On August 11th, the voices of the minority rang out on Parliament Hill. Despite the absence of MPs and Senators, about one hundred people demonstrated against the potential Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA). Their raised voices echoed ironically against the exterior walls of Langevin Bloc, unheeded by most who passed on the street. Indeed, FIPPAs are not high on most Canadians’ priority lists. This one should be however, since it involves further investment into oil on Canadian soil.
This is not Canada’s first FIPPA, nor is it likely to be the last. While the agreement with China is still waiting to be ratified, thirteen others are already in place, and many more are in the works.
The protesting Hupacasath First Nation has taken the issue all the way to federal court, arguing that the Canadian government did not consult with them as is required according to Section 35 of the Constitution Act. The government, of course, denies the need for consultation, but will not ratify the agreement until the court makes a decision.
The Canadian government describes the FIPPA on its website as beneficial to ‘investors’. What a regular citizen can grasp from the lingo is that there will be economic benefits of some kind – where, when, and how is unclear.
Brian Seaman offers an informative analysis of the FIPPA with China, finding few positives in the document. Mr. Seaman concludes that the agreement is dangerous for Canada’s environment and for the rights of Aboriginals. There could also be severe financial losses for Canada should the China National Offshore Oil Company incur any “unforeseen costs”. Furthermore, any disputes between “the Contracting Parties” would be settled in secret, leaving both Canadian and Chinese citizens in the dark.
One can only hope that the court rules in favour of the First Nations fighting for their rights. If such a precedent were to be set, Aboriginals in Canada would finally get a leg up in their continuous fight for recognition of their rights. Movements like Idle No More might regain some of their earlier enthusiasm. And Canadians as a whole might have more of a say in the foreign affairs of their country.
This is not, however, a utopia. The court’s decision is anyone’s guess, but even if the Hupacasath First Nation wins its legal battle, there are a number of tricks like injunctions and appeals that could sway the tide back towards Prime Minister Harper’s priorities.
This is the perfect opportunity for Canada and First Nations to take a collective step in the right direction. A step towards cooperation, reconciliation, compromise, and justice. A step that, right now, seems too big for this internationally ambitious government.