Canada in the news

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The people of the United Kingdom are facing a choice in June: whether to stay in, or leave the European Union (once known as the Common Market). Ever since Britain joined the EU (or, more accurately, were allowed into the EU) in 1973, there has been a sizeable percentage of the population eager to leave again. In 1975, there was a UK referendum on continued membership of the EEC . The electorate voted ‘Yes’ by 67.2% to 32.8% to stay in Europe. But much has changed in the EU since then, and fears over diminishing sovereignty within European nations has continued to feed the call for an exit from the world’s largest trading bloc.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the people of Britain would have a chance to decide on the issue in a referendum in June, the fight for support for what is now called a “Brexit”, or British exit, of the EU began in earnest. Last week, one of the country’s most famous politicians, London Mayor, Boris Johnson, announced that he was in favour of a Brexit, claiming that Britain would be far better off making its own political decisions outside of the interference of Europe (particularly, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel). Why is this of interest to us? Well, mostly because Boris has raised Canada as the prime example of what Britain could be outside of the EU.

In a recent speech, Johnson stated that the Canada model was “the way forward for us. What I think we should do is strike a new free trade deal along the lines of what Canada has just achieved. They have taken out the vast majority of the tariffs and have virtually unencumbered trade. We want a relationship based on trade and cooperation. The idea of being subject to the single judicial system is the problem.”

He was referring to both the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] of 1994, and the still-to-be-finalised EU-Canada agreement, which, it is hoped, will eliminate virtually all trade tariffs between Canada and the EU, and was described by Stephen Harper as the “biggest deal Canada has ever made”.

Critics of Johnson (and there are, and have always been, many) point to the fact that the trade deal has taken five years of negotiations to date, and has still not been finalised. One critic of Johnson, Damian Collins, a Tory MP campaigning to remain in the EU, pointed out the Canadians are continuing to face “uncertainty” around the trade deal seven years into the process, saying it was “not a good example for the UK to follow”.

Is it nice to know that we in Canada are seen as the role model for the Mother Country? Not all those in the UK seem to appreciate the fact. One comment on a Guardian newspaper blog recently noted: “Yes Boris, we can easily see the resemblance between the UK and Canada. Canada – 2nd largest country in the world, a federal state with vast natural resources in forests, petroleum offshore gas and mining, a net exporter of energy… The UK, erm..well we both have The Queen, right?”.

When we look at our economy and bemoan the high price of oil, hydro, groceries, houses, etc., etc., etc., we should spare a thought for the people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who have been promised that, if only they have the courage to leave the EU, they might, perhaps, one day, if they work hard and do their best, become almost as prosperous as that old colony across the Atlantic.

Opponents of Brexit also point out the inherent contradiction in the comparisons made with Canada. Brexit supporters, it seems, are motivated to a large extent by fears of immigration, and believe that being outside the EU will give Britain more control over their borders. But other commentators have pointed out something vital about Canada which the Brexits may have missed (as have many Canadians, unfortunately). “Immigrants make up 20% of Canada’s population driving economic growth and outperforming Canadian born residents in academic and entrepreneurial success”.

Brexit supporters are also forgetting that international trade deals, which they would have to negotiate alone if they left the EU, also sharply restrict national sovereignty in many areas. The most obvious of these is the investor-state dispute resolution [ISDS] contained in all of Canada’s trade deals, which gives foreign investors the power to sue a government for introducing legislation that harms their investment. This allows, for example, US drug companies to sue the Canadian or Ontario Governments if they allow certain generic drugs to be made available in competition with the drug companies’ products.

Perhaps, before Boris Johnson and Co. start to cite Canada as an example of what a Euro-free UK can be, they should start looking more carefully at what is happening in this country.

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