Over 20 years ago, Canada entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement and although the federal Conservative government who negotiated the agreement, and the federal Liberal government who eventually signed the agreement, claimed Canada would see huge economic benefits, our manufacturing sector instead took a huge hit. We saw the loss of
400,000 good-paying, manufacturing jobs, jobs that build healthy communities – communities like London.
Sadly, this original agreement was designed with only corporate interests in mind, not for working people and not for our local communities. It was negotiated behind closed doors by a select few unreachable government agents without public oversight. Today, it has created a highly integrated supply chain between Canada, the United States and Mexico and allowed corporations to move their factories/plants/businesses south, taking advantage of our neighbours’ weaker labour laws and lower-waged jurisdictions. The manufacturing jobs we once had – jobs that would feed our families, jobs that would pay our bills, jobs that would ensure reliable housing, and jobs that would be be available for generations are now frequently replaced with part-time, less stable, more precarious and lower paying jobs.
These same private interests have also used NAFTA to take away the sovereignty of our country. Under NAFTA’s Chapter 11 corporations have the power to sue governments that try to bring stricter environmental regulations into place and may soon be able to sue governments for publicly funding our health care, education and water management systems –
to name a few.
Throughout this agreement, Canada’s labour productivity has never matched the American’s and annually falls further and further behind. Corporate interests have convinced us to believe that the jobs I mentioned earlier are no longer “the norm” and simply do not exist anymore. They maintain that this is a result of a changing economy and that people have no choice but to accept it. Well, I don’t accept it. Of course the nature of work has changed in the last 20 years, with advancements in technology that will always change, but that is no excuse for the incredible gap we see today between the extremely wealthy and the other 99% of us.
We elect governments to represent our interests and to create trade deals that are balanced and fair, not the trade deals we have currently that allow corporate interests to dominate. I expect the Canadian government to create a better kind of trade deal.
As the current Liberal government goes into the renegotiation of NAFTA, our most important trade agreement, we have the opportunity to change the old way countries have negotiated trade agreements. This agreement could be done differently – could be made for a modern Canadian public with the desire for something better. It should be a model for reducing inequality, eliminating poverty and meeting truly meaningful climate change targets.
I believe that NAFTA in its current form doesn’t work for Canada now. To be honest, it never did; but we have the chance to change all of that. We have the opportunity now to promote more sustainable and equitably shared economic growth that would be for everyone, not just the top few corporate power holders. And after all, isn’t that what our society is build upon? Isn’t that what we strive for everyday; to make Canada truly equitable, fair and a good place to live?