Latest Posts

Chrystia Freeland and Justin Trudeau by Joseph Morris (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Why Trudeau’s TPP Comments Undermine Freeland’s Credibility on Canada’s Biggest Trade Deal

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has faced a challenging week given the possible collapse of the trade agreement between Canada and the European Union. Freeland and the Liberal government have worked hard to get CETA to the finish line with some changes to the investor – state dispute settlement rules (the rules should be dropped altogether) and frequent travel across Europe to garner support for the deal.

Back at home, the reaction to the CETA problems from the Conservative opposition has been embarrassing. Trade critic Gerry Ritz criticized Freeland, speaking of the need for adult supervision and calling on the government to get the job done. Freeland rightly called him out on the comments, but she could have also noted that the record suggests that it is the Conservatives that failed to get the job done on CETA. In April 2010, the Conservative government said it would be finished in 2011. In 2011, reports said it would be done in 2012. In October 2012, the projection was a deal by year-end. It took until the fall of 2013 for a ceremony marking an “agreement-in-principle”. That too proved to be premature as there was another event celebrating an official draft in 2014 followed by more legal drafting and the renegotiation of controversial ISDS provisions that led to the release of another text earlier this year. In other words, Freeland inherited far less than advertised on CETA and the Conservatives might not want to remind the public that their biggest trade accomplishment never actually involved a signed, final text.

The Ritz remarks have attracted attention, but comments yesterday from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have a longer and more damaging impact on Freeland.

Read more ›

October 26, 2016 1 comment News
President Schulz meets Minister Freeland by Martin Schulz (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Devil is in the Details: Why CETA is on the Verge of Collapse

The seeming collapse of the trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (CETA) has created obvious disappointment for International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and the entire Canadian government, which made the deal as its top trade issue. Efforts to salvage CETA will undoubtedly continue, but my Globe and Mail column points out that the underlying problem with the agreement is not the complicated European political system that requires support from all member states.

Rather, it is the expansion of trade negotiations from agreements that once focused primarily on tariff reductions to far broader regulatory documents that now mandate domestic legal reforms and establish dispute resolution systems that can be result in huge liability for national governments. This enlarged approach to trade deals, which can also be found in the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), run the risk of surrendering domestic policy choices to other countries or dispute tribunals.

If CETA were limited to tariff reductions, it would be relatively uncontroversial. The discomfort with the agreement lies instead in the mandated changes to domestic regulations and the creation of investor – state dispute settlement mechanisms that may prioritize corporate concerns over local rules.

Read more ›

October 25, 2016 2 comments Columns
IMG_5146 by campact (CC BY-NC 2.0)

CETA Talks Break Down: “It is Evident that the EU Is Incapable of Reaching an Agreement”

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has walked out of talks aimed at addressing Belgian opposition to the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, stating:

I have personally worked very hard, but it is now evident to me, evident to Canada, that the European Union is incapable of reaching an agreement – even with a country with European values such as Canada, even with a country as nice and as patient as Canada. Canada is disappointed and I personally am disappointed, but I think it’s impossible. We are returning home.

Leaving aside the odd reference to how nice Canada is, this is remarkable language that lays bare the obvious frustration and disappointment for the government which prioritized the CETA agreement above all others. The prospect of the deal falling apart has been evident for months. I wrote in July that the agreement was in more trouble than the Canadian government would admit, noting that opposition from any national or regional government could kill CETA altogether. Canadian officials downplayed the risk, but it was obvious that CETA faced stiff opposition that would not be easy to overcome.

Read more ›

October 21, 2016 9 comments News
Oh, Canada by Matthew Oliphant (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Beyond a Netflix Tax: Why Melanie Joly’s Comments Point to Regulation of Internet Services

The prospect of new digital taxes and regulation to fund the creation of Canadian content continues to attract attention with cultural groups leading the charge. For example, the Canadian Independent Music Association recently called for the regulation of digital services and ISPs including mandated contributions to support the development of Canadian content, while ADISQ has previously lobbied for a similar policy approach.

With mounting coverage of the issue, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly appeared last weekend on CTV’s Question Period, spending most of the nine minutes dodging questions from host Evan Solomon. Joly started by clearly stating that “there will be no new Netflix tax”, but spent the rest of the interview making the case for one. The discussion featured speaking points that seemed to contradict the no Netflix tax approach, emphasizing that everything is on the policy table and that the government is looking at all scenarios. Solomon noted the inconsistency of the comments and Joly struggled to respond.

Read more ›

October 21, 2016 5 comments News
Culture and heritage ministers from across Canada meet in Victoria by Province of British Columbia (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why New Digital Taxes Could Play a Starring Role in the Government’s CanCon Policy

Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has energetically crossed the country emphasizing the economic benefits of the cultural industries. Yet as the government conducts a national consultation on Canadian content in the digital world, my Globe and Mail tech law column notes that new digital taxes may ultimately play a starring role.

Joly has opened the door to an overhaul of Canadian cultural policy, but the million dollar – or perhaps billion dollar – question is how to pay for it. The industry has resisted policies that might increase foreign-backed productions, arguing that lowering qualifying requirements for the number of Canadians involved will lead to lost jobs and less distinctive content. Their hopes appear to rest primarily with the possibility of a series of new digital taxes. While new taxes are never popular, the possibilities include the proverbial good, bad, and ugly.

Read more ›

October 13, 2016 9 comments Columns