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This article was published 31/7/2015 (752 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BRANDON -- The Harper government is about to sign a massive trade treaty that could cost thousands of Canadians their jobs, drive thousands of farm families and businesses into bankruptcy and deepen the recession, but three-quarters of Canadians don't even see it coming.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed trade arrangement between Canada, the United States, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Collectively, those 12 Pacific Rim nations have a population of almost 800 million citizens and an annual GDP of more than $28 trillion.
Though the text of the draft TPP agreement has not been released to the public, multiple reports indicate it is a comprehensive deal that will cover a wide range of issues, including labour standards, intellectual property rights, environmental protection, automobile manufacturing, forestry and agriculture.
Given the sweeping scope of the agreement and enormous barrier-free market that would be created, TPP would dwarf NAFTA and potentially impact every segment of the Canadian economy. Despite that fact, a poll of more than 1,000 Canadians conducted in June by Environics found that 75 per cent of respondents knew nothing about the TPP.
That's not surprising, given the treaty negotiations have been conducted under a blanket of secrecy. What is surprising, however, is the scant attention politicians and the media have given the TPP up to now. That is about to change.
On Wednesday, the Canadian Press reported "The Conservatives are anxiously hoping to sign off on (the TPP) deal before kicking off an election campaign that's expected to start as early as Sunday... the governing Tories want to launch the campaign with the deal in hand -- an agreement they could brandish as evidence of their economic stewardship."
The final round of TPP negotiations are scheduled to be completed today and, if an agreement is reached as expected, the text of the agreement could be made public shortly thereafter. When that happens, it will create both an opportunity and a danger for the governing Conservatives.
The TPP treaty would be the greatest achievement of Stephen Harper's tenure as prime minister, but it will arbitrarily create winners and losers within the Canadian economy. While jobs may eventually emerge in some sectors, they will be lost in others. At the top of the list of those most vulnerable are Canada's egg, milk, cheese and poultry producers, who are currently protected by the national supply management system.
According to multiple reports, Canada's membership in the TPP would be conditional on its willingness to abandon supply management, and it was reported last week that the Harper government was prepared to make that concession in order to push the deal over the finish line.
In a response that offers little comfort to those whose livelihoods depend upon supply management, Harper said the government will protect the interests of every Canadian industry "as best we can", but added that Canada "cannot be left out of this kind of trade arrangement."
That underscores one risk of the TPP agreement for the Harper Tories. Thousands of family farms and hundreds of thousands of Canadians' jobs exist because of supply management. A deal that ends decades of protection for Canada's dairy and poultry industry will put all those jobs and all those families in jeopardy.
In Quebec, the majority of those families reside in ridings represented by NDP MPs. Outside of Quebec, however, most have Conservative MPs. That explains why the Liberals and NDP oppose a TPP agreement that abandons supply management. They aren't as willing as Harper to turn their backs on so many voters.
Factor in other potentially controversial areas of the agreement -- Will it cost jobs in the forestry, auto, manufacturing and energy sectors? Will it make prescription drugs more expensive? Will it impair Canadians' privacy rights? Will Canada's fresh water become available for bulk export? -- and the Tories could find themselves on the defensive throughout the election campaign.
Canadians may not know what the TPP is today, but they will in the coming days and weeks. When that happens, they will have some tough questions for Conservatives candidates. The outcome of the election could hinge on whether those candidates' answers assuage nervous voters' concerns.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.
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