After this initiative ended, The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an American-based foreign policy body, formed ‘The Independent Task Force on the Future of North America’, picking up where the CCCE campaign left off. The ties between the organizations go beyond interest, as the CFR’s Canadian chapter is co-chaired by Thomas D’Aquino, also the President and CEO of the CCCE. In the US, the CFR is co-chaired by Robert Pastor, a man often referred to as the father of the North American Union due to his longtime advocacy of the subject.
In May 2005, following several statements of a similar nature, the CFR task force published a report which not only advocated the formation of a ‘North American Community’ on par with the European Union, but outlined the steps necessary to achieve such integration in detail. Documents leaked from an early CFR task force meeting mentioned, “No item – not Canadian water, not Mexican oil, not American anti-dumping laws – is ‘off the table’; rather contentious or intractable issues will simply require more time to ripen politically.“
Several months after this report was published, a Texas meeting between George W. Bush, Paul Martin, and Vicente Fox saw the efforts of the CCCE and CFR pay off. All parties signed into existence The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP). The SPP is not a formal treaty or agreement between countries but instead an ongoing ‘dialogue’. Therefore, it eludes the necessity of parliamentary oversight and has drawn heavy criticism for removing the public from it’s decision-making process. The SPP’s stated procedure describes closed-door meetings with businesses and industry shareholders followed by subsequent briefings being given to parliament.
In March 2006, industry was provided with a formal seat at the head of the SPP table. Over 50 business representatives and government officials convened in Louisville for the January ‘Public/Private Sector Dialogue on the SPP.’ This convention was followed by a smaller Washington meeting co-hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and resulted in the creation of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC). Run directly out of the US Chamber of Commerce, the 30-person council is made up of about 10 industry representatives from each country and determines the economic core of the SPP’s agenda. The council publishes a recommendation report for the politicians of each member country each year, detailing policy it would like to see changed or enacted, many of which have already been put into place.
While many believe that the SPP is part of a broader effort to establish a North American economic union, leaders of the participating countries frequently deny it. However, documents obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act, detailing last year’s North American Forum meeting in Banff, reveal the existence of just such an effort.
With stated ambitions such as achieving continent-wide military integration under the auspices of NORAD and NORTHCOM, the documents contain frequent references to the 2005 CFR task force report which adcovates the formation of a ‘North American Community’. At one point the documents refer to the report as, “[CFR Chair Robert]Pastor’s vision paper,” later adding that this vision will be carried out through a process of “evolution by stealth”. Far from a fringe gathering, last year’s North American Forum meeting was attended by (Canadian Minister of Public Safety) Stockwell Day, (then-Canadian Minister of Defense) Gordon O’Conner, (then-US Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld as well as many other highly influential figures.
This past week, the 2007 SPP Summit was held in Montebello, Quebec, drawing about 2,000 protesters. While these yearly summits are undoubtedly the most visible part of the SPP ‘dialogue,’ much of the work toward integration is done behind the scenes by numerous SPP topic-specific working groups. Recent decisions such as Canada’s abandonment of previous pesticide regulations in favour of America’s higher minimum levels and a new Food and Product Safety Plan which allows new pharmaceuticals to enter the market with reduced American levels of testing attest to the efficacy of these working groups in bringing about actual policy change.
Conversely, this past July, the US House of Representatives voted in favour of a transportation bill amendment, “prohibiting the use of funds to participate in a working group pursuant to the Security and Prosperity Partnership,” officially cutting off public funding for transportation-related SPP working groups in the United States. No such parliamentary resistance has been presented in Canada, however. In fact, when the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade held hearings on the SPP in May of this year, the Tory committee chair ordered that a professor critical of the SPP halt his testimony on the grounds that it was irrelevant. After opposition MPs called for and won an overruling motion, the chair threw down his pen, declared the meeting adjourned and stormed out of the room followed by three of the four conservative panel members.
While NDP leader Jack Layton has publicly criticized Stephen Harper for not involving the public in the SPP talks and Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion has recently accused the Conservative government of participating in secret discussions involving bulk water exports, the Prime Minister has shrugged off the criticism with remarks such as “A couple of my opposition leaders have speculated on massive water diversions and superhighways to the continent — maybe interplanetary, I’m not sure, as well.”
The Chapeau Montebello, the hotel where the summit was held, was surrounded by a 25km security perimeter enforced by the RCMP along with provincial police and even some reports of American forces. When asked about the protesters gathered behind the 3 metre-high fence built to keep them out, Harper responded saying, “I heard it’s nothing. A couple of hundred? It’s sad.”
Prior to the summit, the Council of Canadians, a non-governmental organization, organized a petition of the SPP dialogue and collected over 10,000 signatures. Ensuring the approval of the RCMP in advance, the Council of Canadians obtained authorization to deliver the petition to the gates of the Chateau Montebello on the day of the summit as a part of the overall protest. Hours before the summit however, the Department of Foreign Affairs ordered the RCMP to ignore their prior agreement with the Council of Canadians and upon attempting to deliver the petition, the demonstrators were met by riot squads (video).
Another organization, The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), organized a peaceful protest outside the security zone surrounding the summit. As seen in this video, several men with their faces obscured by bandannas approached the police line attempting to provoke hostilities. CEP President David Coles confronted the men, urging them to leave. As their bandannas were pulled away, the crowd immediately identified the men as police officers. This resulted in the men pushing their way into the police line and being carried away by officers.
According to the Globe and Mail, there was no record of their arrests, and in pictures taken of the event, the boots of the three men are identifiable as the same as those on the police carrying them. While Quebec police have now admitted that the men were indeed their officers, they deny that it was their intention to provoke a police response, claiming that the officers were only identified by demonstrators when they refused to throw rocks at police.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell day has rejected NDP calls for an investigation into the matter, saying “I’ve made the inquiries and there was no RCMP that were involved as far as those three individuals go. If people have concerns … there is a complaints process for the RCMP. There is also one for the Surete du Quebec. This incident happened in Quebec, so I imagine people could…file under that complaints process.”
Day went on to say, “The thing that was interesting in this particular incident, three people in question were spotted by protesters because they were not engaging in violence. They were being encouraged to throw rocks and they were not throwing rocks, it was the protesters who were throwing the rocks. That’s the irony of this.”
Day refused to say whether the RCMP had given the order to deploy undercover agents. “Operational details I don’t get into,” he said following the Vancouver press conference.
David Coles has said that he is now considering pressing charges against the officer that pushed him. “Criminal acts were committed,” he said. “They were shoving me and others. We want an arm’s-length independent inquiry of what’s going on here.”
At the Surete du Quebec press conference following the summit, Inspector Marcel Savard clarified the police’s position saying, “One of the extremists gave the rock to one of our police officers and he had a choice to make. He was asked by extremists to throw the rock at the police, but never had any intention of using it.”
NDP MP Peter Julian responded saying, “There are no real answers, there is no apology, there is no inquiry. It just does not appear, as we saw with the federal government, that the police services are taking what transpired in Montebello seriously.”
The tactics of the police in conjunction with comments such as Harper’s “Does the standardization of jelly beans pose a threat to our sovereignty?” make it clear that both levels of government are attempting to downplay the relevance of the Summit while marginalizing it’s detractors. While the Prime Minister may claim that the breadth of the Summit only encompassed standardizing jelly beans, a four-page deal entitled The SPP Regulatory Cooperation Framework was signed by the three leaders inside the hotel. With observations such as, “The Canadian Domestic Substances List (DSL) and the US Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) differ and prevent some US products from being sold in Canada,” followed by goals such as “Streamlin[ing] regulations and regulatory processes,” it is clear what Harper was trying to hide. In fact, a seperate two-page sub-agreement entitled, ‘Regulatory Cooperation in the Area of Chemicals,’ a document further articulating the initiative to standardized continental chemical regulations, never made it’s way onto the Canadian Government’s Montebello website and is only available through the SPP or EPA websites.
These statements echo similar ones from two months ago when NAFTA trade ministers met in Vancouver and issued a joint statement which in part read, “…Ministers also agreed to explore work that will assist current efforts towards common standards and requirements for the labeling and transportation of hazardous chemicals.”
It’s clear that Harper is trying to hide an initiative to harmonize Canada’s chemical regulatory framework with the United States’s model. This is an issue for parliamentary debate, not board room discussion and any further concealment will hopefully result in increased public opposition.