Friday, May 25, 2007

TILMA: Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall's shameless promotion of trade deal at Leader’s Dinner in Saskatoon and Regina

“There is a widespread belief, especially among members of the business community, that internal barriers to trade in goods, services and flows of capital are undermining the Canadian economy and jeopardizing the competitiveness of Canadian industry. This view has been given a thorough airing in ongoing hearings into the internal market being held by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Yet there remains a scarcity of hard data and good research to substantiate the impression that barriers do, in fact, impose a significant cost on our economy.”
– Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007), 1

“Academic studies have, by and large, concluded that internal trade barriers have a minimal effect on overall gross domestic product (GDP). International institutions such as the International Monetary Fund also regard Canada’s internal market as functioning relatively free from impediments. Internal trade practitioners have a similar view.”
– Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007), 2

“It is very difficult to assess the effect of government standards and regulations on internal trade. Much of the difficulty arises from the lack of consensus on what constitutes a trade barrier. What the business community perceives as excessive and unnecessary regulation, others might perceive as discretionary provincial and territorial regulation in areas of legitimate jurisdiction. Very few barriers remain that were explicitly designed as protectionist measures.”
– Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007), 9

“Without reliable and up-to-date estimates of the cost of internal trade barriers, it is hard to make real progress on internal trade liberalization. Those opposed to reductions in barriers can claim that trade impediments are inconsequential and not worth worrying about. Those in favour of radical reductions can create an atmosphere of crisis that does not help advance Canada’s reputation among foreign and domestic investors. There is no doubt that credible estimates would greatly assist the policy debate by allowing policy makers to focus their energies on those barriers that cause the most economic damage.”
– Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007), 15

“Along with the National Post, the C.D. Howe Institute serves as a kind of spiritual home for neoconservatives and others who want deeper social spending cuts and more U.S.Canada integration.”
Linda McQuaig, Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire (2007), 52-53

The Saskatchewan Party recently posted on its website transcripts of two dinner speeches given by leader Brad Wall in Saskatoon and Regina earlier this year.

Both show Wall continuing to shamelessly promote the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) and peddle as fact the deeply flawed and discredited Conference Board of Canada economic estimates for British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

That Wall supports the trade deal and if elected would sign the horrific agreement seem certain.

The Saskatchewan Party’s agenda also appears to include a commitment to explore deeper ties with several U.S. states and paying less attention to safeguarding social policies and programs.

At the 2007 Saskatoon Saskatchewan Party Leader’s Dinner on March 8, 2007, at TCU Place in Saskatoon, Wall said his party believes that “we should be a leading partner in the New West” and that “we need to be at the table…when BC and Alberta are discussing the reduction of inter-provincial barriers.”

The legitimacy of trade barriers as a concern was exposed as largely false less than a month later when on April 3, 2007, the Edmonton Journal editorial board said there is “little in the way of genuine trade barriers remaining between the two westernmost provinces,” and Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said in a news release that Saskatchewan has “fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

Like the Conference Board of Canada, Wall made no attempt in his speeches to list the barriers that supposedly exist that would justify the heavy-handed approach of TILMA.

In his speech Wall said “Saskatchewan is on the outside looking in as these two provinces are building what the Conference Board of Canada says will create Canada’s second largest economic region…creating 71,000 new jobs and adding over four billion to the GDP in BC alone.”

Wall once again ignored the fact that the survey results and methodology used by the Conference Board had been thoroughly discredited in detailed analyses by Erin Weir & Marc Lee for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Patrick Grady, a former senior official in the federal finance department. (The Conference Board would later use the same flawed process to conduct its impact assessment for the Government of Saskatchewan).

Wall said the “NDP refuse to partner with Alberta and BC” whose “cabinets meet together on a regular basis to look for mutual opportunities to work together” and are “waiting for Saskatchewan” to join. Wall went on to say he “met with the Premiers and officials in both provinces” and that Saskatchewan “would be welcomed.”

“We need to stop settling for observer status…the Saskatchewan Party will not stop working we will not be satisfied until Saskatchewan has leadership status,” Wall said.

It’s abundantly clear that in Wall’s world being a “leading partner” and having “leadership status” means signing TILMA.

The Saskatchewan Party also appears to be in lock step with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trade agenda.

At the Saskatoon dinner Wall said, “Then there is PNWER (the Pacific Northwest Economic Region). Another regional dynamic group of northwestern states together with Alberta and BC who are cooperating to build the Asia Pacific Gateway…I have asked our critic for Western Economic Cooperation Mike Chisholm to focus on this opportunity.”

A few weeks later Prime Minister Harper had this to say at a May 4, 2007, press conference in Vancouver: “It’s hard to overstate the importance of Asia-Pacific trade to Canada’s economic future. The Gateway Initiative is obviously critical to realizing our potential as a country.”

“Our Government has now committed over $1 billion to this Initiative…And in the longer term, we intend to develop an Atlantic Gateway on the East Coast.”

The press conference also gave Harper the opportunity to showcase his support for TILMA: “This is a bold step that has been undertaken by two forward-looking provinces committed to successfully competing in global markets, and I believe their success will set an example other provinces will find hard to resist.”

Wall’s agenda seems to go well beyond signing TILMA and could include joining PNWER who are studying the BC-Alberta trade agreement as well.

On July 18, 2006, PNWER’s Trade & Economic Development Work Group resolved to “embrace the opportunity to educate and explore the possibility of expanding the B.C.-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) concept throughout the PNWER region.”

Finally, during his Saskatoon stop Wall said “municipalities, cities in particular, provide the front line for all economic development.” He went on to say that his party supported increasing the basic food allowance “for the most vulnerable among us” and “establishing designated provincial conservation areas and protected wild spaces within Provincial Park.”

This is despite the fact that TILMA would seriously undermine municipal governments and their right to local choice, which is something the Saskatchewan Party supported in 2002 when it voted in favour of The Cities Act. Surely, Wall is aware of the concerns raised by the City of Saskatoon, the City of Regina and the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.

Furthermore, Wall failed to acknowledge that Article 17 of TILMA could jeopardize provincial parks and wildlife. While this area appears to be currently exempt TILMA requires an annual review of all exceptions “with a view to reducing their scope.” Measures adopted or maintained relating to the management or conservation of forests, fish and wildlife just so happen to be on the agreement’s hit list.

On April 24, 2007, Wall spoke at the 2007 Regina Saskatchewan Party Leader’s Dinner at the Queensbury Convention Centre in Regina. The pro-TILMA message conveyed to that audience was much the same as the one given in Saskatoon a month earlier.

On the question of exceptions Wall went a little further saying the “agreement explicitly exempts health policy, social programs, water policy, First Nations policy from being a part of the agreement…”

Wall’s comments continue the often used tactic by TILMA supporters who suggest these important social policies and programs are somehow safe but always seem to fail to mention Article 17 of the agreement which says the list of exemptions will be reviewed annually “with a view to reducing their scope”. This means the list of exemptions in TILMA will shrink over time eventually exposing them to the full force of the agreement.

A February 2007 TILMA brochure distributed by the BC and Alberta governments confirm this stating “ongoing efforts continue to reduce exceptions.”

Furthermore, a TILMA fact sheet from October 2006 states “if a measure is not clearly identified as an exception, it is subject to the rules of the agreement.”

Since health and education measures are not clearly identified as exceptions, it would seem they too could be at risk. This is something TILMA supporters like Wall seem to avoid discussing like the plague.

The Saskatchewan Party’s true colours shone in a March 19, 2007, letter Brad Wall sent to the City of Saskatoon that states:

“The Saskatchewan Party supports TILMA in principle because it is consistent with the growth agenda that we have called for. That being said, a Saskatchewan Party government would not sign on to the agreement unless certain it was in the best interests of Saskatchewan people. It would be in the best interest of the Saskatchewan people if it removed barriers to growth without negatively impacting on the public ownership of the major Crowns, environmental standards in the province and well-being of workers.”

So according to Wall only three criteria have to be met in order for his party to sign TILMA:

1) That it not negatively impact on the public ownership of the major Crowns
2) That it not negatively impact environmental standards
3) That it not negatively impact the well-being of workers.

Everything else it seems is open season and fair game to dismantle.

If Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party cannot come right out and say that it supports a permanent exemption for important social policies, programs and services then it seems reasonable to assume that they have no intention of protecting them let alone enhance them.

In his Regina speech Wall claims TILMA “improves labour mobility and streamlines skills certification.”

However, on September 7, 2006, the Committee of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers responsible for Internal Trade announced that “by April 1, 2009, Canadians will be able to work anywhere in Canada without restrictions on labour mobility.” It’s unclear just how much more mobility Wall requires.

Wall said TILMA would provide Saskatchewan a “level playing field” with BC and Alberta. Again, this ignores Wall’s April 3, 2007, press release saying Saskatchewan has “fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

The so-called “level playing field” really has nothing to do with trade barriers and everything to do with hammering standards and regulations down to the lowest denominator. The recent report by the City of Regina solicitor identified several areas where standards could be lowered as a result of TILMA. This is something Wall does not care to mention.

Wall again brought up the Conference Board of Canada saying it had “completed its analysis of the impact of this agreement on Saskatchewan and it is predicting thousands of jobs and new investment.”

He neglected to tell his audience, though, that in its analysis for the Government of Saskatchewan, the Conference Board used a survey and methodology that was virtually identical to the one utilized in BC which was found to be deeply flawed and not credible. This did not seem to deter Wall from shamefully citing it, however.

At the Regina dinner Wall said “We should have been at the table years ago consulting with municipalities and other third parties to ensure that their concerns are heard and accommodated.”

That was not the message Wall conveyed in May 2006 when he berated NDP Premier Lorne Calvert in the legislature and in a news release for not being a part of closed-door negotiations with BC and Alberta and dutifully signing the agreement, which by the way was done without any public or local government consultation. Wall’s sudden support for consultation is shallow at best.

The Saskatchewan Party’s hypocrisy seems to know no bounds.

In one of his strongest pro-TILMA statements since last year Wall said: “If given the chance…we would proudly send a powerful message to the other western capitals serving notice that [Saskatchewan] is stepping up…getting to the table…to be a full partner, a leader in the New West, that we will take our rightful place within confederation as a permanent member of the club of ‘have’ provinces, that we will give back more to Canada then we ever need to get in return.”

“Should we be asked to form the next government, I will assume the ministerial duties for Inter-governmental affairs. This will be my priority. We will follow up on projects already begun.”

The Saskatchewan Party’s agenda couldn’t be much clearer than that. The National Post and C.D. Howe Institute must be very happy, indeed.


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