-by David McLaren

I was at a meeting in Sauble Beach a year or so ago. Larry Miller was there and said, publicly, that what was being discussed should be brought into the open so everyone could see what it was. I thought that made a lot of sense, so I went over to Larry and said so.

Then, just to tease him I said, "Does this mean we get to see what's in the Canada-European Trade Agreement."

"No," he said. "Besides, you guys don't like trade, anyway."

Well, I thought that was a pretty good comeback so I laughed. But I also said, "That's not true, we just don't like secret trade agreements."

For the record, I also don't like trade agreements that promote corporate investments over national interests.

Now there's yet another trade agreement in the works—the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP for short. Twelve countries are in secret negotiations to come up with a deal that will lower trade barriers such as tariffs and supply management systems, allow corporations to trade your private data to other countries, set and enforce labour and environmental standards, establish a trade dispute settlement regime that will allow corporations who think a nation is harming their investments to sue the country.

It's not my purpose here to argue the merits of free trade agreements (except to say Canada has not done well under them). My purpose is to point out a troubling aspect of the TPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound farmers. Dairy, poultry and egg farmers are squarely in the sights of negotiators. The other countries are pressing Canada (and pressing hard) to dismantle our supply management system before allowing us into the deal. In fact, the Obama administration (which wants the deal) is being pressured to kick us out of negotiations if we don't agree to get rid of supply management. And, if recent news reports are any guide, the Harper government seems about ready to cave.

Say what you like about supply management, it is a decision we made to do some things a certain way. From my conversations with farmers in Grey-Bruce, it has provided a good living for some at a time when a good living is getting harder to come by.

And that brings me to my main problem with the TPP and other such agreements. They change the way we do things without even talking to us first. At least Brian Mulroney had the cajones to take the first Free Trade Agreement to the people in the 1988 election. No one (except for a cadre of businessmen) knows what's in this trade agreement. The US government allowed Alan Grayson, a US Congressman, to take a peek and all he was allowed to say, was that the TPP "hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests."

Just about the only thing Mr Harper has said on the matter is that he would pay supply managed farmers "compensation"—details to come I guess. But a spokesman for Mr Harper's Trade Minister, Ed Fast, has said they would defend supply management in trade talks.

So, which is it—defend it or throw it under the bus and compensate (with taxpayer dollars) farmers run over by the TPP?

That's a question for the House of Commons and Mr Mulcair has asked it. No answer. Now it's a question for the campaign, perhaps at an all-candidates debate. But Mr Miller prefers to avoid those messy forums of democracy. So allow me to ask the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound media to ask Mr Miller: 'Will a Harper government protect supply management during negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, yes or no?

David McLaren is the federal NDP candidate for the riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound




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