During an unusual summer meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade held last month, at which Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sketched out the broad outlines of Ottawa’s key priorities for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Essex MP and NDP trade critic Tracey Ramsey put forward a motion calling for greater transparency in the public consultation process.
Specifically, the motion requested that Ministers of Foreign Affairs and International Trade provide “a breakdown of consultations that have been done to date with Canadians on NAFTA, including the dates and names of stakeholders, industry lobbyists; provincial and territorial officials, civil society groups, aboriginal groups and leaders, academics, organizations, think tanks, student leaders, individuals, outside consultants and officials within Global Affairs Canada or other government departments.”
Additionally, the motion asked for a breakdown of comments submitted to date via e-mail and through the government’s online consultation form, “including the number of comments both in support of and opposed to NAFTA,” be provided to parliament before the end of August.
“I believe it is important the government is transparent about the NAFTA consultations and they should release the information they have received from Canadians,” Ramsey, a former 20-year autoworker, wrote in an e-mail.
“The Liberals continue to talk about transparency, but this has to be more than just words,” Ramsey said, adding that they “need to show Canadians that they mean what they say and share this information with the committee and with Parliamentarians.”
Unfortunately, the motion was apparently not approved by the Liberal-controlled committee, or indeed, even included for consideration as a matter that would be discussed in future.
As noted previously, unlike the Trump administration which has made the tens of thousands of comments submitted to the U.S. Trade Representative over a period of several weeks readily available to be viewed online, there has been no equivalent sharing of the public input that has been provided by Canadians to the Trudeau government. This failure to provide full disclosure of information relative to the consultation process seems to run counter not only to repeated promises made by the prime minister and the Liberal Party, but also to the recommendations of parliament.
In a report on free trade agreements by the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued earlier this year, the very first recommendation was that “the Government of Canada engage more actively in activities aimed at increasing consultations with – and direct engagement of – Canadians on the importance of international trade and the relevance of trade agreements to Canada’s economic prosperity.”
Stating its belief “that a higher level of transparency is required during trade negotiations, particularly as modern FTAs increasingly involve areas of domestic regulation,” the committee warned that “the lack of transparency of trade negotiations risks contributing to a perception that trade deals are not necessarily negotiated for the public good.”