Friday, August 31, 2007

America: 47 million without health insurance, 270 million firearms, 2.2 million incarcerated, CEOs paid $10.8 million, 364 times more than workers

The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that the number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 44.8 million (15.3 percent) in 2005 to 47 million (15.8 percent) in 2006. The number of uninsured children increased from 8 million (10.9 percent) in 2005 to 8.7 million (11.7 percent) in 2006.

Meanwhile, the nation’s official poverty rate declined for the first time this decade, from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. There were 36.5 million people in poverty in 2006, not statistically different from 2005. About 9.8 percent (7.7 million) of the nation’s families were in poverty in 2006.

These unsettling findings are contained in the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006 report released August 28, 2007.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy shows that CEOs of large U.S. companies last year averaged $10.8 million in total compensation, over 364 times the pay of the average U.S. worker, a calculation based on data from an Associated Press survey of 386 Fortune 500 companies.

The August 29, 2007, UFE news release noted “Workers on the bottom rung of the economy have just received their first federal minimum wage increase in a decade. But the inflation-adjusted value of the new minimum, despite the hike, stands 7 percent below the minimum wage level a decade ago. CEO pay, in that decade, has increased over inflation by roughly 45 percent.”

“The CEO-worker pay gap is finally getting some high-profile attention from Presidential candidates,” says report co-author Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies. “But lawmakers still aren’t doing nearly enough to tackle the gap.”

Authored by Sarah Anderson, John Cavanagh, Chuck Collins, Sam Pizzigati, and Mike Lapham, Executive Excess 2007 is the 14th annual CEO pay study by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

The Institute for Policy Studies is an independent center for progressive research and education in Washington, D.C. United for a Fair Economy is a national organization based in Boston that spotlights growing economic inequality.

The Small Arms Survey 2007 shows that America’s love of firearms continues unabated. The findings include:
– Civilians own approximately 650 million of the total 875 million combined civilian, law enforcement, and military firearms in the world today. US citizens alone own some 270 million of these, which translates into roughly 90 firearms for every 100 people. Canada, by comparison, has 31.

– There is roughly one firearm for every seven people worldwide. Without the United States, though, this drops to about one firearm per ten people.

– With fewer than five per cent of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35–50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Other leading gun-owning societies tend to be large, such as China and India; wealthy, such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and England and Wales; or have a recent history of intense violent conflict, such as Angola and Colombia, whose civilian firearms holdings are among the largest in the world.
“Firearms are very unevenly distributed around the world. The image we have of certain regions such as Africa or Latin America being awash with weapons -- these images are certainly misleading,” Small Arms Survey director Keith Krause said.

“Weapons ownership may be correlated with rising levels of wealth, and that means we need to think about future demand in parts of the world where economic growth is giving people larger disposable income,” he told a Geneva news conference. [Reuters, Aug. 28, 2007]

The Small Arms Survey is an independent research project located at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. Established in 1999, the project is supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and by sustained contributions from the governments of Belgium, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. not only leads the world in firearms possession it also holds the record for incarcerating people.

On June 27, 2007, the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported during the 12 months that ended June 30, 2006, the nation’s prison and jail populations increased by 62,037 inmates (up 2.8 percent), to total 2,245,189 inmates. State and federal inmates accounted for 70 percent of the increase. At midyear 2006, two-thirds of the nation’s incarcerated population was in custody in a state or federal prison (1,479,179), and the other one-third was held in local jails (766,010).

Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006 (June 2007) reported:
“At midyear 2006 more black men (836,800) were in custody in State or Federal prison or local jail than white men (718,100) or Hispanic men (426,900). Black men comprised 41% of the more than 2 million men in custody, and black men age 20 to 29 comprised 15.5% of all men in custody on June 30, 2006.

“Relative to their numbers in the general population, about 4.8% of all black men were in custody at midyear 2006, compared to about 0.7% of white men and 1.9% of Hispanic men. Overall, black men were incarcerated at 6.5 times the rate of white men. The incarceration rate for black men was highest among black men age 25 to 29. About 11.7% of black males in this age group were incarcerated on June 30, 2006. Across age groups black men were between 5.7 and 8.5 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated.

“Among female offenders, more white women (95,300) than black women (68,800) or Hispanic women (32,400) were in custody. White women comprised 47% of the female population in custody at midyear 2006.

“In general females had a lower incarceration rate than males. White females had a lower incarceration rate (94 per 100,000 white women) than black females (358 per 100,000 black women) and Hispanic females (152 per 100,000 Hispanic women). The overall incarceration rate for black women was 3.8 times the rate for white women. Hispanic women were 1.6 times more likely than white women to be incarcerated. Across age groups black women were incarcerated between 2.8 and 4.3 times the rate of white women.”
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) the Top Ten prison population totals in the world are:

1) United States of America 2,245,189
2) China 1,565,771
3) Russian Federation 889,598
4) Brazil 419,551
5) India 332,112
6) Mexico 216,290
7) Thailand 161,844
8) Ukraine 160,046
9) South Africa 159,961
10) Iran 150,321

Canada currently ranks 44th with 34,244.

The ICPS was established in the School of Law, King’s College, University of London, United Kingdom in April 1997. According to its website it “seeks to assist governments and other relevant agencies to develop appropriate policies on prisons and the use of imprisonment. It carries out its work on a project or consultancy basis for international agencies, governmental and non-governmental organisations.”

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Neoliberalism, if unchecked, will catalyse crisis after crisis, all of which can be solved only by greater intervention on the part of the state."

How the neoliberals stitched up the wealth of nations for themselves

A cabal of intellectuals and elitists hijacked the economic debate, and now we are dealing with the catastrophic effects

George Monbiot
Tuesday August 28, 2007
The Guardian

For the first time the UK's consumer debt exceeds the total of its gross national product: a new report shows that we owe £1.35 trillion. Inspectors in the United States have discovered that 77,000 road bridges are in the same perilous state as the one which collapsed into the Mississippi. Two years after Hurricane Katrina struck, 120,000 people from New Orleans are still living in trailer homes and temporary lodgings. As runaway climate change approaches, governments refuse to take the necessary action. Booming inequality threatens to create the most divided societies the world has seen since before the first world war. Now a financial crisis caused by unregulated lending could turf hundreds of thousands out of their homes and trigger a cascade of economic troubles.

These problems appear unrelated, but they all have something in common. They arise in large part from a meeting that took place 60 years ago in a Swiss spa resort. It laid the foundations for a philosophy of government that is responsible for many, perhaps most, of our contemporary crises.

When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society's founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take at least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, accorded with the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would pay for it.

Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanising hand of the state.

This, at any rate, is the theory. But as David Harvey proposes in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, wherever the neoliberal programme has been implemented, it has caused a massive shift of wealth not just to the top 1%, but to the top tenth of the top 1%. In the US, for instance, the upper 0.1% has already regained the position it held at the beginning of the 1920s. The conditions that neoliberalism demands in order to free human beings from the slavery of the state - minimal taxes, the dismantling of public services and social security, deregulation, the breaking of the unions - just happen to be the conditions required to make the elite even richer, while leaving everyone else to sink or swim. In practice the philosophy developed at Mont Pelerin is little but an elaborate disguise for a wealth grab.

So the question is this: given that the crises I have listed are predictable effects of the dismantling of public services and the deregulation of business and financial markets, given that it damages the interests of nearly everyone, how has neoliberalism come to dominate public life?

Richard Nixon was once forced to concede that "we are all Keynesians now". Even the Republicans supported the interventionist doctrines of John Maynard Keynes. But we are all neoliberals now. Margaret Thatcher kept telling us that "there is no alternative", and by implementing her programmes Clinton, Blair, Brown and the other leaders of what were once progressive parties appear to prove her right.

The first great advantage the neoliberals possessed was an unceasing fountain of money. US oligarchs and their foundations - Coors, Olin, Scaife, Pew and others - have poured hundreds of millions into setting up thinktanks, founding business schools and transforming university economics departments into bastions of almost totalitarian neoliberal thinking. The Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and many others in the US, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute in the UK, were all established to promote this project. Their purpose was to develop the ideas and the language which would mask the real intent of the programme - the restoration of the power of the elite - and package it as a proposal for the betterment of humankind.

Their project was assisted by ideas which arose in a very different quarter. The revolutionary movements of 1968 also sought greater individual liberties, and many of the soixante-huitards saw the state as their oppressor. As Harvey shows, the neoliberals coopted their language and ideas. Some of the anarchists I know still voice notions almost identical to those of the neoliberals: the intent is different, but the consequences very similar.

Hayek's disciples were also able to make use of economic crises. An early experiment took place in New York City, which was hit by budgetary disaster in 1975. Its bankers demanded that the city follow their prescriptions - huge cuts in public services, smashing of the unions, public subsidies for business. In the UK, stagflation, strikes and budgetary breakdown allowed Thatcher, whose ideas were framed by her neoliberal adviser Keith Joseph, to come to the rescue. Her programme worked, but created a new set of crises.

If these opportunities were insufficient, the neoliberals and their backers would use bribery or force. In the US, the Democrats were neutered by new laws on campaign finance. To compete successfully for funding with the Republicans, they would have to give big business what it wanted. The first neoliberal programme of all was implemented in Chile following Pinochet's coup, with the backing of the US government and economists taught by Milton Friedman, one of the founding members of the Mont Pelerin Society. Drumming up support for the project was easy: if you disagreed, you got shot. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank used their power over developing nations to demand the same policies.

But the most powerful promoter of this programme was the media. Most of it is owned by multimillionaires who use it to project the ideas that support their interests. Those ideas which threaten their interests are either ignored or ridiculed. It is through the newspapers and TV channels that the socially destructive notions of a small group of extremists have come to look like common sense. The corporations' tame thinkers sell the project by reframing our political language (for an account of how this happens, see George Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant!). Nowadays I hear even my progressive friends using terms like wealth creators, tax relief, big government, consumer democracy, red tape, compensation culture, job seekers and benefit cheats. These terms, all invented or promoted by neoliberals, have become so commonplace that they now seem almost neutral.

Neoliberalism, if unchecked, will catalyse crisis after crisis, all of which can be solved only by greater intervention on the part of the state. In confronting it, we must recognise that we will never be able to mobilise the resources its exponents have been given. But as the disasters they have caused unfold, the public will need ever less persuading that it has been misled.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

NACC: Canadian American Business Council peddles corporate members; details of July 2006 meeting of Canadian representatives in Toronto kept secret

“Still, history teaches that a lie, repeated often enough, can sometimes be mistaken for the truth. That is why, on the eve of this month’s leaders’ summit in Montebello, Quebec, involving Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President George W. Bush and President Felipe Calderón, it is vital that supporters of the SPP speak up and dispel the myths being propagated by extremists on both the left and right of the political spectrum.”
Thomas d’Aquino, Chief Executive and President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and chair of the Secretariat advising Canadian members of the North American Competitiveness Council (FOCAL POINT, August 2007)

Membership does have its privileges. Just ask Canadian National Railway and the Campbell Soup Company both of which secured a seat among the privileged few on the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), a group of high-level American, Canadian and Mexican business leaders tasked with directing the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) process, to tell government what needs to be done to further the goal of marrying policy issues with business priorities.

The two companies, along with the Royal Bank of Canada and EDS Corporation of Plano, Texas, were nominated last year by the Canadian American Business Council (CABC), a Washington-based lobby group which represents some of the biggest private sector companies in both countries.

In a March 24, 2006, letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Canada’s Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, CABC chairman Randolph Dove and executive director Maryscott Greenwood wrote:
“The purpose of this letter is to respectfully request official involvement in the North American Competitiveness Council. Specifically, we would like to nominate the following US and Canadian companies: EDS of Plano, Texas; Campbell Soup Company of Camden, New Jersey; Royal Bank of Canada of Toronto, ON; and Canadian National Railway of Montréal, Québec.”
Up until that point it is assumed that the CABC involvement was in an “unofficial” capacity.

“All four companies play an important role in the Canada/US partnership and will bring a distinct Canada/US focus and perspective to the table,” Dove and Greenwood said.

Lost in the shuffle is the important role that many non-profit organizations play in the Canada/US partnership not to mention the citizens of both countries who no doubt would bring to the table a distinct and unique perspective on issues. None were invited.

The four companies nominated are represented on the CABC board of directors. With the exception of the Campbell Soup Company they are also members of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE).

As members of the CABC, CN and Royal Bank are listed by the organization as ‘sustaining partners’ providing $25,000 or more annually, while EDS and Campbell Soup are identified as ‘gold sponsors’ at $10,000.

Financial information available at shows that in 2006 the four companies enjoyed revenues of over $50 billion. The total annual compensation for their respective CEOs is considerable:

Campbell Soup Company: $7.3B
Douglas R. Conant, CEO & President: $3,677,044

Canadian National Railway: C$7.7B
E. Hunter Harrison, CEO & President: $5,700,000

EDS Corporation: $21.3B
Michael H. Jordon, CEO: $1,572,000

Royal Bank of Canada: C$20.6B
Gordon M. Nixon, CEO & President: $5,832,511
(Nixon is the current Chairman of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives)

The CABC bills itself as the premier voice of the Canadian American business community in Washington. Established in 1987, the Council is a non-profit, issues-oriented organization dedicated to elevating the private sector perspective on issues that affect the two nations.

According to its 2006-07 Annual Report a key CABC policy priority is that it “promotes the importance of free trade and opposes protectionism.”

CABCs advisory board includes six former Canadian Ambassadors to the United States: Derek Burney, Raymond Chrétien, General John de Chastelain, Allan Gotlieb, Michael Kergin and Frank McKenna.

Burney is chairman of the CanWest Global Communications Corp. board of directors. CanWest in turn 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 across Canada have been very supportive of the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) and the Security and Prosperity Partnership. The flagship National Post has twice endorsed Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper for Prime Minister.

It is interesting to also note that Allan Gotlieb is the chairman of the Donner Canadian Foundation an organization responsible for providing “seed money” that helped establish the right-wing Canadian think tanks Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (Halifax), the Montreal Economic Institute (Montreal) and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Winnipeg) in the 1990s.

One of the more preposterous claims about the NACC comes from the Council’s own report to Ministers: Enhancing Competitiveness in Canada, Mexico, and the United States: Private Sector Priorities for the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (February 2007). In it the notion is peddled that the three governments launched the SPP in March 2005 as a “trilateral initiative…to increase security and enhance prosperity, improving the quality of life of the citizens of all three countries by providing an institutional framework that would help advance cooperation and information sharing across issues as diverse as security, transportation, the environment, and public health.”

“In June 2005, the three governments released detailed work plans identifying key initiatives that together formed an ambitious agenda of collaboration. Since then, governments have worked hard to implement these initiatives.”

By March 2006, the Leaders were already seeing “significant results” but apparently decided that it should provide “a voice and a role for the private sector in the SPP process.” So it created an NACC “made up of senior representatives…with a mandate to provide high-level business input that would assist governments in enhancing North America’s competitive position and engage the private sector as partners in finding solutions.” In short, the governments turned the reigns over to the corporate elite to decide the “issues of immediate importance” and provide “strategic medium and long-term advice.”

The problem with the NACC report to Ministers though, is that it does not go back far enough in time to explain that the SPP was never really a government initiative in the first place. It was an idea put forward by a private sector that already had a powerful and influential voice in policy making. The government’s role in this process seemed to be one of receiving the idea, doing the initial groundwork of putting a framework in place, institutionalizing it, then rolling it out to the public as some kind of government initiative before dutifully turning it back over to the private sector to carry on its merry way.

The origins of the SPP can be traced back to January 2003 when the CCCE launched its Security and Prosperity Toward a New Canada-United States Partnership in North America: Profile of the North American Security and Prosperity Initiative (NASPI).

This initiative proposed a strategy with five major elements:

1) Reinventing borders
2) Maximizing regulatory efficiencies
3) Negotiation of a comprehensive resource security pact
4) Reinvigorating the North American defence alliance
5) Creating a new institutional framework

If these sound familiar it is likely because all have been generally incorporated into the SPP.

In its report to Ministers the CCCE describes itself as “a not-for-profit, nonpartisan association of Canada’s business leaders committed to the shaping of sound public policy in Canada, North America and the world.”

“Widely recognized as Canada’s most influential business organization, the Council has played an important role in most of the major public policy developments in Canada over the past quarter century. In particular, it was the driving force in the Canadian private sector in the development and promotion of the Canada - United States Free Trade Agreement and subsequently the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

This hardly sounds like an organization in need of “a voice and a role.”

The same can be said about the CABC. In its letter to Secretary Gutierrez and Minister Bernier, the Council noted that it “is the premier voice of the Canadian American business community.” Since its establishment in 1987 “the Council has provided the Canada-U.S. business community a window into the bilateral dialogue at the very highest levels and, on the issues of deepest concern to our members, played a direct role in helping to make sound policy.”

In April 2004, the CCCE followed up on its earlier report with New Frontiers: Building a 21st Century Canada-United States Partnership in North America.

The report’s introduction shows that its big partnership ideas were already heading in the right political direction:
“While 2004 will bring elections in both Canada and the United States, political interest in new approaches to North America crosses partisan boundaries. Prime Minister Paul Martin has made clear his intention to reinvigorate Canada’s relationship with the United States as part of a broader strategy for strengthening Canada’s influence in the world. Stephen Harper, the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, has called for a continental “strategic partnership”, one that would link freer flows of goods, services, labour, capital and technology with improvements in continental security.”
The CCCE points out that “Some of the paper’s 15 recommendations expand on the NASPI framework in areas such as tariff harmonization, rules of origin, trade remedies, energy strategy, core defence priorities and the need to strengthen Canada-United States institutions, including the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD). Other recommendations focus on the process for developing and executing a comprehensive strategy, including the need for greater coordination across government departments, between federal and provincial governments and between the public and private sectors.”

The report’s 15th and final recommendation seems conveniently tailored for the CCCE:
“In addition to making the most of the opportunities created by economic integration, the business community should contribute to the process of strengthening institutional ties between Canada and the United States. To provide formal channels for advice from the Canadian private sector, the federal government should appoint a private sector advisory group to support its new Cabinet Committee on Canada-United States Relations.”
The NACC did not include this important piece of background information in its February 2007 report to Ministers. It also neglected to reference a somewhat similar recommendation made by a trinational, Independent Task Force on the Future of North America that was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in association with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales. The report Building a North American Community (May 2005) noted:
“To ensure a regular injection of creative energy into the various efforts related to North American integration, the three governments should appoint an independent body of advisers. This body should be composed of eminent persons from outside government, appointed to staggered multiyear terms to ensure their independence. Their mandate would be to engage in creative exploration of new ideas from a North American perspective and to provide a public voice for North America.”
It shouldn’t require too many guesses to figure out who the “eminent persons” in question might be.

Throughout the process leading up to the creation of the NACC it appears that the CCCE and CABC had a bit of an unfair advantage in that individuals connected with the organizations attended critical meetings where the possible formation of a Council was discussed. The fact that the CABC letter to Gutierrez and Bernier predates by one full week the announcement by the Leaders in Cancún at the conclusion of their summit that a North American Competitiveness Council was being established is evidence of that.

On January 10-11, 2006, in partnership with UPS, the Council of the Americas and the North American Business Committee convened a public/private sector dialogue on the SPP in Louisville, Kentucky. Approximately 50 government officials and business leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States came together in Louisville for the discussion. In attendance were CABC executive director Maryscott Greenwood and board member Cathy Harper, the vice president of corporate public affairs at UPS.

Canadian representatives at the meeting included two staff from the Privy Council Office (PCO). This is significant since according to its 2005-2006 Performance Report the PCO “worked with the interdepartmental community in Canada, the United States and Mexico to help establish initial commitments under the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP), and also helped facilitate the establishment of the North American Competitiveness Council.”

Among the key findings of the Louisville meeting was that the “establishment of a North American competitiveness council” was “strongly advised.”

On March 15, 2006, the Council of the Americas and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce co-hosted a meeting in Washington between senior business leaders and government officials from North America. The purpose of the meeting, which included the participation of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, Canadian Deputy Minister of Industry Suzanne Hurtubise, and Alberto Ortega from the Mexican Presidency, was to solicit the views of the North American business community on priorities for the SPP, as well as recommendations from business leaders on how the SPP can help their companies be more competitive in the global market, how SPP can reduce the cost of doing business, and any specific recommendations to cut red tape or eliminate unnecessary barriers to trade in North America. They were also interested in the views of the North American business community on the possible creation of a North American Competitiveness Council (NACC). There was unanimous support among the private sector representatives for the creation and institutionalization of a NACC, and the Council of the Americas and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agreed to jointly lead the U.S. Secretariat.

Among the meeting participants was Karen Phillips, the Vice President of North America Government Affairs for Canadian National Railways, and Randolph Dove, the Executive Director of Government Affairs for EDS Corporation. As mentioned previously both companies are members of the CBAC and CCCE.

The second Security and Prosperity Partnership summit meeting was held by President Bush, Mexico’s President Vicente Fox and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancún Hotel in Cancún, Mexico, on March 30-31, 2006.

A NACC backgrounder notes: “As part of the agenda, the leaders also met with a group of private sector representatives on March 31, five from each country. The proposed structure of the NACC was addressed during this meeting and the private sector representatives pledged their commitment to the process.”

The document does not reveal the names of the five Canadian private sector representatives that attended the meeting.

A September 13, 2006, story in Maclean’s, however, did identify one of the participants. In Meet NAFTA 2.0 it was reported that Annette Verschuren, the president of Home Depot Canada, flew to the meeting on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s jet. In Cancún, “the executives gathered behind closed doors in a luxury hotel.”

It should be noted that Home Depot is a member of the CCCE where Verschuren is a board of director. The Home Depot is also a gold sponsor of the CABC.

In an address given at the 16th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters on April 23, 2007, in Markham, Ontario, David Stewart Patterson, the CCCEs Executive Vice President, discussed the Leaders meeting in Cancún saying “A group of CEOs from each of the three countries was invited to take part in a roundtable discussion about what issues mattered most within the broad scope of the SPP.”

So it has been established that the corporate executives were invited, with at least one flying in on Prime Minister Harper’s jet, and that they stayed at a luxury hotel. No doubt this was all courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer who, from Day One, has been shut out of the SPP process completely.

To no one’s surprise a White House news release on March 31, 2006, announced “the creation of a North American Competitiveness Council (NACC).”

“The Council will comprise members of the private sector from each country and will provide us recommendations on North American competitiveness, including, among others, areas such as automotive and transportation, steel, manufacturing, and services. The Council will meet annually with security and prosperity Ministers and will engage with senior government officials on an ongoing basis.”

Some three years after the idea was first launched by the CCCE the corporate elite had finally gotten the private sector led Council it wanted.

On June 13, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the Canadian membership of the North American Competitiveness Council. In his address to the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters in April, the CCCEs David Stewart Patterson, said “the Prime Minister personally appointed individual CEOs as members.”

To date the Harper government has not provided information as to the membership requirements, the selection process, or the terms of the members he appointed to the NACC. Nor is it clear who will be paying the group’s expenses.

On June 15, 2006, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Mexican Economy Minister Sergio Garcia de Alba and Canadian Minister of Industry Maxime Bernier met with North American business leaders to officially launch the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC).

The Canadian private sector representatives invited to attend were:

Dominic D’Alessandro, President and CEO, Manulife Financial
Paul Desmarais, Jr., Chairman and Co-CEO, Power Corporation of Canada
David A. Ganong, President, Ganong Brothers Limited
Richard Lee George, President and CEO, Suncor Energy
Hunter Harrison, President and CEO, Canadian National Railroad Company
*Linda Hasenfratz, CEO, Linamar Corporation
*Michael Sabia, President and CEO, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE)
James A. Shepherd, President and CEO, Canfor Corporation
*Annette Verschuren, President, Home Depot Canada
Richard E. Waugh, President and CEO, Scotiabank

Of the ten invitees only Hasenfratz, Sabia and Verschuren were present.

The meeting’s Post-Ministerial Report notes “the private sector representatives discussed how to organize themselves to get recommendations to the government representatives by the next Ministerial.”

The Canadian representatives indicated that “Their section has not had the time to organize itself – but once the representatives get back to Canada they will choose a Secretariat. The Canadian group will meet in July to choose a Secretariat, priorities, and Chair/spokesperson.”

According to a list of frequently asked questions posted on the Council of the Americas website “The NACC is comprised of 30 members with equal representation from each country, with each country determining its own members and the membership selection process. Accordingly, Canada, Mexico and the United States all employed different methods for selecting their members. Canada and Mexico both selected individuals as members of their respective sections of the NACC, while the United States selected companies.”

Travel and hospitality expenses available on the Government of Canada website shows that the North American Competitiveness Council Meeting of Canadian Members took place in Toronto on July 27-28, 2006. It appears that at least five government officials attended the meeting:

Alister Smith, General Director, International Trade and Finance
Gregory Goatbe, Vice-President, Admissibility Branch, Canada Border Services Agency
Stephen Rigby, Executive Vice-President, Canada Border Services Agency
Richard Dicerni, Deputy Minister, Industry Canada
William Elliott, Associate Deputy Minister, Public Safety Canada

It was this meeting that the Canadian members of the NACC apparently chose the Canadian Council of Chief Executives as their Secretariat. This comes as no surprise since the companies that all ten members work for belong to the organization.

According to the September 13, 2006, Maclean’s article Linda Hasenfratz is the chairperson. The Canadian section of the NACC has not made public the agendas or minutes to any of its meetings.

According to CCCEs David Stewart Patterson, the “The newly appointed NACC members wasted no time. After an initial meeting in June, each national section developed and shared its priority wish list.”

“In developing the issues papers, the secretariats in each country consulted broadly across their respective business sectors. In Canada, we naturally engaged our full membership directly, but we also consulted with a host of other business associations and think tanks,” said Patterson.

It would be interesting to know which think tanks the Canadian section of the NACC consulted with. One can almost be assured that left leaning organizations such as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives were passed over.

If it weren’t for Freedom of Information requests meaningful records concerning the NACC would be scarce. Controversy over the secretive nature of its business has not been far from the group.

Judicial Watch, a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promoting transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and law, sought access to NACC meetings – including the one scheduled in Montebello, Quebec, on August 20-21, 2007.

According to an Application for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction it filed against the U.S. Department of Commerce and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on August 10, 2007:
“On March 23, 2007, Plaintiff submitted a request to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations designated by Defendants to serve as Secretariat for the U.S. component of the NACC, asking that it be allowed to “participate in all future meetings of the NACC, to include Ministerial, Executive Committee and Advisory Committee meetings.” By letter dated April 19, 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce informed Plaintiff that only invited officials and members of the Executive Committee of the NACC could participate in “Ministerial” meetings. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also informed Plaintiff that membership in the Executive Committee was “by definition only open to companies” and that the Advisory Committee is “only open to companies, sectoral associations, and local chambers of commerce.”
To date the issue remains unresolved.

On July 11, 2007, the Municipality of Papineauville, which is about six kilometres from Montebello, informed the Council of Canadians – Canada’s largest citizens’ organization – that it would not be allowed to rent a municipal community centre for a public forum it had planned to coincide with the SPP Leaders summit.

According to a news release issued by the organization “the RCMP, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the U.S. Army will not allow the municipality to rent the Centre Communautaire de Papineauville for a public forum on Sunday August 19, on the eve of the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership Leaders Summit.”

Although the excessive security measures were reportedly relaxed somewhat the public forum was moved to Marion Hall at the University of Ottawa where it went ahead on August 19th as planned.

Reaction from the corporate elite to concerns about the NACC has been predictable. In an article published in the August 2007 edition of FOCAL POINT, the newsletter of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas, Thomas d'Aquino, the Chief Executive and President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and chair of the Secretariat advising Canadian members of the North American Competitiveness Council, called critics of the Council the “nationalist left” “alarmist” “doomsayers” “isolationists” “extremists” and “activists…attempting to sow fear.”

“Still, history teaches that a lie, repeated often enough, can sometimes be mistaken for the truth. That is why, on the eve of this month’s leaders’ summit in Montebello, Quebec, involving Prime Minister Stephen Harper, President George W. Bush and President Felipe Calderón, it is vital that supporters of the SPP speak up and dispel the myths being propagated by extremists on both the left and right of the political spectrum,” d’Aquino said.

(Speaking of lies there is the little matter of the illegal U.S.-led invasion, overthrow and occupation of Iraq that was based on false claims made by the Bush Administration. The unjustified attack to gain control of Iraq’s oil was wholeheartedly supported by Stephen Harper, the then leader of the Canadian Alliance, in the House of Commons in March & April 2003. Then there is the ongoing controversy over the Harper government’s “big lie” claiming that its pre-election equalization promise to Saskatchewan and Newfoundland had been kept.)

American interests in “energy security” don’t begin or end with Iraq and Iran they also extend to North America.

In its February 2007 report to Ministers the NACC states: “The Canada-U.S. energy market is already well integrated as a result of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and NAFTA…The single biggest challenge to maximizing the benefits of energy integration on a regional basis, however, is the need for energy sector reforms in Mexico.”

While the Council went on to say it “acknowledges that it is the exclusive role of Mexican public and private sectors to set forward the development requirements in this sector and to lead the initiatives that will increase its competitiveness” the report continued to insult Mexico and belittle its constitution.

“Secure access to global energy resources on market terms is a strategic imperative for the United States. Although the United States has abundant energy resources and is also a world leader in the production of renewable energy, the country is also the world’s largest consumer of energy,” said the NACC.

Canada and Mexico have been blessed with abundant energy resources, which, if developed efficiently and effectively, can be a leading engine of regional development and an important contributor to global competitiveness.” Only on market terms though.

Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) is Mexico’s state-owned, nationalized petroleum company and the United States abhors the thought of a sovereign nation owning and controlling its own natural resources. This fact comes through loud and clear in the NACC report.

“If Mexico were to fully liberalize its energy sector, that country’s relatively abundant reserves of oil and gas would attract significant investment and technology. However, failure to liberalize Mexico’s energy sector has stalled the investment process, and constitutional change is still perceived as unlikely in the short term,” the report states.

The report even arrogantly devotes a section to “Mexican Domestic Policy Reform.”

“While Mexico’s efforts to expand the development of its considerable energy resources are limited by the provisions of its Constitution, there are promising avenues for progress within these constraints,” the NACC notes.

“Although the following ideas are beyond the scope of the NACC, the NACC sees potential in two particular areas: the liberalization of rules governing trade, storage and distribution of refined products and corporate reforms within the state-owned monopoly, PEMEX.

“Recent efforts to bring operating autonomy, increased accountability, and corporate governance standards face the same adverse political dynamics that stall fundamental reform in the energy sector. While such issues pertain to the Mexican policy agenda and are beyond the scope of NACC, much can be done at the trilateral level to push for efficiency objectives in PEMEX.”

On several occasions the NACC states that its ideas are beyond the scope of its mandate but it goes ahead and forces its opinion on the reader anyway. If one thing is clear the NACC will not rest until Mexico’s energy sector is fully opened up to ownership and exploitation by the private sector. Interestingly, there is no discussion on what the people of Mexico would like to see happen.

On August 15, 2006, members of the NACC representing business leaders from Canada, the United States and Mexico gathered in Washington at the offices of the United States Chamber of Commerce to discuss governance issues and priorities, and to agree on a work plan, schedule and deliverables in advance of the next meeting of the NACC Ministers.

The meeting minutes show that “After considerable debate and discussion, it was agreed that three overall priorities merited immediate work: border crossing facilitation (including security, infrastructure, supply chain management, transport and logistics, customs reform); regulatory convergence; and energy integration.”

“The Canadian Secretariat will take the lead in drafting the work plan on the issue of border facilitation, the United States Secretariat will deal with the issue of regulatory convergence and the Mexican Secretariat will have primary responsibility for the energy integration issue.”

In addition to the official Canadian NACC representatives at the meeting the following individuals with a connection to the Canadian Council of Chief Executives also participated as part of the NACC Canada Secretariat: Thomas d’Aquino, Sam Boutziouvis, John Dillon, Matthew Fortier, and Alexandra Low.

It’s not clear who paid their expenses to attend the meeting.

The issue of standards and regulations and what the SPP/NACC intentions are in this area appears to be a bit of a moving target. Since January 2006 the discussion has been defined in many ways including: “regulatory coordination” “regulatory harmonization” “regulatory cooperation” and “regulatory convergence.”

In its 2007 Report to Leaders Building a Secure and Competitive North America: Private Sector Priorities for the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (August 2007), the NACC note “seeing significant progress in many areas.”

“In standards and regulatory cooperation, governments are close to completing two short-term recommendations — a trilateral Regulatory Cooperation Framework and a trilateral Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) strategy — and are making progress on specific recommendations affecting food and agriculture, financial services, insurance, trucking, and electronic trading,” the report states.

Thankfully, the 2007 Report to Leaders appears to refrain from further Mexico-bashing.

The work of the NACC is far from over. In fact, the Council isn’t content with the current parameters of the SPP and would like to see them expanded. In its February 2007 report to Ministers the group said that it had “chosen to focus its initial work and recommendations on practical suggestions for rapid improvements to North American competitiveness” and “is prepared in future years to tackle broader and more strategic issues that lie beyond the current scope of the SPP, to the extent that Leaders would find such a contribution helpful.”

The Leaders in their joint statement on August 21, 2007, in Montebello, seem to have accepted the offer saying “We welcome the NACC's recommendations, including its readiness to be part of the solution, and we look forward to continuing our dialogue with the NACC in furthering North America’s competitiveness. We ask that our ministers continue to seek input from interested parties in determining future priorities for increasing the security, prosperity and quality of life in North America.”

Just what the “more strategic issues” and who the “interested parties” are were not made clear.

In 2003, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives reported that its member companies administered in excess of C$2.1 trillion in assets, with annual revenues of more than C$500 billion and accounted for a significant majority of Canada’s private sector investment, exports, training and research and development. By 2007 those numbers swelled to C$3.2 trillion in assets, with annual revenues in excess of C$750 billion.

With the NACC firmly in place and all ten Canadian section representatives comprised of CCCE members the road to even greater levels of prosperity (i.e. profits) seems assured.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

River Landing woes continue; 19th Street redevelopment costs soar, 2nd Avenue extension & reconstruction of Saunders Place 21-months behind schedule

2nd Avenue at 19th Street looking south
August 15, 2007

Saunders Place at 2nd Avenue looking west
August 15, 2007

19th Street just west of 2nd Avenue South
August 14, 2007

And the hits just keep coming.

At its August 13, 2007, meeting Saskatoon city council put the brakes on the River Landing related redevelopment of 19th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A until the fall due to rising costs.

According to a report from city manager Phil Richards the City received only one bid for $9.1 million from Graham Construction – 60% higher than the $5.7 million estimate at the time the tender was issued in June 2007. This is 82% higher than the project’s December 2006 estimate of $5 million including soft costs.

A “heated construction market and the incredible demand for subcontractors and materials” are among the factors that caused the price to skyrocket.

The project involves the removal of the 1st Avenue on-ramp bridge structure leading to the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge and the raising of 19th Street below.

The report also noted that the contractor indicated that they would not be able to meet either a fall 2007 or summer 2008 completion date and, instead, offered a fall 2008 competition.

Council voted to have city administration re-examine certain elements of the design and re-tender it in the fall hoping for a better price.

This comes on the heels of last month’s announcement by the City that the construction of the Shaw Centre Phase II Olympic-sized pool in the Blairmore Multi-District Park/School Site has exceeded its budget again – this time by $8.08 million.

A community services department report on the matter was tabled at a special meeting of city council on July 20, 2007. Since the report was not available ahead of time the public had no opportunity to speak to it.

According to the report the tender bid price submitted by PCL Construction Management Inc. “is 23 percent over the budget estimate reported to City Council on May 28, 2007 ($29,644,100), resulting in a shortfall of $7,833,014. The current project has a remaining contingency of $750,000. With a project of this magnitude, your administration would prefer to have a contingency closer to $1 million. This would result in an additional funding request of $250,000 to the project for an overall funding shortfall of $8,083,014.”

Cost increases were attributed to “areas where single bid prices were received including piling, metal steel deck, metal wall panels and roofing, and electrical. Other areas of significant increase where more than one bid was received are mechanical, reinforcing steel and the high performance south-facing wall. An increase cost for the construction of Phase II has also caused an increase to the design fees paid to the architect.”

City council voted to award a contract to PCL Construction Management Inc. for the construction of the Competitive Aquatic Centre Phase II, at a cost of $36,453,400 (the stainless steel basin and accessories are included in this cost) including P.S.T. and G.S.T.

Council also gave administration the go ahead to borrow $5-million over 15 years with annual payments of $500,000 to cover a portion of the shortfall. The rest will be picked up by shifting other monies around. The debt payments will be funded “directly from mill rate increases in 2008 and 2009 at $250,000 per year.”

The Blairmore is one of several major projects that city council rammed through during Don Atchison’s first term as mayor. The current council has unfortunately been left to deal with the fallout.

The City currently has a number of other large capital projects underway. It’s unclear whether any of them are running into similar budget problems.

Of particular interest are the planned extension of 2nd Avenue south to the roundabout and the reconstruction of Saunders Place within River Landing Phase I. These appear to be approximately 21-months behind schedule. To date the City has not reported on any possible cost overruns related to either or adequately explained their delay. This too is part of Atchison’s controversial legacy.

A timeline for the two projects show that:

1) At its November 15, 2004, meeting City Council considered city manager report F5 - EOI/RFP Process for River Landing Parcel “Y”. The Expressions of Interest states: “New roads and sidewalks include the extension to 2nd Avenue, Spadina and improvements to 3rd Avenue, which will be completed by November 2005.”

2) At its March 7, 2005, meeting City Council considered city manager report F2 - Expressions of Interest Selection and Request for Proposals for River Landing Parcel “Y”. The RFP states: “New roads and sidewalks include the extension to 2nd Avenue and Spadina, and improvements to 3rd Avenue, which will largely be completed by November 2005.”

3) At its March 7, 2005, meeting City Council received the City of Saskatoon ’s 2004 Annual Report. Page three states: “Complete extension of Second Avenue, including servicing. Underground services are approximately 65% complete on River Landing Phase I. The remainder, including the extension of Second Avenue , is scheduled to be complete in 2005/2006.”

4) The River Landing Update! Spring-Summer Edition 2006 states: “The extension of 2nd Avenue south to the roundabout will not begin this year to allow for heavy equipment access for the two adjacent construction sites (Persephone Theatre and Remai Ventures Inc.).”

5) The Request for Proposals River Landing Gathercole Arches Installation (February 28, 2007) states: “The street development of 2nd Avenue from 19th Street to Spadina Crescent is scheduled to begin construction in spring 2007. Completion of this work will depend, in part, on the construction of the Persephone Theatre to the west and the hotel site to the east.”

[It should be noted that Remai’s project did not seem to get past the design phase nor had any excavation of the site taken place. It’s not clear whether any building permits were applied for let alone issued. The project still required final approval by City Council and the Meewasin Valley Authority. Any yet Mayor Don Atchison was “surprised” when Remai pulled the plug on their spa hotel development in February 2007.]

6) At its April 16, 2007, meeting City Council considered city manager report F3 - River Landing Design/Construction Update that states: “The extension of Second Avenue south to the roundabout, the reconstruction of Saunders Place, and the construction of surface parking under the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge ramps will begin this summer.”

7) The City of Saskatoon Request for Expressions of Interest dated May 1, 2007, for Parcel “Y” within River Landing Phase I states: “New roads and sidewalks completed to date include the extension of Spadina Crescent to the Prairie Wind landmark. The extension of 2nd Avenue to Prairie Wind is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2007.”

As of August 15, 2007, it appears that construction of the extension of 2nd Avenue south from 19th Street to Prairie Wind or the reconstruction of Saunders Place has yet to begin. The city has not said whether the work will be completed by the end of 2007 or put off again until next spring. Meanwhile, construction costs will no doubt continue to rise.

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall's flip-flop on TILMA "suggests a hidden agenda"

Shifting stand on TILMA suggests a hidden agenda

The StarPhoenix

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall's recent comments regarding TILMA and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region don't appear to be true.

In the story Sask. Party still open to TILMA: Calvert (SP, Aug. 4), Wall denied that his party is looking to PNWER as a back-door way of joining the trade agreement.

In a longer version of the same story published in the Leader-Post, Wall said PNWER is a regional economic group just "discussing reducing barriers to trade" and that "it doesn't have anything to do with TILMA."

On July 18, 2006, at its annual summit in Edmonton, PNWER's trade and economic development work group resolved to "embrace the opportunity to educate and explore the possibility of expanding the B.C.-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) concept throughout the PNWER region."

At last month's summit in Anchorage the same working group resolved "that PNWER ask the workforce mobility task force to consider expanding its project's objectives to also include other TILMA issues such as procurement and standards/regulations."

On Oct. 18, 2006, PNWER's executive director Matt Morrison, an American, told the standing Senate committee on banking, trade and commerce: "We did have something to do with the B.C.-Alberta agreement, which I think is a great model that needs to be expanded."

It's bad enough that TILMA was negotiated behind closed doors without public consultation or legislative debate, but learning that the United States might be involved is disturbing.

Wall's support for TILMA last year was absolute and unequivocal. Not once did he raise any concerns with the agreement in its present form and he repeatedly condemned Premier Lorne Calvert for not signing it. Yet it's only now on the eve of a provincial election that he says he has problems with it. What is Wall's real agenda?

Joe Kuchta

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Judicial Watch Files Lawsuit Seeking Access to North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) meetings and records; request to attend meetings denied

“We appreciate your interest in the process and look forward to keeping you informed. To elaborate on who is eligible to participate in the Ministerial meetings, which are hosted by the governments, you must be an invited official and a member of the Executive Committee of the NACC…In terms of membership in the Executive Committee, by definition this is only open to companies…We invite you to let us know if Judicial Watch meets these criteria.”
John Murphy, Vice President, International Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce in an April 19, 2007, letter to Thomas Fitton, President, Judicial Watch

August 10, 2007

(Washington, DC) -- Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez for denying Judicial Watch access to the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC) meetings and records. According to the complaint, the council, which consists of “high level business leaders,” advises the United States, Mexican, and Canadian governments on North American competitiveness issues to be addressed through the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). (On March 23, 2005, heads of government Vincente Fox, George W. Bush, and Paul Martin launched SPP at a meeting in Waco, Texas, with the expressed goal of “a safer, more prosperous North America.”)

Judicial Watch’s lawsuit alleges that the NACC, a key component of the SPP, is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a federal open meetings law. Moreover, Judicial Watch is asking the court to issue an emergency temporary restraining order mandating that Judicial Watch be allowed to attend the next NACC meeting to be held on August 20-21, in Montebello, Quebec, Canada in conjunction with the SPP summit.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act imposes a number of requirements on committees that advise the president and/or federal agencies. First, all meetings be open to the public. Second, a notice of each meeting must be published in the Federal Register. Third, interested persons must be allowed to attend, appear before, or file statements with the advisory committee. And, finally, committee records and documents must be made available through the provisions of Freedom of Information Act. The NACC has failed to satisfy any of these requirements. On July 26, Judicial Watch notified Secretary Gutierrez that it sought access to the NACC and its U.S. component subcommittee meetings and records. Judicial Watch’s request was ignored.

“The North American Competitiveness Council should not be allowed to operate in secret. It is part of a government process that actively considers policies that dramatically impact the lives of all Americans,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Judicial Watch is committed to making these proceedings open and transparent to the American people.”

Secretary Gutierrez launched the North American Competitiveness Council, with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts, in June 2006. The council met on August 15, 2006 in Washington and again on February 23, 2007 in Ottawa, Canada. The council has provided over 50 recommendations for action to Secretary Gutierrez and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

Click here to read Judicial Watch's Application for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction

Click here to read Judicial Watch's Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

Thursday, August 09, 2007

TILMA: Corporate beggars take demands to Moncton; lobby group includes Canadian Council of Chief Executives, CGA-Canada & Canadian Chamber of Commerce

“The AIT is fundamentally sound though in need of refinement.”
Carole Presseault, Vice-President, Government and Regulatory Affairs, CGA-Canada
It was reported in the National Post on August 2, 2007, that a coalition of leading Canadian business groups was taking its concerns on internal trade to provincial premiers at this week’s Council of the Federation meeting in Moncton. The article did not provide the names of coalition members.

An August 1, 2007, news release by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, however, shows that coalition members include: The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, the Dairy Processors Association of Canada and the Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada.

The same news release is posted on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce website and gives Carole Presseault, the Vice-President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for CGA-Canada as the contact person for information. So it would seem that CGA-Canada has taken the lead on this particular endeavour.

It’s no surprise to see the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CEEE) listed as a coalition member since the group seems to be running the country’s agenda at the moment. It is through their work that we now have the horrifying Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP) that the Harper Conservatives are pushing. The “deep integration” initiative also includes the shadowy North American Competitiveness Council on which the CCCE has ten members.

According to the news release “Canada needs a fully functioning and effective domestic market framework to be a real player in international trade.”

“Premiers need to show their commitment to an open, efficient and predictable domestic market by reforming the AIT’s dispute resolution mechanism and eliminating internal trade barriers,” said Anthony Ariganello, CPA (Delaware), FCGA, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada (CGA-Canada).

A comprehensive list of genuine trade barriers between provinces that should be removed was not provided.

In an open letter to the provincial premiers on July 20, 2007, the business lobby group said the AIT “is limited, complex and inaccessible to businesses and others who have real trade issues” and “Canada needs…to eliminate the continuing drain on national resources that results from government measures which restrict or impede domestic trade and commerce for no good or justifiable reason.”

“Canada cannot have any credibility as a trading partner or in trade negotiations as long we have a market that includes policies and practices that restrict and impair trade,” the letter states.

Presumably, the “government measures” and “policies and practices” that need to be eliminated would include annoying things like measures adopted or maintained relating to Aboriginal peoples; health and education; regulated rates established for the public good or public interest; or social policy, including labour standards and codes, minimum wages, employment insurance, social assistance benefits and worker’s compensation. Measures adopted or maintained to provide compensation to persons for losses resulting from calamities such as diseases or disasters; assistance for recreation, academic research or to non-profit organizations. Measures adopted or maintained relating to the management or conservation of forests, fish and wildlife; or to the management and disposal of hazardous and waste materials.

“Those of us who have signed this letter represent major economic and public policy sectors in Canada,” the letter states.

The “public policy sectors” in question likely include conservative think tanks the Fraser Institute, C.D. Howe Institute, Conference Board of Canada, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, Canada West Foundation, Frontier Centre for Public Policy and Montreal Economic Institute to name a few.

Next up are the lobby group’s demands asking the premiers to:
1) Make binding changes to the AIT’s dispute resolution mechanism so that it includes real consequences if governments fail to comply with their domestic trade obligations, including providing a mechanism for the private sector complainant to seek real remedies once a panel has found a government measure to be trade restrictive; and

2) Make a binding agreement that this revitalized AIT will apply to all government measures without qualification or exception other than for legitimate purposes as outlined in the Agreement, which does not include any form of trade restriction or protectionism.
Finally, the letter’s arrogant closing:

“We ask that the above…be agreed and completed at your August 8-10 Council of the Federation meeting, and we respectfully request public confirmation that you have done so in a timely manner following the meeting.”

One can only hope that the premiers, who were elected to represent all Canadians, show some backbone and send the corporate beggars packing.

On June 7, 2007, CGA-Canada issued a news release applauding the federal government’s proposal to enhance the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) stating: “In today’s meeting of the Committee on Internal Trade, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier proposed that action be taken to eliminate barriers to labour mobility within Canada, and that a more effective dispute resolution mechanism be incorporated into the AIT.”

CGA-Canada says that “the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), signed by British Columbia and Alberta, provides a possible model to establish and ensure an open and efficient domestic market.”

It is interesting to note that prior to being elected to the House of Commons in 2006 Maxime Bernier was a member of the board of right-wing think tank Montreal Economic Institute who also supports TILMA.

On June 4, 2007, CGA-Canada issued the report It’s Time to Move on from the Agreement on Internal Trade! Establishing an Open Domestic Market for Canada (May 2007).

Robert Knox, who CGA-Canada describes as “Canada’s pre-eminent expert on internal trade,” contributed to the development of the paper. Incidentally, Knox is a senior fellow at the Montreal Economic Institute and wrote a pro-TILMA op-ed which appeared in the Montreal Gazette on April 24, 2007.

“After considerable thought and discussion CGA-Canada has come to the conclusion that Canadian governments need to re-think their approach to regulating domestic trade. We believe that the AIT is fundamentally flawed and cannot be fixed by tinkering and incremental change,” the report states.

CGA-Canada proposes the following coverage and rules:
(i) Canadian governments should establish clear rules that would apply to any measure that restricts or impairs domestic trade and would require these measures to be changed to remove the restriction or impairment;

(ii) Limited exceptions should be allowed subject to an undertaking to eliminate them within a reasonable time; and

(iii) Restrictions or measures that impair trade would be permitted if they are necessary to achieve a legitimate objective, such as security, consumer or environmental protection or public health and safety. These exceptions must not be more trade restrictive than necessary to accomplish their objective.
This is essentially TILMA but in a different package.

CGA-Canada also calls for the federal government to “establish an independent “trade tribunal” to receive, mediate and adjudicate complaints concerning government measures that restrict and impair trade, investment and labour mobility; and establish, by mutual agreement, a Council of Ministers on Canada’s Domestic Market to monitor the openness and efficiency of Canada’s domestic market and to identify issues that need to be resolved in order to improve its effectiveness.”

The report closes stating:
“[W]e believe the federal government should take a more active role in establishing the open trade principle as Canada’s trade standard and facilitate its adoption by establishing a national trade tribunal. The federal government is Canada’s national government after all and the only government with a clear constitutional responsibility for interprovincial trade.

“CGA-Canada believes it is not possible for Canada to develop an open and efficient domestic market without the federal government’s leadership and participation.”
No problem. Enter federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty a month later who reportedly 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]

On October 4, 2006, Carole Presseault, the Vice-President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for CGA-Canada appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. In her statement on internal trade Presseault said “At issue is the AIT’s dispute resolution mechanism – an instrument we know is costly, difficult to interpret, cumbersome, and unenforceable.”

In fact, the dispute resolution system seemed to be the only issue on the table for CGA-Canada. “The AIT is fundamentally sound though in need of refinement,” Presseault said.

“We believe governments should be obligated to live up to the letter of the agreement by upholding trade panel findings.”

CGA-Canada suggested four specific measures that it believed would ensure the effectiveness of a dispute resolution process:
– Simplifying them and introducing greater transparency and accessibility to those people and businesses that are affected by barriers to trade and labour mobility;

– Lowering the costs and time required to launch complaints;

– Introducing a measure of certainty that governments will be respectful of and act upon panel findings in a concerted effort to eliminate barriers to trade and mobility; and

– Creating realistic and practical sanctions aimed at ensuring that governments respect their obligations under the AIT.
There were no doomsday scenarios presented to the committee or demands for a scorched-earth policy where every government measure, policy and practice that restrict and impair trade be eliminated with no exceptions. And this was only ten months ago. It seems since joining forces with the likes of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce – whose own survey of its members in 2004 revealed that alleged interprovincial trade barriers are not a particularly important issue for Canadian business – the demands of the corporate elite and the tone of rhetoric has grown substantially.