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UBCM sticks by its call for a municipal exemption from CETA

On February 22, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities updated its members on recent correspondence from the federal government to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations. Much of the points Minister Ed Fast makes in the letter were contained in his letter-to-the-editor in the Toronto Star this week related to an article about the ongoing municipal concerns with the CETA.

The letters to the Star and the FCM reproduce discredited calculations of the economic gain to Canada from the EU trade deal while failing to address the real concern of municipal governments: that local or national preferences built into some public contracts will become illegal under CETA’s procurement rules. The statement that the CETA “will not affect the ability of municipalities to regulate” is simply wrong since what are free trade deals for if not to put constraints on how governments regulate economic activity. This is their raison d’etre, so to speak.

From the leaked Canadian offers on investment, made public in January by the RQIC network, we know municipal policy will be subject to the “ratchet effect” whereby it can only be changed to make it more market-friendly (ex. under CETA it will be very difficult to introduce new public monopolies for a number of service areas, as well as to re-regulate those areas like water where there is currently private sector investment).

So it is encouraging to see the UBCM reiterating its policy position, “which is to seek an exemption to CETA,” in its February 22 update to member municipalities.

“UBCM has specifically sought clarity with reference on page 2 of the Q&A related to ‘ability to give preferences to local companies’ with a reference to ‘non-contractual agreements (e.g. grants, loans, fiscal incentives)’ due to the fact that: 1) the Community Charter prohibits subsidies to business and 2) other trade agreements prohibit any form of discrimination that favours local companies,” says the UBCM correspondence. “FCM staff have flagged this as an issue needing clarity with the federal government’s Chief Negotiator who has indicated that further clarification will be forthcoming.”

Canada’s lead CETA negotiator will meet with Federation of Canadian Municipalities board members in London next week (March 7 to 10) during on of the group’s semi-annual board meetings. The UBCM executive will meet with provincial staff in the coming weeks and promises “to remain active on the CETA file.”

The UBCM passed a motion at its general meeting in September 2010 asking the B.C. government to exempt municipalities from the Canada-EU free trade deal, specifically its procurement commitments. In 2011, it passed a second CETA-related motion, this one calling for water services to be excluded from Canadian trade agreements. Since then, B.C. municipalities have continued to speak up against rules in the CETA that will prohibit local or national preferences on some contracts, as well as open up other city purchasing decisions to trade challenges from international and domestic firms.

This week, a council meeting of the Village of Cumberland heard from councillor Roger Kishi that “a letter from Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, like that of Premier Christy Clark, does not respond to council’s main concern about Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations,” according to the Commox Valley Record. The paper notes, “The Council of Canadians suggests the CETA deal is about deregulation, privatization and increasing corporate investment rights.”

To see a map of Canadian cities, towns, villages and associations to have passed motions or resolutions on the CETA, click here.