Saanich council joins opposition to trade deal

Council members question whether opposition to TPP is nothing but a meaningless gesture

A council resolution added Saanich to the chorus of critics opposed to a broad international trade agreement, but even supporters of this stance admitted that it might not make any difference as Canada’s federal government closed public consultations. Others meanwhile wondered whether council is the place to debate international issues.

Saanich council last week unanimously passed a resolution against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international trade agreement among 12 nations including Canada and the United States (but not China) along the Pacific Rim that commits signatories to cut or eliminate tariffs across a wide of range of industries and their products, including natural resources, agriculture, manufacturing and services.

Canadian supporters of the agreement such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce say TPP gives Canadian products preferential access to a market of 800 million people representing 40 per cent of the global economy.

Critics of the agreement such as the Council of Canadians say it increases the influence of foreign corporations and undermines environmental, economic and social standards through so-called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions that allow corporations to sue government for policy decisions or regulations.

Several councillors cited these measures in justifying their opposition.

“The ISDS provisions are really problematic,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff. “We really don’t know how they would operate.”

Municipal governments, she said, need to raise their voices against “secretive” trade agreements such as the TPP because of their potentially harmful effects on municipalities, a point also made by Coun. Dean Murdock, who argued that the agreement could undermine local environmental standards.

“The most glaring concern…was around the banning of pesticides, where we could be challenged [under TPP] and other municipalities have been challenged [under similar agreements],” he said.

By passing this resolution, Saanich joins a list of Canadian and foreign municipalities that have passed resolutions expressing concern or open opposition against TPP.

“I don’t think we are going out on a limb here,” said Coun. Colin Plant. “We are not breaking new ground, but we are adding our voice.”

Plant, however, also acknowledged that Ottawa might not listen to critics such as Saanich.

Other members of council meanwhile were even more skeptical about the efficacy of Saanich’s resolution. Mayor Richard Atwell said the resolution adds up to a general statement of opposition, but perhaps not much more.

“I see the intention but I struggle with the practicality of what we are trying to achieve here,” he said, noting that staff had not done any research on the specific effects of the agreement on Saanich.

Coun. Leif Wergeland agreed.                                                                                            While many international issues have the potential to impact the community, it is not clear that council can do anything about them, he said.

Council’s resolution opposing TPP passed on Oct. 24, one week before the deadline for written submissions to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on International Trade.                 While Canada signed the TPP in April of this year, the agreement still awaits parliamentary ratification.