On April 20 the Standing Committee on International Trade hosted a public consultation in Saskatoon around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Members of the public attended the Committee hearing and then took to the streets in order to ensure an actual public consultation took place—and for good reason.
In any public consultation, it is should be of mutual understanding that the Committee becomes informed on what the public presents, and that they do not formulate their recommendations until they have heard from as many members of the public as they can. Yet in Saskatoon, it was clear that the Committee entered the so-called consultation process with a strong pro-TPP bias.
Out of the 12 witnesses invited to speak, only three were anti-TPP—yet many anti-TPP people and organizations applied to speak, but heard no reply. In result, nine witnesses spoke to business interests and how trade would be enhanced with the ratification of the TPP.
Of the three witness against the TPP, all centred on the firsthand affects that everyday people will experience with the ratification of the TPP. It must be noted that the TPP chapters are mainly comprised of patent and copyrights—in fact, only five of the thirty TPP chapters actually pertain to trade.
During the first session, the Committee heard all business organizations. After their presentations, a Q&A period followed where the Committee asked questions of the panel. This section was very cordial; in some cases, the questions from the Committee were quite leading in a means that favoured the TPP.
The second session consisted of the Grandmothers Advocacy Network, the National Farmers Unions, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, and SEIU-West. Three of these four were against the TPP and instantly, panel members and observers noticed a distinct change in regards to the Committee’s behaviour.
In terms of the Q&A for the second session, there was very little. The first question went to a Conservative MP, Dave Van Kesteren. Rather than using his time wisely during the five minute time limit, he spoke to his own experiences in Africa before finally asking a question to the representative of the Grandmothers Advocacy Network. When she was able to respond, Kesteren continually interrupted and debated her, rather than listen to her response. It was terribly disrespectful and clearly demonstrated his refusal to actually hear from a different perspective.
In another act of insolence and noticeable intention of not wanting a response, Conservative MP Gerry Ritz made a comment—he asked no question—and claimed that Saskatchewan people must support the TPP because of the results of the provincial election. This was directed at the representative of SEIU-West, yet the Chair would not allow her response due to Ritz making the comment with only seconds left of his time limit.
Randy Hoback, Conservative MP, also took up much of his time with his own personal comments. He was making claim that outside corporations should have the right to compensation if governments change their laws and cause profit loss. Again, the representative from the National Farmers Union was left with very little time to respond before being cut off.
It was made clear during the Conservative Q&A period that they did not want to hear a response that conflicted with their own stance, and instead opted to use their time with their own opinions.
When the Liberal Party had their chance to ask questions, Kyle Peterson asked the SEIU-West representative whether she had gained input and consensus from the union membership prior to presenting. This was an outright insult—he did not ask the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association’s representative (or any other representative) whether they had gained member approval. Did Peterson himself talk to each of his constituents about his actions during the consultation process prior to joining the Committee?
Karen Ludwig, Liberal MP, asked the second session’s panel a question around figures and numbers in terms of the health care impact. The representative from the Grandmothers Advocacy Network rightfully responded that our groups were not as concerned about numbers as we are about actual human lives. To this, Ludwig asked how many lives would be lost with the ratification of the TPP. This question demonstrates the level of disconnect the Committee has in terms of the real impact on peoples’ lives with the ratification of the TPP. It shouldn’t matter whether it is one life lost, or thousands. What matters is lives are on the line due to the impact on access to health care with the ratification of the TPP.
Tracey Ramsey of the NDP was the only voice that of dissent on the Committee, while Sukh Dhaliwal of the Liberal Party remained quite neutral. Their questions actually gave time for the panel members to respond, and their questions around the impact the TPP were pertinent.
The third and final panel again consisted of all-business representation. Again, a distinct shift was felt in terms of Committee behaviour towards these presenters. Gerry Ritz asked questions like, “we’re being told that we’re being duped by signing the TPP, are you being duped?” This kind of question is ignorant and disingenuous.
In the end, the observers in the Committee hearing felt the clear pro-TPP bias and saw how little our elected MPs think of those that are anti-TPP. It is not the Committee’s place to provide their own opinions, but to rather listen to the presentations and then ask questions.
The experiences in the Committee hearing were disappointingly, to be expected. That is why anti-TPP activists organized a true public consultation rally directly after the hearing. MPs were escorted out to the voices of dissent, where members of the public particularly spoke to the anti-democratic nature of the TPP—such as its investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system.
The ISDS system truly embodies the corporate power that is built into the TPP: it allows investors, such as large pharmaceutical corporations, to challenge government actions outside the traditional court system in private tribunals whose decisions are binding. Therefore, ISDS essentially shifts the power from the courts, legislation and government (meant to represent the people) to corporate investors and a small group of lawyers who often get called upon as arbitrators. ISDS is a harmful means of ensuring corporate assets and expropriation by allowing companies to sue governments whenever they feel treated unfairly—it is the taxpayers who are devastated from both sides—whether by increased medication costs and/or multi-million, sometimes billion, dollar law suits.
After similar systems were put through within NAFTA, Canada is now among the top most sued countries in the world. In terms of patents and pharmaceuticals, Canada is already facing a challenge from the large and hugely profitable US drug company Eli Lilly; it is claiming $500 million in compensation from a Canadian court decision. Specifically, Eli Lilly is challenging a decision that invalidated extended patents on two of its medications because Eli Lilly failed to produce persuasive evidence supporting its claims regarding new uses (“ever-greening”).
Following this decision, both medications were opened to generic competition, thereby reducing costs to Canadian health care users and the public health care system. Eli Lilly took its case to the Federal Court of Appeal, which upheld the lower court’s ruling. The company then went to the Supreme Court of Canada, where their appeal was rejected. Eli Lilly has now turned to the NAFTA ISDS process. This alternative to our court system is available only to foreign investors, thereby raising basic concerns about equality before the law. Moreover, by declaring that they were deprived of fair treatment, Eli Lilly expresses contempt for the Canadian federal court system. Unacceptably, ISDS invites this level of corporate entitlement.
In the wake of the Panama Papers, it is clear that much of our society is warped to corporate favour. People around the world are recognizing this blatant injustice, and yet the TPP further solidifies corporate power. We know pharmaceutical companies and health care technology represent one of the most lucrative sectors in the world, and their profit margins have been steadily on the rise. It is argued that in exchange for longer patents, pharmaceutical companies will invest their increased earnings into research and development (R&D). However, according to the latest data from the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), the R&D-to-sales ratio of major pharmaceutical corporations fell to 5 per cent in 2014. This is its lowest level since the PMPRB began collecting data in 1988.
The ISDS system would also give corporations the ability to undermine and render impotent any serious attempt by Canadian jurisdictions to comply with the Paris COP21 climate targets. Climate Justice Saskatoon, the group that organized the anti-TPP rally, is especially concerned. In Quebec, there have already been instances where community groups stopped environmentally damaging projects by forcing the government to act, only to have the company sue the government for restricting its profits.
The anti-TPP rally in Saskatoon as well as the many demonstrations across Canada prove that the TPP is not in public interest. If our newly elected government were to truly act on its mandate of representing the people, they should say no to the TPP.