Wednesday, March 19, 2008

TILMA: StarPhoenix flip-flops, supports findings in new Estey Centre report but last year dismissed critics with same concerns as “scaremongers”

The following letter was submitted to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on March 19, 2008:

Dear Editor:

For the SP editorial board it’s as if time stopped on June 28, 2007, when Sask. Party leader Brad Wall announced that due to a few concerns a government under him would not sign the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) in its present form. Anything Wall or the SP might have said about the trade agreement before then seems to no longer exist.

In the editorial TILMA analysis wise approach by Sask. Cities (SP, Mar. 17) the SP completely ignores the fact that throughout 2006 Wall’s support for the trade deal was absolute and unequivocal. He repeatedly condemned NDP Premier Lorne Calvert for not signing it.

BC and Alberta signed the deal behind closed doors without public consultation or legislative debate. Wall wanted Saskatchewan at the table and had he been premier there’s little doubt he would have committed the province to the agreement.

Long forgotten is the SP’s endorsement of the trade deal without reservation. In TILMA gives clout to Sask. (SP, May 15, 2007) the SP said the province would have “the most to lose” if it were left out. It urged Premier Calvert “to push for Saskatchewan’s inclusion as soon as possible.”

“TILMA’s success is based on the notion of including everything unless there’s a darn good reason to leave out a sector,” the SP said.

Only now after the conservative think tank Estey Centre for Law and Economics in International Trade have released a report raising a number of serious concerns with the agreement, including the SP’s aforementioned “success,” does the editorial board reconsider its position.

When citizens, labour groups and respected individuals like economists Erin Weir and Marc Lee, or international trade lawyer Steven Shrybman and trade consultant Ellen Gould were raising the very same concerns as Estey more than a year ago the SP dismissed them as “scaremongers” and “the usual anti-trade and protectionist suspects.” The SP’s hypocrisy is incredible.

The SP feels that those BC and Alberta municipalities that are disgruntled with the trade deal should have raised their concerns at the outset instead of now after the fact. How could they when their respective governments neglected to consult with them? Proof of this fact can be found in the excellent report on TILMA that Saskatoon city solicitor Theresa Dust submitted to city council in Feb. 2007.

It appears the SP now supports a total exemption for municipalities from TILMA along with having a well-established court system to resolve disputes rather than rely on some newly created trade panel to do the job. That’s great but the scope of Estey’s report is confined primarily to TILMA’s effect on municipalities. The trade deal’s impact, however, goes well beyond that.

For example, Article 17 of the agreement ensures that things like water and measures relating to aboriginal peoples; regulated rates established for the public good or public interest; social policy that includes labour standards and codes, minimum wages, Employment Insurance, social assistance benefits and worker’s compensation; financial assistance for recreation, academic research or to non-profit organizations; measures adopted or maintained to provide compensation to persons for losses resulting from calamities such as diseases or disasters; measures adopted or maintained relating to the management or conservation of forests, fish and wildlife; or to the management and disposal of hazardous and waste materials will eventually be left unprotected and exposed to the full force of the agreement. How on earth can this be good for Saskatchewan?

Presumably Premier Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party still support this nasty business because it’s not on their list of concerns with the agreement.

Business lobby groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Council of Chief Executives enthusiastically support TILMA and its regime of harmonization and deregulation. To them the interests of private investors and profiteers outweigh any negative impact the trade deal might have on municipalities or the public in general. The Wall government is cut from the same cloth.

TILMA was a bad deal in April 2006 and it’s still a bad deal today.

Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK


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