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Public pressure leads to public hearings on lopsided Canada-US procurement deal

It’s not the apologetic policy reversal you might have been expecting (or not) from Trade Minister Peter Van Loan, but it is a victory nonetheless. And it is proof that public pressure on the government for parliamentary hearings into the Harper government’s embarrassingly one-sided ‘Buy American deal (the Canada-US Agreement on Government Procurement) has worked.

Starting next week, the Commons Committee on International Trade (CIIT) will hold hearings into the deal, announced by the Harper government the day it came into effect on February 16, thanks to a motion from NDP Trade Critic Peter Julian, one of a dozen MPs on the federal trade committee who received a copy of your letters to Van Loan based on our February 22 Action Alert, “We need parliamentary and provincial hearings on ‘Buy American’ deal”.

“We seem to have given up a considerable amount of access to public procurement right across the country and these hearings should help determine how much we have given up and how much of the US market we can effectively access”, said Julian in a press statement. “Assessing the impact on Canadian jobs and communities should have been the first step taken by the Harper government. I am pleased that members of the International Trade committee have agreed to go deeper into this issue.”

Despite a parade of positive news articles about the Harper government’s throw-away procurement deal with the Obama administration, there is actually no hard government data on how much of the US stimulus money has yet to be distributed, how much of that Canadian firms have a shot at winning, or the value of the Canadian subnational procurement market. The best assessment doesn’t come from the government at all but the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which estimates only $4 to $5 billion of the original $275 billion was up for grabs as of February 16. And it is possible that even that sliver was accounted for as of February 17, based on news reports.

Watch this space for updates on next week’s parliamentary hearings. Congratulations to everyone who wrote the government demanding them. And congratulations to the NDP for securing them.