A Yukon Federation of Labour campaign against a controversial trade pact is fear mongering, says the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
The federation’s campaign against the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement began this week with postcards distributed across the territory.
The Yukon government should be allowed to study the agreement before there is a rush to condemn it, said chamber president Rick Karp.
“The chamber is not in support of or against TILMA because it’s too early to tell,” said Karp.
“Let the government decide if (TILMA) is good or bad for the Yukon.”
The deal demands “no obstacles” block the movement of investments, goods and people between signatories, and requires the elimination of incentives and regulation to create a competitive atmosphere for business.
Removing trade barriers would make it easier for labourers to relocate and businesses to invest outside of their home provinces, says agreement proponents.
A $5-million fine can be levied by a TILMA panel against the Yukon government or municipalities, school boards and publicly funded universities and colleges, which all fall under the agreement, if they are deemed to be offering tax incentives or regulating development.
The federation deems it “a bad deal for the Yukon.”
Municipal and territorial governments will lose their power to enact legislation and policy, such as environmental laws and zoning bylaws, says the federation.
“Goodbye democracy” is written in block letters on the dark orange postcards.
“That’s ridiculous, ‘goodbye democracy,” said Karp. “Why would elected officials in BC and Alberta sign an agreement that takes away their power?
“It’s fear mongering … The federation of labour has a right to an opinion, but hopefully it’s based on facts.”
Karp has been in contact with government officials who negotiated the agreement between BC and Alberta.
The two sides are still working out kinks in the agreement, officially signed this spring.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Karp, adding that municipalities won’t fall under the agreement until 2009.
“Let the Yukon government negotiate in good faith and go through the agreement clause by clause with BC and Alberta and do their due diligence.”
There are a number of misconceptions, said Karp.
The controversial penalty process is a “dispute mechanism,” said Karp.
“There is no clause in TILMA that allows parties to sue the government,” he said. “The $5-million penalty is a maximum, and only if the process gets that far.
“TILMA stands for reconciliation and strives to resolve disputes in a timely and inexpensive manner.”
Many of the city and territorial business incentives that favour locals could be challenged under TILMA, say critics.
But many of the incentives could be exempted from the agreement, said Karp.
“The Chamber of Commerce is of the opinion that when and if the government signs on to TILMA, we feel strongly procurement policies should be exempt, or we would have difficulty supporting it,” said Karp.
“The businesses down south are so large, they could only be on the level of local companies with the exemptions.”
The exemptions are reviewed annually under the agreement.
“How do we keep the economy hot?” said Karp. “Maybe TILMA is part of the answer.
“We don’t have depth to act independently from the rest of the country.”