The NDP's trade critic says the Conservative government's negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership are unnecessarily secretive, and he's calling on the government to hold consultations on Canada's position in the 12-country talks.
Don Davies addressed about two dozen protesters outside a hotel in downtown Ottawa where negotiations have been held this week for the massive trade proposal commonly known as the TPP.
Activists from SumOfUs, LeadNow.CA, the Raging Grannies and other Ottawa-based groups attended the demonstration.
The TPP currently includes Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Canada first joined discussions surrounding the mammoth trade proposal in October 2012.
Negotiators began meeting behind closed doors in Ottawa on July 3, but federal ministers are not attending the discussions.
"No ministerial meeting will occur on the margin of the officials' meeting in Ottawa," said Claude Rochon, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs. "This is a working-level technical meeting, held by the TPP negotiating leads and a small number of focused working groups, that meet as required to continue to advance negotiations."
Davies said the secrecy is a central point of contention.
"The TPP is billed as a next-generation agreement that will profoundly affect Canada's economy, our social policy and our international standing. Yet the Conservative government is conducting it with absolute secrecy," Davies said.
"I stand with the Canadians who are here today and others who believe that our trade policy should be transparent, it should be open and accountable and it should involve the people who will be affected by the issues."
Davies also said human rights have not been prioritized at the negotiating table.
'Not Canadian values'
"We believe that human rights and democratic development are important features of all economic pacts, but the TPP, I think, engages us in a particularly meaningful way," Davies said.
"It involves countries who are not democratic, that don't allow free elections, that suppress dissidents, that ethnically target minorities, they have child labour, forced labour. In fact, Brunei, one of the countries, recently passed Sharia law, which makes homosexual acts and adultery punishable by stoning to death."
Davies said this is unacceptable.
"These are not Canadian values, these do not conform to minimum international standards," he said. "I expect the Canadian government to be speaking publicly and strongly about these because we think trade policy should be used to raise these kinds of standards and it should be a condition of participation."
Davies sent a letter on Thursday to Trade Minister Ed Fast to call for increased transparency, the promotion of Canadian interests and increased support for human rights and environmental and labour standards.
"We call on the government to place any final agreement before Parliament and the Canadian public for a comprehensive analysis of its benefits and costs prior to formal commitment by Canada," the letter states.
Fast was not available for an interview on Thursday, but an emailed statement from his office denounced the NDP for "joining their radical anti-trade activist allies and supporters in giving voice to the NDP's deeply held and long-standing anti-trade views."
Shannon Gutoskie, a press secretary for Fast, suggested Davies "skipped" a TPP briefing on March 25 at a Commons committee with Canadian officials to instead "advocate against Canadian interests in the U.S."
The federal government has stressed the importance of expanding trade relationships with the Asia-Pacific region, and says TPP countries represent 792 million people and a combined GDP of $28.1 trillion.