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Toronto faces hidden threats from Canada-Europe trade deal, say councillors and community groups

Toronto – Toronto councillors and community groups hauled a giant Trojan Horse in front of City Hall this morning to warn about the hidden dangers in a proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) a day ahead of an executive committee meeting that will consider whether the city should be excluded altogether from the deal. View the photo here.

“This agreement with the EU has far reaching implications for city policies and could hurt our ability as councillors to promote local jobs or small business, create incentives for investment in Toronto, protect the environment or otherwise use public spending as a way to stimulate growth,” said Councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker.

“I’m hearing more from my constituents about this Canada-EU trade deal than from the provincial government and what I hear is not good,” said Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. “From what I can see, the CETA would be all risk and little reward for Toronto. We’re here to ask the executive committee to support the idea of trying to exclude Toronto from any unnecessary limits in the EU deal on how we make policies to benefit our community.”

Councillors Wong-Tam and de Baeremaeker spoke in support of a motion they co-sponsored which goes before the city’s executive committee on Tuesday, recommending that City Council, “request the Province of Ontario issue a clear, permanent exemption of the City of Toronto from the Canada-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and that it otherwise protect the powers of municipalities, hospitals, school boards, utilities, universities and other sub-federal agencies to use public procurement, services and investment as tools to create local jobs and otherwise support local economic development.”

The motion also asks the McGuinty government “to explain the scope and content of trade negotiations with the EU, including the details of its procurement, services and investment offers.” As an active participant in the CETA negotiations, Ontario has made promises to open certain sectors and to bind certain municipal governments and other provincial agencies to procurement rules that restrict the criteria that can be considered when tendering for goods, services and construction projects. The restrictions would forbid buy local or “Buy Canadian” requirements or any other preferences for small businesses on some contracts.

“We support the idea of keeping Toronto out of this unfair trade deal with the EU,” said Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest citizen-based social justice organization. “We're pro-trade, it's just that CETA isn’t really about trade at all. It’s another attempt by the Harper government to increase the power of corporations by limiting the kinds of public policies our local governments can set.”

The Council of Canadians is one of several groups and individuals who will present to Toronto city council’s executive committee on Tuesday morning in support of the motion to keep Toronto out of the CETA. Other speakers include local trade experts Steven Shrybman of Sack, Goldblatt, Mitchell LLP and Gus Van Harten, a professor of law at York University, as well as representatives from the Canadian Autoworkers union, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, United Steelworkers and other groups.

The Trojan Horse appeared before the gates of Parliament in Ottawa during the last round of CETA negotiations in October. It has also joined a protest outside the Quebec legislature demanding transparency and debate before the deal is signed in the next few months. In each case, the Horse represents the hidden dangers inside what is being misleadingly called a trade agreement.

Already over 20 municipal governments have requested to be excluded from the EU deal, including last month the City of Hamilton.