Miles Report No. 19 - Mostly questions
I had decided at first not to say anything about occurrences in the news recently as many of the bases seemed to be covered, but after a bit of research, I have only more questions and many fewer answers.
On CPAC today the discussion centred on an NDP motion to review the acquisition of Nexen by CNOOP. After watching this for a bit, I did research the Canada Investment Act without much assistance to my understanding - although there did seem to be a few to many “may” statements and no “shall” statements, creating what at a superficial glance appears to be a rather too flexible approach for the involved minister. In general, the government should not expect citizens to be conversant with all the acts of parliament and the subtleties of what are contained within them.
From all that, some questions.
First, what are “net benefits”? The Oxford dictionary supplies its first definition of benefit as “advantage”. So what are the advantages that Canada looks for in an investment? Are they stated somewhere and if so, where?
Given that there may or may not be advantages, the “net” effect cannot be determined without also having a listing of the disadvantages of any agreement. What are the disadvantages that Canada looks for in an investment? Are they stated somewhere and if so where?
Finally, having an analysis of the positive and negative advantages, an agreement may or may not occur. In that light, the government needs to be transparent as to what the “net” advantages and disadvantages are. Is there a comparison table/chart that highlights the advantages and disadvantages in order that the public may see what the bargaining positions are for the government?
Would it be a “net benefit”, for example, if the government received a higher than usual royalty fee, but the company may lay off some of the workers? Or not pay attention to the environment? Or not reciprocate with similar agreements going the other way? Is it a “net benefit” to increase trade with one country without a transparent and enforceable form of assessment/jurisdiction/authority concerning how the investment proceeds?
Again, what are our strategic interests? This term is not defined anywhere I could find, and appears to simply be a discretionary term that would suit political interests of the day. Are our oil sands and shale gas industries strategic? On what basis? For whom?
How would NAFTA play into all this as that agreement allows the U.S. to access our resources before we do in cases of shortage/emergency? How does that impact foreign investment and vice versa?
Canada is primarily a commodities market, always has been and apparently always will be. Are commodities of strategic interest? And if so, should they be dealt with under nebulous undefined terms such as “net benefits” and “exceptional circumstances (see below)”?
Does Canada have a “strategy” which would define “strategic interests”? Is our strategy for power? For money? Both? For a sustainable economy (remembering that we live in a finite world)? Is it for continued economic growth and expansion (remembering that we live in a finite world)? Is it for corporate interests or for the citizens interests (the two may or may not be compatible - and as corporations are not democratic and more and more are supranational entities, probably not truly compatible.)?
As with net benefits, until we have a definition of the corollary, that is “normal circumstances” then that which is “exceptional” is undefined and rather discretionary. I cannot find out what the “normal” circumstances are, at least they are not clearly outlined in anything I could find on the government websites.
What are the factors that are “normal” for investment acquisitions, stated in terms that citizens can understand (as they all should be in order to avoid the elitism of the select few that claim to understand all the lexicon of a particular idea.)?
So once again, is there somewhere that lists or suggest what is “normal”? Where can it be found? Or are all circumstances rather wiggly and discretionary for the whims of the politics of the day?
It is only by comprehending the normal that the “exceptional” can be understood.
First Nations - no questions, just a connection
“How does this relate to foreign investments in Canada?” is a question you could ask of me. During the CPAC viewing one MP mentioned in passing the idea of first nations treaty rights. There was no expanding on this comment and there was no follow up from the other side.
But consider all the acts currently underway or proposed concerning First Nations people. Without going into the details of each act - which include the First Nations Transparency Act, the Education Act, an act for the private ownership of reserve land - there is a commonality among them that intersects with the current arguments over Chinese ownership of Canadian oil. That commonality is land.
Admittedly only one of those named acts has anything to do with land directly. But the thread through them all is money, no surprise there. The government previously announced general funding cuts to native bands. It then has provisions within these other acts that allow the government to with hold funds or to transfer funding responsibility to the bands rather than to continue government support. In general, the sum is that the government is enacting laws that allow it to starve the bands of necessary funds. Considering that the government is responsible for the native bands and lands this position seems to be incongruent with the intentions of the Indian Act, as bad an act as it is in the first place.
What could be the most devious act is the proposal to allow private land ownership on reserves. Seems harmless on the surface, but it is another way to divide and control different factions within different bands with the ultimate goal to control and more than likely have land ownership in the hands of compliant ’whites’ or more seriously, in the hands of corporate entities.
That is where the two ideas come together. Much of the land involved in the tar sands and in particular all of the land west of the Rockies on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route are legally considered to have existing unextinguished rights. Elsewhere there are existing treaty rights for First Nations with regards to the natural resources of the land and the rights that they have to them and their usage, backed up by Canada’s constitution, Canada’s courts of law, the UN Indigenous Rights Act to which Canada is a signatory (under the Harper government), and the various agreements themselves that one native speaker rightly identified as being, in part, agreements with the Queen of England.
Now a question, is that then the final push, to have native reserve land and land with unextinguished title be removed from legal protection in order that the resource base of those lands, and the right of way for commercial passage, are all owned by corporate interests? As the government can no longer “cut off” land as earlier governments in B.C. did with First Nations lands, is this there mechanism - financial starvation and opening up land for private speculation - the means to controlling the land for corporate “benefits“? Will a Chinese company, or some other foreign owned company, gain the rights to First Nations land, leaving the people of the First Nations as another source of cheap wage labour as has happened elsewhere in the Americas (see Mexico under the NAFTA agreement)?
Finally, some unrelated questions on the F-35
John Ivison, a pro-Conservative pundit on CTVs Question Period indicated that he had the cost of a single F-35 pegged at $88 million dollars. However, more internet research showed that this cost does not include what are labelled “ancillary” costs - things like weapons systems! As an analogy, that is like buying all those electronic goodies that say batteries not included, except that the government does not tell us that the batteries are not included.
Are we buying the plane’s mainframe, only to have to spend millions more per plane equipping them for their expected combat role? Why, I wonder - and this is perhaps the media’s fault and not that of the MPs - is there no apparent public awareness that these prices are not the full deal? The procurement costs are high enough, and yes, the lifetime operational costs should be considered as well, but we should know whether the batteries are included or not.
Ultimately, knowing how the U.S. military industrial complex works, whatever the stated costs are, they will surely double as time passes. And what about obsolescence? These planes have been more than a decade in the making and still are not competently nor fully operational.
A Chinese proposition….
Seeing as how we are courting Chinese/Asian investment in Canada as the U.S. economy - which is largely based on that military-industrial complex - teeters and threatens more decline, we should be looking to the Chinese military.
They are the current leaders in technological innovation in the world, having overtaken the U.S. as it concerns itself with its self-destructive “financialized” economy. They have the J-20 stealth plane that for Canada’s needs would fit the specifications as well as being 50 to 80 per cent cheaper to produce than the U.S. or European equivalents.
Why are we not looking to China for our military investments? U.S. technological innovation is in serious decline, China is taking the lead. If we are so interested in a global economy, why not include the J-20 as a competitive bidder for the procurement process? Are they our enemies or our trading partners?
Now that would send a powerful message to the rest of the world that Canada is an open independent big player on global markets and is not kowtowing to anybody.