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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."


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.


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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  • by Marek Zyskowski - August 17, 2007, 9:21 am

    Canada, the United States and Mexico need to coordinate like one country sometimes. This may make many Canadians feel uncomfortable but some US automobiles are made in Canada, our grocery store is stocked with vegetables from the United States, the local vegetable grown near my home in Saint-Mathieu are picked by workers from Mexico. Our economic reality is such that our countries economies are really one.
    It is important that issues like energy, water, and security are discussed at a higher level. This benefits everyone. Too often these protesters are uninformed and hypocritical with their arguments.
    If they really want to help the average Canadian they should look for better solutions. Consumer habits dictate our future more than anything. If we stopped shopping at Walmart, ate food grown locally and all started using public transit the average Canadian would be much better off. But I don’t think that this will happen. So get into your Volvo, pack a lunch and off you go to Montebello.

  • by William Edwards - August 18, 2007, 12:53 am

    Quebec and Canada as a whole has a narrow grip on lawfullness. Some courts and tribunals, the Regie Du Logement, don’t meet third world standards let alone international standards. The Quebec civil code is a total joke, and frankly Judges in The court of Quebec are a total farce.

    Some basic things which are considered criminal in the US are at best Civil in Canada. TRO’s; well if you need protection from a stalker you are out of luck you better hope the police have time for you. Bad Checks; well good luck as this crime is not criminal you have to go to civil court, forget it. Summary Judgement; well this case is plain and simple good luck you are going to have to spend three years litigating. Mortage fraud; ok you can steal someones house with a scam and get less than 30 days for it! Murder; ok your out in three or four years. Car accidents; ok its no fault so we can kill people on the road without a care in the world. Assault, well I know a case where a person beat someone up called the police and got the other person arrested. When it happend again I had a talk with the Crown and showed them a pattern existed. Speaking of the Crown they do not talk to the police so good luck getting a conviction on a criminal offense. Lawless.

    Then we have quality of life crime. Mr Squeege, crackhead bob, Me. Piss and Shit in the street, your 17 year old daughter living on the street in grunge.

    My point here is that the US might be over-lawed but Canada sucks in terms of protection of property and person. The masses of entitled bull shit artists and con artists prevail. In terms of international standards Canada is a third world country.

    Get real— the law has to protect person and property, we are in an international world no matter how much the PQ wants to deny it.. Grow up and get some laws. Either that or become Columbia.

  • by phyllis pagac - February 16, 2009, 6:04 pm

    Everything is leading to THE NEW WORLD ORDER. that’s why Obama was put in office. The USA,CANADA,MEXICO are going to be one, in every way. and so we will lose our sovereignity, but after great tribulation, we will be rescued by JESUS CHRIST. Now, we could have a revolution but people just can’t get together on anything so that’s probably not in the works.

  • by vernon king - October 20, 2010, 2:12 am

    This is another cover up by the goverments and the media this is the final stage for the new world order and for the media to by in to this well we know that the corperations own the media and we canadians unless we do it our selfs we have to stop this from happening iam not alone onn this iam not giving up my freedoms that easy and it not me so mush its for my kids and grandkids that i will do what i have to at my age i seen enough phonies to know when you have to put it all on the line to stand up for what you know is right and going to happen.Without a voice it dont matter if your from the left or right.So I say defend your rights and freedoms because it was my father and my uncle who faught in world war 2 for them so I have the right to defend them. Yours Sincerly Vernon King

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