Monday, July 09, 2007

TILMA: Premiers Gordon Campbell and Ed Stelmach take their peddling act to Iqaluit, next stop Moncton

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and BC Premier Gordon Campbell
(Photo: Government of Alberta)

As it turns out not even the City of Iqaluit is immune from the BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) controversy or from the shameless hucksters desperately trying to sell it.

According to B.C. Premier shines spotlight on free trade (Globe and Mail, July 7, 2007) the beleaguered trade agreement “wasn’t even on the agenda” yet that didn’t seem to keep Premiers Gordon Campbell and Ed Stelmach from peddling their reckless trade deal at the annual western premiers conference held in the Nunavut capital.

The issue “stole some of the spotlight” away from other issues that were discussed during the two days of meetings as both premiers complained about the lack of interest shown by other provinces in signing on to TILMA.

“I think it’s time for us to decide whether we’re a country or not. I think it’s ridiculous that someone can be trained as a teacher in Manitoba and isn’t able to teach in British Columbia,” British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell told reporters at the close of the conference.

“When are we going to decide we’re a country? When are we going to decide that the free movement of goods and people and services is something that’s part of what a national identity should be?” (Western premiers want trade barriers dropped, The ChronicleHerald, July 7, 2007)

It seems Campbell would have people believe the preposterous notion that our national identity is somehow at stake and unless provinces and territories come to their senses and immediately climb on board his TILMA bandwagon Canada’s 140-year existence as a confederation will be in jeopardy.

What is ridiculous is the spectacle of Campbell flogging to the rest of the country a trade deal that many people in his own province want little or nothing to do with.

In B.C. cities balk at touted trade deal (June 28, 2007) the National Post reported that TILMA “is the subject of a deepening revolt in British Columbia”. On June 26, 2007, Vancouver city council passed a motion to “call on the Province of British Columbia to exempt municipalities” until it and other B.C. towns and cities have been fully consulted by the provincial government.

According to the article the vote “placed Vancouver, the largest jurisdiction inside the B.C.-Alberta trade, investment and labour mobility agreement, on a list of 20 other B.C. governments that have passed similar motions” and “Several municipalities and the B.C. School Trustees Association have demanded complete exemptions -- regardless of consultations --and even the B.C. Library Association has passed a motion opposing the agreement.”

This does not include the concerns that have been raised by the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association and the cities of Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton and Yellowknife. Nor does it include the many organizations and individuals that have spoken out against the agreement. Even the conservative Opposition Saskatchewan Party has said it would not sign the trade deal -- “in its present form”.

In April 2005, the Minister of Government Relations, the Honourable Harry Van Mulligen, pursuant to Rule 146(2), requested that the Standing Committee on the Economy enquire into the state of internal trade in Saskatchewan.

From June 5 to 8, 2007 in Regina, and from June 11 to 14, 2007 in Saskatoon, the committee conducted hearings for the purpose of receiving testimony from interested parties.

Over the course of nine days of hearings, 81 representatives from 47 organizations, institutions, and associations, as well nine private citizens appeared before the committee.

In addition, the committee received a total of 91 written submissions, 61 from those who appeared before the committee and another 30 from those who chose to submit their comments in writing only.

An analysis of the report of the Standing Committee on the Economy reveals that groups and individuals opposed to TILMA outnumbered its supporters by approximately 4-1.

As for Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach his appearance at the close of the western premiers conference fared no better.

In Provinces sluggish on free-trade agreement: B.C., Alta. (July 6, 2007) CBC News reported Stelmach saying that he and Campbell want the other provinces to agree to TILMA.

“We have to deal with issues that are trade barriers within the country of Canada,” Stelmach said. “They’re significant, they’re impeding trade, they’re increasing costs. And we want to take this agreement further and we’ve had, of course, interest paid by other premiers.”

Like many of TILMA’s supporters Stelmach has made no attempt to list, or estimate the cost of, genuine trade barriers between provinces.

Stelmach’s comments are at odds with the work done by trade and economic consultants Kathleen Macmillan and Patrick Grady for Industry Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada. Their research paper Inter-Provincial Barriers to Internal Trade in Goods, Services and Flows of Capital: Policy, Knowledge Gaps and Research Issue (March 31, 2007) noted that despite “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.”

MacMillan and Grady went on to say that “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,” and “Very few barriers remain that were explicitly designed as protectionist measures.”

Brian R. Copeland, a Professor of Economics at the University of British Columbia, was contracted by the BC Ministry of Employment and Investment to review the empirical evidence on the importance of interprovinical barriers to trade in Canada. His report Interprovincial Barriers to Trade: An updated review of the evidence (January 1998) concluded that “there is no evidence to support the claim that interprovincial trade barriers are causing large efficiency costs in the Canadian economy” and “that currently available studies do not support the claim that interprovincial trade barriers lead to costs to the Canadian economy of the order of 1% of GDP. Rather, the studies suggest that the cost is less than one-tenth of that.”

“The reality is that interprovincial trade barriers are already very low,” said Copeland. And this was nearly ten years ago.

Stelmach’s remarks also contradict recent statements made by some of his fellow TILMA supporters. On April 3, 2007, an Edmonton Journal editorial 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 is “the lowest cost jurisdiction…with fewer trade barriers and restrictions than either B.C. or Alberta.”

The only sensible comments to come out of the western premiers conference wrap-up seem to be from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

In B.C. takes aim at national identity (July 7, 2007) the National Post reported:
Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert said his province has concerns about the protection of their Crown corporations and about the ability of local governments to make decisions on behalf of their citizens.

“We take the fundamental philosophical position that no agreement should supplant the democratic right of communities and populations to make their own decisions,” he said.

Mr. Calvert also wondered about the need for such an agreement, saying there hasn't been anything stopping people from Saskatchewan from moving to Alberta for work.

Both Mr. Calvert and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer say they agree with the spirit of TILMA. But Mr. Doer questioned the agreement's ability to arbitrate disputes between jurisdictions and with professional organizations.

“I'm going to watch which one of these people that talk at a press conference have the guts to take on, say, an accountants group,” he said. “If you can’t get the professional organizations to agree, you have to legislate over top of them. That's going to be the issue of the next couple of years.”

Mr. Doer touted a labour mobility action plan he signed in September with the federal government, which he hopes will be ratified when the premiers meet later this summer in Moncton, N.B.
Doer’s action plan stems from a September 7, 2006, announcement by the Committee of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers responsible for Internal Trade that states “by April 1, 2009, Canadians will be able to work anywhere in Canada without restrictions on labour mobility.”

The action plan also calls for progress towards an “Agreement within twelve months on revisions to the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) to ensure that there is an effective, fair, efficient, accountable and enforceable dispute resolution process.”

“Ministers also agreed to consider the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement signed by Alberta and British Columbia and the Quebec-Ontario Cooperation Agreement with a view to identifying elements that could be imported within the AIT,” the news release said.

Stelmach and Campbell would of course know this but dragged TILMA into the spotlight at the western premiers conference anyway.

The two premiers have promised to take their sorry act to Moncton, N.B., next month where all of Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders will discuss the standardized accreditation and mobility of labour at the Council of the Federation meeting. They'll try to convince everybody to consider signing on to the agreement.

This comes as no surprise since TILMA requires both provinces to “support ongoing trade and investment liberalization both nationally and internationally.”

Additionally, Article 22 of TILMA states: “Parties shall cooperate to promote their mutual interests nationally and internationally” and “shall continue to jointly advocate for the removal of any Federal Government measures that operate to restrict, impair or distort trade, investment and labour mobility between the Parties.”

Next year’s western premiers conference will be held in Saskatoon.


Post a Comment

<< Home