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Delegates to the national conference of municipal governments are concerned about the impact of trade deals on municipal governments, and are calling for full consultation before any more trade talks.

A resolution on the issue, submitted by three B.C. municipalities and the Union of BC Municipalities, passed easily in the morning plenary at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ annual conference.

Resolution B56 calls for “open public consultation before negotiating any internal or international trade and security agreement,” including municipal input through FCM. The resolution also commits the federation to further researching and monitoring of the effects of trade deals such as the Trade, Investment  and Labour Mobility Agreement, the Agreement on Internal Trade and a new Canada-EU free trade agreement on municipalities.

CUPE and its allies helped support the resolution, which highlights the threat trade deals pose to public services.

The federation’s focus on how trade deals might constrain local governments is timely, given the debate that followed. Much of the plenary was spent debating a controversial resolution on “Buy American” provisions in US President Barack Obama’s infrastructure stimulus package.

Corporate lobby groups and the Harper government are fanning the flames of the anti-“Buy American” backlash, using it to force international trade rules onto provincial and municipal purchasing decisions. Bringing local procurement under NAFTA or the planned Canada-European Union trade deal will take away local control over how communities spend their money.

Delegates were divided on the issue, pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions in the emergency resolution. While there was clear support for local governments adopting “Buy Canadian” policies, many weren’t comfortable with the resolution’s combative approach.

The resolution, which narrowly passed in a 185-179 vote, calls for municipalities to retaliate against the US provisions by directing their infrastructure spending to countries that don’t put trade restrictions on Canadian-made goods and materials.

Several delegates, including Toronto Mayor David Miller, spoke against what they saw as further protectionism. Miller said he was “extremely concerned” about the resolution’s retaliatory measures.

The city of Toronto helped create 1,000 well-paying, unionized jobs in Thunder Bay with a subway car contract that stipulated the vehicles be made in Canada.

One delegate pointed out that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Others worried fallout from the resolution would tie their hands. “We as a city should maintain the right to have sustainable and ethical purchasing policies,” said Vancouver city councilor Raymond Louie.

The resolution gives the federal government four months to fix the problem – although the Conservative government’s ‘solution’ will simply create new problems for municipalities.

Anti-Buy American policies have been misleadingly framed as promoting “fair trade.” In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If communities are bound by free trade agreements, much of a local government’s ability to create policies that are best for its citizens will be sacrificed for what is best for big business.

As federal NDP leader Jack Layton pointed out in his keynote address to the convention yesterday, a better option is to encourage municipalities to “buy Canadian”, and purchase goods and services with as much Canadian content as possible. “Buy Canadian” and local procurement policies will help create many jobs in communities across the country.

Layton pointed to the NDP’s Made-In-Canada bill as an example of progressive policy that’s good for communities.

CUPE will keep working with its allies in labour and local governments to highlight the real agenda behind the anti-Buy American backlash, connecting the dots with the FCM’s progressive commitments in resolution B56.

In the same plenary, delegates quickly passed an emergency resolution on employment insurance, calling for benefits to increase and coverage to expand.