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March 13, 2012 - No. 27

A New Direction Is Needed for Society

Good Jobs at Canadian Standard Incomes Are Not the Impediment to a Prosperous Society

A New Direction Is Needed for Society
This Week in the Legislature
Good Jobs at Canadian Standard Incomes Are Not the Impediment to a Prosperous Society - Steve Rutchinski

Resisting the Attack on Teachers
Teachers Resist Anti-Social Offensive and Nation-Wrecking - Dan Cerri
The Only Discussion Government Wants to Hear at Provincial Table Is "Yes" to Cuts - Christine Nugent
Teachers Speak Out in Defence of their Rights

The Battle for Toronto
Ford Regime's Attack on City Workers Continues - David Greig
All Out to Support Library Workers! - Philip Fernandez
City Council Calls for Exemption to Neoliberal Free Trade Agreement with Europe - Janice Murray


A New Direction Is Needed for Society

This Week in the Legislature

A review of the prior week in the Legislature requires discussion on the actions of the McGuinty government and the state of the democratic mechanisms and institutions in the province. This past week witnessed three examples of dictatorial power revolving around the McGuinty government.

Throughout the week, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath challenged the McGuinty government on its censorship of job clauses in pay-the-rich schemes to companies that provided little job growth or even closed their operations, like Navistar did when it shut down its truck plant in Chatham last year. On March 5, Horwath said:

"The government handed out more than $30 million to Navistar, only to watch Navistar then ship nearly 2,000 jobs to Mexico. We requested the contract that was signed with Navistar, and the government, of course, refused to provide it, so we went ahead and we got it through the freedom-of-information process. However, when we received the contract, job targets, investments and all sorts of other pieces of information were censored from the contract."

Horwath revealed that the McGuinty government has similarly censored numerous other contacts.

On March 7, McGuinty declined a meeting with Ontario's teachers' unions to talk about provincial negotiations after the government called for a wage freeze and an end to retirement sick-day payouts. Instead, McGuinty went outside the negotiating process and posted a YouTube video asking teachers to "do their part to fight the deficit." The next day in the Legislature, Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns asked the premier: "Why won't the Premier sit down face to face with teachers to discuss issues he's so eager to talk about on YouTube?" In his patronizing reply, McGuinty tried to insinuate teachers into colluding with the government's anti-social offensive to pay for a crisis neither they nor the people of Ontario created. He said:

"I just want to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of Ontario teachers and of the partnership that we've entered into with Ontario teachers.

"The fact of the matter is, it's one thing for us in government to come up with new ideas, to provide more funding, and to try to improve the quality of the curriculum and the education that we provide our teachers. But at the end of the day, it's the men and women who work inside those classrooms every single day who are making such a powerful difference in the lives of our children and our young people. They are single-handedly building a brighter future for all of us.

"I have every confidence that we will maintain the strength of our partnership. We will find a way forward together. We will continue to ensure that Ontario schools are the best in the world."

On March 8, CUPE Ontario announced that the government's Standing Committee on Finance and Public Affairs, made up of Liberal and Progressive Conservative members, decided to forgo public pre-budget hearings. CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said: "This is a real slap in the face of democracy. The Liberals are proposing a radical restructuring of our public service including massive service cuts, new user fees, widespread contracting out and privatization of important public services, and they don't want to hear from the public and experts? That's not just foolish, it's wrong."

There has not been any discussion on this matter yet in the Legislature even though McGuinty said after the release of the Drummond Report that there would be broad consultations on its recommendations as part of pre-budget consultations.

Despite his efforts to portray himself through his words as looking out for the golden mean, fairness, balance and good sense, McGuinty's deeds speak otherwise. McGuinty and his government's actions this past week can only be described as dictatorial. In the process, the current mechanisms and institutions of democracy are being destroyed. Even limited democratic mechanisms like consultations, which actually serve to tell people what will happen, are being dismantled. It once again leaves a modern polity in an untenable situation. The demand for democratic renewal in which people are put at the centre of decision making and implementation is necessary!

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Good Jobs at Canadian Standard Incomes Are Not the Impediment to a Prosperous Society

Last week Premier McGuinty turned down a request by unions representing teachers and support staff in the Ontario elementary and secondary school systems to meet and discuss alternatives to the government's demand for a two-year salary freeze as well as pension and other benefit cuts. McGuinty said his government is only interested in discussing ideas that "stay within the fiscal parameters" already set.

Those "parameters" include cuts to social program funding by holding increases below the rising cost of living, cuts and privatizing of public services to transfer more government revenue to debt servicing and to "pay down the debt" which after two and a half decades of precisely the same bankrupt economics, is never going to happen.

McGuinty even went on YouTube to deliver an "economics 101" lecture that by working together with the government teachers can do their part to help government slow down spending. McGuinty argues this is the way to build confidence that will result in business investment in Ontario, which will restore prosperity and provide the necessary funding for social programs like health care and education.

By extension, public health care workers and all public sector employees should do the same. And the workers who once worked at Caterpillar in London or Xstrata's Kidd Creek metallurgical site or the forestry towns across the north whose jobs disappeared following such "investment" -- what should they do? Nod in agreement that this anti-social direction is sure to work out someday?

The impediment to a prosperous society is not good jobs that provide incomes at the level consistent with standards the Ontario economy is capable of producing. The problem is that our highly socialized economy is not permitted to function as it should because private global monopoly interests control the main means of production and only allow them to function, if at all, according to their own narrow self-interest, not according to the social needs and interests of society. That is the underlying factor impeding prosperity since it creates crisis and chaos in our economy.

Our economy is organized to serve a definite aim and that aim has nothing to do with ensuring adequate funding for social programs like health care and education or affordable housing or a guaranteed livelihood at Canadian standards for all. Working people have to draw this warranted conclusion from their experience and on that basis, go into action to change the situation. That is what it means to be political -- working out what favours your interests within the context of a society that defends the rights of all and how to bring it into being.

The truth is seen in the fact that while gross domestic product has increased more than enough to sustain and expand the level of funding for social programs, more and more is taken out of the economy by the owners of capital. Likewise, more and more of the social wealth claimed by government is taken out of circulation in the economy and goes to servicing interest payments -- more than $11 billion in 2011 alone -- on debt that should have been considered paid off many times over given the amount of interest paid over the years.

McGuinty's ultimatum to teachers should be broadly discussed so that working people can come to terms with the reality of the situation facing society. Ontario needs a new pro-social direction for the economy to build a society fit for human beings, not one that serves a privileged minority while all other claims are put off as prospects for future consideration.

Table 1: Ontario Economy in Constant 2002 Dollars (Billions)

 

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

GDP

 

429.7

455.2

463.4

477.8

484.3

496.8

510.5

522.9

533.2

529.3

509.4

524.4

Pre-tax profit

 

 

51.8

47.8

60.5

59.0

64.0

66.5

71.9

74.2

69.6

54.3

64.2

Pre-tax profit as % of GDP

 

11.4

10.3

12.7

12.2

12.9

13.0

13.8

13.9

13.1

10.7

12.

Source: Ontario Political Forum
Note: GDP in 2009 crisis surpassed that of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Pre tax profit as % of GDP surpassed 11.39% attained in 2000 every year, with the exception of 2001 and 2009. It reached a high of 13.9% of GDP in 2007. Every 1% increase represents approx. $5.5 billion pre-tax profits.

Table 2: Shows that Crisis Is the Fellow-Traveler of the Capitalist System

(Ontario Alternative Budget: Steering Ontario Out of Recession/Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

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Resisting the Attack on Teachers

Teachers Resist Anti-Social Offensive and
Nation-Wrecking

As reported last week in Ontario Political Forum, teachers in Ontario have been put on notice by the provincial government in pre-negotiating consultations that they are expected to take a two-year wage freeze which includes keeping seniority frozen. The announcement also includes expected changes to the allotment and compensation for sick days.[1]

Teachers and their unions almost immediately began to organize to resist the government's attempt to dictate their working lives and negate their right to decision-making. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) walked away from contract talks shortly after the announcement on March 1. Teachers themselves have been in discussion about the developments in comparison to their realities. They have pointed out the disinformation on retirement payouts of unused sick days which the monopoly media have reported being as high as $46,000. Discussion with teachers reveals that the actual amount and how many teachers are eligible for the payout is unclear and that it is a distraction from the real issues. Concern has also been expressed about the limited number of sick days each year (only six) that teachers would be compensated for based on their full salary.

Teachers are demanding a stop to the assault on their livelihoods and on the overall public education system. They are demanding to know what this is all about. How can it be that McGuinty wants teachers to contribute to improvements that have been made in Ontario's education system while taking away from those who actually provide this education?

The announcement reflects part of the recommendations of the Drummond Report pertaining to education, namely wage freezes, but not increases in class sizes or the elimination of full-day kindergarten. As Ontario Political Forum has previously pointed out, this is McGuinty and the Liberals portraying themselves as looking out for "balance" and "good sense" (see Ontario Political Forum, February 28, 2012 - No. 25). Yet, in the end it is workers that are the targets of the recommendations of the Drummond Report and the deterioration of public institutions to open the possibility for privatization. Such is also the case in the education sector in other parts of the country such as in BC where ever larger proportions of government funds are allotted for private education.[2]

Governments across the country have stepped up the anti-social offensive against public sector workers, in general, and education workers, in particular. Teachers in Alberta and BC are facing net-zero wage settlements and cuts to education funding (see TML Daily, February 9, 2012 - No. 15 and March 2, 2012 - No. 28). Education workers at colleges and universities have also been fighting against underfunding which has led to cuts to programs and research grants. All of this is threatening quality of public education which ultimately affects the learning conditions for students. It is part of nation-wrecking that has already ravaged manufacturing in Canada and is now destroying public institutions in the name of private interests staying competitive in the global market.

In Ontario, the anti-social offensive against workers and people is continuing under McGuinty and it goes back to the "Social Contract" under Bob Rae and the "Common Sense Revolution" of Mike Harris. This anti-social offensive is part of an economic system that cannot guarantee the rights of people by dint of being human, in the first place, nor the instrumental role that they play in society. Education workers in Ontario have a right to be compensated commensurate with the important work that they do in educating the youth. Equally, if not more important, is that teachers should have a say in the direction of the economy and how their roles as educators should be organized in the economy. They must be decision makers. Only this can avoid the chaos and uncertainty in their lives that is part of the irrationality of the overall organization of society today.

Notes

1. Most teachers are currently eligible for 20 days of sick leave per year and unused sick leave accumulates to a maximum of 200-250 days, depending on the school board. At retirement teachers can currently collect salary based on unused sick days but this amount is unclear because the eligibility varies across the province. The proposed changes mean that teachers will no longer be able to use previously unused sick days (known as sick leave bank). Each member would receive six days per year at 100 per cent salary and then short term disability for up to 24 weeks at two-thirds salary. Upon retirement, they would no longer collect any salary based on accumulated unused sick days.

2. "New Assault on Teachers and Public Education," Donna Petersen, TML Daily, February 23 - No. 23

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The Only Discussion Government Wants to Hear at
Provincial Table Is "Yes" to Cuts

On March 7 and 8 there were to be further Provincial Discussion Table meetings between those teacher unions which did not withdraw in protest and the government's team, led by retired Judge James Farley, the government's chief negotiator. Teachers believed they were negotiating the parameters of an agreement.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), which represents the 45,000 professional women and men who teach all grades in publicly funded English Catholic schools, subsequently issued a news release on Friday, March 9. It states that an email was sent out by James Farley March 8 insisting: "...the government's involvement in the ongoing Provincial Discussion Tables (PDT) was not to engage in a discussion with the teacher associations on the parameters of a collective agreement, but rather, to facilitate a dialogue between the teacher associations and the association representing trustees."

First the government put out all of its draconian proposals, publicized them widely through the media and now it is making it very clear that it is not going to engage in any discussion about them with the teacher organizations.

This latest communication refers the teachers' organizations to trustee associations and school boards which have no authority. It is the government that controls the PDT process -- it created the proposal and has control over the funding. The result is a deliberate denial of the collective bargaining process.

Education sector bargaining is regulated under the Ontario Labour Relations Act. Under the law most boards cannot even begin to bargain new collective agreements until June.

Turn the Tables!

For the last two collective agreements for teachers there has been a PDT process. In 2004 and 2008 agreements were reached at the provincial level on items such as salary, prep time, and benefits prior to the start of local collective bargaining.

In 2004 the process was totally voluntary.

In 2008 they were invited to enter a voluntary process; but the rules were changed part way through, and a two per cent salary penalty was imposed on public elementary teachers.

Now in 2012 the government has used the PDT to dictate wages and working conditions in one fell swoop disallowing solutions in favour of the teachers, support staff and students.

The PDTs were set up to facilitate discussion in working out solutions to the wages and working conditions of teachers as a voluntary arrangement between the teachers and the government. It has been turned into a tool to dictate austerity measures against their interests. Who needs that? Turn the tables!

Teachers Reject Government Parameters

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO), represents more than 76,000 teachers and educational professionals in public elementary schools. ETFO has refused to attend further talks due to the government agenda of stripping the collective agreements.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) represents more than 60,000 members. They include educational assistants, continuing education teachers and instructors, psychologists, secretaries, speech-language pathologists, social workers, plant support personnel, attendance counsellors and many other education professionals.

Due to the blatant disrespect of the collective bargaining process, the OSSTF has immediately withdrawn its support for and participation in the following Ministry of Education working tables:

- Assessment Advisory Council
- Curriculum Advisory Committee
- English Language Learners Advisory Group
- Early Learning Plan
- Expansion of Ontario Teacher Education Program
- Growing Success
- Healthy Schools Working Table
- Learning to 18
- Math Work Group
- Managing Information for Student Achievement Advisory Committee
- Ministry of Education Partnership Table
- Special Education
- Student Achievement Division Working Table
- Teacher Leadership and Learning Program
- Teacher Performance Appraisal/Annual Learning Plan Networking Group
- Teacher Tripartite Advisory Committee/Support Workers Advisory Committee

Another organization affected by the government austerity measures is l'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), which is the French-language labour organization whose members work in Ontario's French-language, Catholic and public, elementary and secondary schools and in other French-language establishments in Ontario. AEFO has some 10,000 members who work in about 450 schools and other workplaces.

The government hiring of an external legal team with no apparent knowledge of the education sector to deliver a demand for a two-year wage freeze and other measures that have a direct negative impact on education workers' rights and on the collective bargaining process, is an assault on the entire education system.

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Teachers Speak Out in Defence of their Rights

In a petition to Premier Dalton McGuinty entitled "Stop the Austerity Proposal for All, OSSTF and ETFO Bargaining Units," teachers are stating their opposition to the attacks on their wages, working conditions and benefits. The petition provides detailed explanations of the austerity measures:

Freezing wages for two years and salary grids for example means that if a teacher was eligible to move up on the salary grid, they would have to forgo that for at least two years. After the wage freeze, they would not be given the opportunity to catch up to the correct position on the payment grid. If a teacher would have become eligible for a pay increase (within the pay freeze time frame), they would not be allowed to receive that increase in pay.

There would also be a restructuring of salary grids. Usually, teachers get an increase in pay for pre-determined qualifications. For example, completing a certain amount of years as a teacher or taking special courses would be considered an acceptable reason to apply for an increase in pay. However, McGuinty wishes to review the salary grids with the intention of limiting how experience and qualifications are recognized in moving through the new grid. This would make it more difficult for teachers to receive pay commensurate with qualifications, education and experience they accumulate.

Teachers graduate from university and teachers college with huge debts and will be seriously affected by the freezing of the wages and the altering of their positions on the grid. It takes ten years for teachers to reach the top of the salary grid. This puts a heavy burden on new teachers. Teachers spend thousands of dollars and untold hours every year to improve their qualifications.

There would be a freeze on retirement gratuity entitlement. The sick leave bank and retirement service, salary and eligibility would be frozen as of August 31, 2012. Each member would only get six sick days per year at 100 per cent salary and then, short term disability for up to 24 weeks at two-thirds salary, none of which is accumulated or carried forward.

There will be an Ontario Teacher Pension Plan valuation with a view to not increase the government's defined benefit contribution. The wage freeze and the altering of the grid system will have an effect on the contributions to the pension fund. Retired teachers are discussing how these measures are going to affect the fund and teachers security in retirement.

What Teachers Had to Say

- "We did not cause this recession! Collect from where the money really is. I have to spend my own money for supplies for my students in my classroom. When the children are sent to school sick and we in turn get sick as we take care of them, why should we have our sick days taken away from us?"

- "McGuinty presented issues to the public in a tone to bad mouth and blame teachers for the economic crisis. This very rude report was done before any negotiations which was very unprofessional and unconscionable."

- "These cuts hurt the most vulnerable in our profession -- single parents, teachers at the bottom of the pay grid, teachers with health issues, and others facing financial difficulties. Especially for the teachers of Toronto who received 2 per cent less than other teachers in Ontario during the last round of negotiations The pay freeze, the grid freeze and the stripping of sick days can be taken as none other than a completely hostile gesture towards the electorate."

- "Research and policy have helped to improve student performance over the last eight years, this would not have happened without the commitment and the countless hours of hard work above and beyond the call of duty by front-line teachers."

- "I would rather invest in teachers and students than rely on the faulty trickle-down economics of corporations."

- "Cutting education and not the cost of war (fighter jets alone cost Canadian taxpayers over $30 billion), eHealth scandal (over $1 billion wasted), ORNGE air ambulance scandal, G20 cost taxpayers $1.1 billion in security alone, etc...No wonder there's no money to pay the salaries of the people who actually work and contribute positively to society!"

- "Teachers need more skills and have to deal with more special needs students, have fewer parents volunteering and spend more of their own money to supplement lack of resources in our schools."

Teachers are saying that it is the government that is responsible for the pending unrest in the province's educational system and they demand that the government do its duty to ensure that the educational needs of the society is not an option but a requirement. For the educational system to be maintained it must be funded and this means funding the teachers whose working conditions are the learning conditions of our children.

(change.org, oecta.on.ca, ocsta.on.ca,etfo.ca, aefo.on.ca, osstf.on.ca)

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The Battle for Toronto

Ford Regime's Attack on City Workers Continues

The alliance on Toronto City Council supporting Mayor Rob Ford's minority administration has continued to unravel around the issue of control over the spending of $8.4 billion in provincial rapid transit funding. Due to action by a majority of city councillors, Ford lost his control over the Toronto Transit Commission. This does not, however, mean that the Ford city-wrecking has been stopped. It must be remembered that many other aspects of the Ford agenda continue to be pushed, particularly against the thousands of city workers who provide the public social programs, services and carry out other city functions.

From late 2011 Ford's executive has been exerting intense pressure upon the city workers in order to impose terms gutting their collective agreements and degrading their security and well-being. The workers' resistance has to date limited the anti-worker aims of the regime in terms of the agreement finalized in February with the outside workers of CUPE Local 416, even though it involved concessions, including on job security.

The same pressure continues to be exerted against about 20,000 workers of CUPE Local 79 and 2,400 of Local 4948 of the Toronto Public Library. In the wake of recent Ministry of Labour "No Board" reports, legal lockout or strike could take place on March 18 for the library workers and a week later for Local 79 workers.

In addition to the city's continuing attack on job security, certain benefits, seniority and other work rules, of primary concern to both locals is huge and growing use of part-time rather than permanent staff. After recent job cuts, the library system now has more temporary than permanent workers, many of whom do not qualify for benefits or work sufficient hours to provide a living, while library usage continues to grow. Local 79 is facing these same issues. Among other things, Local 79 is resisting the city's demand to eliminate seniority rules governing allocation of hours of work to part-time workers as part of its push to give free reign to management dictate over workers.

The developing struggle of the workers and people of Toronto against the anti-social offensive unleashed by the Ford regime is causing it difficulty and some setbacks. The continuing resistance of the city workers is an integral part of this fight, one that is a fight for the rights and well-being of all. As such, it deserves the support of all of us.

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All Out to Support Library Workers!

On March the 1, the Ontario Ministry of Labour issued a "no board" report on the negotiations currently going on between the Toronto Public Library (TPL) Board and the CUPE Local 4948 which represents some 2,400 library workers. The current contract between the local and the Board ended on December 31. The "no board" report came at the request of the union because "negotiations were at an impasse," according to Maureen O'Reilly, President of Local 4948. "No-board" essentially means that the Ministry of Labour concludes that the mediation underway has failed and after 18 days, the respective parties are allowed to lockout or strike.

The members of Local 4948 have already voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike to back up their demands for a fair contract that ensures job security, working conditions, wages and pensions, and against the City of Toronto's demand for concessions and cuts to programs, as part of the Ford administration's anti-social offensive. Library workers will be in a legal position to strike as of March 18.

As part of its campaign to meet its budget, the TPL Board recently made the decision to offer private sector advertising in some of its publicity material. There is a danger that this is the first step toward privatizing other aspects of public library services and later the entire Toronto Public Library service, as has taken place in several cities in the United States and elsewhere, which has resulted in underfunding of programs, cutting of programs and the imposition of user fees that have undermined the public library system.

In the face of massive public resistance, including a letter-writing campaign and the involvement of several prominent authors, the Ford administration was forced to back down from the deep cuts that were being proposed for TPL in the budget last year, and at the September 26, 2011 City Council meeting, the library system was mostly spared. Now the city is coming after the library workers again.

The Toronto Public Library is the largest public library system in Canada and in 2008 reported the largest circulation per capita of any other public library in the world. It has the largest level of use in terms of circulations of materials and visitors within North America. There are 98 branches and over 12 million items in its collection. It is noteworthy that the Toronto Public Library system was established by the workers' organization the Mechanics' Institute in 1830 to help the workers raise their level of education and culture.

The Toronto Public Library workers provide many services that are needed by the people of Toronto. For example, children's librarians provide books and provide many programs that engage children and their families. The unemployed and the homeless, are able to use the services of the library and computers to email, do research and to job-search. The public can borrow books and other materials that contribute to raising the general level of culture of Torontonians. The library workers also organize public readings and lectures that are available free or minimal cost.

In the face of the attacks by the Rob Ford administration against the Toronto Public Library and its workers, all Torontonians must support the Toronto library workers and their just demands for wages and benefits commensurate with the work they do in a modern city like Toronto.

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City Council Calls for Exemption to Neoliberal
Free Trade Agreement with Europe

On March 5, the resolution approved by the Executive Committee of Toronto City Council expressing its concerns about the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and asking for municipalities to be consulted in the negotiations came back to the full council.

At the council meeting Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who along with Councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker, originally brought the motion on CETA before council, introduced an amendment to re-include a request to the Province of Ontario that Toronto be exempted from CETA should the agreement be signed.

The motion as amended was approved by the City Council by a vote of 35 to 5. The motion, a "Request to protect City of Toronto interests and existing powers in any trade agreement signed between the Government of Canada and the European Union" states:

"1. City Council request the Province of Ontario issue a clear, permanent exemption of the City of Toronto from the Canada-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and that it otherwise protect the powers of municipalities, hospitals, school boards, utilities, universities and other sub-federal agencies to use public procurement, services and investment as tools to create local jobs and otherwise support local economic development.

"2. City Council request the Federal Government to protect the powers of the City -- to create local jobs, protect the environment, and provide services and programs as it sees fit -- from any restrictions to those powers in the CETA.

"3. City Council request the Province of Ontario to explain the scope and content of trade negotiations with the EU, including the details of its procurement, services and investment offers; and to protect City of Toronto's interests and existing powers in any trade agreement signed between the Government of Canada and the European Union, with particular attention to:

a. The low procurement thresholds of $340,600 for goods and services and $8.5 million for construction
b. Local procurement needs
c. Dispute resolution mechanism"

The Toronto resolution was passed days before Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Board of Directors meeting in Kitchener, Ontario which took place from March 7-10. At this meeting Canada's lead CETA negotiator briefed councillors and mayors from across Canada on the state of the EU trade talks. The FCM board members were also to consider a motion from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to take water services out of the CETA and other Canadian trade agreements.

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