The Yukon government must break its silence on a controversial trade pact before the debate’s rhetoric spirals out of control, says the Liberal Party.
It is currently studying the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), a free-trade pact between Alberta and BC that could include the territory.
The Liberals are not taking a position on TILMA.
But the government should be more open about the work it is doing to study the trade agreement, otherwise the debate is skewed, said Liberal economic development critic Don Inverarity.
“By keeping it secret they’re not treating Yukoners with the respect they deserve,” he said.
“But it’s not unusual for this government to do nothing.
“They throw things out there in the public and just leave it unresolved. There’s an obligation to inform the public.”
With labour and economic experts in town to talk to government officials about TILMA — at the invitation of the Yukon Federation of Labour — the Liberals are asking for cooler heads to prevail.
With a public campaign to stop TILMA, the federation has been at the forefront of the debate.
But the federation should take a step back until all the information from the government is made available, said Inverarity.
“It’s good the federation is bringing up issues, but I don’t know if taking such a strong position early on is good for the debate,” he said, echoing the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
TILMA demands “no obstacles” block the movement of investment, good and people between signatories.
And it 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 the agreement.
A $5 million maximum fine can be levied by a TILMA panel against provincial/territorial governments, municipalities, school boards and publicly funded universities and colleges if they violate the deal by offering tax incentives, regulating development or implementing labour policies.
TILMA will erode the rights of government to enact legislation and set policy to benefit the local economy, says the federation, which is hosting a town hall meeting on the agreement tonight at 7 p.m. at the High Country Inn.
The trade pact will not have a formal champion at the meeting.
The federation failed to book a business representative for the town hall, president Alex Furlong told a news conference called to introduce the guest speakers.
Furlong asked Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp to participate, but the invitation “was politely declined.”
The guests include the federation’s Saskatchewan chapter president Larry Hubich. Saskatchewan politicians refused to endorse TILMA after a lengthy debate.
“If this is such a good deal, let’s debate it, let’s see the benefits,” said Furlong, issuing a challenge to debate any TILMA proponent, business leaders or otherwise.
One voice missing in the TILMA debate is that of small business, said Inverarity.
“Are they in favour of this? We don’t know yet and that’s a good reason for a formal debate,” he said.
“We have a lot of protection for small business right now that’s a trade barrier. Is that good or bad? Would some businesses like to see a level playing field?”
People forget that larger businesses like Pelly Construction will be able to compete with Outside companies who might otherwise steamroll the 30,000 people in the Yukon, said Inverarity.
“Do we want a protectionist environment or an completely open market or a combination to grow business in the Yukon?” he said.
TILMA, as it is written, may not be right for the Yukon, a much smaller place than BC or Alberta, so some negotiation maybe required before moving ahead, said Inverarity.
“If we blindside the business community and then find out they way they did business — with procurement policies and tax benefits — is gone, they’ll be upset.”