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OP/ED: MP says trade agreements like NAFTA hurting B.C. economy

The B.C. economy is closely tied in with various trade agreements such as NAFTA, the Agreement on International Trade and the New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWTA) between BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan which replaces the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

There is concern by those who represent workers that these agreements interfere with the ability of our provincial and local governments to control who gets the jobs.As I have mentioned so often in previous columns, NAFTA has had a negative impact on BC farmers. Prior to this agreement our vegetable and fruit growers were protected by in-season tarrifs which enabled them to make a profit. This is no longer the case.

A recent article in the online magazine the Tyee highlighted the fact that BC Hydro is spending approximately $1 billion on new transmission lines. However, most of the contracts have been awarded to two Alberta companies which are subsidiaries of Quanta Services from Texas. What so often happens is that these companies bring in their own workers from outside B.C., while the taxes they pay and the money they spend do not stay in our province.
 
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has written an open letter to BC’s Premier highlighting the following:
 
The Northwest Transmission Line: $525 million contract to build 344 km of new power lines, which will create 280 jobs,was awarded to Valard Construction, an Alberta company owned by Quanta from Texas. 
 
Lower Mainland Transmission Line: $780 Million contract, which will provide 543 person years of work, awarded to Graham-Flatiron who then subcontracted to McGregor Construction 2000 Ltd., an Alberta company owned by Quanta from Texas.
 
Columbia Mainland Transmission Line: $209 million contract to improve the electricity supply between Invermere and Field went to RS Line Contr. Co. Ltd., an Alberta Company.
 
According to the aforementioned Tyee article, a ministry spokesperson stated that BC Hydro uses a fair, open and competitive process, evaluating the firm’s qualifications and quality of work along with the total overall cost for each proposal. However, these companies are only ‘encouraged’ to hire locally. There is no actual contractual obligation requiring them to hire local unionized workers.
 
According to Doug Mckay, IBEW business manager for local 258, there are many more electrical workers from elsewhere taking jobs away from BC workers, than BC workers finding jobs in other provinces.   With no provision to spend money inside the province, contracts are often awarded to the lowest bidder.
 
Jim Sinclair, BC Federation of Labour president, feels that it would be easy to require companies to hire locally. For example, Hydro Quebec only contracts with companies that have a headquarters in Quebec. According to Sinclair, BC Hydro once felt that it made sense to pay as much as 10 per cent more if a contract went to a BC Company to benefit the BC economy.
 
As BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix says, “There are real benefits to hiring in BC, including tax dollars staying in the province that have to be taken into the equation. At the very least, BC companies should have a fair chance at bidding for the work.”
 
I believe that to be a reasonable request, especially when it concerns jobs that could revitalize our rural communities. Every good paying job supports our local businesses and helps sustain vital infrastructure such as our schools and hospitals.