Canada’s trade agenda makes fools of us all, says new report
TORONTO - MARCH 31, 2009 – One day before April Fool’s Day, when the still disputed Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) goes into full effect between British Columbia and Alberta, a report by expert trade lawyer Steven Shrybman concludes that TILMA, other similar agreements currently in development across Canada, and recent changes to the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) will only further undermine provincial policies that protect communities and the environment while also threatening public services.
“The true purpose of this domestic ‘trade’ agenda is to impose broad constraints on the exercise of governmental and public authority under the rubric of addressing trade barriers,” said Shrybman in Ottawa. The Council of Canadians released the report, titled ‘State of Play: Canada’s Internal Free Trade Agenda’, alongside other groups today at press conferences in Halifax, Moncton, Ottawa, Toronto, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver.
Shrybman’s report mentions the Ontario–Quebec Economic Partnership Agreement, which is nearing completion without the knowledge or consent of Ontarians. A brief summary of the Ontario–Quebec agreement, available only by request from the Ministry of Economic Development, suggests the provinces are negotiating a binding dispute resolution process based on TILMA, which would grant corporations enormous new powers to dismantle public policies that restrict investment opportunities – even public health and environmental policies.
“The last thing Ontario needs is more deregulation. Dalton: the people of Ontario need you to protect our jobs and savings, not sign secret deals that create another free market race to the bottom,” said Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario section of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), at the Toronto press conference.
“These kinds of agreements are like a bad virus spreading across the country, watering down health, safety and labour standards to the lowest common denominator,” said Doris Grinspun, Executive Director of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), adding that such standards are needed to protect the public.
To add insult to injury, the justification for signing these interprovincial agreements—to remove barriers to trade—has no basis in fact, as explained in the Shrybman report.
“Between 2000 and 2007, Ontario’s international exports declined by four per cent but its interprovincial exports increased by 31 per cent. There is no evidence that supposed interprovincial trade barriers are limiting Ontario’s sale of goods and services to other Canadian provinces,” noted Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers union, at the Toronto press conference.
Shrybman’s report also highlights the role of the federal government in encouraging the implementation of new interprovincial agreements and notes the government has even threatened to use its constitutional powers to force the agreements onto reluctant provinces. Furthermore, the report suggests that this urgency could be linked to a proposed Canada–EU free-trade agreement.
“These agreements do not strengthen the ‘economic union’ between provinces, as Prime Minister Harper claims. He’s pushing the harmonization of provincial regulations across Canada to enter negotiations toward a Canada–EU free trade agreement that will go much further than NAFTA by liberalizing services and investment, even at the municipal level,” said Stuart Trew, Trade Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Interprovincial trade agreements seem to be a way to force the compliance of Canada’s provinces and cities. Democratic governance at the community level is being sacrificed to boost the profits of transnational corporations.”
All of the organizations at the Toronto press conference called upon the McGuinty government to immediately publicize the details of its “economic partnership agreement” with Quebec in order to discuss and debate its merits with Ontarians. The former Saskatchewan government held extensive public consultations in 2007 before deciding not to sign TILMA with Alberta and B.C. The Toronto group also called on McGuinty to reverse his government’s decision to support AIT amendments that impose financial penalties for disputes and require Ontario to automatically accept occupational certification from other provinces and territories, even if it falls below Ontario’s existing standards.
Copies of the report ‘State of Play: Canada’s Internal Free Trade Agenda’ can be downloaded at www.canadians.org/TILMA.
Marion Zych, Director of Communications
Registered Nursesâ€™ Association of Ontario