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Did Harper jump the gun on “Buy American” proposal for Washington

Premiers in Regina this week for the Council of the Federation meeting are talking about a bunch of things — EI, climate, etc — but the feds are impatient about just one: a proposal they want to take to the Obama administration ASAP to consider a “Buy North American” plan that would severly limit provincial and municipal policy choices when it comes to spending public money. Now we’re hearing from friends in Washington that Harper might not be waiting for the premiers to discuss it tomorrow but will be taking the plan to U.S. trade officals today.

According to the source, the Canadian Embassy in Washington is almost ready to present a formal proposal “asking the [U.S. governmet] to adopt a ‘Buy North American’ (meaning US and Canada, not Mexico) procurement policy through opening up sub-federal procurement between US and Canada.” Either Harper is jumping the gun or the premiers have already given the green light to Harper’s proposal.

According to the Globe and Mail today:

Canadian premiers hiked their rhetoric this morning against Buy America policies, pledging to equip Prime Minister Stephen Harper with provincial backing for his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama next week.

Premiers entered their second day of meetings with Buy America at the forefront, arguing that the United States needs to know there are no cracks among Canada’s leadership before Mr. Harper meets with Mr. Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

While getting tough on supposed U.S. protectionism will be popular with many cities and business associations, the approach Harper is taking is dangerous for Canadian democracy and heavily opposed by unions — the workers whose jobs are apparently at risk from lost contracts in the U.S.

Over a dozen unions and civil society groups signed the following statement warning the premiers not to gamble away local choice in how governments spend money. The statement’s not closed and we’re encouraging cities, businesses and other organizations to sign on. Here it is:

A statement on public procurement

We believe that governments have a right and a duty to use public procurement as a tool for economic development, environmental protection and job creation. Therefore, we oppose the expansion of “free trade” deals to encompass more public procurement.

In response to “Buy American” policies, the Government of Canada has announced its desire to expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to restrict provincial and municipal procurement. Such a step would abolish the rights of local and provincial governments to support local or Canadian suppliers, set minimum local content rules for materials or services on major projects, adopt ethical and environmental purchasing policies, enforce commitments to hire workers locally, or require companies winning public contracts to reinvest a portion of revenues or profits in Canadian communities.

U.S. federal, state, and local governments have successfully implemented “Buy American” procurement policies for more than 75 years. Today, in the midst of an economic recession, it is perfectly justified that U.S. taxpayer-funded stimulus funding should be used to stimulate local economic development.

Rather than attacking these successful and popular “Buy American” policies, Canadian governments should increase and speed up funding for public infrastructure projects and attach “Buy Canadian” conditions to this funding.

The opportunity exists to recognize integrated industries by negotiating managed trade agreements and sectoral arrangements with the United States. Such arrangements could provide mutual exemptions from procurement preferences for products manufactured in highly integrated industries.

We oppose expanding NAFTA to cover all sub-national procurement and the related effort to negotiate a “free trade” deal with the European Union that would also bind sub-national governments to NAFTA-like restrictions. This approach would drain needed stimulus from the Canadian economy, worsen the current crisis in manufacturing and interfere with provincial and municipal governments’ authority to provide and regulate local services.

In closing, we call upon provincial and local governments to reject any federal proposals that would eliminate or restrict their ability to ensure that public procurement policies maximize benefits to the local and Canadian economies.


Alberta Federation of Labour
B.C. Federation of Labour
Canadian Auto Workers
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Canadian Labour Congress
Canadian Union of Public Employees
Council of Canadians
Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec
National Union of Public and General Employees
Northern Territories Federation of Labour
New Brunswick Federation of Labour
Ontario Federation of Labour
Polaris Institute
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour
United Steelworkers
Yukon Federation of Labour

Are the premiers listening? Um, not exactly. Not yet. Not that we can tell. More later…