The topic of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement came up in council, as the Canadian Union of Public Employees came to make a presentation on the matter.
Jennifer Chretien, CUPE Local 2087’s national staff representative, said that CUPE is concerned with the lack of information that’s been provided to Canadians about this trade agreement.
She said it is in the city’s best interest to seek more information into the status of the negotiations, as well as to prepare an exclusion of municipal governments from the agreement.
“It’s all the more crucial that municipalities do this, since the negotiations are moving very quickly at this point,” Chretien said. “They hope to come to an agreement by the end of the first half of this year.”
CUPE’s assessment is of CETA is based on leaked copies of parts of the draft.
“It’s a complex and very large free trade agreement that covers all aspects of trade and economic development and it will have significant implications for municipalities and municipal governments,” she said.
For the first time provinces are at the table and are signalling in advance that they are willing to be bound by the final deal.
She said the European Union has been explicit in requests for full access to all levels of public procurement in municipalities in Canada, including core municipal services such as public transit, water services and wastewater treatment.
This could mean that local procurement would become more difficult.
“The leaked CETA documents explicitly propose that local economic development implications be excluded as factors in procurement decisions,” she said. “Additionally under CETA, EU corporations would have preferential bidding rights on municipal procurement contracts and goods and services.”
For example, she said it gives those foreign firms tools to dispute and seek potential damages, and even overturn local procurement decisions.
“So if you already had public water, you’re exempted from having it bid on as a private institution, but if you were already under a private/public partnership and you decided to go back to a municipality for water, you would have to bid that out and they could, if they felt there was a bias towards local, file a dispute with the process, which would then give them potential damages,” she explained, adding that given the conditions that will have quite an effect on municipal governments, it’s surprising that mayors and councils aren’t part of the negotiations at all.
On top of that, neither the federal, nor provincial governments have presented an assessment on the impact CETA might have on local government at this point, she argued.
“They have not offered any meaningful assessment of what municipalities might actually gain from abandoning their procurement rights,” she said, adding that while CUPE is critical of CETA’s procurement chapter, we are by no means opposed to an open, fair and transparent procurement process.”
Chretien said other municipalities across Canada have expressed their opposition to CETA and many are seeking more information from the federation of community municipalities, which passed a resolution in December 2010 calling on the federal government to respect municipal autonomy and trade negotiations with the European Union.
She said it’s not only right that municipal governments have a bigger say in CETA, it should be mandatory when municipal governments are increasingly important to the Canadian economy.
Coun. Kathy Moore noted that the last council had put together a general letter on the matter and sent it to the UBCM.
“The UBCM has taken a position wanting more transparency and wanting a seat at the table, is there really anything further for individual municipalities to do?” Moore asked.
“I think an individual municipality can show the people in the municipality that they are taking it seriously,” Chretien replied, adding that it is a perception issue.
Mayor Greg Granstrom read a letter from the UBCM saying that they are remaining active on the CETA negotiations, assuring that would be enough.