OTTAWA – Just when the Harper-Charest-McGuinty controversy on greenhouse gas emissions started making headlines, another controversy emerged from the joint meeting of Ontario and Quebec cabinets. According to the attached press release of June 2, “Premiers released the framework for the Ontario-Quebec Economic Partnership Agreement developed by the lead provincial negotiators.” But, the offices of Charest and McGuinty have confirmed that the text of this framework will not be made public.
This bizarre announcement of the release of a document that is in fact secret confirms the worst fears of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). Like many civil society organizations, CUPE is concerned that Quebec and Ontario are following the disastrous example of Alberta and British Columbia, who negotiated the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) on the quiet.
The TILMA effectively established a legal process allowing businesses and individuals to contest government or municipal administration measures that are an impediment to profits. For example, if one province has stricter health and safety or environmental regulations than its neighbour, a company can invalidate them. In the event that a province refuses to relax its regulations, it maybe required to pay compensation of up to $5 million. This poses a threat to the entire democratic process of provincial governments and local administrations, as well as their capacity to protect the environment and the health of their citizens.
In Saskatchewan, consultations on interprovincial trade were held just last summer; the provincial government concluded that the TILMA model posed too great a danger to municipal democracy. And as recently as May 21 of this year, lawyer Steven Shrybman, an expert on trade and the public interest, qualified the TILMA as “unconstitutional”.
“If Charest and McGuinty insist on negotiating in secret, despite our warnings, so be it. But in that case, they should not claim transparency, and should accept the major problems of legitimacy that will undermine their agreement. If they really want to improve the Quebec-Ontario economic space, they should employ an open process, holding consultations and making the framework of their negotiations public,” declared Claude Généreux, national secretary-treasurer of CUPE.
Information: Sébastien Goulet, CUPE Communications – 613 808-0675