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VIEW: ‘Toronto right to put pressure on McGuinty on CETA’, says Walkom

Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom writes about Toronto city council’s request to the Ontario government to seek an exemption for Toronto from the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Walkom highlights, “Like most modern trade agreements, this proposal is less about freeing trade and more about limiting the ability of governments to regulate global business. But unlike Canada’s original free trade pacts with the United States, the Canada-European deal requires immediate buy-in from the provinces. The 27 countries that make up the European Union will play ball only if the 10 provinces that make up Canada agree to do so as well. (So Ontario) does have considerable influence.”

Walkom notes that along with the “secretive” federal government and EU discussions, there are also negotiations that involve the provinces. “Those are the negotiations over how much authority the provinces, including Ontario, are willing to give up. And one of the key areas here is government procurement. Governments often insist on local benefits when they award contracts. Ontario, for example, requires that a portion of any public transit it funds be manufactured in Ontario.”

“Municipal governments routinely demand similar benefits. Such practices are good for the local economy. But they almost invariably fall afoul of strict free trade rules. If, say, a German engineering firm gets a contract to rebuild Toronto sewers it would probably want to use the cheapest suppliers, local or not. Right now, Toronto council can insist on local content as a condition of awarding any contract. Under a comprehensive Canada-EU free trade deal it could not. Which is why Toronto passed Tuesday’s motion.”

“Toronto council’s decision focuses pressure, quite properly, on the Ontario government. Usually, provinces get a pass when free trade is under discussion. This time, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty deserves to have his feet put to the fire.”

The Council of Canadians
Walkom writes, “Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians says that in the talks so far, Ontario has been fiercely protective of its hydro-electric sector. We can assume that McGuinty is also anxious to protect his government’s ability to subsidize so-called green manufacturing in Ontario, since that has been one of his signature policies. Will Ontario give away local procurement in return? As the Star’s Linda Diebel reported recently, McGuinty seems to be veering that way. For anyone who wants to pressure Queen’s Park on this, the crunch time is fast approaching. That’s what Toronto council has belatedly come to understand.”

To read Stuart’s blog on the Toronto city council decision, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13956. To read the Linda Diebel column that Walkom refers to – and in which Stuart is quoted – go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13743. To read Stuart’s op-ed in the Toronto Star this past September calling on McGuinty to put a stop to the CETA talks, see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=10337.

To join the nearly 50 communities across Canada that have passed resolutions opposed to CETA, please use our ‘Tool Kit’ at http://canadians.org/action/2011/CETA-resolution.html.