Premiers bow to corporate pressure in Quebec City

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A new dispute resolution process, which Canada's premiers agreed to include in the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) at last week's Council of the Federation meeting, is unnecessary, anti-democratic and represents a capitulation to corporate interests, says the Council of Canadians.

Last Friday, at their annual closed-door meeting in Quebec City, premiers agreed to attach financial sanctions - fines as high as $5 million - to AIT dispute panel recommendations against government policies deemed to be barriers to trade or investment.

This private courts model follows that laid out in the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) signed by B.C. and Alberta in 2006.

The dispute resolution process announced last week is also completely unnecessary, considering that there are very few real barriers to trade and investment between the provinces. Canada's big business lobby groups stood alone in continually pushing for its inclusion in the AIT.

"The new dispute process was a gift from heaven for Canada's big business groups because it gives them a powerful new weapon for deregulation across the country," says Stuart Trew, Ontario-Quebec regional organizer with the Council of Canadians.

"If a business doesn't like a certain environmental or public health measure that curbs their profits, they can claim it represents a 'barrier' to trade or investment and have their home province challenge local democracy and decision making through the AIT dispute process. As an added insult, governments can now be punished for simply doing their jobs with fines as high as $5 million."

In a recent legal opinion for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, trade lawyer Steven Shrybman referred to these kinds of out-of-court financial sanctions against government policy as unconstitutional, because they "improperly fetter the exercise of legislative and governmental authority."

"Already, TILMA is discouraging municipal governments from drafting policies favouring the purchase of locally grown food for fear that they will incur corporate challenges as 'barriers' to inter-provincial trade, which is what the governments of Saskatchewan and the Yukon were afraid of and why they decided not to sign the agreement," explains Carleen Pickard, B.C.-Yukon regional organizer for the Council of Canadians.

"It is completely unacceptable that the premiers would simply adopt this unnecessary dispute process into the AIT without any public discussion or debate. This agreement is a barrier to democracy."

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