Mayor Dooley questions Nelson council’s logic

Nelson welcomes you... or does it? Council was not warm to inviting foreign trade into the community during debate at last week
Nelson welcomes you... or does it? Council was not warm to inviting foreign trade into the community during debate at last week's regular council meeting.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

Nelson councillors passed a resolution to request that the municipality be exempt from the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, despite Mayor John Dooley urging them to reconsider their position.

Dooley was out of town last month when the issue was discussed at a committee of the whole meeting, so he didn’t have a chance to share his position until last Monday’s regular council just before the motion was voted on.

The mayor called the motion petty and misguided.

“I think we’re better than this,” Dooley said. “If we have a problem with something, like the procurement piece of this, we should try to address that issue — not say we don’t want any part of it.”

Eighty Canadian municipalities have passed similar resolutions asking for individual exemptions and the Union of BC Municipalities has also asked that all member municipalities, including Nelson, be exempt.

The main reason municipalities want out of the forthcoming trade agreement is that it may allow European companies to bid on high-value service and construction contracts that go out for public tender, potentially making it harder for local contractors to compete.

“This is a symbolic gesture,” Councillor Paula Kiss said, acknowledging that the request for exception is unlikely to be respected. “We just want to send a message that we, as a municipality, mistrust their process.”

Two years ago council amended its purchasing policy to authorize city staff to give preference to local suppliers when sourcing products, such as office supplies. But for larger contracts the city is required to advertise on BC Bids, giving companies across BC and Alberta have an opportunity to bid on the job.

Dooley pointed out that many non-Kootenays companies have been awarded large contracts that the city put out for tender in recent years, including downtown hydro conversion project, the generator rewind at Bonnington Falls Power Plant, and renovations at the Nelson and District Community Complex and Touchstones Nelson.

And he noted that Selkirk Paving, which does municipal roadwork on a regular basis, is owned by a company in France.

“I don’t think the proportion of contracts we award to local companies is going to change much,” Dooley said. “Our track record isn’t great as it is.”

But he believes local business will stand to benefit under the new trade agreement because it will give them access to larger, European markets.

Earlier this month, the city partnered with the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce to host a seminar with international trade and investment representatives and several local businesses, particularly in the technology sector, were interested in learning about how they could take advantage of the international marketplace.

“We have at least $100,000 in the city budget going towards business retention and expansion — between supporting initiatives like Invest Kootenay, Kootenay Lake Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce — why are we spending that money if we’re going to turn around at put out a motion like this that will hurt local business?” Dooley asked.

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and Pacific Insight Electronics sent letters to council expressing their support for the trade agreement. Copies of both letters were distributed at the meeting.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities also provided a written statement updating council on its work to ensure its seven trade principles were being respected throughout these trade negotiations.

As a result Councillor Candace Batycki, who brought forward the original motion at the request of concerned residents, agreed to add a clause to her motion to say that Nelson was requesting exception “should the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ seven trade principles not be respected.”

In other words, if the trade principles are respected then the request for exception wouldn’t apply.

All five councillors present at the meeting supported the motion. Councillor Bob Adams was absent. The mayor, as the meeting chair, doesn’t vote on motions unless he’s required to settle a tie vote.

For what we think about the issue, click here.

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