Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summit meetings, conspiracy theories and the public’s right to know.

Summit meetings, conspiracy theories and the public’s right to know.

On Tuesday, Aug. 21 2007, Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon of Mexico wrapped up a series of discussions at Montebello, Quebec. (CTV news carried the story at The meeting took place under the aegis of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trilateral dialogue initiative under which the three North American countries are supposedly finding ways to harmonize everything from border security to the piracy of intellectual property. In this round of talks, Harper and his guests claimed to reach an understanding on a number of matters including the strategy for preventing and/or responding to a viral pandemic, a joint defense against unsafe imports like Chinese toys and toothpaste, and an agreement to disagree on whether the water between Canada’s Arctic islands is international or is Canadian territory.

The summit concluded with a meeting with the North American Competitiveness Council to discuss ways to harmonize trade practices in order to enhance profitability and competitiveness for North American corporations.

Peter Julian, international trade critic for the NDP, is skeptical about the goals of the SPP, as is the Council of Canadians. Julian is quoted in the CTV story as saying: “The NDP was able to obtain a meeting summary—through a freedom of information request—from a meeting that was held last February with the SPP ministers. Very clearly that document refers to a very deep agenda, a very wide-ranging agenda. And it's an agenda that has, front and centre, the objectives of the North American Competitiveness Council—a group of about 30 un-appointed, unelected company CEOs, who are pushing forward the agendas of their companies.”

Here in Canada, we tend to be skeptical about the Americans’ intentions much of the time. We remember the softwood lumber debacle, the furor over the Canadian Wheat Board and other incidents that seem to show that the USA chooses to exercise “free trade” only as long as it favours them, and unilaterally imposes tariffs whenever Canada or Mexico appear to be gaining a greater slice of the North American market. George Bush conceded in a news conference after the summit that “The United States does not question Canada’s sovereignty of Arctic islands, and the United States supports Canadian investments used to exercise its sovereignty,” meanwhile maintaining that the Northwest Passage is international waters. What’s up with that? I suspect that future access to oil exploration and exploitation may lie at the bottom of that, but then I’m just a skeptical Canadian. (Canadian sovereignty over the islands serves to simplify that future for the USA by cutting out any intrusion from Denmark, Russia or any other claimants, making the exploitation of the North a monopoly of the North American triumvirate.)

The NDP is right in insisting that the discussions of the SPP must be open to the publics of the involved countries. They are also right in maintaining that having the North American Competitiveness Council as the only dialogue partner at such summit meetings is scary, and fosters skepticism.

Stephen Harper vigorously pooh-poohed the alarms raised by Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians and the NDP international trade critic. He led us to believe that the discussions with the North American Competitiveness Council were nothing more than an attempt to facilitate better movement of jelly beans, for instance, and George Bush iterated that criticism of the SPP was borne out of the imaginations of people who deal in conspiracy theories as their modus operandi.

My feeling is that Harper, Bush and Calderon are way too naïve to be throwing any criticism at their critics, certainly not of the sarcastic kind that Harper did at the news conference. The North American economy is being driven by corporate interests. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that the proposed massive arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Israel are much less about security than they are about the arms lobby’s pressing for government-sanctioned sales. And only the really naïve believe that oil companies had nothing to do with the decision to invade Iraq.

Conspiracy theories? Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t prove that no one is following me.

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