Alliance keeps wary eye on new BC-Alberta trade pact

The Gulf Islands Alliance is concerned that the new BC/Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) could thwart the Islands Trust in carrying out its ‘preserve and protect’ mandate.

In a letter to the Trust, the Alliance asks the Trust to petition the province to seek an exemption from the agreement. The Alliance first raised its concern at a Trust Council meeting in December.

Here’s part of the Alliance letter:

“As we have become more familiar with the possible implications of the TILMA we have become increasingly alarmed about the possible ramifications the agreement could have for the Trust system of governance. This is particularly so as we know that the Islands Trust is not specifically listed under Section V (Exceptions).

“Rick Earle, Director of Finance for the City of Burnaby has said of this agreement:

“Although characterized as building on or furthering the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), TILMA is structured to be very broad and encompassing (inclusive) unless specific exclusion are provided. The AIT only covered certain specified areas. This fact alone makes the potential for challenges under the new agreement much more probable than the under the AIT.”

“The civic measures dealing with quality (quality of life, neighbourhoods, etc.) are not covered as legitimate objectives and are therefore subject to challenge under the agreement. For example, zoning to minimize industrial/residential interface issues could be challenged; there are many areas in the city where the interface is an issue, based on historical development. Any bylaw restricting new development could be challenged based on its restriction of trade and the fact that historical examples do exist where commercial enterprises are built adjacent to residential areas.”

“Regardless of the intent, the breadth of these sections provides the potential for virtually unlimited challenges to city bylaws, zoning, and practices.”

“The Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) has the potential to have far reaching negative impacts on municipal objectives; therefore it is recommended that Burnaby ask the Union of B.C. Municipalities to review the agreement and consult with the provincial government and municipalities, with the intent of making required changes, exempting municipalities, or having the province withdraw from the agreement in its entirety.”

“Saskatoon’s city solicitor, tabled a report of TILMA at the Municipal Council’s Feb. 26, 2007 meeting. Her views included the following:

“Cities like Saskatoon, which have a long history of doing things first and doing things differently, will be at the greatest risk of TILMA challenges,”. “Based on the information that we have to date, it is…possible to assume that TILMA cannot be adjusted to fit cities.”

“We are writing to request that the Trust Council press the Province to exempt the Islands Trust under Section V in the Exceptions specifically outlined in the agreement. We are of the opinion that if Minister Hanson’s assurances that the ability of the Trust to meet the Trust Object will not be impaired by this agreement, then he should have no problem including the Islands Trust in this list.”

In a parallel action, the Gabriola Local Trust Committee requested Islands Trust to ask the Province for a commitment that TILMA won’t prevent the Province from signing off on local trust committee official community plans. MP Jean Crowder, Nanaimo-Cowichan noted that the BC NDP caucus has been speaking out against TILMA and “the un-democratic way it was put in place.”

It wanted a debate about it in the BC legislature “so all British Columbians could learn about this agreement and its implications. The BC Liberals voted down the motion for debate.

“Jim Flaherty, the federal Finance Minister, mentioned TILMA in the budget speech as a good model for other provinces to follow,” Crowder said. “So we expect the federal government is planning some way of extending this bad deal across the nation.”

One critic said that TILMA will allow “legal challenges to restrictions on the location and size of commercial signs, environmental set-backs for developers, zoning, building heights, pesticide bans, green space requirements, private health clinics, nursing homes, junk food in schools, air quality, tourist developments, ecological reserves, agricultural land reserves, rent controls and much more. This could get very expensive for the tax payer at a potential $5 million per challenge.”

In a letter to objectors, Colin Hansen, the BC minister responsible for the deal, replied to demands for public consultation and legislative involvement and charges that TILMA doesn’t protect the Islands Trust area, or the Agricultural Land Reserve and municipal and regional district zoning:

“While not specifically listed as exceptions, these protected areas and regulations are legitimate public and environmental objectives and not subject to the Agreement.

“This also extends to labour laws, environmental standards, human rights legislation, community drinking watersheds and forest protection lands. I must re-emphasize that the Agreement applies to trade, investment and labour mobility between provinces and does not strip away legitimate rules and regulations.

“Legislation was not required to enter into the agreement. However, implementation of specific measures related to TILMA will require amendments to existing legislation.”

He noted that the Conference Board of Canada concluded that under TILMA BC could gain an additional 78,000 new jobs and $4.8 billion in real gross domestic product.