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Dooley wins free trade scuffle with council

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
February 8th, 2013

Councillor Candace Batycki’s motion to ask the federal government to exempt Nelson from an international trade agreement provoked sharp disagreement between Mayor Dooley and the rest of Council at its meeting on February 4.

Why was Nelson Council discussing something that would appear to be far from its scope of concerns or control? Councillor Batycki says the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could reach down to the municipal level, allowing European companies to compete with local businesses for projects and procurements.

To read a previous story in The Nelson Daily with some background on this issue, click here.

Batycki’s motion was the result of a presentation to Council by the local chapter of the Council of Canadians in January.

The discussion on February 4 began with Councillor Deb Kozak noting that Council had received letters from Pacific Insight Electronics and from the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce in support of the CETA, which they said would open up European markets to Nelson companies. 

The Chamber of Commerce’s letter challenges the points made by the Council of Canadians to Nelson Council in January.

Kozak: Concerns about federal government secrecy

“At our last discussion at council we were really clear that our major concern was the air of secrecy that surrounded the negotiation,” Kozak said, “and that municipalities were not clear on what was being negotiated and whether we would be able to hire or procure the goods we need without fear of reprisal from an international agreement.

Faith in the FCM

“I have been doing some reading since that meeting,” Kozak continued, “and have just read this information tonight and it seems to me that the issue of secrecy still stands but I do have faith in what is happening at Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) levels in defending the rights of local governments. So I cannot support the motion as it stands.”

The UBCM has asked the federal government to exempt B.C. municipalities from the agreement, and the FCM wants some limitations, not exemption. Eighty of the 3700 municipalities in Canada have individually asked to be exempted.

Cherbo and Kiss: Scepticism and a symbolic gesture

Councillor Robin Cherbo stated that he supported Batycki’s motion. He said the federal government cannot be trusted because of the recent omnibus bills that have passed in near secrecy. “How do we know?” he said, referring to the trade negotiations between the EU and the Canadian government. “We don’t know what is going on behind closed doors.”

Councillor Paula Kiss said, “To me this is a symbolic gesture. We so mistrust the process, and we are so sceptical about the democracy behind the way this trade agreement is being negotiated, that we just want out.”

Mayor John Dooley, who sits on the FCM committee dealing with this issue at the national level, told Council he had many problems with Batycki’s resolution and he gave a lengthy, impassioned speech.

Nelson Council has secret meetings too

Addressing the issue of secrecy, he said Nelson Council meets in secret regularly, whenever there are labour or legal issues to discuss and that it is normal for any government body to do so.

“It would be unfair for us to think that negotiations on a free trade agreement would be done out in a town hall,” he said.

Council often doesn’t buy locally

Dooley said before Nelson City Council judges the trade agreement for possibly threatening local procurement and contracts it should look to its own practices.

“Our own track record is not very good. Just some recent examples would be the downtown conversion for hydro—all that work went to out-of-town contractors. And the G5 rewind (another hydro project)—that went out of town too. The building of the arena went to out-of-town contractors. The building of Touchstones was managed by a company out of New Westminster. Those of examples of where we had an opportunity to match procurement and we didn’t do it.”

Dooley added that the City often deals with Selkirk Paving, owned by a company in France.

Dooley also mentioned several local companies he has met with recently—Drop Design, Spearhead Timber Works, and Pacific Insight—as examples of companies that would benefit from the agreement.

450 million people

“There are 450 million people in the EU,” said Dooley. “It’s an opportunity for us to expand local business, and an opportunity to build our economy in Nelson. If you want to say we want an exemption from this agreement, what will this mean to us in the future?”

“We haven’t done our homework.”

Dooley chided Councillors Kozak and Kiss, who are Council’s representatives at the Chamber of Commerce. “I am surprised that neither of you went to the Chamber and said, ‘What is your take on this?’ and helped everyone come to this table and craft a resolution.”

Council members had little to say about Dooley’s comments and there was no further discussion about the actual content of the CETA including whether or not it would indeed have the adverse effects that Councillor Batycki alleged.

Batycki backs down

Instead, Batycki offered to soften her motion, to ask the federal government to exempt Nelson only in the event that a set of negotiation guidelines already developed by the FCM are not followed. The new version of her motion reads:

Given the concerns raised about lack of openness and transparency in the negotiation process, Council asks for an exemption for the City of Nelson from the Canada-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), as resolved by UBCM Resolutions B108 in 2010 and B87 and B88 in 2012, should the FCM’s Seven Trading Principles not be respected.

All Councillors voted in favour (Councillor Adams was absent).

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