Thursday, April 12, 2007

TILMA would bring "many negative side effects" to Saskatchewan communities

NEWS · APR 12 2007
Planet S Magazine
Volume 5 Issue 17

TILMA Trepidation

by Stephen LaRose

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association is the latest group to voice its concerns regarding the Trade, Investment and Labour Management Agreement (TILMA).

At its March 23-24 board meeting, board members from the voice of Saskatchewan’s city and town governments passed a resolution opposing Saskatchewan’s involvement in the any such agreement.

SUMA passed the resolution after a study of the agreement’s potential ramifications was prepared at the board’s request, says SUMA researcher Sean McEachern.

The TILMA agreement—described by one B.C. union leader as a “Charter of Rights for the business community”—was signed by the Alberta and B.C. governments in the summer of 2006, and took effect April 1, with the two-year phase-in period ending April Fools’ Day 2009. The act calls for provincial and municipal governments to harmonize standards in several areas that will, in the respective governments’ opinions, reduce barriers to inter-provincial trade.

But the worry for groups like SUMA is that the agreement will also bring with it many negative side effects.

“There are some concerns about local procurement, being able to use local businesses. There are also concerns regarding bylaws such as housing standards, business developments, [and] economic development incentives,” says McEachern.

“The big concern has to do with procurement—the ability of governments to choose local businesses to provide services,” he continues. Quite often, municipalities use local choices when it comes to contracting.” Under TILMA, anything that impedes a company from another province that’s signed onto the agreement would contravene the agreement: if a municipality, for example, puts out a tender and inserts a clause saying that only local companies could apply, they could be sued under TILMA.

If a provincial government does agree to sign on to TILMA in the future, SUMA wants its representatives at the negotiating table in order to defend local governments’ interests, McEachern adds. If they’re not allowed at the bargaining table, SUMA wants opting-out provisions for municipal governments.

A briefing document presented to Saskatoon city council by the city’s solicitor in February is also negative on the agreement, painting a dark picture of the city’s affairs—especially its downtown redevelopment programs—if the Saskatchewan government decides to join TILMA. For example, the document says, programs such as business subsidies for downtown redevelopment, residential housing standards, and zoning bylaws to entice commercial developments downtown (such as the Galaxy Theatre) wouldn’t survive a challenge under TILMA. However, TILMA also wouldn’t recognize the subsidy effect of a given provincial government’s funding of municipalities. For example, Calgary receives much greater cash infusions from its provincial government than the Saskatchewan government grants the city of Saskatoon, but TILMA would not recognize Calgary’s lower dependence on municipal property taxes as a subsidy.

As well, TILMA would take precedence over city bylaws and citizen petitions and referendums. For example, Saskatoon has a stronger no-smoking bylaw than other cities—that legislation would be voided by TILMA.

Since the creation of TILMA, the Saskatchewan government has been non-committal on joining up, while the Saskatchewan Party has promised to join TILMA if and when it takes power.

copyright © 2006 Planet S Magazine


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