Soon, Canadians will be facing new debates over multilateral trade agreements. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA was challenged by voters in one region of Belgium. Hopefully we will soon have an opportunity to speak to government about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And one of the spin-offs of the American election could be a renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Last month, Prime Minister Trudeau promoted global trade and agreements at the G20 in Switzerland. He said such deals will improve international relations and will be good for the Canadian “middle class”. But are these trade deals good for Canadians? Shouldn’t we as citizens see and receive the benefits of global trade and these deals?
Two statistical measurements of how well Canadians are doing since signing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA 1989) are the Gini Coefficient and the Quality of Life Index. These formal tools utilize established formula and criteria to quantify certain economic values and compare these over time and to other countries.
The Gini Coefficient measures income inequality (how national wealth is distributed) and is being linked to economic and social health of a country.
“Income inequality in Canada declined between the Second World War and the mid 1970s (Yalnizyan, 2010). However, this situation began to change during the 1980s, as market income inequality began to grow, while after-tax income inequality did not. In the 1990s, both market and after-tax income inequality grew. This trend of growing inequality continues today”, according to Stephanie Procyk, University of Toronto (in Understanding Income Inequality in Canada, 1980–2014 ).
The Conference Board of Canada backs this observation in its 2010 analysis of Gini Coefficients.
Income inequality in Canada has constantly increased since 1988 and has only levelled off after 2006. Canada reduced inequality in the 1980s, with the Coefficient reaching a low of 0.281 in 1989, then it rose in the 1990s, but has remained around 0.32 in the 2000s. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/society/income-inequality.aspx
The 2012 report by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW), How are Canadians Really Doing? presents another perspective on the economic benefits Canadians enjoy.
“Using 1994 as a starting point for measurement, the CIW was assigned a baseline score of 100. By 2010, the combination of the domains shows us that our wellbeing improved on many counts, primarily in Education and Community Vitality, but declined on others such as in the Environment and in Leisure and Culture. Pulling together all eight domains, we see the CIW composite index increases to a score of 105.7 – just a 5.7% improvement in quality of life over the 17-year period.
“When you compare the robust 28.9% in Canada’s GDP to the small 5.7% growth in our wellbeing over the same time period, we have cause for deep concern. Looking more closely at the impact of the recession of 2008, it resulted in an 8.3% decline in GDP up to 2010. However, the recession resulted in a stunning 24% decline in Canadians’ wellbeing from the modest gains made up to 2008.”
In the book 20 years Later: Has the FTA Delivered on its Promise? Bruce Campbell of CCPA writes, “There will be those among the business elite who will trumpet the free trade agreement’s success. They will link it to the current buoyant economy, with its strong currency, fiscal and trade surpluses, low unemployment and low inflation. … The facts, however, cast strong doubt that the promise made 20 years ago—the promise of a better life for all Canadians—has been fulfilled. It was an empty promise made by a business elite that has reaped the benefits of these self-serving agreements, without really considering how the majority of Canadians would be affected.” (December 2007).
When we hear of another trade deal being hatched, let’s question who really benefits. Canadians may not resort to a Brexit or Trump extreme reactions to these trade deals, but we can voice our critique in a Canadian fashion. And, if proponents of these deals want our support, they should show clearly how we will benefit. If we don’t see the benefits, then we should be prepared to turn them down.
Developing the CP rail yards still an Opportunity
Last month the Manitoba government terminated the task force set up under the previous government to consider moving the Canadian Pacific rail yards out of inner city Winnipeg. While we don’t know what will happen next, this move was expected and is needed.
Considering what can be done about the rail yards is a huge, complicated and costly matter. Setting up a public task force to deal with all of these issues under the leadership of former premier Jean Charest was premature. High level negotiations will be needed to direct any change in land use, but strategic positioning and timing are important. The former government went public when a great deal of work behind the scenes was needed first.
The current government had to create its own process for addressing this opportunity. It’s customary that new governments put their brand on important on-going initiatives.
Second, the government needs to get its own intelligence in place on the technical, logistical, commercial and political requirements involved and on how to effectively manage a development process. As the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg reported in 2012, a feasibility study is needed to provide research based knowledge on what can be done to move the rail yards. This knowledge is needed to give all levels of government the perspective needed to make preliminary decisions, and to replace speculation with substance. This advice is even more pertinent today.
The SPCW report pointed to research needed for assessing the costs of moving the rail yards, soil remediation, building new infrastructure and measuring the impact on local industry. Equally important, the report also advocated investigating the tax potential of residential and commercial development, cost savings of avoiding bridge replacement, alternative uses of the rail right of way through the city (rapid transit for example), energy reduction savings and other opportunities for generating revenue from this land.
In 2012 when public discussions were facilitated by the Free Press on the merits of a rail yard development, two things were clearly evident. On one hand people were operating on the basis of supposition and personal opinion rather than facts or research. This approach persists today. On the other hand, once we started taking about practical possibilities and tangible opportunities, everyone agreed a development of the rail yards property would be a tremendous benefit for the city and all residents into the next century.
Third, any change for the rail way through the city has to be initiated by the City of Winnipeg according to the federal Rail Relocation and Crossings Act (1985). Therefore, the Province and the City need to think through their interests and common issues involved in moving the rail yards. While the Mayor and Council are more visionary than the last regime and will be receptive to considering a development process, they also need basic information before committing to negotiations with CP Railway.
A paced approach to developing this property can also respond to evolving conditions. Ongoing expansion of CentrePort in particular will make a huge difference in how the railway sees benefit in moving. Having business oriented governments at three levels now may also lead to more support for developing the rail yards for community as well as corporate benefit. And public concern with the safety of rail traffic through urban areas only adds to the motivation for railway relocation.
With a new approach to this issue, I hope we can shift the focus from just moving the rail yards to exercising an opportunity to address city needs. For Winnipeg to grow and meet the needs of citizens, depends on how we turn problems into potential, and the CP property can be one asset in a collective vision.
So let’s be patient but supportive and encourage the city and provincial governments to develop this parcel of real estate for the good of citizens, all levels of governments, local business and the railway corporation. I think the economic, environmental and social benefits of a change in land use can justify the costs and effort involved, but let’s do the research and collective thinking to make sure.
Aboriginal youth and women started the rallies and demonstrations in support of Theresa Spence and the Chiefs who protested the passing of Bills C-38 and C-45. First Nations leaders are now publicly supporting the movement and more youth and student groups are out on the streets demonstration support for Idle no More.
I believe the rest of us – every Canadian – should be supportive.
Personally I do not endorse the tactics of many of the people involved in the movement – the rallies, flash mobs, blockades, marches and especially the hunger strikes. These actions do not lead directly to a better understanding of issues or positions, they do not lead to motivating people to take the corrective action needed to deal with very important social and political issues and they are very vulnerable to news media distortions and drama.
However, these action deserve and need the support of every Canadian who believes in fairness, justice and compassion. We – non-aboriginal, middle-class, comfortable Canadians – should be out at these events, we should be taking our families and friends to these opportunities to express our support. We should be looking for our politicians at these events and encouraging them to show their support.
Aboriginal people, especially First Nations a have been forced into untenable circumstances and conditions. A large number, possibly a majority, have been relegated to an inferiour position in our social order. Thousands of Aboriginal people live in poverty and experience consistent systemic exclusion. The description of these conditions are becoming well known and don’t need repetition here.
What is important now, is that the current expression of the frustration, anger, disillusionment and on and on, is organic and honest. It is not strategic and organized, but non-the-less a genuine political expression of what people feel about the position of Aboriginal people. At a national level, Aboriginal people have been backed into a political corner where other – more conventional, institutional and publicly acceptable – forms of engagement have been denied or have failed them. They have sought out institutional forms of addressing grievances and using the democratic procedures. They have set up service and advocacy organization to promote their rights and deliver the services the people need.
What I also think, is that we as citizens have let down Aboriginal people. We are indirectly complicit in what our governments have done or not done. We have been complicit in our indifference and ignorance. We have passed the buck to governments and politicians to address Aboriginal needs. We have avoided our personal responsibility to include all segments of our society in our social networks. We have not confronted those who have expressed their racism or criticism. We have not educated ourselves about the history of exploitation and abuse endured by Aboriginal people.
So by joining these events and demonstrations, we are expressing our intent to change not only how Aboriginal people are treated by governments, but how we will change our individual and collective relationships. In expressing our commitment to better relationships in this way at this moment of our history, we also will mark a change in how we recognise our social responsibility and the benefit we all we get from creating a society that is inclusive, just and caring.
Follow the Idle no More movement though the Winnipeg based, Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, http://www.youtube.com/aboriginalyouthopps