Canada – U.S. trade deal not so good for municipalities

Municipal leaders across Northumberland should take a moment to pause and consider the Conservative government’s newest Canada-U.S. trade deal announced late last week because it could mean more economic pain that it is suppose to relieve.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was busy extolling the virtues of a new trade that will remove the unrestricted right of Canadian provinces and municipalities to favour local companies when handing out contracts.

In return, Canadian exporters are being given partial access to contract protected under the Buy American program.

The grocery list of items that makes this a bad deal for Canada is long.

First, the stimulus spending is almost done. Of the $275 billion allocated to the program, almost $200 billion is already spent. And, the program is slated to end on Feb. 17. That’s next week. Even worse, if there is another round of stimulus spending, a whole new deal must be negotiated.

Despite all the sunshine touted by the Tories, municipalities will be left vulnerable to foreign firms bidding on local contracts, meaning local job losses and possible business tax losses, if Northumberland County firms cannot complete.

It is bad enough to see so many construction, engineering and planning contracts go to outside firms within Northumberland. The recent Cobourg Community Centre fundraising contract is a great example of local talent being ignored over outside companies. Firms like Behan Construction and Peak will be forced to compete against U.S-based and other foreign corporations. There are no guarantees to money will be used to hire local workers in support the local economy.

Certainly, minor road repairs or small renovations will not grab the attention of these massive international firms. However, you can bet multimillion dollar projects like water treatment facilities, major road reconstruction or new roads and new construction, like the Cobourg Community Centre, will be especially attractive.

Still, look at the$7-billion deal allowing Samsung Group to build solar and wind farms. This deal threatens Pro-Energy and Power, a Port Hope firm, looking to create 75 new jobs with its proposals in Northumberland. It may get hit with a double-whammy under the new rules, where another foreign firm is allowed access to these fragile industries as it tries to establish itself.

No doubt the hardcore capitalists will moan, saying the competition will be good for the marketplace, build efficiency and productivity. Certainly, this is true when the field of competition is level. There cannot be any comparison between small local firms and massive international giants.

Local politicians need to come down hard on Northumberland MP Rick Norlock for selling out. The short-term gain, if there is any, will not mitigate the economy impact on Northumberland.

County residents watched the same type of twisted logic spew from national politicians when the North American Free Trade deal came into effect in Jan. 1994.

Then, many hardworking people watched as company after company closed in the region, decimating the manufacturing sector of the local economy. It has never recovered. Now, these same global corporations will gut us one more time, as they take our tax dollars and watch them flow out of the county, the province and the country.

This item needs to be at the top of every municipal agenda over the next few weeks until the message to Ottawa is clear: you can’t sell us out.

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