Vancouver and the TPP

What might the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement mean here in the City of Vancouver? — with the notion of foreign investment already a hot-button issue in Vancouver real estate and unaffordability; what might the TPP and its extrajudicial Investor State Dispute Settlement process mean for local land use? What about the TransMountain pipeline and our aspiration to be the Greenest City. How about buy local programs? There is much we don't know yet about the 6,000 page trade agreement released just three weeks ago — but already US cities like San Francisco, Seattle and New York have voiced their opposition to the deal. Should Vancouver follow their lead?

[Today at Vancouver City Council, I spoke in support of Green councillor Adriane Carr's motion "Opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement". With unanimous cross-partisan support, the motion was referred to staff for study with instructions to report back before the item is ratified by the House of Commons. The following is a transcript of my presentation to council and staff]

I’m here to speak in support of the motion to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement.

My opposition to the TPP is not a blanket condemnation of the idea of trade agreements in general, and I recognize that the facilitation of trans Pacific trade through Port Metro Vancouver is significant economic engine for our City and region.  

Further I want to acknowledge that the TPP may yield some larger benefits to environmental concerns if it leads to greenhouse gas and atmospheric pollution reductions particularly in developing nations like China, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

HOWEVER

I think there is much that we don’t know about the TPP, a global plan with potential significant local impact, impacts that may work against our own interests here in the City of Vancouver. Of course, I’m neither a lawyer nor an international trade expert — and I’m sure council and staff have reviewed the TPP and likely have their own concerns — but a few items I have flagged.

Vancouver’s brand as Greenest city. 

I attended a recent event where councillor [Andrea] Reimer described the notion of how the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion into Burrard inlet would not only undo our city’s greenhouse gas reductions in just a few days worth of exported product, but further, it would actually damage our brand value as “Greenest City” and the attendant worth that imparts as a place to visit and do business.

We know categorically that the TPP will promote energy investment, and in particular in the Alberta oil sands. With Keystone XL and Northern Gateway effectively off the table — we are going to see enormous pressure to get Alberta diluted bitumen to Pacific tidewater, and quickly. Particularly as the United States are considering lifting their crude oil export ban and Australia’s growth as an oil shale energy exporter will mean a high stakes race to get to the Asian oil market.

Of course, detailed in chapter 9 of the TPP : industry will be protected under “distinct, reasonable investment backed expectations.” and subjected to extrajudicial Investor State Dispute Settlement process. In the interest of strengthening our position in opposing the pipeline expansion into Burrard Inlet, we are compelled to oppose the TPP.

Another issue of concern is Chapter 15, Government Procurement — wherein the idea of local procurement is effectively subjected to the trade deal and aforementioned investor dispute resolution process. 

Local procurement is of course a significant factor in the Greenest City Action plan, local food security initiatives, and reducing our carbon footprint — not to mention its role in strengthening our local economy.

Lastly, I’m extremely concerned about local land use. While there’s no consensus on the role of non-local and corporate investment in the Vancouver real estate market, I think all parties agree that there is a lack of data to make a conclusive study. We need that data, certainly as the TPP opens up our local market not only to increased investment — but subjects those transactions to the investor dispute resolution process. 

This will likely tie our hands when it comes to the idea (supported by our mayor) of finessing our existing property transfer taxation system. TPP may make ideas like a speculation and/or luxury property tax legally untenable, and most certainly a non-local investor tax would be off the table. 

Furthermore, how sure is the city that our system of Community Amenity Contributions* can withstand a legal challenge under the TPP? We know that voluntary CAC’s exist in something of a grey area, and have been subject to scrutiny and concern from the Provincial government. Considering the City’s reliance on CAC’s this seems very dangerous territory to me.

And to that end I urge the city to exercise prudence and follow the example of other metropolitan areas is opposing the TPP, at the very least until a full comprehensive analysis of the risks and any mitigating considerations to protect the interests of Vancouverites.

* [Community Amenity Contributions are a voluntary developer contribution toward public assets like parks and social housing as a condition of rezoning. CACs contributed about $350 million over the last four years and became the subject of Provincial Government review who singled the Vancouver model out as an unapproved method