A privatized Kamloops water treatment plant would be subject to certain international trade agreement disciplines even if a Canadian firm won the contract, according to a just-released legal opinion.
The opinion was prepared by Steven Shrybman, an Ottawa-based partner with the firm of Sack, Goldblatt and Mitchell, and specialist in the practice of international trade and public interest law.
Shrybmans written opinion warns, In our view, the decision to contract out water supply services calls into play NAFTA and GATS disciplines which put at risk the capacity of local government to maintain full control over the delivery of water services even where the corporate partner is Canadian.
Specifically, some NAFTA provisions, like the prohibition against buying locally or buying Canadian would apply if any private Canadian or foreign company were to design, build and operate Kamloops water supply.
To the extent that ownership and control of the corporate partner remains in Canadian hands we believe that the risk of becoming embroiled in a trade challenge or foreign investor claim is certainly reduced, Shrybman says.
However, in his opinion, under NAFTA the status of domestic investor includes crown and other public corporations, and is not just reserved to private Canadian corporations. This raises concerns as to how NAFTA provisions could impact environmental and public health regulations even as these apply to Canadian investors in the domestic context.
Shrybman also notes that in todays world of rapid corporate mergers the potential acquisition of a Canadian company by foreign investors could further open up water services under international trade agreements.
Shrybman concludes, While the outcomes are difficult to predict, it is clear in our view that a decision to contract out municipal water services would be corrosive to the capacity of local governments to maintain the control they have now traditionally been able to exercise with respect to the delivery of water services.
I trust Kamloops City Council will give serious consideration to this informed opinion, and make a responsible decision about water treatment services, says Mel Hale, President, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 900.
As citizens and working people in this community, our union members are concerned that Council is not just spending taxpayers money on selective private consultant opinions, but demonstrates its commitment to fully consult the public and all sources available before making a decision on this important issue. Hale today presented this legal opinion, which was commissioned by CUPE, as part of a brief to Kamloops City Council.
This expands a previous opinion submitted by Shrybman that proved to be a key factor in the Greater Vancouver Regional Districts recent decision not to contract out water treatment operations.
Media, for comments or copies of the new Shrybman opinion, please contact:
Mel Hale, President CUPE Local 900 (250) 374-0042 or (250) 319-1907 (cell)