OTTAWA, ONTARIO – The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees are welcoming the exclusion of water services from the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, according to leaked documents. But the groups are disappointed that municipal governments, and possibly their water utilities, will be fully covered by the agreement's unnecessarily restrictive procurement rules, considering the more than 40 municipal resolutions asking to be excluded from CETA.
"For two years we have been calling on the provinces and the federal government to take water off the table but the Canadian side seemed intent on using CETA to encourage and lock in the privatization of our public water systems," says Maude Barlow, national chairperson with the Council of Canadians. "This vindicates the many Canadian municipalities, and the many European and Canadian water justice activists who continue to make sure trade and investment rules do not undermine essential public services like water."
The Council of Canadians and CUPE have acquired CETA documents showing that Canada is proposing to exclude the "Collection, Purification and Distribution of Water" from market access rules in the CETA investment and services chapter. Until now, only the EU wanted to exclude water in this way, with Canadian negotiators asking for the sector to be fully liberalized (or opened) to encourage privatization. But the organizations claim there are still threats to local water systems and municipal governments in Canada's procurement commitments, which the EU calls "highly satisfactory" in the document leaked to Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ).
Despite requests to be excluded from CETA by cities such as Toronto, Victoria, Hamilton, Red Deer, Sackville and 40 others, municipal governments, school boards, hospitals and Crown corporations will be bound by restrictions on public spending that ban local or Canadian preferences, and undermine sustainable development, according to the leaked documents. Not only that, the EU is pressuring Canadian negotiators to eliminate all local content requirements on transit and energy projects, and to eliminate "provincial and regional development clauses."
"Canadian cities and towns are being asked to give up their right to buy locally or 'Buy Canadian' where it makes sense, for example on major energy, water or transit projects. Around the world, countries and cities know these policies work. Local preferences are even normal in the European Union and yet EU negotiators would make them illegal in Canada," says Paul Moist, national president of CUPE. "We urge the federal government to reconsider this unnecessary and economically dangerous concession to the EU. Canadian municipalities have spoken out against these restrictions to their local autonomy. For the sake of all Canadians, Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to listen."
The leaked documents obtained by CAQ also contain good news for Europeans who have been fighting to protect water services in CETA and other EU trade and investment pacts. According to European Union "state of play" report on the CETA negotiations, leaked to CAQ and posted to La Presse website last week, a majority of EU member states decided during an October 5 Trade Policy Committee meeting that public utilities should be broadly excluded from the Canada-EU deal. Canada had been resisting, and wanted EU member states to painstakingly list each public monopoly or policy related to public utilities that is to be protected, but has now "reluctantly accepted" the longstanding EU preference, reflected in its GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) commitments on public services.