The Yukon Federation of Labour is launching a media blitz to drum up opposition to a controversial trade pact the territory is considering signing.
“(Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement) is taking the local governance structure and removing it and not allowing, at the territorial or municipal level, the people we elect to make decisions,” said federation president Alex Furlong.
“What we’re doing is setting up a structure where corporate entities can challenge almost every government decision. There will be restrictions. Our fair-wage policy, in our opinion, is gone.”
The agreement — a pact between Alberta and BC, which have asked other provinces and territories to join — is being studied by the Yukon government.
After concluding its own study of the deal, the labour federation is launching a “Stop TILMA” campaign in October.
The campaign will include its analysis of the deal.
Labour leaders and economists from across Canada will visit the Yukon next month to take part in federation-sponsored events.
A town hall meeting is scheduled for October 17.
A print and broadcast campaign is also planned in conjunction with a “Stop TILMA” postcard, which will be sent to Yukon homes next week.
“When I spoke to politicians or people in the business community and said I wanted to discuss TILMA, they said ‘What?’” said Furlong.
“We want to let the people of the Yukon know what this document is.”
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 the agreement.
A $5-million maximum 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 is setting up meetings with municipal officials to discuss the trade agreement.
Furlong also wants to meet with Premier Dennis Fentie.
“It’s easy to say it’s not a good deal so, as the government does their review, we’d like to take it through what our review entailed and our concerns, and we would urge the premier not to sign it.”
Proponents of the trade pact say TILMA eases labour mobility restrictions among signatories, making it easier for job seekers to come to — or leave — the Yukon.
But labour mobility between provinces and territories isn’t a problem. Arguing that it is buries the real labour issues, said Furlong.
“As a Canadian citizen, I can go anywhere in this country and work,” said Furlong.
“We may have a labour crunch, but it’s not a shortage. We have a wage and benefits shortage. You cannot tell me that if people paying $10 an hour now were to post a sign saying, ‘$14 an hour with benefits,’ people wouldn’t take those jobs.”
Paying people what the market demands is Economics 101, said Furlong.
“I think that’s what they call ‘Big C’ capitalism,” he said. “We’re driven by what the markets demand. Anybody in business knows you get what you pay for.
“I understand businesses have a bottom line to watch, but they’ll have to make a choice: do they run it with less staff or run it more effectively with people who are paid a little more?”
The Saskatchewan government declined to join TILMA this summer after raising concerns about the vague language in the document — wording that could lead to corporate challenges against its Crown corporations.
Municipalities in Saskatchewan and BC have also raised concerns about restricting their ability to make policy decisions that could be challenged under TILMA.
“We’ve looked at the agreement between BC and Alberta, and we’ve listened to arguments on both sides of the coin and we’ve come to the conclusion that TILMA is bad for the Yukon,” said Furlong.
TILMA is a “race to the bottom” because provinces and territories have to align their legislation and policies, such as labour standards, with the least restrictive among signatories, said Furlong.
“And the exclusions in TILMA are reviewed annually. One thing may be excluded from the agreement this year, but it won’t be the next.
“We don’t elect politicians to throw away their ability to pass laws and make laws to a third party. On that point alone, why hasn’t this been shut down right away?
“Once the government starts defending these challenges, that’s taking time and money away from social programs and the citizens of Whitehorse.”