Canada's NAFTA stance on culture is all about politics, not policy - Canadanewsmedia
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Canada's NAFTA stance on culture is all about politics, not policy



The exemption Canada negotiated for cultural industries in its first free trade agreement with the United States still haunts the renegotiation of NAFTA three decades later.

But is this perennial "red line" for Canadian trade negotiators smart policy, or just smart politics?

"It is inconceivable to Canadians that an American network might buy Canadian media affiliates, whether it's newspapers or TV stations or TV networks," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters last week, as his officials began briefing journalists on how the Americans weren't prepared to sign off on the status quo.

Groups representing Canadian artists and others who make their living producing Canadian content were quick to man their barricades — particularly in Quebec, where French-language cultural programming is seen as a bulwark protecting the province's unique identity in North America.

But those who have carefully studied the American side's updated negotiating objectives presented to the U.S. Congress seem skeptical of the notion that the U.S. is planning a sudden lunge to gobble up Canadian media assets.

"I would be pretty surprised if [U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer's office] wasn't willing to accept some limitations around foreign ownership of Canadian media. That hasn't been controversial in the past," said Meredith Lilly, a former trade adviser in Stephen Harper's office who now teaches at Carleton University.

While the Canadian government speaks of maintaining the existing cultural exemption, its preservation may not be the issue. The conventional wisdom underlying the exemption dates back to an era of print newspapers and over-the-airwaves broadcasting.

If negotiators are sincerely trying to modernize NAFTA for the 21st century, they have to confront new questions.

"That (NAFTA) exemption does not include clear language on the internet," Lilly said.

Just as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiated by previous Canadian and American governments needed language on digital communications and e-commerce, "it would represent a real hole" if a reworked NAFTA didn't acknowledge cultural products in the digital economy, she said.

The TPP preview

When the United States pulled out of the TPP, the 11 remaining countries, including Canada, made revisions before proceeding with the renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The Canadians sought and received agreement from each remaining country to suspend language the U.S. had asked for on digital content.

Without it, Canada can require financial contributions for Canadian content development from cultural service providers and investors in ways that might discriminate between Canadian and foreign media. Measures to restrict access to online foreign audio-visual content are also permitted under the CPTPP.

While the USTR's negotiating objectives don't mention culture as such, they do mention "non-discriminatory treatment of digital products transmitted electronically" and instruct negotiators to "guarantee that these products will not face government-sanctioned discrimination based on the nationality or territory in which the product is produced."

So maybe the U.S. is digging in for a battle over cultural policy in NAFTA. Does Canada feel strongly enough about it to hold out?

Lilly said that if language allowing Ottawa to discriminate in policy between domestic and foreign digital content isn't a part of the renegotiated NAFTA, "then I would think the government would have a difficult case asserting in the future that those kinds of activities would fall under the [cultural] exemption."

As an example, consider this timely policy question: How could a Canadian government support vibrant journalism at a time when traditional revenue models appear to be broken beyond repair?

If a future government program funded Canadian digital journalism ventures without the protection of some kind of NAFTA cultural exemption, American media outlets operating in Canada could litigate for their right to access Canadian taxpayers' money.

"It's a matter of carving out an exemption that both protects whatever it is that exists today, but also protects whatever it is that the government thinks they want to do from a policy perspective next year or the year after," Lilly said.

Inconsistent positions?

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who specializes in the internet and e-commerce, said he doesn't see the USTR's negotiating goals on digital content as unreasonable, or worth the fight from Canada's point of view.

For starters, trade agreements aren't the right place to negotiate these matters, he said.

But on the substance, not discriminating between foreign and Canadian content creators "seems perfectly fair," he said. "If you're requiring someone to pay [into a fund for Canadian content], certainly they should be able to enjoy the benefits" through access to its funding or programming, he added.

As for blocking access to foreign audio-visual content, "that's inconsistent with the principle of net neutrality that [Canada] also supports," he said.

Trudeau calling foreign media ownership "inconceivable" ignores the fact that lots of foreign media companies already operate in Canada, and foreign investors hold stakes in Canadian media.

"There's no reason to believe that a foreign owner would be less likely to produce Canadian content," Geist said — if audiences want it, and the rules require it, there will be Canadian content.

"You win and you attract audiences not by virtue of … the nationality of your owners," he said.

In some cases, a deeper-pocketed foreign owner may help keep struggling enterprises afloat, and offer audiences more choice, said Geist.

Political cover for a dairy concession?

Mexico isn't particularly interested in the cultural exemption. When the first NAFTA was negotiated, the text was essentially copy-pasted from the Canada-U.S. trade agreement that came before.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that cultural protections didn't come up when the talks were trilateral.

As high-stakes bilateral negotiations continue now between Canada and the U.S., Geist said he thinks Canada has bigger issues it should focus on, such as U.S. demands (already agreed upon with Mexico last month) for an extension of copyright terms or longer drug protections.

Clinging to cultural restrictions is "anti-consumer," he said.

So what's going on?

"The issue plays well in Quebec, and copyright term doesn't," Geist said. "The policy goal is just to curry favour with certain groups, for whom the very notion that culture can be a subject in a negotiation in a trade deal is anathema."

When Stephen Harper's government agreed to some U.S. demands in the TPP talks to prevent governments from discriminating between foreign and domestic online content, said Geist, it was seen as offside by politically-active groups who insist on culture being left off the table in trade talks. So when the CPTPP was revived, the new Liberal government had to "make a lot of noise" to distinguish itself with "voting blocks" in places like Quebec and Toronto, Geist added.

At the time, that noise obscured the fact that the revised CPTPP still made an economically-significant incursion into Canada's dairy market — something that traditionally upsets significant numbers of Quebec voters.

A revised NAFTA appears to require similar concessions. The Trudeau Liberals may be hoping their loud defence of one can balance off another concession on the other.

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On Politics: Florida to Recount Senate Votes; Governor's Race Nears End




On Politics: Florida to Recount Senate Votes; Governor’s Race Nears End

Good Friday morning. Here are some of the stories making news in Washington and politics today.


Florida concluded the first phase of the tumultuous recount of its midterm election on Thursday, as the Republican Ron DeSantis appeared to have enough votes to become governor. But officials ordered a manual recount for the hotly contested Senate seat.

The Trump administration sanctioned 17 Saudis accused in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as it faced pressure for stronger action. Here’s more on the sanctions, and on how Saudi Arabia is threatening five of its agents with the death penalty (while changing its account of the killing yet again).

Senator Sherrod Brown, one of the few Democratic victors in Ohio’s midterms, seems to have solved the mystery of how to win in a right-leaning Midwestern state. But is that a viable path to success in 2020?

Bruce Poliquin, New England’s lone House Republican, lost his bid for re-election in Maine. Democrats added another House seat with the victory of Jared Golden, a Marine Corps veteran.

Nancy Pelosi says she’s confident she has the votes to become the next speaker of the House, but a possible challenger is emerging: Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio.

With a few midterm races still open, the new Congress will have at least 105 Democratic women and 19 Republican women. For the G.O.P., that means the number of female representatives will drop.

Even as Ronald D. Vitiello vies to become the next director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the real concern is whether the agency will remain intact once Democrats control the House. Here’s what may happen to ICE and its potential director.

President Trump plans to travel to California on Saturday, to see the damage from the wildfires that have ravaged the state. Read about his upcoming visit.

Mr. Trump has renewed his attacks on the Russia inquiry after spending three days with his personal legal team, crafting answers to written questions from Robert Mueller. Read about the president’s Twitter blast.

Republican lawmakers, facing the end of one-party control of Congress in January, will try again to fund Mr. Trump’s border wall, risking a partial government shutdown.

Two members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 and two Marine Corps Special Operations troops were charged in the strangling of an Army Green Beret last year in Mali. Here’s more on the case.


Today’s On Politics briefing was compiled by Margaret Kramer in New York.

Check back later for On Politics With Lisa Lerer, a nightly newsletter exploring the people, issues and ideas reshaping the political world.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at


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Brexit: Theresa May defends her deal in LBC phone-in – Politics live




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  1. Brexit: Theresa May defends her deal in LBC phone-in – Politics live  The Guardian
  2. Full coverage

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What a Kenyan Slum Can Teach America About Politics




What a Kenyan Slum Can Teach America About Politics

Don’t put your hope in elected officials. Real change has to start locally.

By Kennedy Odede

Mr. Odede is a co-founder and the chief executive of Shining Hope for Communities.

Kibera Slum is six kilometers from the city center of Nairobi, visible in the background.CreditCreditJan Hetfleisch/Getty Images

Many Americans who voted in last week’s midterm elections were hungry for change. They pinned their hopes on politicians who they felt embodied the values and diversity of the nation as a whole, and who could lift up their communities.

The result will be a Congress significantly more representative of America today. But merely putting people in office will not produce the seismic change needed to sufficiently improve local communities and the lives of the most disenfranchised people. The stunningly diverse 116th Congress, which starts in January, was made possible by grass-roots community organizing around the country. But those same communities can’t stop there. Real change must come from the ground up.

We saw this in Flint, Mich., where political leaders failed to maintain safe water infrastructure for poor and black residents. As a result, children and families drank water contaminated with lead, poisoning a generation. Elected officials at the state and federal levels did nothing.

Instead, local activists, doctors and families exposed the contamination and forced the authorities to take action. Volunteers spread awareness about the risks of drinking tap water. Bottled water drives gave the community strength to withstand the crisis. Flint is not out of danger, but it is on a better path today precisely because its residents took on the challenge themselves.

I’ve seen this same dynamic in my hometown, Kibera, one of the largest slums in Kenya.

As in Flint, clean water is not easily accessible to Kibera residents; without formal piping into the slum much of our water is easily contaminated with disease. To make things worse, enterprising locals tap into the nearest pipes and re-sell contaminated water as “safe,” at exorbitant prices.

With each election cycle, my community placed faith in politicians who promised to provide clean water, as well as to tackle systemic poverty, endemic corruption and myriad other problems that plague our society. But time and again they struggled to deliver.

Tired of waiting for those solutions, my mother took matters into her own hands. She organized a group of women who gathered each week to pool their money to help start a business, care for a sick child or buy school supplies. They were mostly illiterate; since I could read and write, they asked me, a 9-year-old, to keep the books.

One day, many years later, a woman in the community proposed expanding on the group’s model, making it more of an official, organized operation, with an agenda we could present to the public and politicians. I saw an opportunity to combine the efforts of Kibera’s many community groups — churches and mosques, groups of young people and old, community centers, and assemblies of craftspeople. We created a unified urban movement.

By organizing through these groups, we are able to tackle bigger problems, starting with water. We created a network of aboveground pipes that reduced the spread of disease, cut the cost of a jerrycan of potable water (about five gallons) by 60 percent and prevented local cartels from siphoning off water to sell to private vendors.

The community took on new problems. For example, most Kiberans lacked official ID cards, meaning they could not take advantage of employment or government services. We simply did not exist in the eyes of our government. Many people did not even know how to register, or even have the resources to do so. We organized an effort to get thousands of people their first ID cards, ever.

Recently this community movement held its own, unofficial elections. Community leaders organized themselves, and elected representatives to, for the first time, form a unified community congress to lead their own agenda. These community leaders seek to influence government to bring resources to communities like mine, to create accountability mechanisms and to address systemic challenges like land rights and inequality.

Flint and Kibera are reminders that the power of politics is the people. The process of community organizing will bring forth the leaders who can truly represent their communities and advocate change, whether or not those leaders hold political office.

Many of the most impactful leaders never wanted to be politicians. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and, in Kenya, heroes like the environmental activist Wangari Maathai — their legacies speak to the truth that political office is not everything.

We should look first to our neighborhoods, towns, schools, churches, mosques and temples to identify the leaders who represent our needs and values. Empower them, and the politicians will follow suit.

Kennedy Odede is a co-founder and the chief executive of Shining Hope for Communities, a Kenya-based organization working to reduce poverty and create systemic change in the country’s urban slums.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.


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