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City of Saskatoon to seek exemption for international trade deal

This still boggles my mind.

Saskatoon should request an exemption to a large-scale free-trade agreement being negotiated between Canada and Europe, a city committee agreed.

City councillors, sitting as an executive committee, voted 5-4 Monday to seek a permanent exemption to the proposed Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, a free trade and economic integration pact between Canada and the 27 European Union countries that is in the final stages of negotiation.

The resolution still requires council approval in February and will face some difficulty with two right-of-centre councillors, Coun. Myles Heidt and Coun. Randy Donauer, absent at the committee Tuesday.

I know this will die in council with Heidt and Donauer’s return but still…

Access to government procurement at federal, provincial, municipal, regional and local governments, as well as Crown corporations and utilities, is Europe’s main goal in the pact. Saskatoon has seen interest from European firms on a small number of major infrastructure projects, including the $300-million Circle Drive South project, which drew a bid from a Spanish firm.

Cities only have to be concerned about the effect on construction contracts, not the takeover of city-owned utilities, according to a briefing from provincial officials, Jordan said

“I’m confident from the information I’ve received there’s not much need to be concerned about that aspect of it,” [Michael] Jordan said.

Okay, at least the city managers are thinking clearly on this one.

Coun. Charlie Clark questioned if the private sector could challenge the city to open up municipally operated services such as Access Transit, the lift-equipped bus service, or if city hall could no longer enact a local food first policy or a bottled water ban under the agreement.

“There’s enough unknowns about how this could impact the city and because we don’t have a seat at the table it’s best to request an exemption,” Clark said. “I think that as a democratically-elected city council we should make sure we can make the decisions we need to make to protect citizens and there’s no real benefits from what I can see for cities to be included — so it’s easier to be excluded.”

Can local municipalities actually be excluded under international trade agreements?  The truth is that on big projects like the bridges that we are building are being designed and built by international firms because of their complexity and scope and the consolidation of international design and engineering firms (which as a city we benefit from).   I also hate the idea that we need to protect local companies from international competition.  The reason we need to protect them is that we think as the city grows, they aren’t good enough.  Sometimes they won’t be good enough (which is why international firms exist and why there has been increased consolidation around the super engineering firms) but protecting them from competition doesn’t make them any better either.

Of course all of this was grandstanding because the city doesn’t even have a local procurement policy.

The bigger impact is the New West Partnership which will open up construction contracts over $200,000 to companies across the west.  It will have a far greater impact on small and medium businesses in this province than CETA will, yet that passed.

2 Comments

  1. Kevin Carter says:

    It baffles me as well, more though has to be put into this rather than the protectionist view. If a Chinese firm can build a bridge out of bamboo and it will hold the load, why the hell not?

  2. Sean S. says:

    I personally don’t agree with seeking an exemption.

    That being said, I do think its worth having a conversation about the potential impacts on Saskatoon. Unfortunately, the considered opinion/questions by Councillor Clark have not been responded to in a likewise manner by those who don’t agree with him.

    Also, this vote will be tied on Feb 6th, unless someone switches their vote and the mayor voting against it will kill the motion. At least one councillor will not be in attendence.

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