By Andrew Mitchell
Members of the Council of Canadians wielded stop signs in
Whistler Thursday, May 10, in support of various municipal government leaders
tabling motions in opposition to the controversial Trade, Investment and Labour
Mobility Agreement (TILMA).
TILMA is a new free trade pact between Alberta and B.C. that the
Council of Canadians believes will tie the hands of local governments when it
comes to making decisions.
“We weren’t there to protest, but more to share information
with people attending the meeting and show our support for the local
governments’ representatives that were tabling motions against TILMA,” said
Pina Belperio, a member of the Council of Canadians who came out to hold a
“This was legislation that was pretty much signed in secrecy…
and there are a lot of local governments who don’t know about it, or are just
starting to figure out what it’s all about. I talked to one government
representative from North Vancouver Regional District who still hadn’t heard of
TILMA was passed in the provincial legislature in spring of
2006 without any outside consultation from local governments or debate, and
came into effect for regional districts on April 1. The provisions of TILMA
will kick in for municipal governments on April 1, 2009. Local governments are
not allowed to pass any legislation in opposition to the agreement, but some
are lobbying to be exempted from several provisions of the agreement.
According to Belperio, three of the five motions against TILMA
were passed at the Lower Mainland Local Government Association meeting in
Whistler, and similar motions have passed in three out of five other local
government associations. A motion is also expected to pass at the fifth local
government meeting later this month.
As a result, Belperio expects the issue to dominate discussion
at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention in September. She hopes
that the UBCM can force the Liberal government to change some provisions of the
legislation or exempt municipal governments.
One of the most controversial components of TILMA is a
provision that gives individuals and businesses, both Canadian and American,
the ability to sue provincial government for up to $5 million for any
regulations that are harmful to their investments. That includes laws and
regulations enacted by municipal governments.
Some critics have suggested that this provision is the reason
TILMA was drafted in the first place, given the relative lack of trade barriers
between Alberta and B.C.
By opening the province up to potential lawsuits, the Council
of Canadians believe that the province will use TILMA to put pressure on
municipalities to conform to business demands, or overrule municipal laws. They
view the agreement as an extension of North American Free Trade Act provisions
that have allowed U.S. companies to sue Canada for, among other things,
attempting to prohibit the use of a controversial gasoline additive, and lumber
policies that ensured most wood was milled and processed in communities where
it was cut.
The impact on issues like public health and the environment at
the municipal level are particularly troubling, says Belperio
— especially after the province introduced Bill 17 to give TILMA
“(Bill 17) basically doesn’t allow (TILMA) to be challenged,”
she said. “Attempts to preserve ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) can be
challenged by developers, which is a big issue that Pemberton’s farmers should
be looking at. Also, municipalities can’t put in laws more progressive than
what exists currently in the province, things like LEED (Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design) building standards. For Whistler, that’s a huge
According to Belperio, municipalities currently leading the
charge against TILMA include Burnaby and Coquitlam, although the Council of
Canadians has found no support for the trade agreement among municipal
“The more they look at it, the more it doesn’t make any sense,”
said Belperio. “We have two years to get into it with the province, although
it’s too late for regional governments at this point until we get a change of
government. This issue isn’t going away.”