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Cape Breton (NS), Barrie (ON) latest municipalities to pass CETA resolutions

Last night, the regional council of Cape Breton passed a CETA resolution calling for a full briefing from the Nova Scotia government on the scope and content of the Canada-EU free trade agreement, including the details of the provincial services, investment and procurement offers, which are still secret. Council voted unanimously on the resolution, which states the procurement requests of the EU “would significantly reduce or eliminate the right to specify local priorities when public money is invested in goods, services or capital projects.” The resolution also warns that combined with investment protections for EU service firms, CETA “may encourage privatization and reduce economic development options for local communities.”

The previous night (Monday, November 14), the City of Barrie, Ontario passed a slightly weaker CETA resolution that calls on the Government of Canada to respect the municipal sector’s interests in ongoing negotiations with the EU. The Barrie resolution contains wording proposed to municipal governments by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, for example that the Canada-EU relationship “holds great potential for growing Canada’s trade and collective prosperity,” which is of course in doubt according to more recent economic assessments of CETA’s probable effect on GDP.

Prior to the Barrie vote, I wrote to all councillors and the mayor inviting them to strengthen their resolution by asking that the Ontario Government exclude the City of Barrie entirely from any procurement commitments to the EU. Here’s how I put it:

Already over 20 Canadian municipalities in six provinces have called for a municipal exemption from CETA. This is also the official position of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. Councillors in these cities and towns feel that federal and provincial governments have not made a strong enough case as to why local purchasing and contracting powers should be constrained to satisfy the EU in the ongoing CETA negotiations.

The truth is local governments are a bargaining chip in the CETA negotiations, which are well advanced. Municipalities will have to restrict how they spend public money–for example by never again putting preferences on local or small business suppliers, and banning “Buy Canadian” policies which are common in cities around the world–so that Canadian exporters (of Alberta beef or Atlantic fish, for example) can make modest and uncertain gains into the EU market. There is a good 5-page report on what’s at stake on from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Around the world municipal governments have resisted inclusion in procurement agreements because they can see that deals like CETA are less about transparency and accountability in tendering–Barrie already has a transparent process–and more about giving the upper hand to very large multinational firms who will always be able to outbid local suppliers. This was precisely the finding of a Sustainability Impact Assessment of the Canada-EU deal performed for the European Commission, which found that the big winner from including municipal governments in CETA would be European construction, architecture, engineering, water and other service firms who will out-bid Canadian competitors most of the time.

Of course local governments should absolutely put a premium on value for money, especially in these uncertain economic times. But as you know there is often a great deal of value in hiring or spending locally, with benefits rippling throughout the local and regional economy. That freedom to sometimes pick local companies on those medium-sized and big contracts where it counts will disappear for municipalities if they are included in CETA’s procurement chapter.

Time is running out for municipalities such as Barrie to have a say in the CETA negotiations. Procurement offers have been exchanged with the EU already though most municipal councillors have no idea what’s in them or not. We certainly don’t because the offers are being kept secret. Once cities and towns are included in Canada’s commitments and a deal is signed, it will be impossible to go back. Now is the time to be demanding to be entirely excluded from the CETA.

I’ve written in the past about the need for municipalities to demand a full exemption rather than to try and improved the CETA procurement chapter. These things are template agreements with little to no wiggle room. I explain it here. If you’d like to pass a CETA resolution in your community, please use any or all of our action toolkit here. And feel free to plagiarize whatever you find in this blog or on our website. That’s what it’s there for!