Website will facilitate citizen comments on TPP deal

The government has promised open consultations but the groups say so far it has been 
all closed-door meetings with TPP supporters

Spurred on by what they say is official foot-dragging, four anti-TPP groups are teaming up to provide Canadians with a platform to tell the government what they think of the trade deal.

The Council of Canadians, OpenMedia, Stand (formerly ForestEthics) and SumOfUs have created the website, where members of the public can send their views on the deal to Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and the Commons trade committee.

And while they might not favour the deal themselves, the groups insist it’s for all Canadians to share their thoughts.

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Meghan Sali, digital rights specialist with OpenMedia, said the site is designed as a conduit and there is no ability to moderate comments intended for the decision-makers.

“There will be no censorship of people’s views,” Sali said. “We just want to raise public awareness about the trade deal.”

Sali said the groups decided to act because Freeland has promised consultations on the TPP but so far it has all been an unstructured private process.

“We wanted to offer a way to get Canadians’ views on the public record,” she said.

The groups think the government is trying to create support for the TPP, and say that’s happening despite the fact no independent economic analysis of how exactly the TPP would impact Canadians has been published. The groups say one study estimates Canada will lose at least 58,000 jobs because of the deal.

The only public hearings on the TPP are being by the trade committee, but they have been mainly with business groups and individuals that support the deal. It hopes to hold public hearings across Canada later this year, says chairman Mark Eyking. The committee is open to Canadians sending it their opinions on the deal.

Sali says opposition to the many parts of the TPP brought the groups together.

“Lots of people want to make their voice heard — the more Canadians find out about the TPP, the less they like it,” she said. “So far, the public have been completely excluded from the TPP process and it’s no wonder we’ve got such a terrible deal. To turn things around, the government needs to start listening.”

The groups don’t support the deal for a variety of reasons including concern over overly generous copyright laws that will restrict innovation and cultural sharing and concerns over the deal’s ability to overwrite national laws regarding environmental protection. Sali also singled out health care as an area of concern, claiming the deal would make pharmaceuticals more expensive and undermine health-care privacy.

In addition to the committee study, which will result in a report to Parliament on public views on the deal, Freeland has promised a full parliamentary debate ahead of ratification.

She insists the Trudeau government won’t be pressured by the Conservatives or business lobbies into rushing a final decision on TPP. Last month, Freeland signed the tentative agreement reached during the Oct. 19 federal election campaign to keep Canada in the negotiations.

“The deal is not yet open for either signature or ratification,” she said. “We understand that on a deal this big, it is essential to consult Canadians and have a full parliamentary debate.”

The deal doesn’t have to be approved until 2017.

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