Wednesday, September 05, 2007

TILMA: Canada West Foundation hosts luncheon with Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty; event sponsored by participants of North American Forum

Like Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked, machete-wielding killer from the Friday the 13th series of slasher films, the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement just won’t die.

On August 30, 2007, the right wing think tank Canada West Foundation hosted an invitation only luncheon with Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty at the Hyatt Regency Calgary. A finance department news release the previous day said the minister “will speak about the current state of Canada’s economy, and the need to meet some key challenges to keep it strong.” Preaching to the faithful Flaherty once again shamelessly attempted to drum up support for the reckless and destructive trade deal.

In Alberta, B.C. pact ‘sets new standards’ (Calgary Herald, Aug. 31), Flaherty said other provinces need to get on board now.

Alberta and B.C. have set a new standard for Canada,” said Flaherty. “I encourage all provinces to sign on to the agreement, allowing us to break down the interprovincial trade barriers and sharpen our competitive edge.”

“The provincial economy continues to fire on all cylinders…That’s good news for Albertans and good news for all Canadians. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.”

Lost in the shuffle is the fact that there are few, if any, genuine trade barriers left between provinces. The conservatives have also perfected the art of delivering good news as bad.

The finance minister reportedly said that “while Canada’s economy flourishes and is clearly the best performing among the G-7 major industrialized nations, it could do better.”

Flaherty’s comments mirrored those he made in early July when he said “internal trade barriers are on top of his agenda” and that he “has already told provinces to either piggyback onto the Alberta-B.C. deal, as is allowed, or emulate the pact.” [Flaherty wants to tear down trade barriers inside Canada, National Post, July 5, 2007]

Sooner or later the federal conservatives will stop asking and start forcing the wishes of its corporate backers through other means.

The luncheon was sponsored by Matco Investments Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc., and Felesky Flynn LLP.

Ron Mathison is President, CEO and sole shareholder of Matco Investments Ltd., a private company specializing in the restructuring of financially troubled companies as well as providing capital and management expertise to companies in both private and public settings. Mathison is a director of the Canada West Foundation.

Felesky Flynn LLP provides legal advice in the complex area of taxation law. Brian Felesky is currently a partner and tax counsel within the firm. Felesky is a director of various corporations including TransCanada Power LP and Suncor Energy Inc. and is a past director of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. He serves as vice chair of the Canada West Foundation.

Suncor Energy needs little introduction. The Calgary based company mines and sells oil and gas, operates retail shops under Sunoco brand, and supplies energy, both from oil/gas and renewable sources. Richard L. George has been Suncor’s president and chief executive officer since 1991.

George served as chairman of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) from 2003-2006 and remains on their board of directors as honorary chair. In 2006, he was selected by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to serve as a member of the secretive North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), a tri-national working group of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP).

TILMA, with its regime of harmonization and deregulation, is seen by many as a stepping stone to advancing the SPP agenda.

The “rising tide” appears to have lifted Suncor and its CEOs boat faster and higher than those of most Canadians.

Suncor’s 2006 Annual Report shows that its revenues last year were a record $15.829 billion. In fact, every year seems to be a record. Since 1997 ($2.154 billion) Suncor’s revenues have risen approximately 734%.

Suncor’s 2007 Management Proxy Circular shows George’s total compensation in 2006 was $8,627,893 million. In 1997, George’s salary, bonus and other compensation totaled about $1,040,063 – not including any awards or stock options he might have received.

Meanwhile, despite a booming economy, Canadas gap between rich and poor is growing. In March 2007, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its study The Rich and the Rest of Us: The changing face of Canadas growing gap that showed the countrys income gap is at a 30-year high.

The report notes:
– In 2004, the average earnings of the richest 10% of Canadas families raising children was 82 times that earned by the poorest 10% of Canadas families. That is approaching triple the ratio of 1976, which was around 31 times. The after-tax income gap has never been this high in at least 30 years, and it has been growing faster than ever since the late 1990s.

– The richest 10% of Canadian families are getting richer. They enjoyed a 30% earnings increase compared to a generation ago, the only group to experience such gains. This is creating a new phenomenon in income distribution in Canada: the rich are breaking away from the rest of society, in a way we have not seen since these data began to be collected, in 1976.

– Only the richest 20% are experiencing gains from Canada
s economic growth, and most of those gains are concentrated in the top 10%. The share of income going to the bottom 80% of Canadian families is smaller today than it was a generation ago, in both earnings and after-tax terms.
Welcome to the world of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and folks like Richard L. George and Jim Flaherty.

On September 12-14, 2006, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives with help from the Canada West Foundation hosted the secret North American Forum at the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta. The theme of the event was deep integration under the title “Continental Prosperity in the New Security Environment.”

Dozens of powerful and prominent individuals from across North America attended the forum which was not announced to the public or the media. A leaked copy of the agenda and list of confirmed participants obtained by the Council of Canadians showed that the attendees included the then U.S. Defense Secretary Donald R. Rumsfeld and Canada’s Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, who delivered the keynote address which his office apparently refuses to release.

The list of participants also included Canada West Foundation President and CEO Roger Gibbins and current board chair James K. Gray. CCCE Chief Executive and President Thomas d’Aquino attended as did the aforementioned Brian Felesky, Ron Mathison and Richard L. George.

No doubt a swell time was had by all.

According to the Calgary Herald, at the luncheon Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Heather Douglas noted her organization’s support of TILMA, arguing protectionism has limited its appeal in other provinces.
“Everybody that comes in seemingly wants to tweak parts of it so that they can protect their homegrown industries, but the whole idea is to remove interprovincial trade barriers,” Douglas said.

The trade deal was struck a blow earlier this year when Saskatchewan, arguably the next logical province to join, ruled out becoming part of the pact.

“It definitely hurt expansion of the agreement,” said Brett Gartner, an economist with the foundation.
[It’s interesting to note that the version of this article published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix omitted the reference to Saskatchewan and the comments by Douglas and Gartner.]

The CanWest article doesn’t bother to explain why Saskatchewan decided not to join TILMA or mention that it’s the only province so far to hold public hearings on the matter. The Standing Committee on the Economy report State of Internal Trade in Saskatchewan (June 2007) reveals that groups and individuals opposed to the trade deal that appeared before the committee outnumbered supporters by approximately 4-1.

CanWest Global Communications Corp., by the way, is a member of the CCCE and its President and Chief Executive Officer, Leonard J. Asper, is a director. CanWest’s stable of conservative newspapers and the CCCE supports TILMA. The flagship National Post has twice endorsed Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper for Prime Minister who also likes the trade deal.

In 2004, the Canadian Chamber surveyed its members to identify barriers to trade. The results were contained in the report Obstacles to Free Trade in Canada: A Study on Internal Trade Barriers (November 2004).

The Canadian Chamber represents over 350 chambers, close to 70 business associations, and many corporate members. The Chamber says “it speaks with a voice that is 170,000 businesses strong.”

Of the thousands of businesses across Canada that the questionnaire reached the Chamber received just 106 responses. Of those only 37 companies said they experienced barriers to trade within Canada, seven of which said they “worked with the provincial or territorial government to resolve the barrier.”

That so few companies could be bothered to respond to the Chamber’s national survey suggests that alleged interprovincial trade barriers are not a particularly important issue for Canadian business. TILMA supporters don’t seem to want to talk about this though. At least not publicly. You would need an invitation to one of their private luncheons or secret meetings to find that out.

[Photo by Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald]


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