OTTAWA Governments should think twice before privatizing public services because under international trade rules the cost of reversing that decision could be prohibitive, according to a new legal opinion released today.
The legal opinion, prepared by international trade expert Steven Shrybman for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), looks at plans by the Greater Vancouver Regional District to turn over operation of a new water treatment plant to a multinational corporation.
Trade agreements stack the deck against public delivery of services, said CUPE National President Judy Darcy. But worse still, they make privatization a virtual one-way street, making it almost impossible to return control of vital public services to governments. That may be good for corporations but its disastrous for citizens and taxpayers.
Shrybman finds that under the rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the municipality could be forced to pay millions of dollars in compensation for lost profits if it ever decided to return the water plant to public control.
Trade tribunals and now Canadian courts have made it clear that corporations have enormous powers under these trade deals, said Darcy. If we lose public control of water services in Vancouver, we could find ourselves being held to ransom in the future if, for environmental or other reasons, local residents decide they want the municipality to deliver this service directly.
These trade deals tie the hands of municipal government the level of government thats most responsive to local concerns, said Darcy. In Vancouvers case, whats at stake is control of our water. Those stakes are just too high.
CUPE has also launched a Charter challenge of NAFTA and has sought to intervene in the courts to protect local authorities from international trade agreements.
For more information,
Pam Beattie, Executive Assistant to Judy Darcy at (613) 237-1590 ext. 221 or (613) 761-8796 (cell.)
Steven Shrybman, (613) 862-4862