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Provincial trade, climate agendas explored at ‘Unsustainable Compromises’ event in Winnipeg

Last night I participated in an event co-organized by the Council of Canadians Winnipeg Chapter and the Climate Action Network called ‘Unsustainable Compromises: The trade threats to provincial leadership on climate change.” The occasion was this year’s Council of the Federation meeting happening at the historic Fort Garry hotel. As the provincial and territorial premiers discussed economic recovery, green jobs and water management, the Council of Canadians, Canadian Community Economic Development Network, and Equiterre explored where the ambitions of the Council of the Federation run up against the premiers’ desires to finish a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union.

Brendan Reimer of CCEDNet gave what should be mandatory training for municipal and provincial politicians on the value of public spending. He opened his presentation by asking us to think back to the Olympics in Whistler, to the podiums used for handing out medials. They were built by social enterprises in depressed parts of Vancouver, and organizers paid a small premium. But there are ripple effects to that kind of spending. Give it to a multinational and the money goes one way. Give it to a local social enterprise and it goes toward strengthening the community.

Importantly, Brendan showed how it’s not old-fashioned protectionism to put a value on the social benefits of spending locally.  It’s actually a global trend among Canada’s main trading partners.

Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of and Deputy Director of Equiterre, told the room about another international trend leaving Canada in the dust because of the Harper government’s ineptitude: serious funding for climate mitigation policies and renewable technologies. Steven explained that some provinces are picking up where Harper has scraped the bottom of the barrel (“there is no bottom” for Harper, Steven later quipped), and he proposed, as the Climate Action Network does in a letter to premiers this week, that the Council of the Federation establish a permanent secretariat to handle climate issues.

For the sake of brevity, i won’t go into much detail on my presentation, which focused on the trade threats to climate and environmental policy. Michael Welch of the Winnipeg chapter arranged to have the event recorded, so we’ll share a link when it’s available. In a nutshell, i said:

1.An agreement designed to increase exports of environmentally questionable products such as mineral and energy resources, genetically modified crops, fish and fish products while increasing imports of high value manufactured goods will necessarily increase carbon emissions through increased production and transportation. It will also increase Canada’s trade deficit with the EU. Mexico’s trade deficit doubled after it signed a free trade-plus deal with Europe ten years ago. It is also not a sustainable economic strategy for Canada.

2.New restrictions on federal, provincial or territorial government efforts to curb climate change will run up against powerful new trade rules and investor-state challenges designed to lock in the status quo and corporate power. Proportionality on energy exports will lock us into an unsustainable relationship with another major economic power and hasten Canada’s transformation into a resource supplier for the larger manufacturing nations – China, US, EU, etc.

3.Important for the provinces and territories, and cities, are the limits CETA would put on the use of government spending as a tool to create good, green jobs by favouring local industry, local hiring, sustainable purchasing, local food and farmer support, etc. The cities need to be exempt entirely from this deal.

4.The threats to public water alone are enough reason to put the CETA talks on hold or stop them altogether. We need at the very least a guarantee in the text that public water and public services are off limits in all circumstances, including the creation of new public services like national childcare. Under NAFTA, private childcare providers could challenge a new public service as an expropriation of their profits. Another reason chapter 11 – the investment chapter in NAFTA – needs to be renegotiated.