Stephen Clarkson and Jack Layton went head-to-head at Hart House Theatre on Tuesday night over the effects of trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Canada.

Michael Coren and Michael Hawes joined the two in an event that doubled as a debate and book launch for Clarkson’s recently published Uncle Sam and Us.

Sponsored by the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, the views of the speakers were dramatically opposed.

“The WTO is now acting as an external constitution, which is negatively affecting Canada’s ability to govern herself,” Clarkson said.

He also pointed out that the public must now view global governance in the framework of a global constitution. Clarkson compared the current popularity of the neo-conservative ideology to the medieval practice of bleeding patients.

“The present constraints on government are way too imbalanced in comparison to the freedom given to corporations [in trade treaties],” he noted.

Layton, the former head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, focused on the barriers that local governments have faced due to the proliferation of the corporate agenda. As proof, he cited the recent increase in private school enrolment.

“Our education system is becoming a part of the general trend towards allowing shareholders a stake in public services,” he said.

Layton also said the recent Tent City eviction is an example of how the city has struggled to keep corporations such as Wal-Mart from building on valuable property. He recalled that Wal-Mart made bids for that land but was turned down by city zoning laws because it contradicted urban planning notions.

“Democracy is a constraint on free trade, and therefore it [globalization] must be stopped,” Layton said.

Hawes took the opposing stance. “The WTO is not as powerful or effective as Clarkson thinks,” he said, adding that the WTO is a democratic organization made up of democratic nations. Hawes, who is a specialist in the area of comparative economic regionalism, said he believed that the “Asian Tiger” nations, as well as China, have been pulled out of poverty due to trade liberalization.

The speakers were all in agreement about the fact that while global trade is unstoppable at this point, it is in need of alterations—be they minor or major.

While Clarkson and Layton essentially said globalization has brought disastrous consequences, Hawes held his own as a free trade advocate.

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