My hero, the American English prof William Lutz, wrote "Mao Tse-tung was wrong; power doesn't come from the barrel of a gun. Power in modern society resides in language." That statement is from Lutz's book, The New Doublespeak. In it, he explains that doublespeak is language that is carefully constructed to disguise its real meaning. It's a language of deception that masquerades as openness. Well, I'd say the Canadian acronym TILMA is a perfect example. TILMA rolls off the tongue musically even though it refers to a densely worded 36-page agreement concocted behind closed doors by bureaucrats and lawyers. When TILMA is written out in full—Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement—it sounds earnest and clunky, but still positive. After all, isn't everybody in favour of trade, investment and the mobility of labour?
"Yes it sounds positive and even a bit boring," says Caelie Frampton, a 28-year-old activist who is co-ordinating the Stop TILMA campaign on behalf of a coalition of BC community groups and labour unions. Frampton was in Halifax last week to warn Nova Scotians that TILMA is far from what it seems. "I feel most frustrated by the lack of democratic process," she says after a panel discussion at the Spring Garden Library. TILMA was signed by the governments of BC and Alberta more than a year ago without any debate in their provincial legislatures. Its first stage came into effect April 1. Frampton calls TILMA "a bad April Fool's joke" because it enables business owners and corporations to sue either province if they feel that government programs or regulations "restrict or impair" private investment. When the next stage of the agreement comes into effect in two years, it will also apply to municipal governments and school boards.
Opponents of TILMA point to a wide range of local regulations that businesses could challenge. They include zoning bylaws to prevent urban sprawl, green-space requirements for housing developments, height limits on city buildings and restrictions on the use of lawn and garden pesticides. Under TILMA, special commercial tribunals would hear business complaints and have the power to fine provincial governments up to $5 million on each one. Erin Weir, an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, predicts TILMA will have a "chilling effect," effectively preventing provincial and local governments in BC and Alberta from strengthening environmental or health regulations.
Meanwhile the BC and Alberta premiers, backed by big business groups such as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, are trying to persuade other provinces to join TILMA. Federal Tory finance minister Jim Flaherty is also urging other provinces to sign up. Locally, the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has become a vociferous TILMA supporter—no surprise since AIMS received more than $1 million in donations last year, mainly from big businesses, corporate fat cats and right-wing foundations. And although no decisions have been made, the Nova Scotia government seems interested, too. (TILMA would supposedly reduce inter-provincial trade barriers, although opponents point out there are few restrictions on trade between provinces now. And supposed barriers to labour mobility haven't stopped thousands of Nova Scotians from moving to Alberta.)
"TILMA makes sense if you see it from a corporate perspective because it gives investors more rights," Caelie Frampton says. "But what's the point in electing people to city council if all of their decisions can be overridden?" Indeed. Why have a democracy at all, if our laws and regulations have to meet the approval of the unelected members of commercial tribunals? TILMA supporters insist that giving corporations more power to challenge laws and regulations will somehow make us richer. They use positive-sounding buzzwords such as "innovation," "competitiveness" and "prosperity," all fine examples of carefully-honed doublespeak. As William Lutz warns, "Doublespeak is an effective use of the language of power, the language of control, the language of manipulation." That's why Nova Scotia must say no to TILMA.
Should we bother with democracy? Email your answers to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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