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February 10, 2010 - 12:00pm EST
First published Feb 09, 2010
With Canadians already reeling from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extraordinary decision to prorogue Canada’s parliament for the second time in less than a year, the Conservatives landed a second blow to democracy in this country. It came when International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan announced details of a special new Buy America exemption deal with the United States last week.
As if shutting down Parliament wasn’t a big enough signal to Canadians that they have no control in setting their country’s priorities and agenda, this deal again demonstrates the Conservatives’ disdain for the principles of democracy in this country. What may very well be the most significant trade agreement Canada has negotiated since NAFTA was negotiated behind closed doors, announced during a parliamentary shut down without any opposition dissent and debate, and lacked any input from the Canadian public.
The deal promises to level the playing field for Canadian businesses and workers by providing equal access to Canadian firms bidding on economic stimulus projects south of the border, regardless of existing made-in-the-U.S.A. policy restrictions. It also affords Canada a “fast-track” approach to solving future disputes arising from Buy America clauses on public spending.
The Conservatives are boasting that it will “preserve and create Canadian jobs,” despite the fact that U.S. stimulus project funding will stop being doled out on February 17, less than two weeks after the deal was struck.
In reality, there’s no guarantee that a single job in Canada will result from this. Instead, it may very well have severe consequences for Canadian workers by preventing governments from managing and directing public spending projects in the future.
In exchange for access to U.S. stimulus funds, provinces, territories, and many municipalities may now become parties to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA). This would be the first time sub-national governments in Canada have become party to a major multilateral international trade agreement.
The only thing Canadian companies get in return is the chance to bid on publicly funded construction and infrastructure projects in 37 U.S. states on par with companies in the EU, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and many others. To me, this seems like a forum for cutthroat competition rather than an effort to level the playing field.
And by signing on to the WTO, municipal and provincial governments open themselves up to the same level of ruthless global competition when it’s time to spend public funds on big ticket infrastructure and supply projects here at home. These lucrative contracts are huge economic drivers and often create thousands of local jobs, return millions in tax revenues, and promote regional economic development.
Local content rules, environmental regulations, and safety standards are all up for grabs under WTO rules, which would limit the ability of government and citizens to control how tax dollars are best spent.
Consider the landmark $1.2 billion light rail transit project in Toronto, or the multi-billion dollar Green Energy Act investments in Ontario. Both involved important domestic content provisions and will generate tremendous economic activity for local, provincial, and national economies. Would these deals have been struck down under new WTO rules?
Worse still, there are no guarantees for Canadian supplier access to U.S. procurement markets after the stimulus funding has dried up.
Long-standing Buy America legislation still exists, and will continue to govern federally-funded projects well into the future; whether in construction, transit infrastructure development, or shipbuilding. And there’s nothing wrong with that approach. In fact, it’s high time our federal government follow the lead of provinces like Quebec and Ontario and municipalities like Toronto in establishing strategic Buy Canadian policies that cover major public purchases.
Instead, the Harper government has sold Canadians a bill of goods.
Until the public can exercise their democratic right to vote this government out of office, the Conservatives will continue to plow ahead with their own corporate lead, free-market agenda, no matter what the cost to Canadians.
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Last Updated: February 10, 2010 1:43:33 PM