(Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) – Councillors heading into the 75th annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention this morning were greeted by a CETA Casino organized by local activists with the Council of Canadians. Poker and dice games drew attention to how the federal and provincial governments are gambling with municipal powers and public services in ongoing Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations, which continue in Ottawa from June 4 to 8.
“The Harper government got a majority in the last election with about 5.8 million votes and says that majority gives it the right to gamble with local policies and public services at the CETA negotiating table,” says Karen Rooney, chair of the recently formed Council of Canadians – Saskatoon Chapter. “But cities representing almost as many people, from Victoria, B.C. through Lashburn, Saskatchewan to Toronto, Ontario and Sackville, New Brunswick, are asking for cities to be left out of the deal, and more cities are demanding the same every week. We’re here to tell the thousands of councillors attending the FCM that they do have the right to opt out of CETA, and can choose instead to support the growth and sustainability of their local economies.”
The Canada-EU trade talks began in May 2009 and are expected to conclude this fall. A top priority of EU negotiators is to bind Canada’s provinces, municipalities, Crown corporations and other local public bodies to new rules that restrict how public money is spent. In particular, CETA would forbid cities like Saskatoon – if they are included in the deal – from favouring or putting a value on local content in major projects or service concessions such as water, electricity and transit. CETA would ban municipalities from considering local development benefits, and limit the freedom of cities to create new public services in the future.
“Saskatoon’s new recycling program is a good example of the kinds of policies that will become difficult or impossible under CETA,” explains Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Procurement rules in CETA consider bottom-line value only and are written to the benefit of big multinational private service providers, making it unlikely the city would have gone with Loraas for home recycling or Cosmo for apartments. Even the creation of new public services like recycling becomes difficult under CETA because Canada and the Wall government are refusing to protect local governments in the same way the EU is insisting its local governments be protected. It’s a totally unbalanced deal.”
Leaked CETA documents listing what Canada and the EU are offering each other related to services show that Canada is neglecting municipalities by not protecting their policy space, or how they regulate and offer services, in the future. Any new municipal policies will have to be in line with CETA rules that favour and encourage private delivery and free-market principles. Strangely, those same leaked documents show the EU wants to protect the right of its own local governments to expand or create new water and other municipally delivered services.
“Why the discrepancy?” asks Trew. “We have not heard a good answer from the federal government or the provinces, but the impression it gives is that Canada is open for business to Europe’s large, competitive private water, waste management, energy and other infrastructure companies looking to increase profits.”
Rooney and the local Council of Canadians chapter note that Saskatoon city council considered a motion to exempt the city from CETA, but unfortunately turned it down.
“We hope that Saskatoon councillors will take a closer look at the way CETA impacts policies like recycling and the city’s spending freedoms, and that councillors reconsider an opt-out option if they feel they are getting a bum deal at the end of the day,” she says. “But if I were gambling, I know I’d want to sit out this CETA hand. The risk is just too high and the reward is hard to see.”
More information on the Council of Canadians’ CETA and Cities campaign: www.canadians.org/CETA.