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Residents rally against Chinese investment agreement

Small crowd gathers at MP Westons office to oppose ratification

Organizers at the rally against Canada China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) are urging Canadians to contact their local member of parliament and prime minister and voice their opposition.

Over 60 people showed up for the noontime rally, Tuesday, October 30, in front of MP John Weston’s Powell River constituency office. Weston represents West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding.

This was the second rally in seven days where people organized to protest actions of the federal government. The first, on Wednesday, October 24, related to the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. FIPA opponents say it could challenge Canadian sovereignty.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed the investment treaty with China while at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Vladivostok, Russia on September 9. Details of the agreement were kept secret until the investment treaty was tabled in Parliament on September 26.

“We’re encouraging people to fax his [Weston’s] office, call his office, email his office and any other MPs that are pertinent,” said rally organizer CaroleAnn Leishman. “The more people find out about it, they are upset about being excluded from the decision-making process. It hasn’t been very democratic.”

Former Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Gordon Wilson, current MLA Nicholas Simons and concerned citizens spoke to the small crowd and voiced apprehensions over the wide-reaching effects of the agreement, the federal government’s secrecy around signing the agreement and the lack of public debate.

“It has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a Conservative, a Green, a New Democrat, a Liberal, or any other of the parties in between,” said Wilson. “If you’re a Canadian today and you’re allowing this to go through without debate there’s something seriously wrong in this country.”

Simons agreed with Wilson’s assessment. “It’s about sovereignty,” he said. He’s concerned that there hasn’t been enough public debate on the issue. “Obviously, everyone is frustrated with a government which is not listening to the people,” said Simons. “We have it provincially and federally.”

Wilson said that while investment agreements are fairly common, the Canada China investment treaty is far more reaching because China has a lot more investment in Canada than other countries.

He said in every other case of FIPA being signed there have been public hearings and the people of Canada were given the opportunity to understand what was in the agreement.

“The agreement was just published online two weeks ago,” Wilson said.

Governments could face “massive fines,” he said, if they try to put into place regulations that would govern companies in Canada, which could include everything from “environment control, to wage regulation to labour standards” and “every other aspect that the provincial and federal governments can impose in regard to corporations.”

Weston is robustly defending the agreement with China, saying it represents a significant breakthrough with the Asian giant.

“The level of transparency anticipated by this agreement is higher than any other China has agreed to,” he said Tuesday from Ottawa.

As an international lawyer who spent a decade in Asia, Weston said he wished the agreement had been in place “when clients of mine were reliant on the Chinese judicial system.”

Weston said the deal sets new standards for transparency.

Article 28, he said, guarantees public access to relevant documents and awards, and sets terms for public hearings when disputes occur. It also “deftly” protects commercial interests from indiscreet disclosure of sensitive information.

At the same time, “both Canada and China retain the right to regulate in the public interest, and both parties have committed to do so in a non-discriminatory manner,” Weston said. “And we still have all sorts of best-practices laws and regulations that all foreign investors have to adhere to.”

Weston calls the FIPA “a critical step for attracting foreign investment” and said it is consistent with bilateral agreements negotiated by Canada with 24 other countries.

“With this agreement in place, for the first time, Canadian investors in the world’s second-biggest economy will have recourse to independent, trustworthy and well-respected international arbitration systems,” he wrote in his response letter to concerned constituents. “Our government has an ambitious pro-trade agenda and is committed to opening markets in the Asia-Pacific.”

The FIPA with China does not represent the kind of “sea change” that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) ushered in, Weston said.

“It’s not a difference in the way we do business,” he said.

Weston said he attended a briefing in Ottawa with foreign affairs officials arranged by the Green Party’s Elizabeth May, discussed the FIPA with Minister of International Trade Ed Fast and officials in his department, and “did a lot of homework over the last few days” in an effort to understand the agreement.

Like Fast and others in the Harper government, Weston said opposition parties had four days in the House to raise concerns about the FIPA, but chose not to.

-with files from John Gleeson, Coast Reporter