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UBCM negotiates TILMA they can live with

Land use planning exempt, procurement threshold raised

A year ago the proposed Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, or TILMA, was the boogeyman for municipal governments in B.C. and Alberta, something they felt would tie their hands when planning land use, procuring goods and services locally, and creating bylaws to protect the environment, create social housing, and prohibit certain products or activities.

Earlier this summer, after nine months of negotiation, the province and Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) confirmed that municipal governments would be subject to TILMA on April 1, 2009, as will academic institutions, school boards, and health and social service providers.

Economic Development Minister Ida Chong made the announcement on July 25, with the UBCM confirming participation in TILMA.

“Inclusion of local governments will help extend benefits of the TILMA to British Columbians in communities across the province,” said Chong.

The purpose of TILMA is to standardize laws and regulations affecting trade, investment and labour in B.C. and Alberta, and possibly other provinces and territories that sign on in the future. It is a business-friendly legislation that the province says will help grow both economies, reduce costs for local governments, and create thousands of jobs.

Supporters of the agreement include the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Canada West Foundation, the Business Council of B.C., and the Conference Board of Canada.

Opponents of the agreement — which as recently as 2007 included many municipal governments in B.C. — are concerned that the agreement will interfere with the ability of provincial and municipal governments to make laws or regulations that might interfere with the mobility of trade and investment, that TILMA will undercut unions and trade groups, and that TILMA gives companies the right to collect financial awards from the province if obstacles that exist for trade are not resolved.

Opponents have included the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM), although the concessions made by the province do neutralize some of the UBCM’s concerns.

According to Susie Gimse, Area C director for the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District and chair of the UBCM, the municipalities won a number of concessions in negotiation but did not get everything they asked for.

“The UBCM is member-driven and membership at the last UBCM convention in September gave us clear direction of the issues we needed to address on TILMA,” she said. “Our policy established 10 recommendations which we negotiated over the past nine months, negotiating directly with the province.”

Gimse noted that the TILMA agreement was already signed by B.C. and Alberta in 2007, with a two-year implementation period. For the most part, she said, the province was sensitive to the UBCM’s concerns, but they didn’t win all the concessions they asked for.

“Getting our way 100 per cent of the time would be fantastic, but realistically we know that’s not likely to happen. It was a negotiation, and in light of that we are satisfied we were able to address most of the issues and concerns outlined by local governments.”

One of the main successes was to exempt land use regulation by municipalities and municipal organizations, as long as the regulations are applied equally to B.C. or Alberta businesses or investors.

The UBCM was also able to raise the procurement limits in TILMA for municipal governments to $75,000 for goods, $75,000 for services, and $200,000 for construction, from previous thresholds of $10,000, $75,000 and $100,000. The TILMA regulation would force municipalities to accept bids from all B.C. and Alberta companies when the cost is equal to or over the new thresholds. That provision prevents local governments from favouring local businesses in procurements above the thresholds, or from favouring one supplier over another based on a past relationship.

Some areas where the UBCM was not successful include the establishment of a dispute resolution process, which Gimse says could be fixed by the time TILMA is applied in 2009. The province also denied a request by the UBCM that would allow municipalities to provide assistance or subsidies to businesses, except under one-off circumstances — such as offering lower tax rates to businesses or waiving fees as an incentive for locating in their jurisdiction.

Gimse says they will be presenting their negotiated agreement at the UBCM annual meeting in September.

“If there’s any follow-up or issues that come out of this, we’ll hear it then and act accordingly,” she said. “One of the things we know is important and we’ll continue to work on is conflict resolution… and how we are going to interact with the provincial government if disputes arise.”

Currently, all conflicts will be referred to a panel, which will rule whether a provincial or local government law is discriminatory against an individual or company. If the panel rules that a law or regulation is discriminatory, the law or regulation must be changed or the plaintiff can be awarded up to $5 million by the province. The province cannot go after municipalities for that money, but they can insist on a change to bylaws.

Pina Belperio, Whistler’s representative on the Council of Canadians, said the CoC is analyzing the changes, but feels that the UBCM did not go far enough.

“The way I read it is that the UBCM has only done window dressing and has allowed the inclusion of the non-discrimination clause,” she said.

A full list of UBCM points and their outcomes is available at the UBCM website at www.civicnet.