Like everyone else, the Yukon Federation of Labour will have to buy its own table to hear two authors of a controversial free-trade agreement speak at a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“The federation is not invited to be at the table because we want to hear from the (Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement) people,” said Rick Karp, chamber president.
“The federation had their chance to present to the whole of the Yukon. They’ve done this huge campaign against TILMA and all we want to do is have a balanced discussion.”
The federation invited Karp to speak at a recent town hall on the trade pact.
“We said to the federation we couldn’t go to this meeting because it’s all one-sided,” said Karp. “If we went to this meeting, then we would be put in a position of having to support TILMA. We don’t know whether TILMA is good or bad for the Yukon.”
The panel of three economic and labour experts addressed a crowd of about 40 Wednesday night as part of the federation’s “Stop TILMA” campaign.
The federation also asked if Karp would like to just sit in the audience as a private citizen.
“I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ I’m a businessperson and the president of the chamber so if I appear and ask a question, it’ll be obvious,” said Karp.
“I asked the TILMA specialists down south about this and they told me they’ve been through this before and (the federation) just wants to get someone there so they can say this isn’t part of TILMA and then they’ll rip you to shreds.”
The chamber hosts a business luncheon November 20 where two senior officials from BC and Alberta who helped write TILMA and broker the signing will talk about the free-trade pact.
They will speak alongside other guests.
People should wait for the government to tell them whether or not TILMA is a good thing because it has the analysts and the policy experts qualified to study the agreement, said Karp.
The chamber said it will wait until the territory has been through TILMA line by line with government officials from Alberta and BC before making its opinion known.
TILMA is a free-trade agreement between the two western provinces that calls for no restrictions on movement of labour and investment between provinces.
Other provinces and territories are encouraged to sign on and the Yukon government is studying TILMA.
Saskatchewan decided not to be part of the deal this summer.
Parties to the agreement are required to reconcile differences between existing trade and labour policies and are prohibited from establishing new standards or regulations that may restrict or impair trade and labour mobility.
TILMA is a “corporate bill of rights,” the town hall audience was told.
“TILMA extends corporate rights far past what is allowed under NAFTA,” said Carleen Pickard, an organizer with the Council for Canadians.
The vague language and the possibility that provinces or municipalities, school boards or other publicly funded institutions — all of which must adhere to TILMA — could be fined up to $5 million for violating the pact, led to BC municipalities voting near unanimously to demand the government amend or scrap TILMA.
Opponents say the ability of municipalities to make policies that regulate development or favour local businesses would be threatened under TILMA.
Canada functions as it does because different places are allowed different regulations, said panelist Erin Weir, an economist with the Canadian Labour Congress and former federal finance department official.
“The whole point of having a federation is to allow provinces and territories to enact legislation and regulations based on their regional needs,” said Weir.
Karp agrees different jurisdictions have different needs. He said TILMA allows for negotiation of exemptions unique to a city or province or territory.
“We must have an allowable threshold for procurement purposes to support local business, otherwise Yukon won’t exist,” said Karp. “In TILMA, wherever there is local need within the economy to protect something, it’ll be allowed.”
TILMA proponents consider the exemptions, which are reviewed annually, nuisances, said panelist Larry Hubich, president of the Saskatchewan Labour Federation.
“Democracy is too important to be named some irritating exception in the agreement,” he said.
“The debate over TILMA is really a fight between democracy