Here is yesterday’s Saint City News column:
A year ago next Tuesday — on April 1, 2007 — something happened that is potentially very bad news for the citizens of St. Albert and other communities large and small throughout Alberta and British Columbia.
Yet despite the potential significance of this bit of April foolery called TILMA, there has been precious little media coverage anywhere in Alberta throughout the past year.
Unfortunately, despite the day it went into effect, TILMA is no joke. TILMA stands for the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement between Alberta and B.C. It came into force with barely a whisper of opposition in this province, although it aroused a few protests in B.C. last summer.
Here in Alberta, there was virtually no news coverage, no Legislative debate, and no public hearing. Just quick and efficient passage and a few words here and there making TILMA out to be a sort of corporate bill of rights.
This is not so. Since under Canada’s Constitution municipalities are creatures of the provinces, TILMA amounts to an attack on local democracy, public health and environmental action. It’s a serious threat to municipalities like St. Albert, not to mention their taxpayers.
This is because TILMA says jurisdictions that sign up must ensure nothing restricts trade, investment or labour mobility among them. Like NAFTA and similar international trade agreements, this sounds swell, but means something different.
In the case of TILMA, it means municipalities cannot establish new standards or regulations to protect local jobs, the local environment or local public health without risking of fines of up to $5 million! It will be local taxpayers, of course, who end up footing this bill.
They face fines because such positive, democratic local initiatives could be ruled to restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility. And TILMA defines such local measures very broadly to include legislation, regulation, standards, directives, requirements, guidelines, programs, policies, administrative practices or other procedures.
Individuals and corporations, including multi-nationals, can use TILMA to bludgeon municipalities into abandoning virtually anything they argue restricts their ability to be profitable. This could include local environmental standards, or zoning bylaws that block urban sprawl, promote green space or restrict the height of buildings. Under TILMA, junk food makers could also challenge bans by local school boards on the sale of unhealthy food in schools. (And just watch, years later, when the kids get sick, this same crowd will argue for an end to public health care!)
What a great weapon for corporations determined to undermine local democracy and be bad corporate citizens. What a wonderful excuse for politicians who want to appear to respond to public pressure for “green” legislation, but also wish to support their corporate backers by wiggling out of their promises.
TILMA attacks the democratic right of citizens to decide what is right for their local communities. It means local policies must bow to corporate interests. It gives private sector investors priority over your democratic rights.
With Alberta’s Conservatives back in power, the possibility of TILMA getting a sober second thought seems small. Already there is a push by the B.C. and Alberta governments to get other jurisdictions to sign on.
Not only are they pressing other provinces to join, but some U.S. states say they’re interested too. So we could be forced to accept even lower U.S. standards as we make the race to the bottom a local as well as a national priority.
Anything from policies to encourage retail businesses at street level in downtown St. Albert to Alberta’s innovative and effective new anti-smoking legislation could run afoul of TILMA’s protection of profit at any cost. This is not good news for St. Albertans, or for anyone else who is concerned about local democracy.