Nelson Daily News - 01.21.08
"Talk on 'NAFTA on steroids' draws impressive crowd; NDP-led opposition over controversial Security and Prosperity Partnership being worked on by Canada, Mexico and the United States, mines plenty of questions from locals during Friday night event"
Timothy Schafer. Nelson Daily News
(Copyright 2008 Nelson Daily News)
They were sitting in the aisles, standing five deep at the back of the room.
More than 50 people spilled out into the hallway outside of the grand ballroom of the Prestige Lakeside Resort Friday night, while nearly 350 inside listened in wonderment.
They had come to hear for themselves what the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America was about, how it would affect their lives and why they needed to care.
For many people this was an evening of shock and awe as they glimpsed a picture of the future of Canada in a post-SPP world from keynote speaker Peter Julian, the federal NDP critic for international trade, one which saw Canada becoming closely integrated with the U.S.
For others like Martin Pickard it was the first look at the SPP. The pressure welder from Nelson had some inkling there were negotiations continuing on the North America Free Trade Agreement, but he wasn't sure what they meant.
As he sat outside the ballroom Friday his interest grew as he heard about a trilateral political and economic framework aimed at harmonizing Canada's social, economic and security policies and institutions with those of Mexico and the United States.
As he listened he armed himself with the questions he needed to answer for himself and firm up his fledgling convictions.
"If what they are saying is true, I might jump on the bandwagon and do some work towards (stopping the SPP)," he said after the meeting.
"This raised a whole bunch of questions, more than answers, but it did catch my attention. Now I've got work to do."
Work to determine whether the NDP's claims are true, that the SPP is "NAFTA on steroids," whether the negotiation is an act of stealth for deep integration with the U.S., as it is being billed.
Much of what Julian talked about Friday night was about secrecy surrounding SPP negotiations, how it was being done behind closed doors and with 30 "focus" groups put together by international business interests.
The public is being left out of a process that will directly affect them, Julian stated as the crowd nodded and murmured in agreement, but Pickard was skeptical.
"This is information that should be generally available and if it is not, I will be emailing my member of parliament to get it," he said. "Just because they say it isn't available doesn't make it so."
The campaign by the NDP to stop the SPP relies upon people like Pickard doing their homework and asking questions of their political leaders, holding them accountable.
But not much is available right now, said Julian, and that is where the problem lies. The national media has ignored the negotiations going on right now, he said, even though it is known to involve over 300 policy areas, including pesticide use, food safety and air safety, civil liberties, human rights, and environmental protection, as well as security decisions and energy policy.
Many of the unique aspects of life in Canada will be harmonized with the values of the U.S. government, Julian said. Other speakers Friday added to Julian's words, including Al Graham, president of the West Kootenay Labour Council, Laura Savinkoff, long-time peace activist with the Canadian Peace Alliance, Bud Godderis of Castlegar and District Health Watch, Gord McAdams, a retired government ecologist and Jon Steinman, host of Kootenay Co-op Radio's Deconstructing Dinner.
It was Steinman's words which hit the closest to home, pointing to food security as one aspect affected by the SPP.
"We've already seen what NAFTA has done for our food system. It has dumped cheap fruit into our local economy and closed down orchards here in the Okanagan," he said. "This is just going to accelerate that process."
When the floor opened for questions after a break, a line up of people ready to speak formed behind a microphone. Most people wondered what they could do to stop the SPP from happening.
Julian urged them to become informed (using the websites listed), write to politicians to stop the SPP and use the opportunity of the next federal election as a referendum on the issue and vote for the party which doesn't support the SPP.
"This is an issue that is going to be beaten back by ordinary Canadians like us," he told the crowd, "because, as Canadians, we are all fighting for a common goal... of how best to use our resources. We have a duty to fight back."
THE POST FREE TRADE SOCIETY
Life for average Canadians is a lot worse than it was 20 years ago when the North America Free Trade Agreement was put into effect.
So says Peter Julian, federal NDP critic for international trade. He spearheaded an NDP initiative to uncover statistics on what has happened to Canadian family income levels since 1988, the year NAFTA entered into Canadian lives.
He spent 18 months trying to get Statistics Canada data on family income levels and last fall he published his report. His results were that NAFTA has improved life for Canadians, some Canadians.
"For the wealthiest Canadians near the top 20 per cent, their income has gone up an unprecedented amount," he said.
For upper middle class ($40,000-$60,000) earnings have dropped by the amount of one work week, while for lower middle class ($20- $40,000) families the amount has dropped by two weeks.
The number drops to six weeks for low-income Canadians. Overall, households representing 60 per cent of incomes had a decrease in their income share in 2005 as compared to 1989.
Statistics reveal income share after transfers for the richest 20 per cent of Canadians has been increasing to the point where they take nearly 50 per cent of all income.
"So much for this unprecedented prosperity in Canada," he said. "The average debt for Canadian families has doubled in the process."
Under NAFTA the majority of the new jobs that have been created in Canada are part time, low paying and no-benefits-paid positions. This saddles young people coming out of university with tuition debt loads that will take decades to dig themselves out from, said Julian.
"We're mortgaging the future of Canadian youth to benefit the majority of older, wealthy Canadians," he said.
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(Copyright 2008 Nelson Daily News)
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