(Halifax) A newly-released legal opinion on the Halifax Harbour cleanup is raising some serious concerns about the international trade implications of the project.
The document, released today, is authored by Steven Shrybman - one of Canadas leading experts in the field of international trade law. He warns that plans by the Halifax Regional Municipality to privatize the harbour cleanup will put public control of the project at grave risk. Under the proposed scheme, one of two multinational consortia would be contracted to design, build and operate four, new water treatment plants.
Says Shrybman, If HRM does opt into such a relationship, NAFTA and WTO obligations could make it difficult, if not impossible, for the city to terminate the relationship should it wish to return management of the plant to direct public control.
“This proposed undertaking,” says Shrybman, “puts at serious risk the capacity of municipal governments to maintain the highest standards of wastewater quality, or to ensure that sewage treatment truly remains a public service.”
Betty-Jean Sutherland, President of CUPE Nova Scotia, says, This document provides tangible evidence that if HRM chooses to privatize the harbour cleanup, it will not only be bad public policy but bad business as well. This legal opinion tells us loud and clear, that HRM is about to sign a deal that will lock HRM taxpayers into an airtight investor relationship with a multinational corporation for at least the next 30 years.
Any effort by HRM to sever that investor relationship could leave taxpayers liable to the company for loss of future profits - damages that would run well into the tens of millions of dollars, says Sutherland. HRM should follow the lead of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, and cancel its plans to privatize the harbour cleanup, she concludes.
Shrybman also says that under NAFTA, any efforts by government to apply environmental and public health measures - including standards for wastewater, or remedial orders by local public health officials - would be subject to international adjudication or commercial arbitration.
Mr. Shrybman is an Ottawa-based partner with the law firm Sack, Goldblatt and Mitchell. The opinion was commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Steven Shrybman, (613) 862-4862 (o)
Betty-Jean Sutherland, President, CUPE Nova Scotia
(902) 396-8260 (Cell)
John McCracken, CUPE Communications Representative
(902) 455-4180 (o)