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Documents show CETA ill-advised

StarPhoenix, Saskatoon

Documents show CETA ill-advised

By Stuart Trew

2 February 2012

The City of Saskatoon’s executive committee recently voted narrowly in favour of a motion that calls on the provincial government to exclude the city from a potential Canada-European Union free trade deal. There are good reasons why councillors should uphold that decision when the proposal comes before them next week.

The latest comes from newly leaked documents related to the ongoing Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations involving Canada, the provinces and the EU. These documents, released last week in Quebec, show Canada’s initial services and investment offers, which were exchanged with EU negotiators in October 2011.

Essentially the offers are a list of sectors and accompanying measures at all levels of government where Canada would like to protect some degree of policy space. Everything not listed will come under new disciplines in CETA designed to lower the level of government intervention and raise the role of markets and profit.

Saskatchewan, like the other provinces and territories, was asked to come up with its own list separated into Annex I and Annex II reservations. In the first category go existing measures that would otherwise run afoul of CETA rules, and can only be changed in the future to bring them more in line with the agreement.

For example, the Wall government wants Sask Energy and SaskPower to retain exclusive rights to supply, transmit, distribute and sell natural gas and electricity in the province. Likewise the SLGA will remain the sole licensing authority for the distribution of alcohol.

But open Annex II - the place governments are supposed to list areas where they’d like to retain some freedom to move in the future - and there’s literally nothing there for Saskatchewan. No carve out for public transit, drinking and waste water services, waste management, or any other service typically delivered at the municipal level.

Canada is seeking to protect existing municipal service monopolies and measures that don’t conform to proposed CETA rules, but not the right of cities, including Saskatoon, to introduce new policies, monopolies or regulations in the future that might upset private investors and corporations operating in those areas. These could include environmental or public health measures that an investor could argue were "tantamount to expropriation," or otherwise an unfair burden on profits.

Even the EU, home to the world’s largest private water companies, has asked to protect future policy space for municipal water services. The fact that Canada and Saskatchewan have not done the same is like putting an "Open for Business" sign on these now mostly public municipal services.

Civic staff submitted a report to Saskatoon’s executive committee last month claiming that CETA would have no operational, project, financial or environmental risks to the city. These leaked documents contradict that assessment. Staff could do worse than to study the leaked texts and decide whether a new opinion is in order.

But councillors also should question staff claims that the province and municipalities will not lose any more space from procurement commitments in CETA that they haven’t conceded in the New West Partnership agreement with Alberta and British Columbia.

Saskatoon, if covered by CETA, would be asked to give up forever the possibility of putting any condition, big or small, on tenders that would encourage some form of local development. It’s not about discrimination between in-province and outof-province or out-of-country firms, something Saskatoon is already committed to avoiding, as are most Canadian municipalities. It’s about giving up creative and successful job creation and sustainable development policy options when we need them most.

That’s what has municipalities concerned and what this CETA motion in Saskatoon, if successful, will protest. Already dozens of Canadian cities and towns, including the Union of B.C. Municipalities, have called for an exemption from CETA. These councils recognize there is no reward for making what are essentially unreasonable concessions on public spending.

With the leaked documents showing very real risks to other Saskatoon policies in the future, city councillors have even more reason to pass the motion against joining CETA.

Saskatoon council would lose little and gain much from staying out of this deal.

Trew is a trade campaigner for the Council of Canadians.