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VIEW: McGuinty should put CETA talks on hold, says Trew

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew writes in the Toronto Star, “Unfortunately for all of us, the McGuinty government will be making important decisions privately over the next few weeks (during the provincial election in Ontario) that will limit the available economic and other policy options available to the next government. That is, unless somebody stops him.”

“Like the other provinces, Ontario has a seat at the table in ongoing free trade negotiations with the European Union which will come to a head early next year. Over eight negotiating rounds since October 2009, the McGuinty government has been bargaining away provincial and municipal policy space without input from opposition parties or the public. A ninth and apparently final round of talks toward what they’re calling a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU is scheduled for Ottawa the week of Oct. 17-21. In preparation, provincial officials are expected to meet at least twice with the federal government this month to finalize their offers to the EU in the areas of public procurement, services and investment — all provincial jurisdictions.”

“Part of these offers will include promises to give EU firms unobstructed access to public contracts by specified provincial agencies, municipalities, universities, hospitals, ports and Crown corporations. Ontario will also have to decide whether and where to apply free trade rules to currently excluded or highly regulated service sectors such as drinking water and sanitation, finance, education and possibly even health services. But again, it’s not really Ontario deciding — it’s the McGuinty government at the end of its public mandate. There is something terribly wrong with this picture. We don’t know for sure what the McGuinty government is putting on the table because the provincial and federal offers aren’t public.”

Trew concludes, “Trade is rarely a ballot box question provincially or federally. Not since the great debate on Canada-U.S. free trade in the late 1980s have trade agreements played a prominent role in voter preferences. But CETA goes beyond what most of us understand as trade. If it could restrict provincial economic and social policy options it should be debated before Oct. 6. At the very least, the McGuinty government should not be deciding the future shape of this free trade deal with Europe while the future of the province is at stake. The government should postpone its meetings with the federal government and its offer exchanges with the EU until there are new public mandates to proceed in those provinces heading to the polls.”

To read the full op-ed, published on-line, please go to http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1051270–mcguinty-should-put-trade-talks-on-hold. According to Newspaper Audience Databank Inc., thestar.com has 712,200 weekly readers in the Greater Toronto Area.