Conservatives: Agents of Capitalism

The Harper Conservatives have forcefully championed the interests of international investors and corporations, but it has not been enough for the “greed is good” business pundits who earn their living pimping the interests of the rich and powerful.

Last November a Canadian Business headline asked, “Is Canada closed to foreign investment?” while more recently there’s been a number of apoplectic commentaries about Ottawa blocking an Egyptian billionaire from acquiring Winnipeg based MTS Allstream on national security grounds. In a particularly hyperbolic column the National Post’s Andrew Coyne complained: “investors in this country should be on notice. Their assets are protected by neither law nor policy, but are vulnerable to whatever whim or grudge crosses the government’s mind. They may be confiscated, in whole or in part, at any time and for any reason. Or, indeed, for no reason.”

Coyne can’t be serious. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to the news knows that the Conservative government is an unabashed supporter of corporations and foreign investors. Their policy moves designed to favour those interests are many. The Conservatives have slashed environmental oversight; attacked workers and labour unions; opened Canada’s telecommunications sector up to majority foreign ownership; tripled the financial threshold at which point the federal government must do a “net benefit” test of a foreign corporate takeover. On the international stage they’ve done almost everything possible to support Canada’s huge mining industry. The Conservatives established diplomatic relations with a country simply to advance mining interests (Mongolia), signed a free trade agreement largely to protect Canadian mining companies (Peru) and obstructed international efforts to reschedule a poor country’s foreign debt after the government revoked a Canadian company’s concession (the Congo). They’ve also plowed tens of millions of “aid” dollars into supporting controversial mining projects and were recently caught spying on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry in an apparent bid to aid the many Canadian resource companies active in that country. Partly to protect Canadian mining investments in Africa and Latin America, the Conservatives have gone on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) signing spree. They’ve already concluded five FIPAs’ this year and are negotiating with another 12 countries.

Modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement’s Chapter 11 investor state dispute process, all these FIPAs’ give corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in private investor friendly tribunals for lost profits. But the Canada China FIPA signed last year is particularly onerous.

Once adopted, future governments will be locked into the accord for a whopping 31 years. With only slight hyperbole explains: “If FIPA passes, China’s companies can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company’s profits.”

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) the Conservatives have negotiated with the European Union is an even bigger sop to international investors. The Council of Canadians’ trade campaigner Stuart Trew points out: “if ever cancelled by either party CETA’s investment protections would live on like a zombie for 20 years, five years longer than in the [China] FIPA.”

While the final text of the accord has yet to be made public, leaked negotiating documents suggest it was the Conservatives who pushed the EU for an investor state dispute settlement process in CETA. The Ontario NDP claims: “The inclusion of an investor-to-state dispute settlement process in CETA is, in fact, one of Canada’s only requests in the negotiations.”

The Conservatives pushed for an investor state dispute process even though there’s been a growing backlash to these highly undemocratic accords. Recently Australia, India, South Africa and many Latin American countries have all stopped signing investor state treaties or are revising existing ones.

The Conservatives also don’t seem to care that Canada has been sued more than any industrialized country under investor state accords. The federal government is currently facing over $2 billion in outstanding lawsuits under NAFTA’s investor dispute process.

In one example, Indianapolis based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced a “Notice of Arbitration” that it will sue Canada for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated its patent for the ADHD drug Strattera and antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. The courts found that Eli Lilly’s drugs failed to fulfill the promises the company made when the patents were filed and thus invalidated them. Washington-based Public Citizen explains: “[Eli Lilly] presumes to declare what Canada’s standard of patentability policy should be — that Canada must issue a patent and allow a drug firm to charge monopoly prices if an invention simply claims utility without demonstrating it. This is a critical point: Eli Lilly is asking the NAFTA investor-state tribunal to award compensation for a violation of its investor rights because Canada enforced its patentability standards, even though the underlying NAFTA provisions covering patents provide signatory countries flexibility to determine their own substantive standards for patentability.”

Clearly, big business has gotten almost everything it has wanted from Harper’s Conservatives. What should we learn from the fact that it still pushes for more?

Perhaps a simple truth about capitalism: There is never enough profit.

Everyone who understands there are limits to growth needs to think about this. Capitalists are never satisfied. They always want more. That’s the way of system.

The current Canadian government is just a small part of the problem we face.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.