Labour mobility spin sweetens secret deregulation and privatization agreement
New legal challenges feared if TILMA-related changes to internal trade pact go through.
by Ish Theilheimer
OTTAWA, March 31, 2009, PublicValues.ca - The federal government is framing as "labour mobility" new secretly-negotiated agreements with the provinces that will open the door to deregulation and privatization of provincial and municipal services.
Changes to the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) have been secretly being negotiated with the provinces and the first of them signed last December. The Council of Canadians says the changes will further deregulate provincial policies that protect communities and the environment and threaten public services. A new report called State of Play: Canada's Internal Free Trade Agenda by public interest researcher and lawyer Steve Shrybman challenges the need for these agreements.
"In reality, there aren't significant barriers to trade and labour mobility," Shrybman told an Ottawa news conference. In the 15 yrs of the AIT's existence, there have been only 15 disputes, all of them dealing with agricultural products and supply management issues. "Of the 15 disputes, there are five dealing with snow crabs."
Steve Shrybman speaks at the March 31 news conference on Parliament Hill.
Paul Moist, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) called the labour mobility question "a matter of spin. The notion that there are labour mobility impediments in Canada would strike most Canadians as offensive," he said. "The problems between jurisdictions have been sorted out in the past 15 years. The real labour mobility issues in Canada have to do with foreign labour coming into Canada and not having their skills recognized."
Paul Moist speaks at the March 31 news conference on Parliament Hill.
Moist and George Floresco, 3rd National Vice President, Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), also at the news conference, share the same fear, that these agreements will open the door to privatization of public services.
"We are especially concerned that the AIT allows provincial governments to put corporate interests before public interests as BC and Alberta are doing with TILMA (the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement)," said Floresco. "We have some experience with private courts challenging public services under NAFTA."
George Floresco speaks at the March 31 news conference on Parliament Hill.
In 2000 the courier corporation UPS filed a legal claim demanding $160 million that its investments are being restricted by Canada's publicly funded network of mailboxes and post offices. It said this network gives Canada's public post office an unfair advantage over private companies. Although UPS ultimately lost this case, Floresco says the case has made others possible.
Shrybman confirms his fear. Currently, he said, there are three cases proceeding under Chapter 11 of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), "which is the prototoype" for the dispute settlement mechanism under these agreements. "One is by Dow Chemical seeking damages... for regulating pesticides in a way Dow doesn't think would be wonderful for its business. There's a claim by Centurion Health claiming $160 million for damages against Canada because it wasn't able to establish a chain of for-profit health clinics in this country. There's a threatened claim by Abitibi-Bowater because Newfoundland has the temerity to recover the timber licenses that were issued to the company to operate a mill that the company's now going to close. The company wanted to sell those licenses, and the province asserted its ownership by revoking them."
The ability to set municipal or provincial procurement policies is endangered by these agreements, said Moist. "The Toronto City Council determined a couple of years ago they wanted to purchase their street cars from Bombardier, with a plant in Thunder Bay. A TILMA-type deal opens the door for a corporation to contest that."
These kinds of claims, the three warn, will become more common if the government gets its way with changes to the AIT. "The services that are offered via the provincial and local governments need to be protected," said Moist. "It will open the floodgates to further privatization of public services by asserting the rights of private service providers."
A complete video record of the news conference prepared by Straight Goods News can be seen here:
Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since founding it in September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca.