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CUPE and the Council of Canadian’s cross-country townhall meetings on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement will wrap up this December after stops in 16 cities. The final CETA 2011 tour dates are December 1 in London, Ontario and December 8 in Charlottetown, PEI.

Fall tour attracts big crowds

The most recent leg of the tour was a resounding success.  British Columbia events were held in Abbotsford, Vancouver, and Victoria and a townhall meeting was held in Ottawa to coincide with the ninth, and possibly final, round of negotiations.

The standing-room only crowd in Abbotsford heard about the dangers of CETA and how the Canada-EU trade deal affects the ability of communities to maintain public water services. CUPE National President Paul Moist, Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow and Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford activist Lynn Perrin spoke to the large crowd about CETA’s impact on Canadian communities. On November 19 Abbotsford voters turned down a public private partnership water treatment referendum with 74 per cent voting against the P3. Voters rejected the P3 plan that would have meant private delivery of water services for thirty years.

Residents also turned out in full force to the CETA town hall in Vancouver on October 12. Guest speaker Colleen Fuller, from Women and Health Protection, spoke about how CETA will impact drug patents, the cost of prescription drugs and drug safety. The Europeans are proposing to make a dramatic change to intellectual property that will benefit only pharmaceutical investors. European proposals will link an extension of the patent to the approval time.

This will dramatically impact our ability to get access to generic drugs in Canada,” said Fuller. Since the first free trade agreement, drugs are getting to the market faster with less monitoring of effectiveness and adverse drug reaction. Fuller said that the more lax the regulator, the higher the risk of approved drugs. “The substantial increase of what we will pay for drugs will be matched by profits of drug companies, most of which are not even based in Canada,” said Fuller.

In Victoria, City Councillor Marianne Alto told the large crowd that CETA could impact the ability of local decision-makers to enact good public policy on behalf of citizens. She said that cities have an essential role to play and need to be able to use their procurement process as economic development and social development strategies to help develop new industry, sustain industry, and develop green industry. The CETA agreement undermines that ability and gives unsuccessful corporations the right to claim compensation if they don’t win contracts. Alto told the crowd that loss of water rights, undermining procurement policies, and the secrecy of negotiations have the potential to seriously shift the power structure in Canada. In the municipal sector this will change how municipal governments can make decisions on behalf of residents. All this has been done without any significant input, consultation or debate. “I am most troubled by fact that this has been done in a way that allows the Federal government to completely sideline municipalities,” Alto said. CUPE BC President Barry O’Neill and Maude Barlow also spoke at the townhall meeting.

Ottawa event coincides with trade talks

The Ottawa CETA meeting on October 19 coincided with the ninth and possibly final round of CETA talks being held in Ottawa. Speakers were CUPE National President Paul Moist, Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow, and Frédéric Viale, ATTAC-France and author of “L’horreur européenne”. Viale spoke about European policies being driven by a neo-liberal economic strategy of meeting the needs of big business that is focused on competition. Europe wants to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers, have greater access to public procurement at all levels, gain access to raw materials, stronger intellectual property protection, increased labour mobility, and a dispute settlement mechanism similar to NAFTA, allowing firms to sue if they decide a regulation is against their interests.

Meanwhile unions in Europe are calling for a full evaluation of the social, environmental and labour impacts of the proposed agreement. Like CUPE and the Council of Canadians, they are also concerned that discussions are taking place without public scrutiny. European labour unions want assurances that CETA will not interfere with the right of governments to regulate in the public interest. They believe it’s crucial that the agreement not force governments to open public procurement to foreign companies and that the agreement not include a provision like Chapter 11 in NAFTA that allows an investor or private company to challenge government laws and receive compensation.

Municipalities respond to CETA

Across Canada, more municipalities are passing resolutions calling for changes to CETA. Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia; Sackville, New Brunswick; London, Barrie, and Windsor, Ontario; and Spallumcheen, B.C. have all recently passed resolutions on CETA.

Read the columns in the Barrie Examiner and Sackville Tribune