Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TILMA: Alberta-Saskatchewan Protocol of Cooperation eerily similar to Oct. 2003 BC-Alberta agreement that led to controversial trade deal




Alberta has been holding annual joint cabinet meetings with British Columbia since 2003.

Talks started there led directly to the signing of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement between the two provinces.”
Alberta and Saskatchewan’s first-ever cabinet meeting will focus on energy issues (The Edmonton Journal, Sept. 4, 2008)
With the signing of the Alberta-Saskatchewan Protocol of Cooperation the distance between TILMA – or something like it – and Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall signing on has gotten considerably shorter. The road Wall is beginning to take the province down appears to be similar to the one BC and Alberta took several years ago.

At their first joint cabinet meeting on Oct. 8, 2003, in Calgary, BC and Alberta signed a Protocol of Cooperation. The purpose of the agreement was “to confirm the commitments between the jurisdictions to develop cooperative measures and agreements and to demonstrate leadership in Canada through:

– Exploring opportunities for joint initiatives that can expand provincial trade and investment opportunities;

– Pursuing joint initiatives to promote greater government efficiencies and reduce the cost of public services;

– Identifying best practices and innovations, as well as sharing expertise, in program development and service delivery, and

– Working cooperatively to influence the federal government’s policies and decisions in areas of mutual interest.”

The areas of cooperation included education, post-secondary education, health care, and children’s services; enhancing the effectiveness of public-private partnerships to improve service; supporting infrastructure development and economic development in the areas of transportation, energy, agriculture, tourism, and other industries.

“The parties will explore opportunities to harmonize regulatory frameworks, reduce trade barriers, and promote economic development,” the agreement states.

Coordination and implementation of the Protocol was to be achieved by an Alberta/British Columbia Steering Committee, chaired by the provinces’ Cabinet Secretaries, which would “be responsible for ensuring the intent of the Agreement is fulfilled, and for recommending any subsequent agreements to the Premiers.”

“The Steering Committee will recommend management procedures for the implementation of the agreement. The Steering Committee may establish working groups for mutually agreed upon priority issues. A work plan, including objectives, timelines, and reporting and review mechanisms, will be developed by each working group,” the agreements states.

The duration of the Protocol was for a period of five years or until terminated by either party with six months written notice.

The BC-Alberta Protocol of Cooperation led directly to the creation of the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

At their second joint cabinet meeting on May 26, 2004, in Prince Rupert, BC, the two provinces signed five agreements including the Alberta-B.C. Internal Trade Framework Agreement designed to “break down barriers to trade and investment” with the goal being “to increase competition and lower costs for businesses, consumers and government.”

Also signed that day was the MOU on Oil and Gas “to harmonize regulations for the oil and gas sector, and electricity transmission sector, to reduce industry costs, increase available investment, and advance economic development.”

On April 28, 2006, TILMA was signed without public consultation or legislative debate.

Throughout the balance of 2006 Saskatchewan Party Opposition Leader Brad Wall expressed support for TILMA without reservation constantly berating then NDP Premier Lorne Calvert for not being at the table and for not immediately signing the agreement.

Then, on June 28, 2007, just three months before the provincial election was called, that all changed when Wall suddenly flip-flopped saying a Saskatchewan Party government would not sign TILMA “in its present form.”

Wall cited three areas of specific concern: the protection of Crown Corporations; the exemption of provincial new growth tax incentives; and the potential loss of new growth tax incentives at the municipal level.

“Our goal would be to negotiate trade agreements with BC, Alberta and other provinces that reduce trade barriers while protecting these three important areas,” Wall said in a news release.

The Sept. 9, 2008, meeting in Lloydminister between Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has set the table for future trade negotiations. The Sept. 3, 2008, news release announcing the meeting, however, did not mention that any type of agreement would be signed.

In the article Alta., Sask. government committees to meet in Lloydminster (StarPhoenix, Sept. 4, 2008) reporter James Wood said that Wall “acknowledged there would likely be no concrete agreements out of the meeting, which will be finished by 1:30 p.m., but described it as “setting the foundation for future progress.”

It appears that Wall’s statement was somewhat misleading because on Sept. 9 the two provinces signed the Alberta-Saskatchewan Protocol of Cooperation, an agreement which is eerily similar to the one signed by BC and Alberta nearly five years ago.

The purpose of the Protocol “is to promote cooperation between the provinces on matters of joint concern and mutual interest to the benefit of the citizens of Alberta and Saskatchewan” and “reflects common commitment to: Deliver high quality and efficient government services; Share expertise and best practices in the development and delivery of government programs; The expansion of national and international trade and the enhancement of a competitive investment environment; and Collaborating, in areas of shared interest, to ensure that the priorities of the citizens of Alberta and Saskatchewan are effectively advanced nationally and internationally.”

The “initial priority areas for potential collaboration” include Education, Post-Secondary Education, Health Care, Children’s Services, Safe and Secure Communities, Energy, Environmental Sustainability, Transportation, Agriculture, Economic Development, Research, Innovation, and Technology Development and Public-Private Partnerships for efficient delivery of infrastructure and services.

In addition to these are two of TILMA’s main components: the Reduction of Trade Barriers and Regulatory Harmonization.

“Where appropriate, the provinces will adopt measures and agreements developed and executed in a manner consistent with this Protocol,” the agreement states. [Emphasis added.]

The potential for extending the Protocol’s tentacles into other areas of the economy not already identified is made clear in Section 2.3, which states: “Further areas for collaboration may be identified through mutual agreement at any time throughout the duration of the Protocol.”

Like the earlier agreement signed by BC-Alberta the duration of the one between Saskatchewan and Alberta is for five years.

And like BC-Alberta a steering committee, co-chaired by the provinces’ Cabinet Secretaries, “will be responsible for ensuring the intent of the Protocol is fulfilled, and for recommending any subsequent agreements to Premiers.”

Saskatchewan and Alberta will continue to take our own unique paths,” Wall said in the news release following the meeting. We’ll see about that.

After signing their Protocol of Cooperation it took BC and Alberta just seven months to develop and sign their internal trade framework agreement that led to TILMA. With the groundwork essentially laid and the fact that Wall and the Saskatchewan Party have made regular forays into Alberta over the years to meet with their provincial counterparts it shouldn’t be long before similar agreements are signed between the two provinces. Surely, Wall will want to get this done well before the next provincial election to be held on Nov. 7, 2011.

*UPDATE*

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is now on record as saying the province is pursuing a TILMA-like agreement with Alberta.

In Opposition, Wall initially endorsed TILMA unconditionally but later flip-flopped on the deal over concerns on how it could potentially affect Crown corporations and the ability of municipalities to provide tax incentives.

Fresh from talks with Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach at a joint Alberta-Saskatchewan cabinet committee meeting, Wall said those “non-negotiable” concerns are being allayed.

“What we lacked before was clarity; there just wasn’t a clear answer about the impact of TILMA on those things. It’s becoming a little more clear and I think you’ll see...we have a couple of options: A broader agreement or file-by-file agreements with Alberta to reduce trade barriers and increase labour mobility,” Wall told reporters.

Wall downplayed the possibility of an agreement including B.C., although he did not categorically rule out having TILMA on the table if all Saskatchewan’s concerns are dealt with. [Sask. pursues TILMA-like agreement (StarPhoenix, Sept. 12, 2008)]

The Saskatchewan Party government has not released any information detailing what the Alberta government said that would cause Wall's fears to be “allayed.”

In an Apr. 3, 2007, Saskatchewan Party news release Wall said that Saskatchewan is “the lowest cost jurisdiction...with fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

It remains unclear what trade barriers and restrictions are still left that would require something as far reaching and heavy-handed as TILMA or something similar.

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