CETA, temporary workers, and the attack on middle class jobs

Leaked excerpts of the Canada-EU trade deal reveal serious implications for Canadian workers

On Thursday the German media leaked a substantial portion of the Canada-European Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) text. There were some surprises. In particular, there is a section in the “Cross Border Trading in Services” chapter that makes the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Workers program, which gleaned so much negative publicity a few months back, look like an appetizer.

“This Chapter reflects the preferential trading relationship between the Parties as well as the natural objective to facilitate trade in services and investment by allowing temporary entry and stay to natural persons for business purposes…..” (Article 1.1 Chapter X, CETA leaked document)

Unlike many European countries, the federal government appears to have chosen not to write in reservations or restrictions to this clause. That decision means that, at the federal level, the right to set entry quotas in order to give preference to Canadian workers during times of high employment has been forfeited.

Temporary work permits can be issued to Europeans for a year with the possibility of an extension of two years. Potential workers must hold a university degree or its equivalent. With that qualification, they can enter the country, either as employees of a European corporation doing contract work in Canada, or as independent, self-employed professionals that have secured contract work here. Sectors of the economy that will be open to them include: legal, architectural, engineering, computing, research and development, market research, management consulting, mining, higher education, and much more.

Serious impact on Canada’s future workforce

The impact on young, university educated Canadians, hoping to find work in the field they have trained for, could clearly be substantial. They could face:

1. More difficulty finding jobs, due to the competition from Europeans
2. Fewer permanent jobs, as the trend towards contractual work will increase
3. Lower wages, caused by more workers competing for the same jobs
4. Fewer training programs, given that corporations can choose to use skilled Europeans

What’s really interesting is the way that this part of CETA – now that it’s been finally revealed – is being pitched to us by corporate Canada. “Better labour mobility Canada’s biggest CETA win, report says.” That’s the headline of a media release by the Canadian Manufacturing Association, publicizing a recent report by the Conference Board of Canada. The apparent reason for this strong statement is that “removing barriers to labour mobility could make it easier for Canadians to tap into the vast EU market and beyond.”

Canadian workers who might want to take advantage of this big “win” are going to face multiple language barriers and limited job opportunities due to the deep economic problems facing many EU countries. Furthermore, many European countries have written into CETA “economic needs test” reservations for different sectors of their economy. These reservations aim to restrict the entry of Canadian workers on the grounds that there is a need to protect local jobs and local economies.

Canadian provinces have also included specific restrictions to discriminate in favour of resident workers. However, the uncoordinated and piecemeal manner in which that has been done suggests that the negative impact of CETA on entry level jobs will be very uneven across the country. That’s neither good for inter-Canadian labour mobility, nor Canadian unity.

The EU has a population around 13 times that of Canada. Job displacement there, caused by an influx of Canadian temporary workers, is going to be minimal compared with what could happen here if European workers decide they want to come to Canada. One has to ask the question: If “better labour mobility is Canada’s biggest win,” what does that say about the rest of the treaty?

Dangerous spin and lack of scrutiny

So far, almost none of the mainstream media appear to have noted or commented on the potential threat to Canadian jobs. That’s hardly surprising. With the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, where we are facing the undeniable loss of minimum processing jobs, much of the corporate media is still buying into the government’s claim that CETA is going to create lots of jobs.

It’s a false claim, and one that is based on a seriously flawed computer model which has been thoroughly discredited. A 2010 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) predicted Canadian job losses would range between 28,000 and 150,000 depending on currency fluctuation. But, that study predated knowledge of many of the concessions we have now made to Europeans (reduced tariffs on cheese and luxury cars, the loss of minimum processing, temporary workers, et cetera). Who knows what the final job loss count will be.

Much of the corporate media is still buying into the government’s claim that CETA is going to create lots of jobs.

The Harper government still refuses to discuss or debate the downside of CETA, in spite of the fact that we have been negotiating the treaty for five years and have had an “agreement in principle” for almost a year. Opinion polls bear out that this strategy has worked well for them. When members of the Canadian public, almost all of whom know little to nothing about CETA, are asked if they support a trade deal with Europe, the majority answer ‘Yes’. However, once informed about the content of the treaty (prohibitions to buy-local and hire-local government procurement, the risks to public services, the threat to democracy from investor-state lawsuits, et cetera), that public support quickly wanes.

What has been surprising all along is the continuing reluctance of the two major opposition parties to encourage any kind of public debate on CETA, based on leaked texts. Has anyone in the NDP and Liberal parties even been given the task over the last five years of reading the leaked documents with the aim of informing their MPs? The continuing silence of most politicians, both at the federal and provincial levels, suggests they know very little about CETA, don’t care, or have allowed themselves to be muzzled.

Since the Harper Tories have a majority government, the only way ratification of CETA can be stopped on this side of the Atlantic is if there is enough public outrage about its contents. If the speculation is correct that CETA will be signed in September, we may have two years to manifest that outrage. That is the estimated time it will take for CETA to pass through the 28 European parliaments. The big questions are: When can we count on our mainstream media to do their duty and ensure that all facets of CETA are exposed in a balanced way? And when can we count on our politicians to take that information and share it with their constituents, with a view to facilitating vibrant public debate? Or is all that just wishful thinking?

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on TheIndependent.ca, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.


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