Conservative MPs defeated a last minute push for Parliamentary hearings on a Canada-China investment treaty, which cabinet will be able to enact into law within days.
NDP MP Don Davies asked the House of Commons industry committee to hear expert witnesses on the Canada China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, but the committee handled the request behind closed doors.
After the meeting, Mr. Davies said he couldn't talk about what happened, but made clear he was disappointed.
"It boggles my mind that the government would want to move forward with that [treaty] without a debate, without a vote and without a study," he said Thursday afternoon.
The trade agreement was signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Vladivostok, Russia on Sept. 8 and tabled in the House of Commons on Sept. 26. It can become law through a cabinet order early next month.
Because it is not a piece of legislation, there is no requirement for it to be debated and voted on by Parliament. Some international trade experts, including Toronto lawyer Peter Glossop, describe the deal as "a standard type of investment protection treaty" that is a positive step for countries and businesses on both sides of the deal.
However critics of the treaty recently organized a massive emailing campaign that is now creating tension among MPs.
Mr. Davies, the NDP trade critic, accused Conservative MP Bev Shipley of jamming his private Parliamentary email account with thousands of citizen emails.
"Beginning this morning and throughout the day, I have been receiving thousands upon thousands of emails from the same email address," said Mr. Davies Thursday, in an appeal to the Speaker.
He said his account shut down, forcing him to abandon his Blackberry and have his account fixed by the House of Commons IT department.
Mr. Davies said he suspects Mr. Shipley is getting back at him for a recent post on the NDP MP's website. Mr. Davies provided links to the public email addresses of the committee's seven Conservative MPs, a list that includes Mr. Shipley, urging Canadians to ask them to support Mr. Davies' motion for a study.
Mr. Shipley's position is that the emails were mistakenly forwarded to Mr. Davies' private account, rather than the public account.
Both Mr. Davies and Green Party MP Elizabeth May – who has been a vocal critic of the treaty – say they've received over 60,000 emails in recent days protesting the deal.
The email campaigns appear to be largely organized by the citizen advocacy website LeadNow.ca, the Council of Canadians and opposition MPs.
Conservative Trade Minister Ed Fast said Thursday that the NDP had three opposition days and the Liberals had one in recent weeks, yet the opposition did not use any of those days to trigger a debate and vote on the treaty.
Mr. Fast noted the treaty is supported by business groups like the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. The minister accused the opposition of "pandering to special interest groups" by criticizing the treaty.
"They've had four opportunities [to debate the treaty]," said Mr. Fast in question period. "They have not taken up those opportunities. Shame on them."
Critics of the deal express concern that it will allow Chinese companies to sue Canadian governments at all levels for alleged breaches of the treaty's terms.
Gus Van Harten, who teaches international investment law at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, has been one of the more outspoken voices expressing concern about the treaty's investor-state dispute resolution provisions.
"I don't think there's been really enough time for enough people to kind of even grasp the complexity of the issue such that they see how important it is," he said Thursday. "When I talk to people about it and I get into the details, honestly they're just kind of astonished about what these treaties do."
Mr. Van Harten noted the provinces have largely been silent on the issue even though they could have their policies challenged before new tribunals created under the treaty.
"I hope that some of the premiers have woken up to what it involves and are talking to each other and the federal government and they might be asking for more time," he said. "They should be."