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City may opt out of trade deal

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Brockville will opt out of a Canada-Europe free trade deal if city council follows the recommendation of its finance committee.

Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion to seek an exemption from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a measure its finance, administration and operations committee is recommending.

The finance committee backed the recommendation at the urging of the Brockville chapter of the advocacy group the Council of Canadians, which argued CETA will remove local governments'' power to make local decisions.

Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown hopes council will think twice about opting out and accused the Council of Canadians of “fear-mongering.”

Jim Riesberry, president of the group's Brockville chapter, said CETA will remove the city's ability to give contracts to local service providers and even deprive it of autonomy over local resources.

“Our federal government is handing over the keys to our cities,” said Riesberry.

He said CETA could result in foreign management of public assets such as the transit system and even the local hospital. He urged the city to follow the example of more than 80 others across Canada and exercise its right to seek an exemption from CETA at the local level.

Councillor David Beatty, head of Canarm Ltd. and long a supporter of freer trade, said Riesberry has changed his mind about CETA.

“I don't see the down side of Brockville being exempt.”

Beatty said there are concerns about CETA from a wide spectrum of the population and the deal appears to be far different from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he supports.

The Council of Canadians-inspired motion first came to the council table in September 2011, when councillors put off a decision pending more information.

Brown said Wednesday scheduling conflicts with his Parliamentary duties are among the reasons he has not yet spoken to council about the issue. But the Conservative MP said the Council of Canadians is not justified in its fears over CETA.

“They're very well-intentioned but quite often they're wrong,” said Brown.

“This is more fear-mongering by the Council of Canadians and the NDP.”

Brown hopes negotiations over CETA will wrap up this year, followed by a debate and vote in the House of Commons in which the government will not accept a deal that is not reciprocal or otherwise runs counter to Canadian interests.

“This will open us up to a very large market and the potential for a lot of new jobs in Canada,” added Brown.

Rudy Husny, a spokesman for International Trade Minister Ed Fast, said in an email response to The Recorder and Times the government has consulted regularly with municipalities in the CETA talks.

“An agreement with the EU would not affect the ability of municipalities to use selection criteria such as quality, price, technical requirements or relevant experience, or to consider social and environmental factors in the procurement process,” wrote Husny.

“A trade agreement with the EU will preserve the ability of governments to give preferences to hometown companies, through various instruments such as grants, loans and fiscal incentives,” he added.

Husny also said projects below a certain value “would not be subject to the disciplines of the agreement,” services such as research and development, financial services, public administration, education or health care.

 

 

FACT BOX

FOR AND AGAINST

According to the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada website, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the European Union will open Canada to the EU market’s 500 million people and annual economic activity of over $17 trillion, boosting Canada’s income by $12 billion annually and bilateral trade by 20 per cent. That’s equivalent to creating 80,000 new jobs.

The Council of Canadians, however, maintains “corporations will have the right to challenge any local laws that promote fair trade or reflect the environmental concerns of the community, such as bottled water bans.

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