Letter: Free-trade agreements a ‘boondoggle’ for cities

Vancouver has asked city staff to examine the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) that allows foreign corporations to sue governments.

To the editor:

In reply to a call from the local chapter of the Council of Canadians to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mayor Colin Basran wrote:  “I appreciate your concerns but this is a jurisdiction of the federal government and outside of our mandate.  I would encourage you to contact your local Member of Parliament with your concerns.”

The mayor’s conclusion is perplexing given federal Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland’s open letter to Canadians in January, wherein she says municipal officials are some of the people she will consult so she might “fully understand the TPP’s impact.”

There are two main ways in which the TPP will impact our city.  First, the trade deal will remove barriers from municipal procurement, opening up equal market access from each of the 12 member countries that participate in the agreement.  (Provincial and federal procurement will be affected in the same way.)

This means that public policy tools such as offsets, incentives and local preferences that have been proven to create local jobs and make communities more sustainable will no longer be allowed.

So, for example, if Kelowna needed to complete some road construction or expand water treatment services, companies from the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Canada could compete without restriction or favour for the work contracts.

Second, the TPP will compromise the city’s authority by allowing corporations to sue over municipal legislation that results in a loss of profits.  For example, if Kelowna suddenly imposed restrictions on corporate water withdrawals due to drought, an affected company could sue the city.

Contemporary free trade agreements are such a boondoggle for local governments, the Union of B.C. Municipalities requested an exemption for them from CETA.  The UBCM was under pressure from at least 89 local governments that had passed their own resolutions seeking exemption.

Like CETA, the TPP has been signed but has not been ratified—and opposition to it is beginning to grow.  Nanaimo has now passed a resolution seeking exemption, while Vancouver has asked city staff to examine the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that allows foreign corporations to sue governments.

At a public forum in Kelowna during the municipal election of 2014, not one candidate for mayor or council was aware of the existence of ISDS in trade agreements.  It’s therefore questionable whether Mayor Basran and the current crop of councillors are up to speed now and capable of taking a stand to defend our city against the treacherous TPP.

If they feel they need a primer, they could attend the public forum, Dismantling the Trans-Pacific Partnership, on May 31, 7:00 pm, at Okanagan College Theatre.

Dianne Varga, Kelowna