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Toronto asks to be excluded from Canada-EU free trade deal; Council of Canadians celebrates vote for transparency and democracy

Toronto – The Council of Canadians and its Toronto chapter are celebrating a decision by Toronto City Council last night to demand a permanent exemption for the City from the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

“When Canada’s largest city thinks there’s something wrong with the Canada-EU deal it’s probably time for us to perk up and listen to the growing municipal concerns,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson with the Council of Canadians. “The truth is there’s no benefit to Toronto from being shackled by international trade restrictions on their local policy and spending powers. Cities are Harper's bargaining chips – they have a right to say no to CETA.”

Last night, after a fascinating debate about the impacts of free trade on the Canadian and Toronto economies, city council agreed to amend a February 13 executive committee motion seeking accelerated dialogue with the Province and more information on how the proposed CETA with the EU could disrupt the City’s ability “to use public spending as a tool for economic development, environmental protection or to support small businesses.” The new motion, as amended by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, goes further by asking the Province to exempt Toronto from the Canada-EU trade deal.

“It is apparent from the scant details already released about CETA that the right of Toronto City Council to make procurement decisions supporting local manufacturers and farmers is in danger of being traded away for faint hopes of selling more beef to Europe,” says Michael Brothers of the Council of Canadians' Toronto Chapter. “It doesn’t make sense for a province like Ontario to take away important job-creating tools from its cities, especially when the McGuinty government is rightfully using those same tools in the Green Energy Act to create sustainable jobs in the province.”

The local chapter, represented by Brothers, was one of several groups and Toronto residents to present in support of an original motion from Councillors Glenn de Baeremaeker and Kristyn Wong-Tam calling for a permanent exemption from CETA for the City of Toronto, in particular its procurement rules. A compromise motion, presented on February 13 by Councillor Michael Thompson, was supported almost unanimously by executive committee members, including Mayor Rob Ford.

Canada and the EU have held 10 rounds of comprehensive trade and investment negotiations since October 2010 with another one set for Brussels the weeks of March 12 and March 19. Canada’s provinces exchanged initial procurement and goods offers with the EU in July 2011 and are expected to “improve” on those offers next month by adding to a secret list of municipalities and other provincial agencies that will be bound by procurement rules in the CETA. These rules expressly forbid local or national preferences on public contracts in contrast to existing inter-provincial procurement rules which allow them in many circumstances.

The Council of Canadians is one of dozens of organizations calling on the provinces and territories 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.

By passing this motion today on the Canada-EU free trade deal, Toronto joins over 45 other cities, towns and associations across Canada calling for more openness in the CETA negotiations and a greater decision making role for local governments and the public.