Thursday, October 14, 2010

Canadian Corporations Meddle in American Politics

I find the story published by ThinkProgress about donations from foreign corporations to the American Chamber of Commerce, which is engaged in a large scale third-party political campaign in the US mid-term elections to be unsettling, especially since some of the corporations identified are Canadian, for example, Sun Life Financial and SNC Lavalin.

Let's not forget that in Canada corporations cannot make donations to political parties. As well, unlike the US, there are limits to what third parties can spend during federal electoral campaigns. As a result, we should be asking the question: "what are Canadian corporations doing making contributions to third party organizations like the American Chamber of Commerce that are heavily involved in trying to influence the results of an American election?"

This should give cause for concern. Although American law allows for American subsidiaries of foreign owned corporations to make donations to politically active third party organizations, it is conceivable that corporate interest might not align well with the national interest. For instance, it might be in the best interest for a Canadian corporation to invest heavily in an American political campaign and thereafter engage in a lobbying effort to persuade Congress to adopt measures that advance its corporate interest and that interest might be diametrically opposed to position maintained and defended by the Canadian government.

Imagine a Canadian Investment Fund obtaining an American interventionist measure that would negatively impact the price of a Canadian produced commodity like wheat, softwood lumber or pork bellies after the Fund in question has shorted the targeted commodity. In this case, sizable financial gain could be had at the expense of Canadian producers and for government revenues.

It's funny how Canadians get this information from foreign sources. For example, we became aware of those Canadians with "hidden" Swiss bank accounts from the release of the names to other foreign countries that made this type of request to Swiss banking authorities.

These recent developments point out once again the need to totally revise and revamp our archaic access to information laws. Statutes that predate the rise of Information Technology and the globalization of commerce and communications are wholly inadequate to meet the present and future needs of Canadians to have timely access to information.

In the 21st century, nations that embrace open and transparent government and seek to empower their citizens by providing easy access to information that matters will prosper. Those that lag behind will pay the consequences.

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