Speaking to a packed house on August 9, Toronto city councillor and NDP leadership hopeful Jack Layton warned an audience of activists of all ages that the progress of free trade is posing a threat to democracy in Canada and abroad.
“I think the fundamental question [of free trade] is ‘Freeing trade from what?’And when we look very closely we see [multinational corporations] want to free themselves from democratic decision making, because decisions of elected governments can restrict the activities of multi national corporation capital.”
Layton was taking time off from his campaigning for the NDP leadership race to speak to a mainly student audience about the dangers of free rade and its effects on Canadians at a local level.
Layton, head of the Canadian Federation of Mayors (CFM), has been working with municipal officials to raise awareness about attempts of governments and multinational corporations to further privatise public services.
“Just as multinationals are challenging the Canadian Employment Insurance program, they are challenging the Canadian Medicare system, they will also challenge the Canadian affordable housing program as an unfair subsidy].”
Layton, born in Quebec, spoke at length in both official languages – of the example of his home town of Hudson. The town of 3,000 people gained widespread recognition last year when it passed municipal legislation banning the use of pesticides for anything outside of extraordinary circumstances.
But that law was repealed in Quebec court ruling for violating free trade agreements. The case, backed by the CFM and others, was heard again at the Supreme Court of Canada, which decided the municipality had every right to rule on pesticides.
“Monsanto and [other corporations] found another strategy: they are currently planning an intervention at the [World Trade Organization] to overrule the Supreme Court of Canada. They are going to make the claim that Hudson’s move is a restraint of trade, claim that Hudson, Quebec and Canada will have to pay compensation to the companies for the pesticides they didn’t sell. Not a bad deal if you can get. You get the profit even though you didn’t make or sell the product.”
Although the talk was billed as outside of Layton’s official campaign, he did not back away from taking shots at the prime minister, and made it clear he has a definite plan for Canada’s role in the international market.
“I would say [free trade] is one of the most fundamental challenges to democracy we have ever seen, certainly in the last 50 years, and it’s happening by stealth. The population doesn’t know what’s going on. And our government, when we ask questions, they say, ‘There’s no problems, it’s all to ensure we can participate in the global economy. It’s good for Canadians because it will create all kinds of jobs.’ But when we actually examine the agreements, there’s a lot of doubt.”