CETA, the European Trade Deal Sells Maritime Workers Short

From sea to shining sea, cheap foreign labour will undercut Canada's coastal trade

ILWU Canada First Vice President Rob Ashton
This was written before the release by the Federal Government

Last week, Canadians were told that the final details of our historic trade deal with Europe are complete. From Ottawa, we were treated to the sight of Canadian and European bureaucrats - as well as politicians - assuring us the deal will open vast new areas of opportunity for our country.

A new word has entered our vocabulary: "CETA," as we now call the Canadian-European Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement. On the face of it, the deal should be good news for our beautiful country and its hardworking, resourceful people. Canada was born of trade. We built our prosperous, progressive nation through exchange of our goods, resources and services.

For a trade deal that is being sold as a great thing for Canada, we have heard virtually nothing of its details.

Until now that is. What we do know has come only through leaks from Europe. Who did the Harper government meet with to determine what to put in the deal and what to keep out? Again, no word. When were Canadian people invited into the dialogue about what we were willing to put on the table during talks? At no point.

I wish we all had answers to some of these questions.

I am troubled by the information I have been able to unearth about one section of the deal - the portion that will apply to our maritime sector. I am not alone in my concerns. We are joined by the entire maritime industry in saying this deal can't happen, and should never have happened at all without consulting us.

What we do know so far is enough to worry me. It should worry all of us who live on the West Coast. It should worry all Canadians. The maritime section of CETA will destroy the Canadian maritime industry as it exists today by ending what is known as cabotage.

Cabotage is the protection given to the Canadian maritime industry under an act called the Coast Trading Act. Cabotage protects our coastal trade by requiring any vessel trading within Canada - from port to port along any of its coasts - is Canadian owned, operated and crewed. It is a simple, powerful and critical protection. It provides our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers with good, safe, family supporting jobs in an industry that is vital to our economy. It ensures that Canadian industry is regulated and inspected by Canada. That protects not only jobs, but also our environment and our financial health. Canadian companies pay taxes in Canada.

If Canada signs CETA under the terms just announced, it will in a single stroke wipe out an industry by allowing foreign-owned vessels to work the coastal waterways they are now banned from. The foreign companies that own the ships will not pay taxes here. Their vessels will be Flag of Convenience vessels, commonly known as FOCs. They use cheaper labour from foreign countries to run the ships, which will sound familiar to anyone already concerned about abuse of the controversial Temporary Foreign Workers program, and our Canadian seafarers will be out of work.

The Canadian companies that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in ensuring their fleets are efficient and environmentally friendly will have invested for nothing if they are driven out of business by an unfair labour advantage.

Sound too removed from your life in Vancouver, Nanaimo or Mission?

Conservative negotiators are not only attacking coastal trade. They have also included dredging companies, tugboat fleets and passenger vessels.

Are you willing to see your city government unable to give preference to a local company over a foreign bidder when a harbour needs dredging, barges need towing, logs are boomed or the ferry service critical to our province is required?

The U.S. has protected its coastal trade with a law known as the Jones Act. Both Canada and the U.S. have for decades fought off sustained, aggressive attempts to remove our coastal protections, and America is still saying a firm "No".

But our federal government has agreed to the same language the U.S. rejected - without consultation or explanation. And that makes it harder for the U.S., next in line for a European trade deal, to hold out.

For Victoria, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Nanaimo - for every city along the coast that has invested money and become a part of our flourishing West Coast cruise shipping industry, that's bad news. Those revenue-generating American cruise ships stop in Canada because they are required to make a stop in a foreign port. If they sailed directly between two U.S. ports - Seattle and Anchorage, for example, they would have to be entirely American owned, operated and manned. To save money, they fly foreign flags and make their mandated foreign stops in B.C.

No Jones Act? Kiss all that goodbye.

As citizens and as maritime workers, we're horrified. Horrified by what we've heard. And worried about what we haven't, so we're saying no to the maritime provisions of CETA, to the selling of our jobs and the secrecy of the process.

What can you do to help keep the Canadian maritime industry alive and protect Canadian cabotage laws?

Get on the phone. Call your MP and your MLA. Tell our provincial government to say no to the maritime provisions. Tell your MP to say no. Then tell your family, friends and neighbours what you've done. Ask them to do the same.

I am a longshore worker and I believe in trade. It built my country, made our schools and hospitals and highways possible, put food on my family's table. I just want our Canadian jobs to be protected.

The workers who do these jobs in Canada should be respected.

Rob Ashton is First Vice-President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union - Canada, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition.