If the German TV news program with the largest viewership, Tagesschau (literally, "the daily show"), has disclosed a large chunk of the text of the trade treaty between Canada and the European Union, surely it is high time that Canadian citizens should be able to read and evaluate the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
Thomas Mulcair and the federal NDP have been much criticized – from left and right – for their refusal to come down for or against CETA. But how can the NDP do otherwise? The party says it favours a trade deal in principle, but can't back (or oppose) this deal until it sees the text. The NDP is right. Would you sign a contract without reading it? No, neither would we.
Canadians are being asked to assess the agreement on the basis of fragments, and much that is sight unseen. For months, there has been talk about "legal scrubbing" and translations into the many languages of Europe. But Canada has only two official languages. And the finer points of legal draftsmanship are not of primary concern to the Canadian electorate.
Canadians have been provided with a short agreement-in-principle consisting of a "technical summary of final negotiated outcomes," mostly made up of sentence fragments in point form. That was signed by Prime Minister Harper and José Manuel Barroso, the President of the EU, fully 10 months ago.
At the moment, two issues are particularly in contention. It is believed that Canada has made concessions to the EU on drug patents, but we do not know how much longer patents will be in force – if at all – or what kind of an impact that could have on drug prices. There are also rumours on investor-protection provisions, and the rumours are encouraging, as far as they go. To sue successfully for compensation, corporations would apparently have to show that a government's legislation is "manifestly disproportionate" to its ostensible policy objective. But these are rumours, leaks and suspicions – not facts.
Parliament resumes on Sept. 15. CETA's terms are not scheduled to be disclosed until Sept. 25. The federal government should instead make the current text of the deal public, as soon as possible. The treaty should not be debated in a mad rush.