Citizen Action Monitor

Is Minister Freeland undervaluing TPP input from “ordinary citizens”?

This citizen would like to see signs that his input is valued as a TPP ‘stakeholder’ in the consultation process

No 1566 Posted by fw, January 14, 2016

“Freeland characterized herself this week as being in “listening mode.” She met Alberta farm groups Monday, other concerned stakeholders in Vancouver Tuesday and has more consultations set for Montreal and the Toronto area over the next few days…. ‘I am working hard on it myself, but I do think it’s important for Canadians to understand that we are serious about the consultation process.’”CBC News

The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘stakeholder’ as “a ​person such as an ​employee, ​customer, or ​citizen who is ​involved with an ​organization, ​society, etc. and ​therefore has ​responsibilities towards it and an ​interest in ​its ​success.

In yesterday’s post, Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership incompatible with democracy? My letter to Trade Minister Freeland, I referenced recent empirical research evidence that very wealthy U.S. individuals and associations connected with businesses had the superpower to influence public policy decisions. Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, had zero influence.

I also mentioned that I had recently submitted four letters to TPP-PTP.consultations@international.gc.ca, an email address set up by Team Trudeau to facilitate citizen input to the TPP decision-making process. In these letters, I suggested improvements to the citizen feedback web page specifically, and to the TPP decision-making process in general.

Here’s a summary of my input —

1/ PM Trudeau has repeatedly emphasized “open and transparent government”. Transparency of the TPP decision-making process could be significantly improved by sharing with Canadians brief summary accounts of Minister Freeland’s consultation meetings. At present, the simple list of Minister’s meetings – by date and with whom – falls far short of the public’s expectation of transparency.

2/ Add to the TPP web page information about the TPP decision-making process.

3/ Would Minister Freeland please clarify her position on the TPP. I ask because I am getting mixed signals in this regard. On the one hand, the Globe and Mail reported on November 18, 2015 that the Liberal government is “taking an officially neutral position on the [TPP deal], arguing that it needs time to allow for the consultations they promised during the recent election.” However, on November 27 the Minister reportedly tweeted: “Looking forward to working together and increasing Canadian trade opportunities with Asia!” Is the Minister neutral or pro-TPP?

4/ The invitation for public input could be improved by informing users: a) of the deadline for submitting feedback; b) what response, if any, commenters can expect to receive; and c) how public input might be used in the TPP decision-making process.

5/ Transparency of the TPP feedback experience could be significantly improved by reposting on the TPP web page all citizen contributions. This would enable contributors to see, in one place, what their fellow Canadians think about the TPP.

6/ As it now stands, it is only after a comment is submitted that contributors get this auto-reply: “All emails received are read and classified according to their subject matter. Please note a response will be provided when necessary. Thank you for contacting Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.” The auto-reply is very cold and impersonal. At the very least, the inclusion of first names of citizen submitter and government respondent, which is pretty typical of what user-centred businesses do, would help to personalize the exchange.

7/ I argued that the TPP is incompatible with Canadian democracy. For example, in scrolling down the long list of  Minster Freeland’s TPP Consultations with individual and group ‘stakeholders’, it is clear they are all in privileged positions of influence. The point is not that elites should not be consulted; it is that, in striking contrast, email-only input from ordinary Canadians appears to be given scant attention — it is unlikely, therefore, to have much if any influence on decision making. In this context, apart from four auto-replies, no answers to any of my questions or comments have been forthcoming. Am I not a stakeholder? Am I not sharing my thoughts on the content of the TPP agreement itself, and on the government’s decision-making process? Does my input not add intellectual value to the process? Am I not entitled to more than a cold and impersonal auto-reply?

Below is a repost of the CBC story with minor revisions. Alternatively, click on the following linked title will give you access to the full story, related articles and the 240 or more comments from readers.

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Chrystia Freeland won’t commit yet to Feb. 4 TPP signing by Janyce McGregor, CBC News, January 13, 2016

‘We’re very much not there yet,’ says Canada’s minister, about ratifying Pacific Rim trade deal.

Canada’s international trade minister says her government hasn’t decided whether it will participate in an expected signing ceremony for the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Auckland, New Zealand early next month.

“We are aware that some of the countries are talking about a signing in New Zealand. Canada hasn’t yet taken a decision,” Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Vancouver Tuesday.

Freeland’s holding a series of cross-Canada consultations about the 12-country Pacific Rim trade agreement.

Negotiations concluded Oct. 5 during Canada’s federal election campaign, when then-prime minister Stephen Harper heralded the TPP as being “without any doubt whatsoever in the best interests of the Canadian economy.’

The trade minister, along with the rest of Justin Trudeau’s government, have taken considerable pains to emphasize their party’s openness to international trade deals like TPP. But they’ve stopped short of endorsing it fully, saying they have a lot to learn first about the contents and implications of the 6,000-page deal.

While her predecessor, Ed Fast, actively promoted the deal he worked to negotiate, Freeland characterized herself this week as being in “listening mode.” She met Alberta farm groups Monday, other concerned stakeholders in Vancouver Tuesday and has more consultations set for Montreal and the Toronto area over the next few days.

Will Chrystia Freeland introduce a bill to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the House of Commons this spring? “We’re very much not there yet,” the international trade minister said during consultations in Vancouver Tuesday. (CBC News)

“This is a very big, complex agreement. I’ve heard from some stakeholders that they’re only now starting to digest it and starting to understand which parts of it will be relevant to them,” she said, admitting to reporters in Vancouver that her stakeholder discussions Tuesday revealed some things that were news to both her and her officials.

She declined to specify exactly what.

“I am working hard on it myself, but I do think it’s important for Canadians to understand that we are serious about the consultation process.”

Signing starts 2-year ratification phase

Plans for the Feb. 4 signing ceremony first emerged in a statement from Chile’s trade minister earlier this month. Inside U.S. Trade subsequently cited sources suggesting other countries were making plans for a ministerial meeting ahead of a formal signing.

The New Zealand Herald reported Wednesday that Prime Minister John Key offered to host during the last November’s APEC meeting in Manila, Philippines. New Zealand is among the countries interested in hosting a proposed secretariat to co-ordinate the deal going forward.

The timing for the ceremony matters, because a formal signing starts the clock ticking on a two-year deadline for the 12 member countries to ratify the agreement through their own legislative processes. The legal effect of the deal only takes hold upon ratification.

At least six countries, including the largest economies, United States and Japan, must ratify the deal in order for it to come into force at the end of the two-year period — a threshold Freeland characterized as a “Plan B” should some of the smaller countries find the final text politically unpalatable and drop out.

The unconfirmed Feb. 4 date would immediately follow the Americans’ 90-day Congressional review period, which ends on Feb. 3.

Even if Canada does not attend this ceremony, it could sign on and ratify at a later date, before the deal takes hold.

Trade committee hearings this spring?

Asked when her government might bring forward a bill for Canada’s ratification, Freeland first paused, and then said “we’re very much not there yet.”

​However, she said when Parliament resumes she will ask the Commons trade committee, once it is formed, to make a “comprehensive cross-country study” of the TPP a priority.

Normally, committees set their own agenda, aside from reviewing legislation referred by the House.

“Our parliamentary debate about this, we really believe, should include careful committee study,” she said.

Until recently, Freeland emphasized the text of the deal still needed to undergo “legal scrubbing” to make sure it contained no inadvertent errors, inconsistencies or unintended ambiguities. The English scrubbing is complete, Inside U.S. Trade reports, and the Spanish-language scrubbing is expected to finish this week.

As the only country where French is an official language, Canada is on its own to scrub the French version. When asked Tuesday, Freeland declined to say how far along this process is, and it’s unclear whether that would need to be complete before a signing ceremony.

U.S. passage uncertain

In his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, U.S. President Barack Obama, for whom a ratified TPP deal could be counted as a legacy item, encouraged Congress to ratify his administration’s efforts.

“With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do. You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it,” Obama said.

But successful passage in the U.S. is far from assured. The International Trade Commission’s assessment of the deal won’t be published until May 18. After that, between summer recess and the fall election, timing is very tight.

Rep. Brad Sherman, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Asia subcommittee, said last week he thought a vote might wait until the “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections, when U.S. politicians may feel most free to vote. Passage by a narrow margin is possible, but far from certain, while leading contenders for the U.S. presidency appear cool if not downright hostile to the deal.

“My job is to work with the Canadian politics on this, and work with the Canadian debate and consultation process,” Freeland said Tuesday. “I’m going to leave it to my American colleagues to deal with American politics.”

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