Slowly but surely the truth is getting out there that the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) is bad news for Saskatchewan and its municipalities.
After spending the better part of a year berating and condemning Premier Lorne Calvert and the ruling NDP for not getting on board and signing the agreement leader Brad Wall and his conservative Saskatchewan Party are now trying to soften their image by pledging to hold consultations on TILMA if elected.
In the lead up to BC and Alberta signing TILMA absolutely no consultation with municipalities in either province took place. The deal was developed behind closed doors. Had Saskatchewan been at the table like Wall wanted the same would have likely happened here. The Saskatchewan Party neglects to mention that. They also don't mention that BC Premier Gordon Campbell said in December 2006 that Saskatchewan and Ontario were welcome to join TILMA provided they didn't "try to tinker with the deal." With friends like that...
Thanks for Wall and his party's shallow about-face likely goes to the City of Saskatoon whose solicitor last month detailed a litany of serious problems with TILMA in a report to City Council. In short, signing TILMA would strip Saskatoon and many other Saskatchewan municipalities of their "right to local choice" -- something the Saskatchewan Party helped recognize and strengthen in 2002 when the three provincial parties approved The Cities Act. TILMA will put private profits ahead of the public interest. The Saskatchewan Party is no different than the two conservative governments that have already signed this horrific deal.
Under TILMA an independent panel will have the power to fine governments up to $5-million for violating the agreement, and governments can be hit with repeated complaints against the same program or regulation. Gary Mar, the cabinet minister responsible for negotiating TILMA for Alberta says the process is "everything Canadian business asked for."
If the deal is that bad for Saskatoon -- often described as the province's economic engine -- then what about the City of Regina? What is mayor Pat Fiacco and his City Council telling residents there? Have they read the Saskatoon solicitor's report? If so, it likely didn't go over well and put the mayor in a tough spot.
The Saskatchewan Party appears to run in the Fiacco family. Brothers Tony and Frank are hoping to win seats for the party in Regina Rosemont and Regina Qu'Appelle respectively in the next provincial election.
The citizens of Saskatchewan haven't been able to count on the media to explain to them just how much of a negative impact TILMA will have if it were brought here. This comes as no surprise as the two major dailies, The StarPhoenix and The Leader-Post, are owned by the conservative leaning CanWest MediaWorks Limited. Thanks though to individuals like Tom Sheltad, below, of Swift Current [Brad Wall's constituency] word of TILMA and its negative impact may finally be reaching the general population nonetheless.
Proposed TILMA pact: 'expect the worst'
Saturday, March 17, 2007
It is not surprising that the Saskatchewan Party's Ken Krawetz (Letters, March 10) should paint the TILMA (Trade, Investment and Labor Mobility Agreement) in glowing colours. Parties of the conservative persuasion have long had the habit of taking the nature of ideas and turning them on their head.
According to his letter, TILMA will help maintain Crown corporations, environmental standards and the well-being of labour. Given the Saskatchewan Party's past behaviour in regard to these areas, one can expect TILMA to actually produce just the opposite.
To understand the true nature of TILMA (go to www.canadians.org for more details), one should think of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Both are basically cut from the same cloth.
Both have the same objective.
Both establish the principle that business investment is sovereign.
If any public initiative (provincial or local) "impairs or restricts investment" (TILMA Article 3), then businesses can sue for up to $5 million.
An example of what could happen would be if the Saskatchewan Party was elected and decided to do away with our government-based auto insurance. Once the big insurance companies moved in, we could not bring it back.
In Article 6, the onus is put on the public sector to prove that its legislative initiative -- be it taxes, labour laws or environmental regulations -- is not restrictive on trade and investment. According to the rules, TILMA will prevail except in special and rare cases.
The agreement provides for the creation of a dispute panel to hand out rulings where there is conflict.
Given the track record with similar rules and a similar dispute panel under NAFTA, we can probably expect the worst.
Because TILMA requires a degree of harmonization among the provinces (Article 5), what is to prevent companies from hammering away with lawsuits, producing a "lowest common denominator" effect?
Where will our health, safety and environmental regulations be then?
There is plenty of bad news for local governments, too. Things such as government grants, regional development and downtown revitalization all appear to be prohibited by the wording of Article 12. Such initiatives appear to be deemed as distorting the real estate market as well as various other investment opportunities.
Given that interprovincial trade is booming and that the 1985 Macdonald Commission found that interprovincial trade barriers add only a tiny cost to our GDP, TILMA appears to be not really necessary.
So I would say, considering everything, shackling the public good in this way in order to add icing to the god of profit is totally unacceptable.
©The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007
TILMA contains no threat to labour
Saturday, March 10, 2007
It appears Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich is ready to condemn the B.C.-Alberta trade, investment and labour mobility agreement (TILMA) without any consideration of the potential benefits that may accrue to Saskatchewan. ("Western trade deal worries unions", Leader-Post, Feb. 23).
In my view, failure to at least look at the agreement and what it may offer would be a serious error.
The Saskatchewan Party believes the provincial government needs to pursue a growth agenda. While that includes removing barriers to growth, such as the removal of inter-provincial trade barriers, it also means:
- Maintaining public ownership of Saskatchewan's major Crown corporations;
- Maintaining and strengthening environmental standards so that growth is achieved in an environmentally sustainable manner, and;
- Enhancing the well-being of workers in the province.
The Saskatchewan Party supports TILMA in principle because it is consistent with the growth agenda we have called for.
A future Saskatchewan Party government would not sign on to the agreement unless certain it was in the best interests of Saskatchewan people and removed barriers to growth without negatively impacting on the public ownership of the major Crowns, environmental standards in the province and well-being of workers.
Given the impact of TILMA across the province, we also believe the provincial government has an obligation to consult with stakeholders and the public prior to accepting or rejecting Saskatchewan's participation in TILMA.
TILMA is about eliminating interprovincial trade irritants, making it easier for business to do business and making it easier for workers to work across western Canada.
It's designed to streamline business registration and reporting requirements so that businesses registered in one province are automatically recognized in the other.
It enhances labour mobility by recognizing occupational certifications of workers in western provinces.
It provides open and nondiscriminatory access to government procurement, and it creates a clear, comprehensive and enforceable dispute-avoidance and resolution mechanism.
Those areas exempted from the agreement are also clearly outlined. They include provincial laws and regulations governing water, taxation, royalties, labour standards, occupational health and safety, procurement of health and social services, social policy and aboriginal policies and programs.
If this province were to become a party to the agreement, Saskatchewan businesses could become more able to compete in the booming economies to the west. They would need more workers -- and Mr. Hubich would have more members.
Krawetz is the Saskatchewan Party's labour critic and deputy leader.
©The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007
Western trade deal worries unions
Friday, February 23, 2007
The problem with understanding the Saskatchewan labour movement's concerns over this province signing on to the Alberta-B.C. trade and labour mobility agreement is getting past the union's conspiracy theories.
But after nearly an hour of ranting in an interview about secret backroom deals made by right-wing premiers, equally right-wing bureaucrats doing the bidding of the corporate elite and the Saskatchewan Party and even the NDP MLAs neatly falling in line with the corporate agenda, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich makes at least one pertinent point.
"What's stopping a Saskatchewan nurse from moving to Alberta right now? And what's stopping a nurse from Australia from coming to Saskatchewan?"
It's a pretty good question. Really, are Alberta and British Columbia so mired in their own bureaucratic red-tape that businesses or individuals have been hampered from relocating there? And even if so, why does that make the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) a good thing for Saskatchewan to join? Aren't B.C. and Alberta each the home of 200,000 to 250,000 Saskatchewan-born people right now?
There again, eliminating interprovincial trade irritants and maybe even some business activity restrictions -- and perhaps even a few of Saskatchewan's more restrictive labour laws -- might actually be a good thing for this province.
What's weird about the argument from the largely pro-business supporters of TILMA is their insistence the agreement doesn't infringe in those areas. In fact, they tend to be the first to point out that labour standards, occupational health and safety, minimum wage and Crown corporation ownership are all exempt.
Admittedly, the document does read very much like it was written by bureaucrats for bureaucrats who were looking to justify their own existence. And one needs to be equally cognizant that the SFL executive's "TILMA Alert!" campaign launched last week may very well be the SFL justifying its own existence to is own membership.
But it's about here where you begin to see the basis of labour's paranoia.
Really, if this deal is so benign, why is it necessary? Haven't most professional and trade qualification issues already been covered in provincial laws? Weren't interprovincial trade barrier issues covered in the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) between the provinces? And if it's not a big deal, why do respective business communities in B.C. and Alberta seem so delighted that their governments acted on their suggestions?
Well, according to Hubich, it's because of the things in TILMA we're not seeing.
The first article in TILMA suggests that under any circumstance in which there is a contradiction between AIT and TILMA, the provision that "is more conducive to liberalized trade, investment and labour mobility prevails", the SFL leader noted. That significantly weakens TILMA's supposed exemption provisions, because it would likely mean that the prevailing provision would be the lower standard. In other words, Saskatchewan labour would be far more likely to lose its automatic union certification based on the 50-per-cent-plus-one signing of cards in the work place. And B.C. would be far more likely to lose its anti-scab legislation.
What's more disconcerting is that TILMA even gives businesses new tools to enforce lower standards because business or other entities can take a government to a new TILMA dispute panel on "any matter regarding the interpretation of this agreement" and governments can be subject to maximum $5-million fines, Hubich noted, adding it would become a new tool for companies like Wal-Mart to change Saskatchewan's union certification laws.
Hubich argued it could also affect provincial professional bodies (accountants, teachers, nurses) who might be forced to succumb to lower standards in other provinces. (B.C. teachers require a five-year master's degree before certification.) And cities, towns and municipalities should be equally concerned because TILMA opposes preferential local hiring, Hubich said.
This takes us to labour's final and most relevant argument. Should such sweeping changes be thrust on to taxpayers via their government signing onto a trade agreement? Or shouldn't this be decided by voters, through picking their own government every four years?
Paranoid or not, it seems a fair thing for labour to ask.
- Mandryk is the political columnist for the Leader-Post.
©The Leader-Post (Regina