Vancouver city councillors, concerned about whether the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact will put the city at risk from lawsuits by global corporations, say they'll decide next month whether to become the first Canadian city to officially oppose the deal.
Councillors asked city staff on Tuesday to examine concerns that the TPP's investor-state dispute settlement provision – also known as ISDS – will compromise the city's authority by allowing corporations to sue over municipal legislation that results in loss of profits. If passed, Vancouver would join more than 10 cities in the United States that have declared opposition to the agreement, including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"There's an opportunity here for Vancouver to take a stand on an agreement that has only just been concluded that has a huge [impact] for our city, our province and our country," said Councillor Adriane Carr of the Green Party, adding the development of the deal has been shrouded in secrecy with little public consultation.
"It's a complete undermining of our democracy and our sovereign rights and our responsibility to our city."
The TPP was negotiated by the former Conservative government and concluded in October during the federal election campaign. The Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said only that they would review the terms of the deal, which has also faced criticism for provisions related to intellectual property and for its potential impact on auto makers, dairy producers and farmers.
Vancouver's examination of the agreement will be done in consultation with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to include the perspectives of other cities across the country. City staff are expected to report back with their findings by the end of January, according to a motion passed during Tuesday's meeting, or before the federal ratification process.
A similar provision in NAFTA brought multiple lawsuits by U.S. and Mexican corporations claiming billions of dollars against the Canadian government, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, following legislation that the companies said had an impact on profits.
The TPP deal has faced criticism on several fronts.
Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research In Motion (now BlackBerry) said last month that the agreement could cost Canada hundreds of billions of dollars, mainly due to U.S.-set intellectual property standards. He argued they would compromise the ability of Canadian businesses to compete in the global market.
The pact has also been touted as potentially threatening to Canada's auto sector, according to Ford Motor Co. of Canada CEO Dianne Craig, due to the elimination of tariffs from Japanese-built automobiles.
Before losing the election, the Conservatives announced billions of dollars in payments for farmers and auto makers, but they are now under review by the Liberal government.
University of British Columbia political science professor Michael Byers called the move by Vancouver's council a "timely development" that emphasizes the municipal stake in the global initiative. He didn't attend the committee meeting.
"There's the very real possibility that large cities like Vancouver could pay millions of dollars in arbitration and they have no say in the matter," said Prof. Byers, who once ran as a candidate for the federal New Democrats.
"This is being imposed on them. It's part of the larger democratic exercise, and it's a really good thing that city council is drawing attention to this matter and following in the footsteps of some major American cities."
Councillor Geoff Meggs, who introduced amendments to the original motion to include more consultation and time for analysis, said governments shouldn't rush before making a decision on the deal. Instead, he said, they should take time to properly analyze its effects.
"The text has only been released three weeks ago," he said.