"I am writing as Chair of the St'at'imc Chiefs Council to firmly express, advise and direct the Government of Canada to reject the Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement [FIPA] with China as the Government of Canada has breached its obligations to consult. . . ."
Chief Garry John, Nov. 1
ADDRESSING his letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Seton Lake Indian Band Chief Garry John urged the federal government to halt ratification of the Canada-China investment agreement until it has "satisfactorily addressed its legal obligations to (aboriginal) Title and Rights."
In doing so, he added the voice of the St'at'imc Chiefs Council to that of Ontario chiefs and the growing clamour of other demands that the federal government outright shred its proposed Canada-China investment agreement.
Kudos to Chief John; he and other First Nations stand a far better chance of being heard - by both Harper and B.C. Premier Christy Clark - than do the rest of us.
The St'at'imc council also has a more accurate sense of what it takes to defend citizens' rights in a democracy than the governments we keep returning to power.
Pointing out that "both Canada and China have adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," John cites Article 19 of that document which says, "States shall consult and co-operate in good faith" with those peoples, "in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative and administrative measures that may affect them."
Here I thought that was what Parliament was all about.
Not so, according to John who might also have been speaking for you and me when he continued: "Our rights are human rights. Yet Canada repeatedly violates them."
Welcome to our world, Chief John.
Given their outright majority in Parliament, if Minister of State Gordon O'Connor whips the Conservatives into line, the result of a vote to ratify FIPA is a foregone conclusion. So why not allow the House to at least discuss it out in the open? Why "breach its obligations to consult" all of our representatives in the House?
Why did FIPA drop off the government radar when Harper left for his foray in India?
Could it be that Harper has a termite in the woodpile of his too-secretive negotiations with China? Is he looking for a face-saving way not to approve the deal? The answers to those questions may be more important than they appeared when I wrote my Oct. 31 column and here are some of the reasons why:
Two days after that column arrived in your mailbox, Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced that the deadline for completion of Canada's review of state-owned CNOOC's $15-billion attempt to purchase Alberta's oil-sands giant Nexen Inc. had been extended to Dec. 10.
Both countries agreed to Canada's last-minute extension, but it's doubtful China did so without considerable arm-twisting on our part - especially when the word in investment circles is that federal approval now will be contingent upon Canada tightening up the regulations that govern foreign ownership by state-owned corporations.
If China refuses yet another extension should we fail to meet the Dec. 10 deadline, Canada's only option at that point would be to reject the deal outright - an outcome many Canadians would applaud.
Is that what Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has in mind? What did he learn from his counterparts at the recent G20 meetings in Mexico City about their experience with foreign investors?
Whichever way the decision goes FIPA is a lose-lose situation for the Harper government. Reject the deal and Chinese investors go away bearing a grudge. Ratify the deal and risk upsetting Canadian voters enough they return the Conservatives to minority status or worse.
It's not just NIMBY voters who are grumbling.
According to John Ibbitson writing in the Nov. 6 Globe and Mail, a letter written by Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan "inadvertently sent" to reporter Jill Winzoski of the Selkirk Record stated that he is "strongly opposed to [FIPA]." Citing "China's dismal record on human rights and freedoms," Bezan said he takes "particular exception to allowing a state-owned company from China to . . . take over publicly traded Canadian companies."
Ibbitson noted Bezan referred to "caucus members such as me. . . ." and rightly asked, "How many" caucus members oppose the deal?
By the time Harper arrives home to see that the St'at'imc Chiefs Council and members of his own cabinet and caucus have been added to the expert legal opinions of Osgoode Hall's Prof. Gus Van Harten, he'll be wishing he could make a few side trips on his way home to run out the clock to the Christmas break.
This time at least, those of us who oppose this off-loading of Canadian sovereignty have knowledgeable and impressive voices at our backs.
We should thank them for that because, as Chief John reminds us, our rights also are human rights - and we're tired of governments that repeatedly violate them.