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Harper attacking Quebec’s lack of “ambition” on CETA

First he came for Ontario, now Harper henchman Peter Van Loan (trade minister) is confronting Premier Charest in the media on Quebec’s lack of “ambition” in ongoing Canada-EU trade talks. Van Loan told the Canadian Press last week that negotiations are moving swiftly but fluctuating enthusiasm among some provinces and territories could cause trouble.

The most passionately disputed area is government procurement, said the minister, with the TILMA free trade zone (B.C.-Alberta-Saskatchewan) enthusiastic while Ontario and Quebec need pulling “by the ear.” It’s a bit rich given premiers McGuinty and Charet’s unflinching support for a deal — CETA — that will get them very little ‘new’ access to the EU market.

Van Loan commented on the exemptions in the Buy America procurement agreement for transit and energy in Ontario and Quebec, implying that they won’t be able to get the same deal with Europe. The fact that we are (and must) cling onto things like the Green Energy Act and Quebec Hydro as bastions of local economic control is a sad sign of how low the federal and provincial governments have sunk over the free trade period.

There is some good news. This week in Ottawa, I met a few people from the EU delegation to Canada for a casual discussion about the CETA negotiations. A few other Trade Justice Network members joined us at the Council of Canadians office on Laurier Avenue. When asked whether EU negotiators needed cities included in the procurement chapter, the answer was a muted ‘it depends.’

Until now we had thought the EU would walk away from a deal that did not suck Canadian cities and towns into a pointless (for them) procurement chapter that banned any kind of local or national (and many environmental or social) preferences on public spending. But if that’s not the case, which we were led to believe in our meeting this week, what is the harm in Canadian cities simply opting out?

There are many, many reasons to oppose CETA. But if cities and towns can demand to be excluded from the procurement chapter without interrupting the negotiations, it’s all the more reason to do it!

This week, Council of Canadians chapters and regional organizers have been writing to Federation of Canadian Municipalities board members encouraging them to demand an exemption. The FCM board will be voting next week at its AGM in Iqaluit on a Burnaby motion to make that demand of the Harper government.

If the FCM votes for the Burnaby motion it could have the effect of upping the pressure on McGuinty and Charest to needlessly sacrifice other areas of public policy to the EU — the LCBO for example. Or it could show them and Canadians that not everyone is sold on the false promises of an FTA with Europe.