Yukon communities would be overwhelmed by the powerhouse economies of Alberta and BC if the territorial government signs a controversial trade agreement, says the president of the Association of Yukon Communities.
“If the Yukon signs on it’ll be like the traditional mouse sleeping with an elephant, or a couple elephants in this case,” said Doug Graham, AYC president and Whitehorse city councillor.
The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, a bilateral pact signed by Alberta and BC in 2006 and recently rejected by Saskatchewan, is being studied by the Yukon government after an invitation to join.
“It doesn’t look like TILMA is very complementary or a good deal for Yukon communities,” said Graham. “It isn’t going to assist in building our communities, as far as we can see.
“There are a few things on the surface that look OK, but it’s difficult to tell at this point.”
The problem with TILMA is its vague language, which could mean governments won’t know the consequences of TILMA until they sign on the dotted line, said Graham.
“It’s a horrible way to find out the real consequences,” he said.
TILMA 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 found in violation of offering tax incentives or regulating development.
Yukon communities are more interested in training local people and would sooner keep money in the territory rather than have it leave, said Graham
“All the migration is into Alberta. Right now they’re in the driver’s seat and it’s easy for them to sign the agreement.
“People go to other provinces because the money is better and the jobs are easier to obtain. Anyone who thinks this agreement will create jobs or maintain jobs is sadly mistaken,” said Graham.
More study is needed before the city feels comfortable with TILMA, said Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway.
The potential loss of autonomy of cities to make their own decisions in particular needs more review, she added.
“I wouldn’t say that is a concern, but it’s the very reason why we need to study the implications of the agreement,” said Buckway.
“Some of our issues in Whitehorse could be quite different from cities in Alberta or Saskatchewan.”
Whitehorse city administrators are unfamiliar with TILMA and have not planned to study it.
That an agreement between provinces and territories would affect Whitehorse is odd, said city planning manager Mike Gau.
“I would be shocked if that’s the case,” said Gau. “YTG does not control the planning and zoning in the city.”
Municipalities are a creature of the province or territory where they are located and the terms of TILMA apply to all communities if signed.
“The territory has a right to do that and this is what makes us nervous because instead of sitting down and really looking at how communities are affected, they just sign on,” said Graham.
There was little or no consultation in Alberta and BC between provincial and municipal governments, said Graham. However, he said he looks forward to the consultations with the Yukon government promised by Premier Dennis Fetnie.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has supported TILMA and the local chapter will be soliciting opinions from its members in the coming weeks, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
“We have to break down the trade barriers and welcome people from other areas of Canada,” he said, adding that a comprehensive agreement deals with all the important issues at once.
“We shouldn’t have to keep making deals province-to-province or territory-to-province.”
Opening up the territory to more investment means more jobs for locals and people outside the Yukon and more investment to strengthen the economy, said Karp.
There are Yukon businesses looking to move into Alberta and BC, and TILMA would make it easier for them to expand, he said.