Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sask. Party gov’t refusing to release draft Western Economic Partnership Agreement; Crowns and municipalities consulted, but not public

The Brad Wall government appears to be refusing to let the public see the contents of the Western Economic Partnership Agreement before it’s signed.

At a joint cabinet meeting held March 13, 2009, in Vancouver, the governments of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan agreed to enter into a Western Economic Partnership.

In Calgary, on September 11, 2009, the three western provinces held their second joint cabinet meeting to continue discussions on a new pact.

A provincial government news release said the premiers signed a Western Economic Partnership. The partnership will create a broad western interprovincial trade agreement to create the largest barrier-free trade and investment market in Canada.

Premier Wall said the agreement “will break down unnecessary trade barriers” but did not identify them. He has yet to do so.

The provinces also agreed to conclude, by January 1, 2010, all elements of the agreement.

On September 16, 2009, an access to information request was made to Executive Council for copies of the two most recent draft versions of the partnership agreement.

A month later, on October 22, 2009, Bonita Cairns, the executive director of corporate services in Executive Council, advised that the request was denied citing the following sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as the reason for the refusal:

▪ 13(1) Records from other governments
▪ 14 Information injurious to intergovernmental relations or national defence
▪ 17(1) Advice from officials
▪ 18(1) Economic and other interests

It should be noted that sections 14, 17 and 18 are discretionary exemptions, meaning there is nothing stopping the ministry from disclosing the records if it wanted to.

The denial represents the second time in 2009 that Executive Council has refused a request for information about the partnership.

On April 21, 2009, Cairns turned down a request for copies of any agendas, itineraries, reports, briefing notes, memorandums or letters, including attachments, regarding the trilateral provincial meeting that took place on March 13, 2009, in Vancouver; and, also copies of any agreements or memorandums of understanding or cooperation that were signed at the meeting.

In September 2009, Wall acknowledged the partnership agreement is akin to the controversial BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA). [Sask. inks deal with Alta., B.C. (StarPhoenix, September 12, 2009)]

BC and Alberta signed TILMA on April 28, 2006, without any public consultation or legislative debate. As Opposition leader, Wall supported the trade deal without reservation and spent the rest of year demanding that then NDP Lorne Calvert sign it.

On June 28, 2007, Wall flip-flopped saying in a news release that the Saskatchewan Party “would not sign TILMA in its present form” unless Crown corporations and provincial and municipal new growth tax incentives were protected.

In the StarPhoenix on September 12, 2009, Wall said the new pact would accommodate Saskatchewan’s concerns.

Any consultations conducted by the Saskatchewan Party government appear to be limited.

According to an April 1, 2009, briefing note the government “will need to consult with stakeholders, such as municipalities and Crown corporations, to ensure that Saskatchewan’s interests are addressed in the partnership.”

However, the largest and most important group of stakeholders, the people of Saskatchewan, is being left on the sidelines.

Furthermore, what we don’t yet know is how long will Saskatchewan’s interests be protected – permanently or temporarily? This is one question Wall has not answered.

A second briefing note, this one dated April 21, 2009, said the partnership framework “is expected to initially contain an agreement on enhanced internal trade and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on innovation and international market development cooperation.”

These elements – plus an MOU for procurement – are indeed included in the two-page economic partnership document released by the provincial government on September 11, 2009. What’s interesting, though, is the briefing note’s use of the word ‘initially’. Does this mean that something else is coming that we don’t yet know about?

Wall is taking Saskatchewan down the same road that B.C. and Alberta travelled. Outside of a select few no one will be allowed to view the final agreement until after it’s signed. By then it’ll be too late.


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