Volume 93, Issue 53

Thursday, December 2, 1999


CFS joins WTO protests in Seattle

Radioactive violations close labs

Research may take London Home

McGill library forced to cut materials


Bass Ackwards

CFS joins WTO protests in Seattle

By Paul-Mark Rendon
Gazette Staff

Although the federal government promised education would not be discussed at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle, the Canadian Federation of Students is still concerned education may be put on the negotiating table.

Mark Veerkamp, British Columbia chair for the Canadian Federation of Students, said the CFS is strongly opposed to the current round of negotiations at the summit. "The WTO isn't listening, neither is the federal government," he said.

Veerkamp said the CFS transported approximately 400 students for a peaceful protest at the summit on Tuesday, adding none of the students who protested were caught up in the violence which has marred the week-long talks thus far. The students returned yesterday.

The CFS' concern surrounding the summit was whether or not the issue of trade in education would be tabled during the week-long talks, Veerkamp explained. By negotiating trade in education, Canada is at risk of privatizing an already ailing public education system.

But Natalie Dube, deputy director of media relations for Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of International Trade and Canada's representative at the WTO talks, said as far as Canada is concerned, public health and education will not be on the table at the Seattle talks.

Dube explained since the General Agreement on Trade in Services, one of the deals being negotiated at the WTO conference is a "bottom-up" deal, which means the countries participating have the right to volunteer what gets discussed and what does not.

The GATS differs from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Dube added, because NAFTA is a "top-down" agreement in which participating countries must ask for exemption from the issue at hand.

Joel Harden, Ontario chair for the CFS, said it would be in Canada's worst interest to make education tradable, or to impose a market mechanism on the education system. "At this meeting they'll be contemplating education and health care as tradable items, but they have no right strategizing to open up bidding on these issues," Harden said.

"I think this is going to open up an oyster which, frankly, is incredibly frightening," he added. "Instead of opening up private education that only rich kids can afford, why not concentrate our efforts to shoulder the ailing public system?"

Ryan Dunford, director of government relations for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said CASA was absent from the WTO protests because they are satisfied the issues of trade and education would be left off the WTO plate.

"We've voiced our concerns on the idea of education being liberalized and we were assured it isn't up for liberalization yet," he said. "[The CFS protest] seems to be part of their mandate for social activism. [CASA] certainly hasn't told people not to go down, but we neither stand behind nor criticize what they're doing," he said.

Dunford agreed, however, the possible imposition of more market forces on Canada's education system would spell trouble. "The way we look at it, we don't have any room – we're starved as it is," he said. "We will monitor the situation and react if we have to."

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