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BC Premier Clark backtracks on promise to consult on CETA

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has nixed a promise to consult with the public on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union.

"No, we don't intend to do that," Clark told NDP Leader Adrian Dix during debate on her office's budget last week. "The discussions are, I'm advised, getting closer to the end. We don't intend to do any further consultation on it."

That's a very different answer than she gave a year ago in the same forum, when she said, "There will be, I'm told, consultation on this agreement. There will be many avenues for the public's input."

It also differs markedly from the one Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell gave The Tyee in Oct., 2011, when he said, "I'm anticipating we will still do that, it's just unclear what we're consulting on at this point."

Bell said at the time he had already consulted extensively with the Union of B.C. Municipalities on the agreement, and would likely embark on a wider public consultation if it looked likely the agreement would succeed.

"The government seems to have backed down on its commitment to openness and consultation," said Dix in a phone interview. "That may not be surprising, but it's disappointing."

There's a lot at stake for B.C. as a deal may raise costs for individuals, municipalities and the provincial government, he said. At the same time there appears to be little benefit to British Columbians, he said.

During this year's budget debate Clark also said she and other premiers have written a letter to the federal government expressing concern about the impact an agreement might have on the cost of pharmaceutical drugs if it moves ahead with changes to patent rules.

"We're at least pushing them to take some action," Dix said. "It shows our efforts at least caused the province to write a letter to the government, and that's a good thing."

During the debate Clark said she would look into releasing a copy of that letter to the opposition, but Dix said he's yet to receive it and will follow up with her office.

One report has suggested the proposed changes to patent rules could cost B.C. in the order of $250 million a year, he said, characterizing the NDP's pressure on the issue as part of its "fiscally conservative" approach.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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