Hold public hearings on Ontario-Quebec trade negotiations, says Council of Canadians

    OTTAWA, June 3 /CNW Telbec/ - Negotiations toward an Ontario-Quebec
Economic Partnership Agreement, announced by Premiers Jean Charest and Dalton
McGuinty at this week's joint cabinet meeting in Quebec City, must include a
full public hearing of the issue and an opportunity for public comment in both
provinces, says the Council of Canadians.
    "We've seen what happens when two provinces join forces to create a
so-called economic union without first consulting the public," says Stuart
Trew, a researcher with the Council of Canadians. "The TILMA agreement between
Alberta and British Columbia was sold as a way to create a common economic
space in western Canada. But it did so at the expense of local democracy,
public health and the environment."
    TILMA, or the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, which was
signed without debate by Alberta and B.C. in April 2006, establishes a legal
process whereby corporations and other private individuals can challenge
almost any government or government agency measure that they feel restricts
their profits, even health-related or environmental rules that put legitimate
restrictions on corporate activity for the benefit of the public.
    Unelected TILMA panels can impose financial penalties as high as
$5 million against any province that disagrees with a panel decision, which is
why trade lawyer Steven Shrybman called the agreement unconstitutional in a
recent legal opinion. Both Shrybman and Trew brought these concerns to Jim
Peterson, Premier McGuinty's lead negotiator in the upcoming Ontario-Quebec
trade discussions, in April. They also told Mr. Peterson that Ontario and
Quebec residents will expect public consultations as a component of any
TILMA-like trade negotiations between the provinces.
    In Saskatchewan, where public consultations on the issue of
inter-provincial trade were held last summer, the government decided that
signing TILMA wasn't worth the cost to local democracy. But the recently
announced Ontario-Quebec framework indicates that the premiers are moving
ahead on an agreement that covers: labour mobility, energy, transportation,
public procurement, agriculture and food products, regulatory cooperation and
economic cooperation. This is exactly how TILMA progressed between Alberta and
B.C., without any public debate.
    "Public consultations in Saskatchewan convinced the province not to join
an undemocratic agreement with Alberta and B.C." says Trew. "Before Premiers
McGuinty and Charest drag Ontario and Quebec into an unnecessary and socially
and environmentally risky trade pact, they must take this issue to the public
for a full and open discussion and debate."

For further information:

For further information: Stuart Trew, researcher, (613) 233-4487, ext.
228, Cell: (613) 218-5800, strew@canadians.org

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