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Is the Canada-European Trade Agreement Helping or Hurting?

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My town of London, Ontario has an odd feeling of being under siege. The deterioration of the manufacturing sector that made up a significant part of our productive capacity has left us with one of the country's highest levels of unemployment. In a phrase, we're feeling vulnerable.

Add to this mix Caterpillar Inc. and its threat to close down its Electro-Motive plant unless the workers accept an immediate wage cut of over 50 per cent and you can see why we're feeling a little punchy at the moment. Local citizens are increasingly expressing outrage at what they feel is the destructive greed of modern capitalism.

The ability for modern municipalities to respond to such draconian tactics has been limited. Sadly, they are about to face another blow that could undercut any hoped-for recovery. Worse still, it has the potential to limit any chance local communities might have to offset poor federal policy.

The Canada-European Trade Agreement continues to fly under the radar, in part because its main proponents are hoping Canadians don't take too much interest. For any citizen that lives in a community hoping to track its own destiny this could be a game changer.

There remains a distinct possibility that cities might be prohibited, as a result of the deal, from procuring their own supplies or labour. This could well mean that municipalities would have little ability to dig themselves out of difficult economic times or policies from more senior levels of government that could prove detrimental.

In London, Ontario we have recently adopted a Food Charter, designed to limit environmental waste by emphasizing local policies. As the director of the food bank here this is an immensely important sustainable step in the right direction that could suddenly be stripped away should the CETA deal pass and no exceptions are made for local communities where Canadian people live and attempt to work out their civic life.

Prior to the last federal election, I sat in on a parliamentary committee that was discussing the merits of the European Free Trade deal and there was clear disagreement within the committee itself. When one NDP member reminded the committee that Canada might well lose its ability for communities to develop flexible responses to the challenges ahead he was mocked by government members. Later, when I defended the NDP member, the government side didn't know what to say: "Glen, this deal is going to go through anyway. Why don't you just go along with it and make for a smooth transition?"

My answer then is my answer now: Why fast-track such an initiative when it is communities that have felt the worst heat of the recession and if we rob them of their own tools to respond, we've made their fate doubly worse?

There could be some good aspects of the CETA arrangement, but its negative effects could be so profound that, like other previous free trade agreements, it could cement the corporate takeover of the Canadian context. Where is the debate? In the rush to bring in foreign investment we could easily be paving the way for the Caterpillars of the world to take away whatever little self-direction is left for our communities.

There is a clear solution to this quandary that could mitigate some of CETA's most devastating possibilities: simply exclude municipal governments from the deal, thereby keeping democratic decisions at the local level. To date, the federal government has turned a deaf ear to such pleas, mostly because Canadians aren't aware of the consequences.

At a time when the Occupy Movement and the threat of the one per cent deciding the future of the 99 per cent it's not suitable for the imposition of a further corporate structure to be imposed on Canadians from governing elites. These are serious times, and with joblessness remaining at stubbornly high levels, the full implementation of CETA could lock municipalities in an economic whirlpool for good. It's time for citizens to not only stand up for workers but to also oppose any construct that puts their future opportunities into ever fewer hands.

Read this briefing from the Council of Canadians to take action.

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