CELA says “trade rules will interfere with Walkerton recommendations”

Toronto. In implementing the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations to protect drinking water and agricultural lands, municipalities may face unexpected barriers arising from Canada’s approach to trade negotiations, according to a new study by the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

It was written by Michelle Swenarchuk, Counsel and Director of International Programmes at CELA. Entitled, “From Local to Global: GATS Impacts on Canadian Municipalities,” the study analyzes the effects of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organization on municipal services, particularly water, sewage, waste management, and transit. It focuses on impacts of the GATS on the forward-looking policies of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities regarding environmental services, transportation, and infrastructure needs.

“Canada made so many commitments to open up services to foreign companies in 1994 that foreign engineering, construction, waste management and water companies can use the GATS to challenge local (and national and provincial) water and land regulations and public ownership,” said Swenarchuk. In current negotiations, Ottawa is supporting rules that would allow foreign companies to challenge regulations on services as being “more burdensome than necessary. “This could affect Canadian standards (local, provincial, or national) for:

  • Water quality
  • Water testing and monitoring
  • Water and sewage works construction standards
  • Water managers’ training requirements
  • Land protection standards for any environmental purpose including for water source protection, as recommended by the Walkerton Inquiry
  • Land use planning to curb urban sprawl
  • Regulations regarding location of waste dumps.

“Municipal land use planning affects the location and delivery of all other services. However, if land use controls prevent businesses from locating on particular land, they may argue that their “market access” has been denied, contrary to the GATS. This is true even if the purpose of the controls is to protect water sources, to prevent sprawl, to protect environmentally sensitive lands, or to regulate locations of waste dumps.” Companies could also argue for access to subsidies that are now provided to public bodies. Transportation policies to encourage public transit rather than car use may also face GATS barriers.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities supports compact land use, subsidies to high speed rail, tax-exempt transit passes, and increased federal funding to shift people out of cars and into public transit. However, GATS provides various opportunities for the auto and truck makers to challenge these policies. Even such basic planning and regulatory tools as environmental assessment for waste management and transportation planning may be targets.

The study includes recommendations for municipalities to reduce these risks, including pressuring the federal government not to support new trade rules that would affect Canadian regulations and reversing some commitments made in 1994.

– 30 –

For further information, contact:

Michelle Swenarchuk: tel. 416-658-7747 or 416-960-2284, ex.212