EU-FTA Paranoia

There are those who seem to want to make a big, scary deal out of the story that appeared days ago in the Globe & Mail about free trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union, casting it in some nefarious light. Well, sorry to be the one to burst your conspiracy theory bubbles there folks, but this really is pretty much of a yawning non-story — at least in the trade community.

These negotiations have been ongoing for years, and actually take root in the days of the Chrétien government and their efforts to escape the stranglehold of our excessive trade dependence on the United States by attempting to open up new global markets for Canadian exports abroad. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade together with Export Development Canada have been diligently hammering away at this for almost a decade, so to trot this out now as some dark plan hatched by the Harper “neo-cons” for “integration” with the EU is pretty laughable. In truth, these talks have been nearing fruition for some time over the past year, with David Emerson talking it up at every available opportunity on the chamber of commerce business luncheon circuit.

It should also be noted that, as part of working towards this goal of broadening Canada’s trade bilateral ties with global trading partners within the framework of its so-called “Global Commerce Strategy,” the government signed a new free trade agreement (FTA) earlier this year with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland worth an estimated $11 billion annually. At the risk of boring everyone from here to kingdom-come to death, I could go on…

Sorry Allison, but you’re barking up the wrong tree here.

21 Replies to “EU-FTA Paranoia”

  1. Harper even has old Liberal stalwart Roy MacLaren as point man on negotiations, so yeah, difficult to have this painted as something it isn’t. I do have difficulties with the notion of allowing European companies being able to set up shop here to compete for providing our government services at the lowest bid. That for me is a bridge too far.

  2. It’s already happening with American companies, so what’s the difference?

    Are you back from Florida, or still down there enjoying the hurricane-free sun, sea and sand…?

  3. It’s happening everywhere apparently. I was thinking about renewing my UK visa and when I went online the process has all changed. You have to deal with some company named WorldBridge that looks after all things the Home Office used to provide. I guess I’m just old fashioned. I prefer my tax dollars pay for quality government services from my own government and not the lowest private bidder.

  4. There’s definitely some suckitude and creepiness to the privatization of bureaucratic processing, but I don’t think it’s inherently evil — just something that needs to be monitored and… oh, dare I say, regulated!

  5. but I don’t think it’s inherently evil

    Au contraire…it’s inherently evil. We cannot allow to let market principles prevail over what should be public service.

    As it turns out (if we examine the US) it’s also hideously expensive in the long term.

  6. We’ll have to agree to disagree over that one.

    I don’t think that government is any more inherently virtuous than private enterprise is inherently evil. In either case, it’s a matter of oversight and accountability.

  7. You don’t think providing service for profit effects the quality of the service provided? Doing things cheaply means more profit. I don’t care to have Walmart overseeing my pension plans thank you very much.

  8. I’ve worked for the government and, much more so, private companies, and in my experience this is a specious argument for the most part.

  9. The erosion of government services is why I never jumped on the Liberal bandwagon in ’93. I never forgave Chretien for axing the EH-101 helicopter contract that saw search and rescue capabilities in the Maritimes continue to stagnate under the older than dirt Sea King fleet. When a large portion of your local economy must rely on the temperamental North Atlantic seas to prosper, then quality SAR equipment is a pretty damned important social program for your government to provide. This kept election promise helped pave the road for government doing things on the cheap throughout the 90s. So I take your point.

  10. My perspective on the matter stems from my own working experience which for the most part is with an industry that acts a middle-man between government and private industry helping to facilitate the smooth flow of goods and trade, so I’m quite mindful of striking the balance between leveraging the system to maximum extent possible for the advantage of clients in the private sector, while also ensuring that whatever is done is completely in compliance within the strictures of the government’s regulatory regime. There’s really no “good” or “evil” that’s inherent on either side, although I’ve certain seen lots of instances of both going one way or the other.

  11. I don’t think that government is any more inherently virtuous than private enterprise is inherently evil.

    In theory it shouldn’t bet; in practice it most definitely is when you take into account the imperatives of corporate capitalism.

    I’ve worked in both the private sector and the public sector and the biggest surprise to me when more and more services where contracted out or privatised was how much less value for money you got. That was a real shocker.

  12. Ti-Guy — That’s seems more to me a matter of cost accounting on various levels — again, oversight and regulation are the key factors involved.

  13. Oversight and regulation can’t always capture what are some of the less tangible values that govern public service; sense of calling or vocation, altruism, wisdom and experience, especially, when it involves the agencies of democratic societies that can’t be as top-down or autocratic as efficiency would dictate, etc. etc.

    From what I understand, your experience in public service was at a juncture of market and government; mine (education) is within a sphere of human activity where market principles never work and those are the ones that have to be protected from privatisation.

    There aren’t that many activities in which the Government should be involved…education, health care, defense, public infrastructure, public broadcasting/media (to complement/compete with private media) but in those areas, the commitment to public service should be resolute and the social or communal values that govern them should be celebrated and not apologised for, out of some mistaken belief that such support means one embraces the dreaded socialism or….*gasp*…communism.

  14. I understand that “vocation” for public service, I really do… both my parents spent much of their lives fulfilling that calling in addition to working privately as entrepreneurs, when not working for the government, I’ve worked with it, and much of what I presently do involves explaining government regulations to business people and encouraging their compliance. So again, as I said, I’m quite appreciative of the nexus of interests involved when it comes to this sort of thing.

    You tend to frown on the “profit motive” of the private sector and not without justification, but the other side of that coin is the “self-perpetuation motive” of government that seeks to assimilate greater control and power for itself. It’s not an “evil” thing… more just the nature of the beast — usually it’s done with the best intentions in the world (not always, but mostly… or at least ostensibly).

    There are things that government does well, or adequately anyway, and things that it really shouldn’t be doing. If it can contract out some of its functions… not really offloading them, but contracting with third-parties to execute them on its behalf because they have the expertise, facilities, and proven efficiencies of scale, etc. to carry them out, well then that’s as it should be. Do we expect the Dept. of National Defence to start building its own ships and planes? Of course not. It’s contracted out to companies that specialize in this area. I don’t see data processing as anything all that different. The government’s role should be to set the parameters, define the project, bid it out to the best service provider (not necessarily on cost alone) and then manage the process to ensure it meets targets and is fulfilling its stated mandate.

    Now, if that doesn’t pan out… well then bring it back in house and do it strictly from a ground-up basis. It really doesn’t matter one way or the other as long as it meets the criterion of being efficient, effective and productive to the best extent possible within the allowable budget. In other words, is it actually delivering results for its clients/stakeholders and providing a reasonable return on the taxpayers’ investment? Those seem like rather reasonable guidelines to me.

  15. Now, if that doesn’t pan out… well then bring it back in house and do it strictly from a ground-up basis.

    That’s the HUGE problem. Once you offload them, you can never get them back because government budgeting focuses on increases or reductions between fiscal periods on not really on programming or needs-based budgeting (which is a lot work).

    Most of my perspectives about capitalism and social democracy developed when I lived in Germany…it was hyper-capitalist in many respects, but no one really questioned the values that inform public service. Identifying and correcting inefficiencies (something the Germans were put on Earth to do) were discussed simply as that…not as a manifestation of the inevitable failure of one ideology (socialism) which can only be corrected by a superior one (libertarianism). That discussion really only occurs in Anglo-American culture.

  16. Duly noted and I wasn’t considering the matter from an ideological perspective at all either. In fact, I was taking an utterly “German” approach to, as you say “correcting inefficiency” in public administration irrespective of how that solution may be arrived at. Bottom line is that I don’t care one way or the other, provided that, as I said, the required oversight and regulation is in place to make the system work. That power has to reside with the government and it’s in THAT area where we’re seeing the failings, especially south of the border. You can’t put foxes in the henhouse and then be surprised when mayhem and carnage ensues…

  17. You can’t put foxes in the henhouse and then be surprised when mayhem and carnage ensues…

    Thank God the PM’s power of political appointments with regard to the civil service and regulatory agencies is limited. Although Harper’s working on getting around that…

  18. Red: “… That power has to reside with the government and it’s in THAT area where we’re seeing the failings, especially south of the border. You can’t put foxes in the henhouse and then be surprised when mayhem and carnage ensues…”

    SG: Yes, ‘Capital’ idea that …. Here I am ‘egging’you on, but I think your distinction between ‘Power’ and ‘performing the actual function’, is a very acute. Power, after all is more determinant.

    Snerd

  19. There are three little words that I am more than comfortable stating in regards to my preferred form of governance, “Tax and spend.” Fuck this low taxes, less government, larger military horseshit we’ve achieved under the tutelage of Harper and company. A nation without state, that’s what that is. A cold and shallow place. Absolutely no place to nurture a nation, but Canadians seem poised to vote for that direction. Go figure. It makes no sense to me and I’ve gone from being completely perplexed by those who buy into this ideological societal bent to not really caring one way or another. It will all come out in the historical wash. Eventually.

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