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Popping the lid off the SPP: The bus to Montebello

The bus to Montebello

Photo: Liam Maloney

Bush, Harper and Calderón meet in Quebec to discuss what may be one of the most significant - and secretive - security, resource and trade initiatives you've never heard of

It doesn’t take much to wind people up about the SPP. That is, once they have any idea of what the heck it is, and what implications it has for the future of land, labour, water and human rights in North America.

The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), dubbed NAFTA 2.0, isn’t an agreement or a treaty. It’s a nebulous "dialogue" between George Bush, Stephen Harper and Mexican president Felipe Calderón. Between Aug. 19 and 21, they’ll be "dialoguing" at the fancy Fairmont Château Montebello, 90 minutes from Montreal.

What they’re confabbing about is anybody’s guess, since invitations are limited to members of the North American Competitiveness Council (NACC), an advisory group comprised of the heads of major corporations. What’s certain is that the normally quiet Quebec village, peppered with golf courses and estate homes, is now preparing for a growing storm of protest.

This is partly because speculation about the meeting agenda runs the gamut from control of Alberta’s oil sands to the ongoing rollback of civil liberties in the name of security.

NDP MP Jack Layton calls the process "non-constitutional" – not unconstitutional, but beyond that, because it completely bypasses any regulatory scrutiny.

"This is a deep transformation of Canadian democracy," he says. "In practical terms it means things like a reduction in the standard of pesticide control on food in Canada because they have lower standards elsewhere, deeper military integration with the United States… and potential loss of jobs from the export of unprocessed goods from Canada."

Varda Burstyn, co-author of the anti-NAFTA manifesto "Women Against Free Trade," finds the secrecy of the SPP "deeply, deeply troubling."

"Increasingly decisions are being taken at more exclusive and elite levels and discussions about the major issues that affect all of us are not made public until decisions are virtually fait accompli," she says. "Formally it’s a democracy, but in effect it’s an oligarchy."

"Now we’re looking at the reality that the Canadian export industry is going to face a dollar on par with the United States… I have no idea how our Prime Minister is going to address this problem. I have seen nothing come out of Ottawa that indicates that this is even on their agenda."

And, speaking of agendas, "I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the discussions being had is whether water can be bulk exported to the U.S.," says Burstyn, who wrote the political thriller Water Inc. on that very subject.

But the droughts across Canada over the last five years aren’t fiction. "We have very, very serious problems of water coming," she says. "But they pale in comparison to what they’re facing in the American Midwest and Southern California… They think we’re the land of blue gold."

In July 2001, Bush suggested that he hoped to begin negotiations with Ottawa on water exports from Canada. In Texas, he said, "water is more valuable than oil."

JELLY-LIKE IN NATURE

Why then, with the future of Canada’s natural resources and economy at stake, is the SPP not front-page news?

"I think that those promoting it learned some lessons from the NAFTA debate and have really worked very diligently to keep it out of the news," says Layton. Orwellian doublespeak like "security" and "free trade" doesn’t help either. "It’s like trying to grab a hold of jelly – it just keeps disappearing."

If nothing else, the upcoming meeting in Montebello gives opponents of the SPP an opportunity to raise public awareness of these crucial matters. The Council of Canadians and other groups will hold forums in Ottawa, while activists with the local coalition of the Peoples’ Global Assembly (PGA) have ambitiously devised ways of getting to the small town, from buses to bike convoys to canoes.

"What’s frustrating is that the media will cover this only because of the protests," laments Jaggi Singh of Solidarity Across Borders. He cites the lack of coverage of the recent implementation of armed border guards in Canada as further evidence of media complicity in the SPP’s subterfuge.

Indymedia teams across North America are being co-ordinated to broadcast reports from Montebello. On the sweaty Saturday prior, the PGA media committee gathered in Park Athena to strategize and do outreach in bustling Park Ex.

"Immigrants, migrants and refugees, along with the indigenous populations across this country, are the communities most affected by the SPP," says Mandeep Dhillon of No One Is Illegal.

"We’ve been organizing in these neighbourhoods for years," says Singh. "In 2005 we marched to Ottawa on the exact same highway that leads to Montebello."

The PGA’s radical analysis, which is explicitly anti-racist and anti-capitalist, sets them apart from the other sector of people who are noisily denouncing the SPP: right-wing nutbags like CNN’s political commentator Lou Dobbs, and groups that write all-caps treatises on the impending "North American Union." This weird intersection of concerns about government accountability and immigration fears further confuses an already daunting issue.

TIME TO DUST OFF THE GAS MASKS

Meanwhile, the RCMP and the Sûreté du Québec are preparing for an unknown number of protesters from Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes. Precautions include water security and the rerouting of heavy traffic to Ontario. There have been reports of checkpoints and a 25-kilometre, U.S. Army-enforced security perimeter, but RCMP spokesperson Corporal Sylvain L’Heureux says that protesters will be allowed into the city and restricted only from the Château Montebello.

PGA organizers remain unconvinced. "Even if they let people into these secure areas, there will be a lot of intimidation," says Dhillon.

"The actions of the police are dictated by the actions of the protesters," L’Heureux stresses.

He adds that people do have the right to protest as protected by the Charter. "But that doesn’t permit them to interfere with whatever actions have to be taken and to commit criminal offences."

"It’s okay if you protest when you’re not effective," says Singh. "We won’t be caged. We won’t accept that."

To get on the bus to Montebello, visit www.psp-spp.com.

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