Everyone has had a babysitter that overstepped its authority. If not, surely each can recall the moment when the elementary school teacher put a student in charge of the class when she left the room. What happens in these circumstances? The kid starts making crazy rules—the type of rules that no one would ever make for any reason other than to say, “Guess what peons? I’m leader now, so you can all suck it!” As of today, Stephen Harper passed the Canada-China FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement). In doing so, he acted like that kid.
In Harper’s government’s words, the FIPA is, “a bilateral agreement aimed at protecting and promoting foreign investment through legally-binding rights and obligations.” That sounds like something a kid might yell from the front of a classroom. In other words, it’s annoying, but we can probably deal with it until the teacher gets back. Unfortunately, it isn’t the whole story.
In practice, this FIPA is an unlimited-use get-out-of-jail free card for Chinese investors. Using “enclave legal status,” Chinese companies can take disputes with Canadian governments or courts outside the normal court system and into a secret arbitration process. Under this agreement, Chinese companies already operating in Canada can dispute any future ruling or legislation by Canadian courts or governments. Chinese companies can also seek compensation if Canadian operating standards (like requirements to use Canadian materials or labour) negatively impact them. Additionally, China can contest future laws regarding environmental and resource management in Canada. If a Chinese company operating in Canada doesn’t like the outcome of a law we pass or a decision we make, it can sue us in a secret court. What’s the best part? While the FIPA gives Chinese companies all these privileges in Canada, it doesn’t give Canadian companies the same privileges in China. The agreement lasts a minimum of 31 years.
Think of it like inviting a friend over to sleep on your couch. It’s sort of like that, except that if the friend doesn’t like what you’re watching on TV, hates the beer you offer, doesn’t like when your mom comes over for dinner, or thinks it’s unfair when you say “No China, you can’t leave your garbage in the fridge because that’s where we put food,” then your houseguest can take you to court—secret court—and effectively take control of your house. It’s an incredibly stupid agreement, and Canada just ratified it. Go ahead and prepare a seat on your couch, try to find a good beer, and don’t even think of inviting your mom over for dinner. Chinese investors are coming, and they’ve got a lot of garbage to put in your fridge.
Of course, this agreement must be the result of some slick sales pitch, right? No. This agreement became public when it was tabled in Parliament back in 2012. Because it took the form of a treaty, it did not require debate. Unsurprisingly, despite numerous pleas for an honest discussion on its merits, it didn’t receive a debate. After sitting in Parliament for the mandatory 21 days, it was legally eligible for ratification. This, folks, is how our democracy works. We put Stephen Harper, a renowned make-out artist, in charge of the classroom. He took the role very seriously. Unlike most kid teachers or babysitters, who make ridiculous rules that last a few minutes or hours, he made rules that will last 31 years.
Yes, Canada is supposed to be a democracy. Yes, we are supposed to be a sovereign nation with our own government, laws, and courts. No, we aren’t supposed to throw that all out for one night of exotic pleasure with a rich Chinese suitor. Stephen Harper should have kept it in his pants. He didn’t. Now we have to deal with the aftermath of his bad choice for an entire generation. Forget the teacher/student/babysitter comparison—perhaps our Prime Minister is more of a deadbeat dad.