Democracy and the SPP: the corporatist race to the bottom

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Whose security and prosperity?

And what do those thudding words mean, anyway?

They don’t have quite the ring of liberté, égalité, fraternité, do they. They don’t sound like the highest ideals of the citizens of a modern democracy, and that would make sense since they are anything but.

From all we know of the tacky euphemisms so beloved of the mouthpieces for the SPP – security, prosperity, harmonisation, integration, convergence, mobility, dialogue, partnership – they are cosmetic terms for the real aims of people who think that citizens are inefficient, liberty is dangerous, and equality is too expensive.

Secrecy is a lot of fun for them, though. They really get off on secrets.

There has been some confusion and some downright nonsense talked and written about the SPP on both sides of the border in recent weeks. For some of the best sense in Canada I take instruction first of all from Alison at Creekside, writing at her own place, at The Galloping Beaver, and at Bread and Roses. (As someone wrote last week: Alison talk: you listen.) It was Alison who first alerted some of us to the strange turn that anti-continentalisation had taken in the U.S., pre-emptively possessed by the 'way far-out right, but then she had to jerk us (ok: me, anyway) to attention as well about the American left’s consequent misreading of the issue and its failure to protest the corporatising ambitions of our current political and business elites.

Last week, Chet Scoville of The Vanity Press wrote a superb open letter to American progressives at Shakesville, setting out the serious (as opposed to the extreme right-wing paranoid nativist) history of and dangers posed by the SPP to democracy in all three nations (h/t to pogge at BnR). That’s the best summary of the historical context and significant diplomatic moves that I’ve seen, and it deserves broad distribution. Chet closes with this appeal to American progressives who are leaving the field to right-wing extremists:

In the end, it comes down to this: despite the embellishments that the rightists are guilty of, the SPP is real. It claims to be nothing to worry about, but its negotiations are happening behind closed doors, and have been for two years and counting. It is affecting life throughout the continent at the most basic levels. It is a process of subjecting all North Americans to corporate rule in as many remaining areas of life as possible, and stripping citizens' abilities to set their own standards through their legislatures.

The people have never been consulted on it. No politician has run for election with the SPP as part of their platform; nobody has a mandate from the people to put it in place. American progressives should be demanding that the process become open and transparent. Instead, they have ceded the issue to the crankiest of right-wing cranks, who are mingling the facts with their own paranoid fantasies. And with no American progressives on board, Canadian progressives opposed to the SPP find themselves alone in the fight -- for there's no way they could ever make common cause with the John Birchers, and the animosity would surely be mutual.

Divide and conquer is of course an old strategy. The frustrating thing, though, is that when it comes to the SPP, American progressives have done the division part all by themselves.

Some of us wonder whether American progressives are slower to pick up on the problems of “harmonisation” because its most immediate effects look likely to be an erosion of higher standards and an often more generous social consensus in Canada.

Linda McQuaig notes, for instance, that the process of bringing Canadian and American regulatory standards into “harmony” with one another (a process begun under NAFTA but speeded up by the SPP) recently resulted in Canada’s raising the levels of pesticide residue allowed on produce in order to bring us into line with weaker U.S. standards. (No, nobody has been running that sort of regulatory change past Parliament, aka our elected representatives. How quaint of you to ask.)

Now, you’d think that the rational solution to the difference between national standards might have been to decide that no one anywhere should be poisoned. Our elected representatives – even some American elected representatives – might have decided that, especially if the issue had first been put to your typical uppity citizen. And on a continent where significant numbers of everyone’s elites seem to believe that the solution is to make sure that Canadians and Americans are being poisoned in equal measure, a little citizen uppitiness seems in order, wouldn’t you think?

We all know what the most serious threats are. "Security": that would be the euphemism for the will of our elites to exploit fear and ignorance as a way to control who may cross borders and why, who may fly, who is deserving of a legal defence, and perhaps even who may speak out and how in public. "Prosperity": that would cover the greed of our elites, to whom people are at best consumers and more usually commodities, just like our water and all our other natural resources, most of which they will despoil while trying to get at the few that will make for the few more than a few quick bucks. Our healthcare systems, all our social services and public benefits systems, all inspire little dollar signs in the eyes of our aspiring corporatists.

Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians deserve our thanks and praise for their steady, careful research and activism on continental integration over the years, even before NAFTA met Homeland Security and spawned the SPP, the NACC (North American Competitiveness Council), the Banff North American Forums, the Washington CSIS discussions about bulk water exports from Canada to the U.S., and who knows how many other cosy gatherings where political leaders schmooze with the only interested parties whose interests they can identify with, even recognize.

Mainstream pundits, when they haven’t tried to smear Canadian critics of the SPP with the strange-bedfellows meme (did Pat Boone ever show or what?), have mainly been writing anodyne dismissals of the entire process, as in this Toronto Star column from Frank Dyment. Secret meetings will do that to the msm, of course, since they leave your average reporter with little to report, your average editor with a lot of blank space to fill, your average producer with too much footage of sheer tear gas, and your average pundit with nothing to regurgitate at all. See this lovely little summary of the trials of the msm from Maisonneuve’s Daniel Casey:

The Citizen pulls off a trifecta of dismissal: a story about how boring the talks are, how so little of any consequence will be discussed there, accompanied by an interview with Canadian Chamber of Commerce head Perrin Beatty smugly opining that “protesters believe in a zero-sum game” in defiance of the iron-clad law of comparative advantage, and followed by a dry account of the protest itself. To cap it all off, there’s a piece from US ambassador David Wilkins on the editorial page, advising us to leave our leaders to their folksy tête-á-têtes, because “that’s what diplomacy is all about.” A conservative estimate would put the ratio of opinion to news content addressing the summit in today’s Citizen at five to one, which oversells the point to the extent that the paper loses credibility. When put together, Harper’s penchant for secrecy, the security bubble around a widely unpopular US president, and the divided Mexican electorate that voted in Felipe Calderon in a questionable poll last year, are all combining with the visible unpopularity of the continental-integration agenda to create a vacuum of information about the “Security and Prosperity Partnership.” When Harper came into power and changed press briefing rules, the media were up in arms for weeks. Now they see a vacuum about a much more consequential policy issue and fill it with reassurance; were it that the media was as concerned with our collective access to information as they are with their own.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects (those guys who fancy themselves our political and corporate “leaders”) say some appallingly ignorant and vulgar things about democracy and their fellow citizens that deserve to be memorialized:

Thomas D'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the body that first got the NACC going:

"I do not say to myself, 'If I don't get an hour with the prime minister in the next six months, I'm going to go out and protest and reject the system outright,' " he said.

"I don't do that because civilized human beings — those who believe in democracy — don't do that."

Stephen Harper on Monday, taking the opportunity to sneer at Canadian citizens while welcoming Dubya to Montebello:

"I've heard it's nothing," the prime minister said when asked whether he'd seen the protesters.

"A couple hundred? It's sad."

Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (and superannuated failed politician):

“Protestors believe in a zero-sum game.”

David Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada:

Unlike in Europe, all this is taking place without government direction. What is happening at the government level is co-operation.


And when you get right down to it, that's what diplomacy is all about: relationship building. It's about meeting face to face and understanding issues and perspectives at a personal level.

I was personally very sorry that we didn’t hear this time from Ron Covais of Lockheed Martin, the garrulous fellow who let us in on the purpose of the NACC a year ago:

"We've decided not to recommend any things that would require legislative changes," says Covais. "Because we won't get anywhere."


Covais figures they've got less than two years of political will to make it happen. That's when the Bush administration exits, and "The clock will stop if the Harper minority government falls or a new government is elected."

Now there’s a thought! The Bush administration is going down ugly, uglier than I’ve ever seen, although no doubt with a capacity for murderous vengeance still, and the Harper PMO and Canadian corporate execs are still clinging to that ship? Rats have more sense. As jj at Unrepentant Old Hippy says, it’s like watching someone hop on to the boxcar in a slow-motion train wreck.

And speaking of jj, don’t miss her round-up of the jellybean presser Bush and Harper smirked and sneered through on Tuesday. The American press know nothing and care less about the SPP, so they asked Bush their knee-jerk questions about Iraq, so Bush maundered on about Iraq. Afghanistan? Bush maundered on about liberating women. Harper finally got his chance to demonstrate how much he respects his fellow citizens and made his trivializing jellybean speech, tossing in a Rovian kicker at the end in a transparent ploy to discredit Canadian critics as wingnut American conspiracy theorists:

Citing the kind of problems the three leaders are trying to solve, Mr. Harper referred to differing product standards in Canada and the United States for the content of jellybeans, which he said forced Canadian candy-makers to maintain two separate inventories at additional cost.

“Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jellybeans? Maybe Mr. Dion thinks so,” he said in a reference to Liberal Leader Stephane Dion's opposition to the Security and Prosperity Partnership. “But I don't think so.”

Mr. Harper mocked Mr. Dion for alleging that the Partnership would lead to massive diversion of water resources from Canada to the U.S. and he laughed at critics who allege that the three leaders are secretly planning a NAFTA super-highway from Mexico to Canada.

Referring to the highway, official plans for which do not actually exist, Mr. Harper sarcastically remarked that the road is “perhaps inter-planetary as well.”

That is not a prime minister. That is an exceptionally nasty, ill-tempered man with no grasp of democratic principle and no patience for the work of putting it into practice. He is no leader, although he is clearly a boss. And if he was, terrifyingly enough, one of the few people present who understood anything at all of what is going on with the SPP, that would have a lot to do with the fact that he has denied access to a crucial planning process to most citizens of good will and good sense. And he smirks at us as he does it.

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Whew! This is a great round-up, skdadl.

I feel like I have been wincing and gritting my teeth for 5 days straight. I can't help but watch the teevee and read the papers, looking for our MSM to do their jobs. It's excruciating.

We have come to expect the smirks from Harper and Bush, and some of the smugliest of the MSM. But there were always a few bright lights out there, you know? This week: not so bright. Not so light.

Well...almost. The CBC's Julie van Deusen produced some reasonably enlightened reporting, early in the week. I should give credit where credit's due, eh?

Oops...Julie van Dusen (not Deusen). *blush*

Excellent round up and analysis skdadl. Simply brilliant.

Wonderful, great round-up. Good way to get us back on track;) We are being consumed by Bootgate :O

Great piece of work Skdadl! I particularly like your description of Harper.

Excellent post. Liked the opening; whose security and whose prosperity? Clearly that of the business elite.

I wonder how long this SPP can exist without more participation of the public. the current SPP process is so blatantly undemocratic that my feeling is they (our "leaders") can't keep doing this forever this way.

I wonder what would happen if someone like Dion would become prime minister. Would he really make the process more transparent? And if so (which I find somewhat hard to believe), HOW would he go about that?


Good stuff, skedadl. Good stuff indeed, and thank you for it. Harper has always struck me as having a mortician's vibe, don't you think?

An excellent analysis. When I originally read that the SPP wanted to harmonize pesticide levels in produce - the U.S. standard is higher than Canada's - I was very skeptical but decided to test the SPP for it's integrity and conscience - and ability to come up with the correct answer. I should have known better. Of course, Canada lost out (as well as every Canadian citizen). This is deplorable.

I don't know what the jelly beans mentioned is all about, but it sounds like Canada lost again.

Far from "harmonizing " - a word which sounds so friendly and fair - the U.S. have duped us, plain and simple. All it means is "Do it our way."

I understand that any changes the SPP agree upon do not need to go through Parliament for approval. This is also deplorable.

Unlike the media who, for the most part, have conformed to what Harper demands in the way of respect (or they get black-listed), the average citizen has the right to complain and question the government any way they choose. The rallying cry should be "More openness - No more secrets."

Beyond the fact that typically in these deals there is a winner (the elephant rolling over) and a loser (the beaver getting rolled over upon), and beyond even the fact that the whole thing is being done in such a secretive and profoundly undemocratic manner, there is the problem that at the end of the day we have yet another category of stuff that's been put *beyond* democratic control.
So whatever pollution standards might be, for instance, it's no longer our business as Canadian citizens after the deal is done. Whatever our security procedures end up, they are no longer Canadian security procedures subject to change based on the needs of Canadians ore even Canadian legislators. They're locked up in this unaccountable pseudo-treaty thingie, to be controlled and changed by either
1. Maybe the USians
2. Nobody--no change possible, or
3. Councils of Chief Executives and their designates

Even if it weren't very likely that the specifics will turn out by amazing co-incidence to be however the rich and the paranoid driving this fiasco would like, to the detriment of the rest of us, it would still be a terrible idea.

How long after this crap goes through before they make us put recombinant bovine growth hormone in our milk, do you suppose? I drink a *lot* of milk. Chocolate milk is my coffee. I do not want to be growth-hormoned.

Is it me or does the whole issue about the fake protesters help to take the people's eyes off the real concern--the actual meeting in Montebello. Intentional or not, I have to wonder.

Top drawer work, skdadl. I've bookmarked this.

You guys are too kind. Just before I posted, I considered putting a warning up top that would have said "Stale-dated" -- by the time I'd done all my coding, everyone else was doing Bootgate! Not that I'm not enjoying Bootgate as much as the next guy -- I am. Please, Stockwell: again, again. Time to put the other foot in your mouth.

In answer to your question, saxboy, no, I don't see any Liberal leader challenging the deep process very seriously, given their history as a party and in power. Dion would probably be more careful than an American wannabe like Ignatieff would be, but influential Liberals like John Manley and Anne McLellan have been driving forces behind the SPP and similar ventures in and out of office.

This kind of summit doesn't give people as good a sense of who the actual players are as do, eg, the Banff forums. See earlier posts about what goes on there here and here.

PLG, about "the unaccountable pseudo-treaty thingy": you'd think that the USian left would notice that the same thing is happening to them, that all sorts of decision-making powers are being spirited away from their legislatures by stealth. Well, I'm sure some do, but they're still more preoccupied with their own local battles, and they're a long way from being as alarmed about the continental picture as we are.

Dr Dawg, I hadn't had the mortician thought, but haven't you found morticians to be kinda nice, actually, sort of bending over backwards to be soothing? That is sure not Harper. I still think that he's getting even for something that happened to him in high school. He's the kind of guy who is never going to get over high school.

"Covais figures they've got less than two years of political will to make it happen. That's when the Bush administration exits, and "The clock will stop if the Harper minority government falls or a new government is elected.""

I don't buy it. This thing has already survived government changes in both Canada and Mexico - it's not just going to roll over and die after Bush and Harper are replaced.

That, of course, is the problem. The SPP isn't motivated by any one political ideology, nor is it helmed by any particular political leader. It's bureaucracy transcends politics, and it's agenda is written by those whose sole motivation is profit.

And if I have to read the word 'conspiracy' one more time I may have to claw my own eyes out. I found Cherniak's recent unthinking dismissals particularly moronic, although I should know better than to expect him to actually investigate anything further than the pages of the official Liberal Party website.

Excellent overview.

Skdadl, thank you for your kind endorsement. Of course many of us now writing about deep integration were alerted to it through posts from POGGE years ago on the FTA and the Canadian Business Council, now called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Re media anondyne dismissals. If I may rant on a little bit here, CBC's news coverage of Harper's jelly bean comment is a horrendous case in point.

Their tv coverage of it opened with Harper's comment : “Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jellybeans? Maybe Mr. Dion thinks so."
Then they cut to a folksy street interview with jelly bean manufacturer David Ganong and ask him about his cross border packaging problems.
No mention that David Ganong is one of the ten Canadian business leaders in the North American Competitiveness Council advising Harper on deregulation, no mention that he's a director of the CCCE and has endorsed their vision of "deeper economic integration", no mention that he's a director of the Conference Board of Canada, no mention that he's a director of SunLife Financial and past director of Air Canada, no mention that he is a donor and sponsor of Atlantica, the plan to form an economic unit of New England states and Atlantic provinces, and no mention of his real problem with jelly beans, which is that his Mexican competitors manufacture them for a fraction of his cost.
Nope, CBC left all this out, leaving the impression that he's just a nice old guy unnecessarily hampered by government bureaucracy while trying to eke out a living making jelly beans.

Holy hot tamale, Alison. I hope you're blogging that, because I sure am. Really: we can't let this happen here. No laundering propaganda!

pogge, but of course pogge -- I should have been more profuse in my thanks to pogge for the education over these last years. He'd be ahead of me now on this turf if the typing weren't still a bit of a chore.

Jennifer, I hadn't bothered to read Cherniak before, but yes -- good indication of how oblivious the Liberals not only are but would usually prefer to remain. Bureaucracy has always trumped politics to a degree in Ottawa, but we used to have some talented and intelligent people in at least some strategic positions. I can't see that any of them matters much any more. The people who matter are the godfathers, like John Manley, and then of course the multinational corpses with which they have their necrophiliac obsessions.

Stephen Harper described the protests outside the Montebello "Three Bandidos" summit as sad.

What's really sad is the comment it makes on the state of North American democracy when Mr. 36%, flanked by two guys who got their jobs through election fraud, can meet in secret with a gang of thirty global corporatists, who could take ethics lessons from the Hell's Angels, to decide the future of 400 million people 90% of whom never cast a vote for any of the above.

That doesn't sound much like the version of democracy I learned about in school. To date, John Edwards has THE quote of the 2008 presdential campaign:

"We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other,"

Mahigan : I think I've heard that song before somewhere. ;-)

Indeed you have. In fact, I have have posted Mouseland here a couple of times in the past(and threatened to do so on a monthly basis until it sank in;-)). You can find an animated version of it with an intro by Keifer Sutherland at here (thanks to macadavy for that link long ago). Does that mean there is hope for 'murica? Unfortunately, probably not.

I should have been more profuse in my thanks to pogge

Awwww shucks. 'Tweren't nothin'.

(I actually just wanted to see the time stamp on the comment.)

I'm new here. I don't tend to read bloggers who write about electoral politics because the analysis is usually fairly sketch. I'm appreciative of your writing style and the careful layering of information you've put together in order to create a picture of just how up shit's creek we are. I'm thinking about the movie The Corporation and about how desensitized and in the "dark" people are to the actions of those who will shortly be in control of north amerikkka. Reading you was chilling, but a solid reminder of what is happening without much media coverage or, as you point out, civil unrest and defiance, right under our noses.

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This page contains a single entry by skdadl published on August 23, 2007 2:19 PM.

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