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Taking the anti-CETA message to the premiers

The Manitoba government, hosting this year’s Council of the Federation meeting in Winnipeg next week, put out a press release today announcing a vague agenda. The premiers meet once a year to talk about common issues, which usually includes trade, climate, energy. This year they’re forced to address Tony Clement’s blunderful attack on government statistics, though it’s not a focus. More importantly, we know from a briefing with Canada’s lead negotiator on the Canada-EU free trade deal, Steve Verheul, that CETA is on the provincial/territorial agenda. The Council of Canadians will be in Winnipeg to make sure the premiers hear our concerns about the negotiations.

The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians has organized a public event on Wednesday, August 4 with the Climate Action Network. Called “Unsustainable Compromises”, the panel discussion will look at how some provinces are trying to move further than the federal government on climate change, but how environmental and climate policy is threatened by trade agreements such as CETA, TILMA, and the New West Partnership (TILMA + Saskatchewan). I’ll be a speaker on the panel with Brendan Reimer (CCEDNet), and Steven Guilbeault (Equiterre).

I’ll be talking about CETA and the provinces. Provincial and territorial offers on procurement, regulations and investment have now gone to the federal government. Some are supposedly more ‘comprehensive’ than others, according to Mr. Verheul, but we haven’t seen them and probably won’t. At least not until it’s too late as with the Canada-US procurement agreement, made public the day it went into effect this past February. (We leaked it several days earlier and expressed our concerns about how unbalanced and ineffective the deal would be.)

Considering how deeply CETA could affect local decision-making and public policy, we feel there needs to be a public debate on what we’re being asked to trade away in this deal. The EU requests in all these areas affecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction are extensive — more extensive than what US companies received in NAFTA or the recent procurement deal. EU negotiators want to pry open public spending down to the city, hospital and school board level. They also want more access to Canadian water, power and transit utilities.

Probably the federal government will use this Council of the Federation meeting to squeeze more out of those provinces that they feel haven’t put enough on the table. The sad reality of these CETA talks is that Harper is on the EU’s side. He wants to see the same domestic reforms EU negotiators are demanding, whether it’s opening up the telecom, broadcasting and uranium sectors to foreign ownership, privatizing Canada Post, undermining provincial liquor boards, or banning local or sustainable purchasing policies.

Investment protections and new restrictions on domestic regulation will also make it very difficult for the provinces and territories to move further or faster than the slowest among them on needed environmental reforms, phasing out fossil fuels, and creating green jobs.

Thanks to the Winnipeg chapter for organizing this important event next week. More on the Council of the Federation meeting soon…