On November 18, buried under the latest Rob Ford embarrassment, Toronto City Council voted 36-0 to adopt the following motion on the Canada-EU free trade agreement:

1. City Council request the Province of Ontario to provide the City of Toronto with a clear and comprehensive briefing on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), as soon as possible.

2. City Council request the Province of Ontario to engage in a full consultation process with the City of Toronto and reserve for Council the right to debate, and ultimately vote on, the terms of the deal as it relates to the City of Toronto before any approval of the deal is issued by the Province.

The motion from Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, seconded by Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, is a follow-up from a February 2012 request, supported overwhelmingly by Council, to exempt Toronto from parts of the proposed CETA that affect local government powers. It also comes a few weeks after the Harper government announced the conclusion “in principle” of negotiations with the EU and released a technical briefing of the deal showing that municipal government spending will be covered by new restrictions, including a prohibition on “buy local” policies.

Last week, the Council of Canadians released poll results showing that a large majority of people in Canada think municipal governments should have the right to prefer local or Canadian-based companies when spending public money. CETA would throw hard legal roadblocks in front of that right for the first time in an international treaty. Support for “buy local” straddles political lines and is strong even among people who “strongly support” the idea of a Canada-EU agreement.

In February 2013, councillors Wong-Tam and De Baeremaeker followed up with newly elected Premier Kathleen Wynne in a letter which said:

As far as we are aware, there has not been any direct dialogue between the Province and City of Toronto since our motion passed almost a year ago. To date, neither Toronto nor other Ontario municipalities have been invited into any formal discussions with the Province of Ontario concerning its position. We understand that other provinces across the country have convened meetings between their officials and municipal governments to share information. Meanwhile, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities working group on international trade, consisting of municipal representatives from across the country, has regular discussions with the Chief Trade Negotiator and representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). The point is frequently made during these meetings that the provinces are expected to dialogue with their municipalities.

The letter requested that the Premier “convene a meeting with Provincial staff and relevant officials to provide a briefing to City Council and City staff regarding the position of the Province of Ontario regarding the CETA negotiations and how you will address the concerns of municipalities such as Toronto.”

This month’s unanimous Toronto motion ups the ante by not only calling again for such a meeting, but insisting that Toronto, and by default other local governments, should have a say in whether they should be covered by international trade rules restricting their public spending and public policy options. U.S. cities are not covered by these rules, nor is it expected they would agree to be in ongoing Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic free trade negotiations. It is simply too important for them to be able to use public spending to encourage local development and create jobs.

Take action

The Council of Canadians recently updated its municipal CETA toolkit to account for Harper’s “agreement in principle” with the European Union. It includes a map of municipalities that have passed motions like the one in Toronto. Please consider approaching your city council with the news from Toronto (the good news about CETA, not Rob Ford’s latest gaffe!), and encourage them to ask your province for a hearing and vote on the Canada-EU deal.

Let us know how it goes at [email protected].