Trade. I urge you to try something new: practice real democracy and agree to a full study on the Canada-China foreign investment deal. Now is your opportunity to stand up and do something that counts rather than rubber stamp the decisions of the "politburo."

Good luck. Canadians are watching.

Sincerely
Al Lehmann
Oh Canada, who stands on guard for thee!
Comment by Helmut Giesbrecht on 27th October 2012
In March of 2008 I wrote a piece on what had taken place with the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) which surfaced in 1998. Word leaked out that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), made up of 29 of the most developed countries in the world were negotiating agreements on investment between nations and they were doing it in secret much like they did recently with the Canada-China trade deal (FIPA). The discussions on an MAI were originally to take place under the World Trade Organization but did not get very far because some countries got suspicious so talks were moved to the OECD where the now fewer participating nations thought that more liberalized investment agreement could be hammered out. Canada was a participant in the secret OECD talks.

The purpose was to set the harmonization of rules governing investment across international borders. Many governments, national, provincial, regional and municipal began to worry about issues of sovereignty as they are now. They had so far not been consulted and signing away the rights of elected bodies to make certain decisions to non-elected business interests was alarming.

The BC Government of the day under the premiership of Glen Clark formed an all party Select Standing Committee on The MAI. It submitted a report which can be found here: http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/pubdocs/bcdocs/326953/firstreport.pdf There were 22 recommendations and it is worth a read. The committee heard from international trade experts, lawyers and the public

The MAI died when the light was shone on its implications. I was on that committee but I remember the discussions after The MAI died that the issues we were concerned about would rise again in another form. Global corporate interests are contrary to social interests and the issues of sovereignty.

Fast forward to the Canada-China Trade Agreement and it is clear that all of the concerns were ignored. Harper may not even have bothered to read the report. Fine, but he had advisers and trade experts who would have told him the same thing. It just didn't fit his political ideology

Sure, it is not a trade deal with 29 nations but it is a trade deal with a very large economic force and we have sold out the rights of municipalities and provinces to control those aspects of our lives that were designated to them by the Constitution. It is a three decade long commitment that makes us financially liable anytime we make a decision in Canadian's best interest if it interferes with the other parties profits. Security issues and environmental actions are not exempt. Arbitration of disputes are not in any Canadian Court. If Harper is wrong, we pay and we pay big. The irony is that neither the MP's we elected or the public have a say or are consulted.

When I wrote about this in 2008 it was to relate an exchange I had with BC Chamber President John Winter about "performance requirements" or "appurtenancy" in forest licenses. It exposed a complete lack of connection between the BC Chamber and local interests.

When I look at the MAI report now and read what FIPA commits us to and how much we give away, I wonder just how one defines the word traitor these day.
TOO LONG IN OFFICE
Comment by Moe Naguib on 27th October 2012
Mr Lehman, I doubt any Member of Mr Harpers party will agree with anything you say, they've been in office too long and lost touch with Canada. Its a sad condition of all forms of government through out history, the longer one person or party rules the more disconnected and unresponsive they become.