Where Are the Canadian TPP Consultations?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has had a rather interesting dynamic on the political landscape in Canada. After signing off on the hugely controversial agreement, Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said that she will engage in consultations. The question for some might be, where are these consultations anyway?

Before the TPP was signed, the Canadian Liberal government said that they have not taken a position on whether they are for or against the agreement. Instead, the government said that they would engage in consultations before a decision was made. After the TPP was signed back on February 4, the Canadian government re-iterated that they would engage in consultations on the matter. The caveat is that the TPP is an all or nothing agreement. That has led some to question what the point of these consultation were to begin with if nothing about could be renegotiated.

While some question the point of the consultations, even fewer still have asked what these consultations even look like and where they are in the first place. We here at Freezenet did some digging into this question to find you the answers.

As it turns out, there is, in fact, a consultation page on the TPP on the Canadian government website which states the following:

On November 5, 2015, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text was released to the public. The Government of Canada is committed to being transparent, open and consultative with Canadians on the TPP. As part of this commitment, the Government has embarked on a consultative process in which Canadians are invited to participate.

Naturally, some might find this to be a positive step in the right direction in such an otherwise secretive and underhanded process. The page links to a consultation page which would lead you to believe that this page contains a schedule of some sort or maybe what is discussed in previous consultations. This, unfortunately, isn’t true. Instead, the page features a large list of selfies and photo-ops with different people captioned with who Freeland met and when.

So the question then becomes, how do people partake in the consultations in the first place? As it turns out, there is only one way the Canadian public can engage in the consultation. Going back to the main page, we see the following:

Canadians are invited to visit this page frequently for consultations activities and regular updates. You can also send your comments at any time via email: TPP-PTP.consultations@international.gc.ca.

That’s it. All Canadians get is a lowly little e-mail address. There’s no promise to publish the e-mails or having open discussions in the public or any plans to publish when future consultations will take place.

Naturally, the more politically inclined person might ask, do all consultations take this form? Is this normal for a consultation or not? The answer is actually “no”.

Back in 2009, the Canadian government launched a copyright consultation process in which people’s voices could be heard. All Canadians could send in their thoughts on how copyright could be reformed. The response to the consultation was overwhelming and because the response was so huge, the Canadian government said that the consultation was a tremendous success. The submissions were published openly and could be easily quantified so it became mathematically easy to tell what the Canadian mood was at the time.

So, what changed? Why not publish the results of the TPP consultations this time around? If you look at the 2009 consultations, an overwhelming majority of submissions favored more relaxed laws surrounding copyright. Many people thought that it would be better to allow more broader fair dealing provisions and allow people to circumvent a copy protection for the purposes protected under fair dealing. The Conservative government, at the time, had previously tabled bills that amounted to a Canadian DMCA and were forced to table a bill that was far less tough than what lobbyists had hoped for. It was either that or risk being called out for ignoring the interests of Canadians for the benefit of large foreign corporate interests. Since the Conservatives didn’t feel like igniting yet another scandal, it seemed they finally backed off and took a more middle of the road approach (compared to previous attempts at reforming copyright laws). It seems the Liberals have taken note of the results and have learned from the experience.

To put this in perspective, it would help to figure out where the Canadian government actually stands on the TPP. Despite denials that the government has taken a position on the agreement, we’ve known since before the Liberals were elected that the party actually supports agreements like the TPP. Of course, the reason they won’t admit to this stance is because the TPP is so controversial and that some Canadians are under the incorrect assumption that the TPP is considered merely a Stephen Harper agreement (the previous conservative prime minister). The Liberals don’t want to be seen as being little more than Stephen Harper 2.0. So, if you support the agreement, but know you’ll come under significant backlash for supporting it, what do you do? The ideal thing to do is pretty much follow along with what the Liberals have been doing. Pretend you don’t have a position and say that you’ll be open to consultations on the matter, eventually dropping the conversation altogether. If you firmly believe that the Liberals support the TPP, but are terrified to admit to it, everything the party has done up to now makes perfect sense.

So, if the results of the TPP consultations are withheld from the public, then it is easier to say that the government consulted with Canadians, handpick a few pro-TPP responses and say many Canadians are supportive of the agreement, then push ahead with ratification. No one outside of the government will have access to what Canadians have said and nothing can be quantified as proof the government ignored Canadians.

If you need further evidence on where the government currently stands on the agreement, all you have to do is look at the so-called summary of the agreement on their website and ask if this summary is meant to sell you on the agreement or is simply informing you of what is in the agreement. Take, for instance, the summary on the Intellectual Property chapter. The summary states the following:

Canadian innovations, artistic works and brands need protection so that their innovators and creators can enjoy the fruits of their labour and be encouraged to keep on innovating. A strong and effective regime to support intellectual property (IP) rights is important for Canada’s growing knowledge-based economy and helps to foster competitiveness, innovation and creativity, and attract investment.

The TPP sets a strong regional standard for the protection and enforcement of IP rights. This will give Canadian businesses and investors confidence that they will face the same set of rules across all TPP markets.

Nothing about this summary is neutral in any way. It’s not so much a summary as it is a brochure saying why you should be supportive of the agreement. If this was a real summary, it would merely say that the TPP sets rules regarding copyright, trademark, intellectual property rights, and patents. This affects things such as patent filings, pharmaceuticals and medicine, trademarked goods (such as accessories, manufacturing goods, and other trademarked products), and copyrighted material (such as music, movies, software, and other entertainment) to name a few areas. Is it dry? Perhaps. Is it also neutral? Yes. Such a summary wouldn’t be pushing one side of the debate or the other. If nuggets like this doesn’t say the government is pushing for TPP ratification, it’s difficult to say what will.

This lack of openness in the consultation hasn’t gone unnoticed for others either. The Council of Canadians have already blasted the consultations as a method to ignore Canadians. From their comments:

The Liberal “consultation” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is raising concerns.

In this comedic video commentary, Scott Vrooman says, “The Liberals can now ratify the TPP any time they want, but in the meantime they say they’re ‘open to consulting with Canadians’. Consulting us in the same sense you consult an alarm clock set to 6 a.m. with a giant snooze button. Justin Trudeau said that the ‘Liberal Party of Canada is a pro-trade party’. As though being against the TPP means you’re anti-trade. Anti-TPP is not anti-trade.”

He highlights, “It remains to be seen if the Liberals pro-trade stance means pro-TPP, but for now they’ll listen to Canadians, so that Canadians feel listened to. Because when we believe that our feelings have been felt, we’ll think our thoughts have been thought and believed, even if listening isn’t hearing and seeing isn’t believing and the Liberals are going to do whatever they can get away with.”

The Council of Canadians has both raised concerns about the limited ‘e-mail consultation’ process offered by the Liberals on the TPP and the form letter responses being sent back to those who write the government.

The comments are also referencing a comedian remarking on the consultations.

One thing is clear, unless there are drastic changes and improvements to the TPP consultation process in Canada, the process will only continue to be ridiculed for being a fake consultation process by those who are opposed to the agreement.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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