VICTORIA -- A couple of weeks back, I wrote a piece on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and how it could be that Canada, along with 28 other nations, has been negotiating, in total secrecy, what could well spell an end to Canadian sovereignty as we know it.
Sterling Newspapers, which runs my column in a dozen or so of its papers, posted the piece on the Internet, and an extraordinary thing happened: within days, my electronic mailbox was jammed with response to my column, not just from British Columbians, but from people around the world.
Day after day, there I received between 15 and 20 messages from readers in British Columbia, the rest of Canada and the U.S., and as far away as Norway, Italy, Germany and Great Britain.
The central theme of all these responses was great unease, not just about the proposed agreement, but the fact that the negotiations have been conducted in utter secrecy, without any public consultation. And considering the scope of the proposed agreement, that’s cause for worry.
In a nutshell, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, or MAI for short, is to facilitate the free flow of investment among member nations. One of he more alarming aspects of the agreement is a clause that would forbid any government to attach conditions to investments.
In practical terms, that would mean no government, federal or provincial, could tell potential investors that they have to create jobs. Premier Glen Clark’s Jobs and Timber Accord, which will compel the forest industry to create jobs in return for receiving tree-cutting rights, would not be permissible, once the agreement is in effect.
I’m not the only one who is worried. From the Boston Cambridge Alliance for Democracy came this message: "At a time when more responsibility is being shifted to state and local government to deal with social needs, new laws are being drafted at the international level which will restrict the power of state and local government to affect economic development, environmental or labor standards, and the retention of domestic industries."
George Monbiot, one of the UK’s leading environmentalists, lambasted the British media for having so vocally defended the cause of democracy during the recent elections, while completely ignoring a serious threat to national sovereignty.
"The real future of Britain is being discussed not here, but elsewhere, and in the utmost secrecy. The columnists who have so shrilly defended the sovereignty of Parliament from the technocrats in Brussels (headquarters of the European Union), have so far failed to devote a single column inch to the shady deliberations of the EU’s bigger brother."
The UK media aren’t the only ones who have virtually ignored the MAI. One of the few Canadian newspapers that did touch on the issue was the Telegraph-Journal in New Brunswick.
"Looking for an election issue to raise when federal candidates come knocking during this election campaign? Try the MAI on for size. Never heard of it? Join the club, the TJ said in its April 30 editorial.
"The premise of the MAI is that global investors want legal protection r their money when they choose to invest in a foreign country. Against what must it be protected? Any obligations a host country may wish to impose on that foreign investment.
"The MAI would prohibit any level of government from imposing job creation requirements, local hiring quotas or procurement rules, requirements to reinvest profits into research and development, or special taxation rules to capture a are of exported profits – in short, anything that would restrict profit-making or taking on foreign companies investing in, say, Canada."
Well, the MAI didn’t become an election issue. The Liberals avoided it like the plague, the Tories and Reform presumably like the agreement, and Alexa McDonough didn’t have a clue when it was first raised.
In my books, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment is a "Charter of Rights" for multinational corporations, and if we’re nor careful, it will make minced meat out of our own Charter of Rights.