The governments of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam are negotiating a free trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The talks started in 2005 between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. The remaining countries joined the party in the interim. Canada joined in 2012. It’s likely you haven’t even heard of the TPP, despite the government being a part of it for two years. Why is this? Because the negotiations, and the agreement itself are entirely secret.
That’s right, our government wants to become part of a free trade agreement, but it appears that they see nothing wrong with negotiating on our behalf while hiding the agreement from us. Frankly, it’s ridiculous and insulting. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, so I wrote my MP about the issue.
From: Rick Pali <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: February 18, 2014 at 9:10:27 PM EST
To: “email@example.com” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I’ve been reading about the Trans Pacific Partnership lately and I’m really surprised at the secrecy surrounding not only the negotiations, but the agreement itself.
I’m not sure how this kind of thing works, but isn’t is reasonable for the people of Canada to be able to review the agreement so we know what we’re getting into? Is there anywhere I can learn about what exactly is in the agreement? I find it hard to believe that it’s being negotiated in secret and Canadians won’t learn what we’re agreeing to until it’s a done deal. That’s no way to handle a multinational agreement. If it’s a good thing, we’ll all agree and support it.
I’ve been reading alarming things about the TPP, and I’d like to make my own decision.
Ten days later, I received no reply. Mr. Nicholson was actively promoting himself on Twitter all the while so I wrote back and asked when I might receive a reply. Later in the day, I got one. And note the salutation.
Subject: The Trans Pacific Partnership
Date: February 28, 2014 at 3:58:28 PM EST
Dear Pick Pali:
I am writing to acknowledge and thank you for your email correspondence to Mr. Nicholson in which you expressed your views concerning the Trans Pacific Partnership. Please find attached a link which I think that you will find informative.
Please be assured that your comments will be passed along to Mr. Nicholson, as he very much appreciates hearing from constituents.
Thank you once again for writing.
Constituency Assistant for the
Hon. Rob Nicholson, MP
I didn’t expect much, and I didn’t get much. The link is to an entirely fact-free feel-good site about Canadian involvement in the TPP. I’m about to send this message in reply.
Thank you for your reply.
I followed the link you sent me and I assure you, I did find it extremely informative … though more for what wasn’t there than for what was.
I wrote with concerns about a binding agreement being negotiated on behalf of Canadians in secret. Given how the current government has embraced secrecy, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that it sees nothing wrong with this, but let me assure you, everything is wrong with it.
Particularly frustrating is the section detailing how the government consulted Canadians. The web page states, “The Government of Canada launched a comprehensive consultation process on December 31, 2011.… This process indicated broad support for Canada’s entry into the negotiations.” Comprehensive? I would suggest to you that at least 90% of Canadians have no idea what the TPP is, nor that it’s being negotiated on their behalf in secret. Do not mistake support for being a part of the negotiation for supporting the TPP itself. How can Canadians support the agreement if they have no idea what it is? And why should I accept the government’s assurance that they’re looking out for my interests? The best way to assure me of that is to show me the details of the agreement.
Frankly, keeping this agreement secret likely means the governments involved have something to hide. Reports about leaked contents of the TPP agreements seem to bear this out. I came to you for details of the agreement and instead of the facts I wanted, you sent me to a feel-good government page that amounts to a pat on the head and the assurance that I have nothing to worry about. It’s far past time that the government treat Canadians as stakeholders in decisions and not children who need nothing but empty assurances.
For example, the page that details these vast consultations with Canadians about the TPP … the consultations that Canadians in general and the media in particular, seem to know nothing about … claims that “interested stakeholders have an opportunity to provide their views related to Canada’s interests in the TPP.” Frankly, every Canadian is a stakeholder. I know this is difficult for the government to understand, as consultations about changes to copyright laws have shown. In those ‘consultations,’ the stakeholders allowed to appear at the hearings were extremely limited, and were largely limited not to the public or the artists who generate the content being protected, but rather the media companies.
Besides, tell me how anyone can provide meaningful feedback on Canada’s interests in the TPP when they have no idea of the contents of the TPP?
Please do let Mr. Nicholson know that the TPP secrecy stinks to high heaven, and the few Canadians that are aware of the negotiations are aware of how ridiculous the secrecy is. Also, when Canadians find out that the government has kept the contents of the agreement from them for years, they will not be pleased, and no patronizing pat on the head will mend the damage.
An MPP’s job in particular, and the government’s very purpose in general, is to represent the public. This addiction to secrecy, and pretending it’s somehow acceptable and normal, is nothing but disrespect and ass-covering made manifest.
I can not find words to express my disappointment.
It’s difficult, but I try not to pre-judge. An open-minded approach is best. Rather than condemn the person/organization based on an incomplete understanding of the situation, I start asking questions. Expressed more cynically, I prefer to leave room for the person/organization to disappoint me. I’ve been a constituent of Rob Nicholson for less than a year, and he’s excelled. I expected no less because the Harper government has been disappointing me for nearly a decade. A very, very long decade.