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Council of Canadians keep spotlight on TILMA

Three resolutions passed opposing controversial measure at Lower Mainland Local Government Association meeting

By Andrew Mitchell

Members of the Council of Canadians wielded stop signs in Whistler Thursday, May 10, in support of various municipal government leaders tabling motions in opposition to the controversial Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

TILMA is a new free trade pact between Alberta and B.C. that the Council of Canadians believes will tie the hands of local governments when it comes to making decisions.

“We weren’t there to protest, but more to share information with people attending the meeting and show our support for the local governments’ representatives that were tabling motions against TILMA,” said Pina Belperio, a member of the Council of Canadians who came out to hold a sign.

“This was legislation that was pretty much signed in secrecy… and there are a lot of local governments who don’t know about it, or are just starting to figure out what it’s all about. I talked to one government representative from North Vancouver Regional District who still hadn’t heard of it.”

TILMA was passed in the provincial legislature in spring of 2006 without any outside consultation from local governments or debate, and came into effect for regional districts on April 1. The provisions of TILMA will kick in for municipal governments on April 1, 2009. Local governments are not allowed to pass any legislation in opposition to the agreement, but some are lobbying to be exempted from several provisions of the agreement.

According to Belperio, three of the five motions against TILMA were passed at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association meeting in Whistler, and similar motions have passed in three out of five other local government associations. A motion is also expected to pass at the fifth local government meeting later this month.

As a result, Belperio expects the issue to dominate discussion at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention in September. She hopes that the UBCM can force the Liberal government to change some provisions of the legislation or exempt municipal governments.

One of the most controversial components of TILMA is a provision that gives individuals and businesses, both Canadian and American, the ability to sue provincial government for up to $5 million for any regulations that are harmful to their investments. That includes laws and regulations enacted by municipal governments.

Some critics have suggested that this provision is the reason TILMA was drafted in the first place, given the relative lack of trade barriers between Alberta and B.C.

By opening the province up to potential lawsuits, the Council of Canadians believe that the province will use TILMA to put pressure on municipalities to conform to business demands, or overrule municipal laws. They view the agreement as an extension of North American Free Trade Act provisions that have allowed U.S. companies to sue Canada for, among other things, attempting to prohibit the use of a controversial gasoline additive, and lumber policies that ensured most wood was milled and processed in communities where it was cut.

The impact on issues like public health and the environment at the municipal level are particularly troubling, says Belperio — especially after the province introduced Bill 17 to give TILMA more teeth.

“(Bill 17) basically doesn’t allow (TILMA) to be challenged,” she said. “Attempts to preserve ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) can be challenged by developers, which is a big issue that Pemberton’s farmers should be looking at. Also, municipalities can’t put in laws more progressive than what exists currently in the province, things like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards. For Whistler, that’s a huge issue.”

According to Belperio, municipalities currently leading the charge against TILMA include Burnaby and Coquitlam, although the Council of Canadians has found no support for the trade agreement among municipal governments.

“The more they look at it, the more it doesn’t make any sense,” said Belperio. “We have two years to get into it with the province, although it’s too late for regional governments at this point until we get a change of government. This issue isn’t going away.”