Municipalities Across Canada Request Exemptions From CETA — Secret International Trade Deal Places Too Many Restrictions on Local Governments

Awareness about the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union is growing and opposition is mounting. There are currently 45 municipalities in the country that have passed — or are in the process of passing — resolutions on CETA, some seeking full exemptions from the agreement. In addition, six school boards and nationwide and province-wide municipal associations have passed similar resolutions. In total, about four million Canadian citizens are represented.

The overarching impact of CETA is to eliminate most tariffs between Canada and the EU, but as critics such as the Council of Canadians note, CETA “changes non-trade related government policies that affect business profits,” potentially including labour, health, intellectual property, cultural, farming, public safety and environmental regulations.

Since CETA is being negotiated behind closed doors — there have yet to be any public hearings on the pact — local governments fear binding international rules constraining how they can spend public money.

Danny Cavanagh, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Nova Scotia, points out that CETA would “eliminate any flexibility [municipal] governments have in awarding contracts to local or even provincial companies.”

Documents leaked last fall show that drinking water and wastewater services are offered as part of the trade deal. There is also concern that CETA will facilitate the privatization of public services, extend pharmaceutical patent protections and place health care services and insurance at risk. Legal actions against public authorities would increase as companies from the EU could object to being excluded from contracts above $340,000 for goods and services and those above $8.5 million for construction. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) calculates CETA would cause the loss of 28,000 to 150,000 jobs.

The Conservative government deployed familiar tactics to bypass opposition to CETA, having presented the Parliamentary Standing Committee on International Trade with plenty of CETA supporters, but restricting the participation of dissenters. They excluded key studies and reports from the committee’s reading list and bolstered CETA with false economic analyses.

In light of these infractions, the lack of public consultation and the indeterminate status of the negotiations, the Trade Justice Network questions the committee’s assertion that CETA is in the best interests of Canadians and urges the committee to hold another inquiry before a final deal is signed.

No one knows when that may be, but Canadian trade negotiators are in Brussels this week for the eleventh round of talks. Time is running out for concerned citizens to take action.

Asking municipalities to get involved, however, is a simple process. Last fall, alarmed by news reports about CETA’s possible effects on local governance, I emailed some fact sheets on CETA to my municipal councillors, along with the Council of Canadians’ draft resolution requesting an exemption from CETA.

The rural Municipality of French River is small and sees the need to develop its vision of the future in its own way. Its challenges, from youth-out migration to loss of jobs in traditional industries, are individual but not unique. Many municipalities across the country — now including Toronto — recognize the value of local procurement policies in strengthening local economies.

French River quickly and unanimously passed the resolution after briefly consulting with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Though there were only thirteen other CETA resolutions passed in Canada at the time, it was not a contentious issue for the council; it was one of logic.

See a map of all resolutions passed to date.

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