Friday, June 08, 2007

TILMA: Canada West Foundation says Sask. doing well; Brad Wall instilling sense of crisis, CWF economist promotes destructive trade deal

A series of surveys and an economic profile released by the Canada West Foundation (CWF) over the past three months appear to show Saskatchewan’s economy doing well and residents in Saskatoon and Regina feeling generally happier with the quality of life in their city and more optimistic about the future than their counterparts in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

This hasn’t seemed to deter Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall, though, from attempting to instill a sense of crisis and doom amongst the population with hysterical outbursts of rhetoric in the legislature and daily news releases. Nor has it stopped organizations like the CWF from shamelessly peddling the destructive Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) as a tonic Saskatchewan residents dare not live without lest they risk not being able to keep up with the Jones’ next door in the supposed greener pastures of Alberta and British Columbia.

Take for example the Saskatchewan Party news release from May 17, 2007. In it leader Brad Wall claims Lorne Calvert’s NDP government are “drifting further and further away from the real priorities of Saskatchewan people” and “does not share the same values as Saskatchewan people” and are “consumed by its own internal problems and…people are suffering because of it.”

In Wall’s world the “vast majority of Saskatchewan people now believe that it’s time for a change.”

The CWF surveys seem to tell a different story, though. The citizens of Saskatoon and Regina appear to feel pretty good about their cities. Life is generally better today than it was five years ago and the expectation is it will be even better five years from now.

On June 4, 2007, the CWF released the results of its survey Looking West 2007 Urban Quality of Life and Urban Growth.

The survey was administered by Probe Research between January 2 and February 3, 2007 from their Winnipeg call centre. A total of 3,500 urban residents were interviewed, with 500 from each of the following urban centres: Greater Vancouver Region; Calgary; Edmonton; Regina; Saskatoon; Winnipeg; and Greater Toronto Area. One can say with 95 percent certainty that the results are within +/- 1.66 percentage points of what they would have been if the entire adult population of these cities had been interviewed; for individual cities, results are within +/-4.38 percentage points.

Among the findings:
Saskatoon and Regina on average rated the current overall quality of life in their cities higher than those did living in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Saskatoon and Regina outdistanced Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver by a wide margin saying the overall quality of life in their cities as a whole today is better than it was five years ago.

Saskatoon and Regina outdistanced Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver by a wide margin saying they expect the overall quality of life in their cities as a whole to be even better five years from now.
On May 25, 2007, the CWF released the results of its survey Looking West 2007 Urban Social Challenges.

Among the findings:
Saskatoon and Regina on average said governments are doing a better job of addressing social issues such as poverty in their cities than respondents did in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
On April 12, 2007, the CWF released the results of its survey Looking West 2007 Urban Policy Priorities and Assessing Governments.

Among the findings:
– Respondents in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver generally feel their provincial governments have a greater impact on their daily life than those do on average in Saskatoon and Regina.

– Respondents in Saskatoon and Regina on average rated their provincial government as being less wasteful with its money than those living in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
On March 28, 2007, the CWF released Reasons for Optimism: Saskatchewan Economic Profile and Forecast.

The report states at the outset: “Residents of Saskatchewan have every reason to be encouraged by their province’s recent economic performance. Having gradually moved past an economy based heavily on agriculture to one diversified with energy resources, mining, high-tech research, and business and personal services, Saskatchewan will enjoy its fifth consecutive year of strong real GDP growth in 2007.”

“Solid prices for oil, agricultural products, potash, and uranium are bolstering investment activity. Wages are rising steadily, and the unemployment rate has reached a record low.”

Further down the CWF states: “Saskatchewan’s provincial finances continue to be in good shape” and “the debt-to-GDP ratio will decline to 16.1% (down from 16.8% the previous year). This represents Saskatchewan’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in 20 years.”

On the tax front the CWF noted: “Sales taxes, business taxes, capital taxes, and personal income taxes are now much more competitive with those in Alberta, and Saskatchewan now sits within the top three or four provinces in the country in terms of favourable tax environments.”

Among its conclusions the CWF states: “Given the plentiful job opportunities, the rising wages, the improved tax situation, and the relatively low cost of living in the province, it is likely that Saskatchewan’s population will stabilize and perhaps even start to grow.”

“Overall, Saskatchewan will remain one of the fastest growing economies in Canada and, along with Alberta and British Columbia, will continue to secure its position as one of western Canada’s economic powerhouses,” the CWF said.

The Canada West Foundation’s surveys and economic profile for Saskatchewan hardly depict a province that is disillusioned, “suffering” and “drifting” aimlessly on the brink of some disaster as the Saskatchewan Party would have people believe.

It should be noted that absolutely no reference is made to the existence of any “barriers” or “obstacles” to trade, investment and labour mobility in the economic profile report. That nonsense would follow two days later.

On March 30, 2007, the StarPhoenix published an op-ed by Brett Gartner, an economist with the Canada West Foundation.

In TILMA way to build success Gartner said Saskatchewan’s economy was “chugging along fairly well…But there is always room for improvement.”

The magic bullet “to help keep the prosperity train rolling” is, of course, TILMA.

“The agreement does a number of things that are just plain old common sense,” said Gartner. “It will improve labour mobility as differences in professional and occupational licensing are eliminated. Harmonization of regulations will reduce barriers to the flow of goods, services and capital.”

Not mentioned is that 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.”

As for barriers to the flow of goods, services and capital Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady, in their report 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), wrote:
“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.

“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.”
The legitimacy of trade barriers as a major concern was further exposed as false on April 3, 2007, when 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.” And this is coming from two camps that support TILMA.

Gartner went on to say that “TILMA will not tie the hands of provincial governments or take away their ability to defend the public interest” yet provided no evidence to support the claim that it won’t happen.

Further down Gartner states: “Fears over TILMA are…exaggerated. The agreement contains exceptions for key areas of provincial public policy, including public security and safety, the provision of education and health services, protection of the environment, non-renewable resource conservation, water licensing, taxation, employment standards and workers' compensation. The public should not buy into the rhetoric of critics who say the agreement will compromise provincial health, safety and environmental standards.”

Gartner failed to tell readers that Article 17 of TILMA requires a ministerial committee to “review annually the exceptions listed…with a view to reducing their scope.”

This means the list of exceptions in TILMA will shrink over time, eventually exposing them to the full force of the agreement. In short, they are not safe.

The Conference Board of Canada’s impact assessment of TILMA for the BC Government describes this on Page 14: “The change in the architecture of the TILMA is considered to be an improvement, in terms of the coverage of the measures included, when compared to the AIT. It is also more transparent since future negotiations can focus on the removal of the exceptions from the explicit exclusion list.”

Additionally, an October 2006 TILMA fact sheet 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 that they, too, could be at risk. Gartner doesn’t bother to mention this either.

Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan Party are on record stating that the province should sign TILMA – a reckless, destructive trade scheme that could jeopardize vital social policies, programs and other important measures that are currently in place for the public good and in the public interest, the very things that have helped make the quality of life the people of Saskatchewan have come to value.

So who is it, really, that is out of touch with the people of Saskatchewan?


At 9:23 PM, Blogger McScreedle said...

A fellow Canadian just posted some
questions about TILMA here
, but I don't really know too much about the issue. I was wondering if you, or anyone else reading this could chime in with your take on it?


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