Ottawa – A broad majority of Canadians (77 per cent) from across the political spectrum opposes those parts of the Canada–European Union free trade agreement that would ban “buy local” policies in municipalities, according to a new Environics poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians. Even among people who “strongly support” the idea of free trade with Europe, 63 per cent believe local governments should continue to have the right to prefer Canadian or local bids on public contracts.
“There is high support in Canada for the idea of a trade deal with Europe, but not for some of the elements of this particular deal,” says Stuart Trew, Trade Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “That’s especially true of the money local governments spend on public contracts. No matter who you ask, people don’t want to lose the ability to ‘buy local.’”
On October 18, Prime Minister Harper announced an “agreement in principle” with the European Commission, ending four years of negotiations on a proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Political and media attention focused on the potential benefits to some export-oriented agricultural sectors and for consumers of European cheese and luxury cars, but ignored the larger and permanent structural changes that CETA will force onto all levels of government, including municipalities.
One of the EU’s most important objectives in CETA was to apply international procurement rules to municipal governments in Canada for the first time. These rules prohibit local governments from preferring, or giving extra points to, Canadian or local bids on public contracts while also prohibiting minimum local content requirements no matter which company – Canadian or European – is bidding. Conditions on local contracts that encourage local development will also be largely prohibited by CETA.
Across Canada, more than 50 municipalities and municipal associations, including the City of Toronto, have passed motions opposing these new rules and seeking an exemption from CETA for local governments. On November 18, Toronto City Council overwhelmingly passed a second motion requesting a comprehensive briefing on CETA from the Ontario government, as well as “the right to debate, and ultimately vote on, the terms of the deal as it relates to the City of Toronto before any approval of the deal is issued by the Province.”
The poll also identifies strong public support for a thorough review of the deal. The poll asked if the federal government “should have to hold public hearings across Canada on the Canada–Europe trade deal before it can sign and ratify the deal.” A full 80 per cent of respondents agreed, with strong support for hearings across the political spectrum.
“The Harper government cannot hide behind general support for an EU deal while ignoring how people feel about the details. The federal and provincial governments must give the public a chance to review the text and to make changes before CETA can be signed,” says Trew.
The Environics telephone survey was conducted between November 14 and 20 among a national random sample of 1,003 adults comprising 503 males and 500 females 18 years of age and older, living in Canada. The margin of error for a sample of this size is +/- 3.10%, 19 times out of 20.