Ontario’s municipalities have a direct stake in Canada–European Union trade negotiations, which continue despite an announcement October 18 that an “agreement-in-principle” had been reached in most areas. We understand that a key condition in the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is to include Canada’s major cities and towns under the terms of the deal—a first for Canada in any major trade agreement—as requested by European negotiators.
This deal will usher in significant changes to how municipalities conduct day-to-day business – fears that have been confirmed in a technical summary released to the public on October 29. Everything from how we purchase goods and services (beyond what are quite modest monetary thresholds) to the establishment of local economic development policies will be subject to new trade disciplines (and possible court challenge) under CETA.
Over the past years, a number of Ontario municipal councils have raised concerns about the deal, with more than 20 municipalities calling for a clear, permanent exemption from the deal. It’s now clear that CETA will restrict the local decision-making capacity of cities and towns, in spite of re-assurances from federal officials. Buy-local policies can no longer apply to major transit and other infrastructure projects (even buy-local transit policies in Ontario and Quebec have been watered down). The CETA also restricts most provinces and territories from establishing regional economic development criteria in public works projects while their use in Ontario will be prohibited entirely.
To be clear, we are generally encouraged at the prospect of enhancing trade and closer economic ties with one of Canada’s major trading partners. But the deal needs to be fair, truly promote the economic well-being of our municipalities, and advance the interests of all Canadians.
A good trade deal with Europe cannot undermine the ability of local governments to establish policy that meets the needs of our constituents. It cannot leave us vulnerable to corporate lawsuits that challenge our approaches to economic development and growth. It cannot limit our capacity to employ innovative solutions to job creation, public service provisions or other unique challenges we face. In short, the CETA cannot come at any cost.
We, the undersigned elected municipal representatives, call on your government to provide Ontario municipalities with clear and comprehensive briefing on the CETA, as soon as possible.
We also urge your government to engage in a full consultation process with impacted municipalities and reserve for them the right to debate, and ultimately vote, on the terms of the deal (as they relate to cities and towns) before any approval of the deal is issued by the province.