Free trade with the European Union—more questions than answers, SCFP-Quebec

Oct 3, 2011

According to a number of researchers and organizations, the pending Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could adversely affect the quality and cost of public services to the detriment of the people of Quebec. A whole chapter will be devoted to government procurement. Since 2009,Canada has been negotiating an economic accord with the European Union and wants to conclude an agreement by the end of 2011.

CETA, an agreement relatively unknown to the general public, is aimed primarily at Crown corporations and government procurement by central and sub-central governments, such as Canada’s provinces and municipalities. Government procurement refers to all contracts awarded by a province or municipality, whether for water, electricity or any other public service.

CUPE-Quebec Secretary General Denis Bolduc explains that, “according to documents obtained by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, it was because of intense lobbying by European multinationals that Canada agreed to include government procurement in the agreement.”

For a number of civil society groups, including La Coalition Eau Secours! and the Council of Canadians, the inclusion in the agreement of Quebec municipal water services could facilitate their privatization, notably owing to provisions that protect the investments of European multinationals. In other sectors, the Crown corporation Hydro-Québec and private corporations such as Bombardier come to mind.

The liberalization measures included in the agreement could restrict government action and have a detrimental effect on local economic development. For example, when the provincial government issues a public call for tenders for a given project, it would no longer be allowed to take regional economic impacts into account. It would have to choose the company that submitted the lowest bid solely on that basis.

The negotiations, which are taking place behind closed doors, are cause for concern. “What interests stand to be served by the privatization of public services,” wonders Denis Bolduc. “Those of the business community or those of ordinary citizens?”

Several examples around the world show that there have been many failures in terms of both quality and cost. The City of Paris recently re-municipalized all its water services as a result of a hike in prices and
underinvestment in infrastructure by the private company managing the utility.

Quebec would be well advised to demand that Canada take government procurement for municipal water, electricity and other services out of CETA. The Canadian Union of Public Employees encourages the citizens of Quebec to urge their elected municipal and provincial representatives to act quickly, because if this agreement is signed it will not serve the interests of the Quebec population as a whole.


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