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

Victoria, B.C. – The Council of Canadians and its Victoria chapter are celebrating a decision by City Council last night to demand a permanent exemption for the City from the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The decision comes only two weeks after a similar request by London, Ontario councillors for an “opt-out” option once they know more details about the deal. At least 35 municipal councils, school boards or associations, including large cities like Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga and now Victoria, have sought similar protections. The vote also follows the recent Harper CETA public relations blitz, which included a trip by James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, to Vancouver.

“We congratulate the City of Victoria for standing up for local jobs and local democracy,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “The truth is there’s no benefit to Canadian municipalities for being shackled by international trade restrictions on their local policy and spending powers. Cities are Harper's bargaining chips in these EU negotiations – they should have a right to say no to CETA.”

Last night, Victoria councillors voted to “ask the Province of British Columbia for a clear, permanent exemption for the City of Victoria from the Canada-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA),” and to “ask the Federal Government to protect the autonomous powers of the City of Victoria — to create local jobs, protect the environment, and provide services and programs as it sees fit — from any restrictions to those powers in the CETA.”

City Council also asked the Federal Government to “further exempt from the CETA any municipality that so requests,” and urged the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to work with Harper to “change the terms of the draft CETA to protect the autonomy of municipal governments.”

As written, the CETA procurement rules would forbid a city, town, school board or other 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 ban municipalities from considering local development benefits when choosing between different bidding firms, whether they were Canadian or European. It’s up to the Province of British Columbia to decide whether Victoria and other cities will be bound by these rules.

“It doesn’t make sense for a province like B.C. to take away important job-creating tools from its cities,” says Barlow. “Public procurement is one of the last places where a local government can play a role in fostering sustainable, local development. To take that away will only benefit multinational corporations that can already outbid local firms and that will get new tools in CETA to challenge local decisions that don’t go their way.”

Canada and the EU have held 11 rounds of comprehensive trade and investment negotiations since October 2010 with smaller talks scheduled for June, July, September and October. The Council of Canadians is one of over 60 organizations in Canada and Quebec 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.