Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Broad Issue, Big Impact?

During the flight to Calgary for the Affordable Housing Conference I had time to re-read a letter that I received at city hall a few weeks ago. It’s a letter from the Council of Canadians that refers to the new Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) that recently came into effect between the provinces of Alberta & British Columbia.

You might not have heard much about TILMA (The acronym is kind of fun to say, but it doesn’t tell you much what the agreement actually does.) If you’ve heard anything about a “free-trade” agreement between AB & BC - that’s TILMA, it just came in to effect on April 1st.

Grande Prairie has lots of pressing issues right now; Affordable Housing, Road Improvements, the need for New Facilities, Relations with the County and even just general up keep and maintenance around the city. As an organization the city only has so much time and resources that it can dedicate to issues, and the same is true for the individuals that make up city council. We can only tackle so many things at once, so sometimes lower priority things have to take a back seat.
So it’s probably not surprise that before receiving this letter I hadn’t given the Alberta/B.C. “free-trade” agreement much thought.

As I understood it the agreement was going to harmonize lots of provincial regulations that stood in the way of businesses and people moving between the two. A trucking company would need to meet only one set of standards to work in both provinces or trades people could be certified to work on either side of the border. That makes a lot of sense when you live in Grande Prairie. We are, after all, only about an hour from B.C. - many businesses and people work on both sides of that line.

The letter from the Council of Canadians (which I imagine was sent to elected officials all over the province) brought up a prospect that I hadn’t heard about: that municipalities might be forced to change local regulations. Here’s the paragraph that got me interested:

“Research by the Council of Canadians shows that TILMA will dramatically impact a municipality’s ability to draft or maintain any regulations that are deemed by a corporation or private individual to “impair or restrict” their investment. Through TILMA such “investors” are granted the right to launch lawsuits for up to $5-million in compensation for an regulation that they feel hurts their bottom line. Since all regulations can be seen in this light, TILMA throws the whole definition of local government in to question, threatening to seriously undermine municipal autonomy and hand considerable power over to the private sector.”

That’s pretty heavy stuff. The basic gist of it is this: if a corporation thought that a local bylaw impaired their ability to make money they could sue the city.

The letter goes on to add additional information and references a report by the the city of Saskatoon which looked at the issue (*link not working*) as well as further information on the Council of Canadians website. I haven’t read the further information yet but I’m interested enough that I’m going to have a look. I recognize that there are always two sides to a story so I’m going to have to do some research and find out exactly what the facts are.

There are lots of immediate issues facing GP and they’ll get continue to get my full attention but the impacts of TILMA could be so far reaching that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t at the very least have a look at it.

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