The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix reports today that, “A tight vote is expected tonight as city council debates whether to seek an exemption to the large-scale free trade agreement being negotiated between Canada and Europe.” Two weeks ago, the city’s executive committee, made up of most councillors, voted 5-4 in favour of requesting a complete exemption from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), as dozens of municipalities have done across Canada. Tonight, full council will either confirm or overturn that decision.
The Council of Canadians, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and other groups are asking councillors to stick to their guns because the risks to local governments from CETA greatly outweigh any purported trade benefits for the provinces. There are few barriers to Saskatchewan goods into the EU market and those that do exist, like bans on GMOs, are bound to remain post-CETA. On the other hand, municipal governments are being asked to forever give up the right to consider local economic benefits when tendering or goods, services or construction projects. It’s an unreasonable request of cities like Saskatoon.
Last week, at the suggestion of Jim Durham, president of the Durham Region Labour Council, and CAW members in the community, the City of Oshawa, Ontario passed a motion asking the provincial government to “issue a clear, permanent exemption for Oshawa and all municipalities… and that it otherwise protect the powers of municipalities, hospitals, school boards, utilities, universities and other sub-federal agencies to use procurement, services and investment as tools to create local jobs, protect the environment, and support local development.”
The previous week, the City of Montreal, Quebec passed a slightly different motion which falls short of asking for a complete exemption from CETA but nonetheless makes the following points:
– Formally asks the Quebec and federal governments to assure that CETA cannot be interpreted to limit the powers of citizens to decide, through their councillors, the type of services that can be offered or controlled by local governments;
– Expresses its opposition to any obligations to liberalize or privatize public services, or else measures that would remove the capacity to regulate in the public interests;
– Underlines the necessity of remaining vigilant to make sure that municipal interests are protected, and;
– Demands that the Quebec government inform municipalities as soon as possible on the aspects of CETA that will affect municipal procurement.
The Montreal motion was the result of months of work by Quebec-based groups like ATTAC-Quebec, the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC), CUPE-Quebec, the Council of Canadians Montreal Chapter and others to put CETA on the radar of local councillors. We’ve added both Oshawa and Montreal to our interactive map of municipal resolutions on the Canada-EU trade deal.
Both these and the previous CETA motions were passed even before new information emerged showing how municipal policy space will be negatively affected by the deal’s investment protections. I had an op-ed in the Star-Phoenix last week which explained how municipal governments were not being adequately protected by Canada’s services and investment offers to the EU, which were leaked in January by the RQIC network in Quebec. I wrote:
Canada is seeking to protect existing municipal service monopolies and measures that don’t conform to proposed CETA rules, but not the right of cities, including Saskatoon, to introduce new policies, monopolies or regulations in the future that might upset private investors and corporations operating in those areas. These could include environmental or public health measures that an investor could argue were “tantamount to expropriation,” or otherwise an unfair burden on profits.
So the threats go beyond local procurement. At the very least, Saskatoon should withhold support for CETA until it’s had a chance to study the impacts of the deal’s multiple parts on local policy and decision making. A vote tonight for the CETA motion before Saskatoon city council would send a message to the federal and provincial governments that more needs to be done to explain to Canadians these impacts and what exactly we’re expecting to get from the EU in return.
If you’re in the Saskatoon area, it’s not too late to write or call your councillor today asking them to support the CETA motion calling for an exemption for the city. Click here to find out how.