You, Me and the SPP

Directed by Paul Manly; Manly Media Productions, 2009, 91mins.

Canadian filmmaker Paul Manly did not originally set out to make a documentary about the Security Prosperity Partnership (SPP). The SPP, signed between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in March 2005, aims to harmonize trade regulations between the three nations. However, the more Manly delved into the agreement, the more it disturbed him.

The result is the documentary You, Me and the SPP: Trading Democracy for Corporate Rule. Manly reveals that the SPP is really an agreement modeled on NAFTA that threatens to further erode democracy, the environment, and living standards across North America. It is about big corporations wanting to lower a broad range of regulations and practices. "Whichever province or state [that] has the lowest standards, that’s the standards these companies are allowed to use as their benchmark," says Maude Barlow, Council of Canadian’s chairperson.

According to New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Peter Julian, the SPP would lower standards in 300 areas of regulation in Canada. Julian cites the Canadian government’s decision to allow the import of more pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, putting at a disadvantage Canadian farmers who have higher standards while also harming human health.

The SPP is also about North American economic integration and ensuring the U.S. a secure supply of natural resources. Academic Gordon Laxer says that the SPP would lower Canada’s environmental regulations to allow more oil and gas exports to the U.S. It will also allow Canada to bring in more Mexican workers with few labor rights. Exporting Canadian water to the U.S. is also being discussed.

Barlow said that when she asked U.S. embassy officials in Ottawa why the SPP was never brought to elected bodies for discussion and approval, she was told that they wanted "to avoid another losing NAFTA debate."

The documentary also sheds light on the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), a supposed free trade agreement between Canadian provinces that eliminates trade barriers. Journalist Murray Dobbins asserts that TILMA is an essential part of the SPP. Because most regulations are controlled by the provinces and municipalities, the Canadian government cannot negotiate deregulation and harmonization with the U.S. and Mexico until this obstacle is dealt with. TILMA is really an investors’ rights agreement under the guise of dismantling trade barriers, few of which even exist. Like NAFTA, it allows corporations to sue provincial or municipal governments and school boards that raise standards. Dispute panels that meet behind closed doors will make rulings, not the courts. Even when panels do not rule against elected bodies, it creates a chilling effect, say critics, discouraging democratic bodies from improving standards.

Dobbins remarks that the SPP is "a parallel government where important decisions are made outside elected legislatures or parliament or they make it impossible for these types of decisions to be made in these elected bodies." How do proponents of the deal respond to the accusation that the SPP will erode democracy and living and environmental standards? Each federal or provincial government minister Manly contacted was too busy to answer questions. According to constitutional lawyer Joel Bakan, trade agreements like the SPP "are very powerful, secretive and very difficult for us as citizens to penetrate and have any say over."

One of the most disturbing segments of You, Me and the SPP occurs when Manly films a peaceful group of citizens and trade unionists protesting against the SPP at a joint Canadian, U.S., and Mexican 2007 summit in Quebec. Suddenly, three masked men dressed in black clothing begin throwing rocks at the police from behind the protesters. The demonstrators confront the three masked men, still clenching large rocks in their hands, and demand that they drop their stones, accusing them of being provocateurs from the police intent on starting a riot. Later a Quebec police spokesperson admitted that the three masked men were indeed police officers.

Manly’s You, Me and the SPP deserves to be widely seen. It sheds light on how the SPP will further undermine democratic rights and the ability of elected bodies to pass laws and regulations that protect the environment, workers’ rights, and ensure that the economy serves the public.


Tim Pelzer is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Canada.