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London, Ontario to vote on May Day CETA exemption

Tomorrow is May Day and the London, Ontario chapter of the Council of Canadians is hoping their city councillors will make it extra special by voting to “opt out” of the Canada-EU free trade deal.

London councillors will vote tomorrow evening on a motion, endorsed unanimously a couple of weeks ago by the city’s finance committee, to advise the provincial and federal governments, “that The Corporation of the City of London wishes to ‘opt out’ of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union (CETA) so it can determine whether or not to support the Agreement in future, based upon an assessment of how the Agreement would affect this municipality.”

It is the first municipal CETA motion (that we know of) to be debated following last Friday’s cross-Canada media blitz by the Harper government to promote the Canada-EU trade deal, and following assurances by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that feds have got their back.


Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt was in London, telling workers and the media gathered at the Lamko Tool and Mould factory that CETA “will be a big win for municipalities and provinces as we eliminate tariffs for manufacturing… I know we can compete. I’m looking forward to an aggressive, all-encompassing agreement.”

Gary Brown of the London chapter tells the London Free Press that Ottawa was forced to give CETA the hard sell because of growing municipal and public concern. Brown with other Council of Canadians chapter members, labour groups and the local Stop CETA campaign, showed up at Raitt’s whistle stop to protest the negotiations and draw attention to how little they have to do with trade (see photo here).

“This is a blatant public relations attempt to avoid the massive criticism from labour and social organizations all over Canada which have challenged the government to come clean on the dangers of this trade deal which threatens the rights of municipalities to make decisions based on the best results for local communities,” Patti Dalton, president of the London and District Labour Council, told London Community News. “Speaking at us is not speaking with us and if Minister Lisa Raitt really wanted our input she would have had a town hall meeting not this sham of democracy.”

London’s Ward 10 councillor, Paul Van Meerbergen, is the manager of business development for Lamko and helped introduce the various speakers at the Conservative media event. Regarding the CETA vote tomorrow, he tells Community News, “It is very alarming from a municipal standpoint” that the City of London could “broadcast to the province, to the nation, to the international community is that we aren’t open for business.”

“God forbid if we ever passed a motion like that, that sends out all the wrong messages, anti-business, anti-jobs,” he says.

Apparently it’s possible London’s conflict of interest rules will block Van Meerbergen from voting on the CETA motion tomorrow.


Also on Friday, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a statement saying it “applauds today’s commitment by International Trade Minister Ed Fast to protect municipal interests in a CETA deal and in future trade agreements.” The FCM says that, “Minister Fast has made a great effort to reach out and work with municipalities. Continued long-term collaboration among all three orders of government will be essential to keep Canada’s trade agenda moving forward.”

However, the statement recognizes the important role of municipal governments and how they spend public money in transforming the Canadian economy, as well as building up local expertise that can be exported. It says:

Municipalities will be right in the middle of the transformation of our economy in the 21st century: building new transit systems, redesigning our water and wastewater plants, retrofitting everything from libraries to hockey rinks to be more energy efficient. We need to see these investments as part of a broader economic strategy – so we can cultivate and export our expertise.

Furthermore, at their March 2012 board of directors meeting, the FCM passed a motion asking for considerably more information from the government and more input into the agreement before it is finalized, for municipalities and for other affected people and groups. The motion says:

a. That the Government of Canada, in collaboration with FCM, undertake a sector-by-sector analysis of the potential impacts on municipal functions and powers of the procurement regime that the European Union is seeking and circulate such information to member municipalities as soon as it is available;

b. That the Government of Canada undertake and publish for municipalities across Canada thorough, timely and objective assessments of both the costs and benefits of the CETA agenda to municipalities;

c. That the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories provide an explanation of which sectors are most likely to be the principal beneficiaries of CETA and undertake a sector-by-sector analysis of the potential impacts and how the benefits of CETA will be distributed;

d. That the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories engage in effective consultations with municipalities with the above-referenced analyses in hand before any trade agreement is finalized with the EU; and

e. That the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories solicit comments from all the parties that will potentially be affected by the proposed trade agreement before finalizing any such agreement.

The FCM is meeting again in the first three days of June for their annual conference. Despite assurances from the federal government, the CETA negotiations could create more controversy among municipal leaders attending the conference who will be voting on a motion that would ask that water services be protected from the EU and all other Canadian trade deal.

Last week, Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, sent London’s mayor and all councillors a letter of support for the opt-out motion, explaining how CETA’s procurement rules are quite different from existing commitments under the Agreement on Internal Trade. The letter also raised flags about the lack of protection for future municipal services or policies that run afoul of CETA investment rules. Check back this week for the result of the London vote.