Skip to content

Thunder Bay request for Canada-EU trade deal exemption gives Harper, Merkel something to chew on

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians celebrates last night’s decision by Thunder Bay city council to seek an exemption from the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). This latest municipal motion, and the over 40 similar municipal requests for exemptions from the proposed Canada-EU trade deal, should be on the menu during Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday evening.

“The Prime Minister needs to explain to these Canadian municipalities and to Chancellor Merkel whether he plans on listening to their concerns about CETA by protecting their right to buy locally,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson with the Council of Canadians. “Canadian municipalities don’t benefit from being shackled by international trade restrictions on their local policies and spending powers. Cities like Thunder Bay are Harper's bargaining chips in these EU negotiations – they should have a right to say no to CETA.”

Last night, Thunder Bay councillors voted to “request that the Province of Ontario consider a clear, permanent exemption for the City of Thunder Bay from the Canada-EU CETA; And that it otherwise protect the powers of municipalities to use public procurement, services and investment tools to create local jobs, protect the environment, and support local development; And that a specific exemption for mass transit be requested.” The vote follows a presentation to city council this May by CAW economist Jim Stanford who argued that CETA procurement rules would hurt local companies like Bombardier and cost jobs in the province.

As written, the CETA procurement rules would forbid a city, town, school board or other public body included in the deal from preferring one bidding firm over another based on how much of the content in a certain project was local or Canadian. CETA would also forbid municipalities from considering local development benefits when choosing between different bidding firms, whether they were Canadian or European. It’s up to the Ontario government to decide whether to abide by the wishes of Thunder Bay, Toronto, Hamilton, Oshawa and the dozens of other Ontario cities asking to be exempted from CETA. But the federal government still holds most of the cards in these negotiations and could take municipal procurement off the table.

“The Prime Minister should tell Chancellor Merkel this week he’s taking municipal procurement off the CETA menu,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be an option for Harper, who is sending clear signals to the EU that he’s willing to sign a deal at any cost to satisfy an increasingly impatient and expectant big business lobby. Whether it’s procurement or greater access to water services for private European companies or controversial changes to Canada’s drug patent regime, this government seems all too ready to make economically pointless compromises that we should be very worried about.”

Canada and the EU have held over a dozen rounds of trade and investment negotiations with the EU since October 2010 with two final sessions planned for September and October. The Council of Canadians is one of over 60 organizations in Canada and Quebec calling on the provinces, territories and federal government to provide an outlet for public dialogue on the actual content of the CETA negotiations prior to a final deal being signed at some point in 2012.