Saturday, June 09, 2007

TILMA: Planet S Magazine boldly goes where the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and other CanWest newspapers won’t

The June 7, 2007, edition of Saskatoon’s Planet S Magazine contains an excellent article by Chris Kirkland exposing the potential impact the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) could have on local governments – the City of Vancouver being one of the more recent to come forward with concerns.

The article makes reference to a recent editorial in “Saskatoon’s CanWest daily”. The horrid piece of work in question is TILMA gives clout to Sask. in the May 15, 2007, edition of the StarPhoenix.

The editorial refers to TILMA critics as “the usual anti-trade and protectionist suspects” and “the scaremongers…among us.”

In support of its pro-TILMA stance the StarPhoenix editorial board cites just one report, the slim, somewhat flawed 21-page analysis (including 10-page Curriculum Vitae) by University of Saskatchewan economics professor Eric Howe. After reading the editorial one wonders if any of the board bothered to read TILMA or any of the other analyses that are widely available online.

The StarPhoenix is not alone with its blind support of TILMA. Nearly every CanWest newspaper in Canada has come out in favour of the destructive trade agreement. This comes as no surprise since the flagship National Post has twice endorsed Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper for Prime Minister – a staunch supporter of TILMA.

At times the StarPhoenix seems little more than an information clearing house and newsletter for the Saskatchewan Party and conservative think tanks the Fraser Institute and Canada West Foundation – also supporters of TILMA. (National Post chairman David Asper is, by the way, a former Fraser Institute board member.)

It is interesting to note that Saskatchewan is one of the only provinces in Canada without a press council. Apparently the major dailies in Saskatoon and Regina are not interested in having one. I wonder why.

Below are a few links to past editorials and articles on TILMA from various CanWest newspapers:

Saskatoon StarPhoenix:
TILMA gives clout to Sask. (May 15, 2007)

Calgary Herald:
Let Prairie trade fire roar (April 27, 2007)

Edmonton Journal:
Western trade pact builds better future (April 3, 2007)

Ottawa Citizen:
Trading with the neighbours (May 15, 2007)

Regina Leader-Post:
Calvert wrestles with TILMA (April 21, 2007)

Windsor Star:
The provinces (May 22, 2007)

Vancouver Sun:
B.C., Alberta will benefit from lowering economic barriers (May 03, 2006)

The Gazette (Montreal):
Quebec and Ontario should negotiate a free-trade deal - Template could be the pact between Alberta and B.C. (April 24, 2007)

Victoria Times Colonist:
B.C.-Alberta trade deal "will expand’ (September 26, 2006)

National Post (Financial Post):
Push on to cut barriers between provinces (December 27, 2006)

Planet S Magazine
JUN 07 - JUN 20 2007

City For Sale?


by Chris Kirkland

In a recent editorial urging the province to sign on to the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), Saskatoon’s CanWest daily derided critics of the deal as “the usual anti-trade and protectionist suspects.” You know, the type of nasty folks who love to use “scare tactics.”

Well, I’ve never met Theresa Dust, Saskatoon’s City Solicitor. Nor, for that matter, have I ever met Sean McEachern, a policy analyst for the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA). I’m fairly sure, however, that neither the City of Saskatoon administration nor SUMA are organizations rife with “anti-trade and protectionist suspects,” determined to do everything in their power to destroy capitalism.

Yet, both Dust and McEachern have analyzed the potential impacts of TILMA on Saskatchewan’s municipalities (and municipal governments) if the province were to join B.C and Alberta and sign on—and both have identified serious concerns. In fact, Dust’s report in particular—which was presented to city council in February—seems to indicate that TILMA could in fact supersede the ability of democratically elected governments to make decisions in many cases, and the ability of citizens to mount grassroots campaigns. Moreover, it could leave Saskatoon open to lawsuits from corporations over some of its most effective programs.

All this, according to Ward Six councillor Charlie Clark, is more than a little worrisome. Even more worrisome is the fact that, before Dust embarked upon her research on behalf of city council, almost no one had looked at the implications of the deal for municipalities—including cities in B.C. and Alberta, who are already party to the deal.

“It’s absolutely worrying—Theresa Dust contacted both the Alberta and B.C. unions of municipalities in February, to find out what they knew about this agreement that they’d signed, that was going into effect for them in three months, and nobody had anything to give her. There was no consultation or discussion, apparently, which is pretty scary,” says Clark.

“And for the general public, when they hear about TILMA at all, they hear that it’s something we need to make it easier for a student transfer from one university to another, or a tradesperson to transfer from one province to another, and that’s why we should sign this. But almost none of the proponents of the deal will acknowledge the impact on jurisdictional matters, and the fact that TILMA essentially values free trade over almost everything else. If it was in place, whatever you do has to make it easier for investment and trade to flow freely, regardless of whether that impedes the democratic ability of local and provincial governments to make choices that meet the particular needs of their area.”

According to Dust’s report, the agreement’s sole focus on profit may have far-reaching implications for many city programs that have been very successful in areas such as downtown revitalization, housing, and health standards (such as the smoking bylaw).

Saskatoon’s success in maintaining a healthy downtown is widely recognized . . . [and] one component of that success was the issue of the location of stadium-style theatres. Saskatoon went against the trend and insisted that stadium-style theatres be built only in downtown. The Galaxy Theatre was built downtown . . . a significant success for both the theatre company and for a healthy downtown. This is the kind of independence and risk-taking by cities that does not fit with the TILMA concept of standardization of regulations affecting business environment,” writes Dust.

“[As well], part of maintaining a healthy downtown in Saskatoon has been the granting of tax incentives for developing housing downtown. These incentives are not only successful in achieving their purpose but are also widely supported in the community. All such incentives would be prohibited by TILMA as business subsidies, as we understand the Agreement.”

Clark agrees, noting that local business in the downtown core will also potentially feel a very negative impact.

“Right now in Saskatoon we have some really innovative programs that are having a real impact. The Enterprise Zone, for example, which gives an incentive for developers, business owners and individuals to improve, develop and keep up property in some of the areas that are lacking in development, is something that very clearly could be challenged under TILMA as an unfair trade distortion. Along with that, there’s our architectural heritage program, where we provide incentives for people to fix up and maintain older buildings with architectural value, and many others that could be challenged.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, believes Clark, who notes that almost every decision a municipal government faces where profit could potentially be involved will be liable for challenge under TILMA.

“It really is overarching—the smoking bylaw is something that could be challenged as a trade barrier, if we wanted to put a pesticide ban in place, pesticide companies could challenge that as a barrier, and so on. In BC, some of the school systems talked about reducing junk food served in schools, and the Minister of Education said ‘we can’t do that now that we’ve signed TILMA, so we’ll just have to ask for Coca-Cola and so on to voluntarily comply, but if they don’t there’s nothing we can do.’

“The view of TILMA is basically that the right of Coca-Cola to make profit off the school system, or for others to make profit off of our property system or our neighbourhoods, is more important than the school boards’ or municipal governments’ right to create programs they feel are in the best interests of the people.”

Moreover, it’s not just the right of a given municipal government to govern in a democratic fashion that may be at risk—the right of citizens to work at grassroots levels for their communities may also be a thing of the past under TILMA, says Clark.

“It’s definitely potentially anti-democratic—as the solicitor points out, petitions could be challenged as a barrier to investment. So whether it be the democratically elected government or people who’ve organized into civically-recognized petition campaigns, the rights of a corporation could supersede the rights of government and citizens to govern their communities.”

Yet even with all of these concerns, proponents of the Agreement seem prepared to dismiss critics with the same old “anti-business, anti-capitalism” insults they’ve used in many such similar situations in the past. But if those insults are true, says Clark, perhaps boosters of TILMA should actually explain where its critics are wrong.

“The proponents of the agreement don’t even address those issues. They accuse people who have concerns of claiming the sky is falling, but they don’t say why they think it’s acceptable that the right of corporations to sue governments should trump the right of governments to make decisions on behalf of the public that democratically elected them. They don’t address that—instead, they talk about needing to make it easier for a plumber to move from one province to another, or a business to register in a different province,” says Clark.

“I don’t have any quarrel with those things, and I don’t think anyone else does, either—those are good goals—but why does this agreement include clauses that are of far more serious concern for local governments and communities? That’s what they won’t answer. I’m not even sure that the people who’ve written the agreement completely understand its implications—they’ve taken an international trade agreement and tried to squeeze it into inter-provincial relationships, and then subsumed other levels of government underneath that. It’s a huge move, and I don’t think anyone’s understood the complexity of it even as they’ve done it.”

Then again, according to the CanWest daily in Saskatoon, Clark is one of those ‘left-leaning’ types—so perhaps we’ll leave the final word to Solicitor Dust.

“The assumption of the governments of B.C. and Alberta seems to be that TILMA can be ‘adjusted’ to fit cities. Our concern is that the assumption appears to have been made without any study or consultation. Based on the information that we have to date, it may be equally possible to assume that TILMA cannot be adjusted to fit cities.

“It may well be that the issue which will be facing cities is ‘do you want TILMA or do you want local choice—or at least a protected local choice, free from the risk of TILMA challenges?’ That would be a very different debate than what is proposed for B.C. and Alberta.”

It would seem fairly clear that, despite the manner in which TILMA boosters dismiss their critics, it’s a debate we desperately need to have.

© 2006 Planet S Magazine


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