TPP rises from the ashes

Rumours of the death of the TPP are greatly exaggerated. After President Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I congratulated him: “Thank you, Mr. Trump, for killing the TPP.”

 image: WMAL radio

I now realize that Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP was not an indicator of leadership, but a sign of retreat from the international community. It’s just another indication of the degree of U.S. marginalization. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is yet another indicator that we must carry on without him.

Where the original TPP had a number of flaws, the new TPP can be negotiated to Canada’s advantage. Canada was disadvantaged in the first round because we were latecomers: we had to accept what had already been negotiated.

Canada is a trading nation and as such, we depend on fair trade agreements. As politicians like to do, I’ll list my five conditions for acceptance of the new TPP -dubbed TPP11 after the number of countries left to pick up the pieces.

Investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) should not be part of TPP11. This allows companies to seek damages from governments when local regulations interfere with profit-making.

When disputes arise, as they are bound to do, they should be settled in a transparent manner by judges, similar to the International Court, not in private between arbitrators as is now done with NAFTA.

Environmental standards should not be part of TPP11. Environmental damage is seen by industry as a cost of doing business -a price which indigenous peoples and future generations will pay. Environmental standards need to be negotiated by separate accords like the Paris Agreement.

Intellectual property and should be excluded as well. Artists and small software companies need protection, but too often concern for intellectual property masks large corporate interests such as Disney.

Exclude health regulations as well. They are an excuse for Big Pharma to extend the patent life of drugs that could be made cheaper with generics.

TPP11 will be a meeting of middle powers now that the U.S. is out, and China and Europe were never in. Canada can then negotiate from a position of strength when it comes to superpowers. Trump favours individual bilateral deals because he imagines an advantage over smaller countries. But if those smaller countries can form a block where there is an alternative to the bully-tactics of Trump.

The TTP11 would give Canada access to markets not previously available, says Hugh Stephens of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. It will jump-start bilateral talks that were going nowhere, like those between Japan and Canada. With Japan in the TTP11, negotiations can proceed. And trade agreements under the umbrella of TPP11 can take place with other countries where Canada has no bilateral agreements such as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Vietnam and Malaysia.

And in countries where Canada does have bilateral agreements, such as Mexico, Chile and Peru, the TTP11 can tie up loose ends.

Whereas Canada was a follower in the original TTP, we can be a leader in fair trade under TTP11. With the U.S. retreating into a fog of befuddlement, Canada needs to step up on the world stage.




Government powers are reduced during an election

The prime minister to likes to act prime-ministerial but his powers are reduced by a little-known convention. You won’t find the Caretaker Convention on any government website but I found a source.


Caretaker conventions are like precedents in law: they determine how government functions.

Powers are reduced because the government has essentially lost the confidence of the house and is at the end of its term says parliamentary expert John Wilson in the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

“The fundamental significance of this observation – when it comes to the importance of maintaining responsible government in our system – is hardly removed by the distinction which is made between a government which has lost the confidence of the House of Commons and one which has merely dissolved parliament in the ordinary course of approaching the legal end of its term in office.”

Canada is in limbo during an election. Once parliament resumes, the Governor General will appoint a party leader most likely to command a majority in legislature. The rules are set down by the Library of Parliament’s instructions to parliamentarians called Constitutional Conventions.

“The Governor General may dismiss a government if (1) an opposition party has won a majority in an election and the existing government refuses to resign, or (2) a government has been defeated on a clear vote of confidence and neither calls an election nor resigns.”

Since this government seems to have a poor grip on the law, Canadians should watch for excesses. The government suspiciously keeps the convention hidden. Mark Jarvis wonders why in his National Post article: Why does Canada not disclose its rules concerning ‘caretaker’ governments (April 4)?

Other countries such as Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand make their Caretaker Conventions public. “By virtue of it not being a public document, it is impossible for the opposition, observers or the public to determine whether its rules have been followed or breached,” complains Jarvis.

Following Jarvis’ complaint, Blogger James Bowden decided to do a little digging and through a freedom-of-information request was sent an unredacted copy of Canada’s Caretaker Convention which he posted on his blog.

Looking at it, I see no reason for secrecy. It spells out the limitations established by experts and agreed to by governments. “Most of these directives serve as common-sense reminders to separate government and partisan activity,” says Bowden.

Failing to make the document publically available creates a sense that the government can do what it wants.

That seems to be the case when the Justice department warned its employees against social media: activity critical of the federal government. The department  thinks that civil servants have a duty of loyalty to the government and must refrain from criticism. That’s contrary to the Convention:

“Those who remain in their position and to become involved on a part-time basis may participate in campaign activities on their own time, outside normal working hours, while not carrying out official duties.”

Or maybe Prime Minister Harper doesn’t want us to know that his government is a caretaker only, just filling in, a nominal administration that will last only until the next government is declared.