Nelson councillors oppose trade agreement

Nelson council will be discussing the Canadian-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement at Monday
Nelson council will be discussing the Canadian-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement at Monday's regular meeting.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

Nelson city council will consider requesting it be exempt from international trade agreement that could give European companies the ability to bid on Nelson’s high-value service and construction contracts that go out for public tender.

The Canadian-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations started in 2009 and are expected to wrap up soon. Council fears it may be running out of time to join the list of 80 other municipalities in Canada that have asked to opt out of the agreement.

Councillor Candace Batycki, at the request of interested residents, brought a notice of motion regarding the CETA exception to council’s committee of the whole meeting last week, to give council a chance to discuss and gather information on the motion before the next council meeting when it will be formally voted on.

Batycki asked Sandra Nelken and Pegasis McGauley of the Nelson Chapter of the Council of Canadians to explain their concern with the trade agreement.

They pointed to leaked documents obtained by Quebec media last November that suggest the agreement would make it illegal to give local companies preference on municipal contracts and open the door for international corporations to launch lawsuits against municipalities if anything was done to limit their access to the contract.

They also suggested Nelson should be calling on the federal government to be more transparent in the negotiations and engage in consultation with  municipalities.

Nelson city manager Kevin Cormack suggested that there are already organizations working on these issues on the behalf of municipalities.

“We’d usually rely on the UBCM [Union of British Columbia Municipalities] and FCM [Federation of Canadian Municipalties] — larger bodies with more resources to do research — to represent us on something like this,” Cormack said.

The Union of BC Municipalities passed two resolutions related to CETA at its 2012 convention — one directed at the BC government asking the province to exempt BC municipalities from the agreement, and the second directed at the federal government to preserve the right of local governments to use public contracts to create jobs in their local communities.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities also developed a list of principals for the federal government to apply to CETA and other trade deals, which includes consultation and communication during the negotiations.

Cormack had doubts about what more a local resolution would add. He said if the UBCM’s request for exemptions isn’t being honoured, one coming from Nelson alone would likely be ignored too.

Furthermore, he didn’t think European companies would even be interested in bidding on contracts in a small place like Nelson.

“Maybe if we were Toronto or Burnaby, we might be putting up contracts that would interest overseas bidders,” Cormack said. “When we’re talking about the contract for an $8 million building in Nelson, I don’t think a company based in France is going to be interested in it.”

Cormack explained that all contracts of a certain value are posted on the BC Bids website, which Alberta companies could bid on — but they never do. He couldn’t recall any local contracts being awarded to out of province companies.

“When the economy’s good and things are booming, we actually struggle to get anyone to bid on our projects,” Cormack said.

Still, councillors wanted to go forward with development of a motion.

“I feel it’s better to opt out of it and cover our bases,” Councillor Robin Cherbo said.

Councillor Donna Macdonald agreed, comparing this motion to one she introduced last year asking council to support the decriminalizing marijuana and the Stop the Violence campaign.

“It was important for council to support that motion even after it had been adopted by the UBCM,” she said.

Another federal issue that council took a stand on last year was the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project. Council supported a motion to formally oppose the building of the pipeline. That motion was brought forward by Batycki at the request the group Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free BC.

Batycki said it’s council’s job to take on issues of concern to local residents.

Councillor Paula Kiss agreed.

“I’m concerned about this not just as a councillor, but as a Canadian,” Kiss said.

Many councillors mentioned that the secrecy surrounding the negotiations was concerning them, and asked staff to include for wording in the motion to ask for more transparency.

The council unanimously supported bringing the motion to a council meeting to be voted on.


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