B.C. Premier shines spotlight on free trade
Progress has been 'slow' on efforts to remove inter-provincial barriers, he says
July 7, 2007
IQALUIT -- It wasn't even on the agenda, but the seemingly dry subject of provincial free trade stole some of the spotlight at a meeting between western premiers yesterday.
"When are we going to decide we are a country? When are we going to decide that the free movement of goods and people and services is something that is part of what a national identity should be?" British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell told reporters after the annual conference wrapped up in Iqaluit.
He was flanked by the other three western premiers and three territorial leaders also in attendance. All wore seal-skin vests given to them by the Nunavut government, which hosted the event.
Mr. Campbell said Canada's premiers identified interprovincial trade as a key economic issue a decade ago, but have only made "slow progress on it" since.
B.C. and Alberta signed a first-of-its-kind interprovincial trade agreement that began coming into effect this spring. The deal, which is opposed by unions in both provinces, aims to slash trade barriers and red tape and increase labour mobility in a bid to create the country's second-largest economic trade zone, behind Ontario.
Both governments were confident that the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement would become an example for the rest of the country. However, no other provinces have acted on it or joined it.
Both Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert have serious reservations about signing an agreement such as TILMA.
However, Mr. Doer said issues such as increasing labour mobility between provinces is critical, and he expects major progress will be made at a meeting between the premiers next month in Moncton.
While the western premiers couldn't agree on everything, they said they made progress on long-standing issues such as native relations and northern devolution. The politicians have jointly asked the federal government to start up devolution negotiations as early as this fall.
A devolution agreement with Ottawa would put the Northwest Territories and Nunavut on a more equal footing with the provinces. Those territorial governments would finally be able to manage public lands and natural resources. They would also be entitled to resource-revenue sharing with the federal government.
Yukon already has a devolution deal with Ottawa that took effect in 2003.
Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik said the politicians also made strides on climate change. He said they discussed alternative energy sources and sharing research about the consequences of climate change.
"We can't stop what's happening now, so we have to reform our ways and prepare ourselves better," he said.
Next year's western premiers conference will be held in Saskatoon, and Mr. Calvert said Prime Minister Stephen Harper was welcome to attend.
Relations between Mr. Calvert's government and Ottawa have been strained recently over the issue of resource revenue. Mr. Harper even travelled to Saskatchewan this week - while Mr. Calvert was in Iqaluit - and told reporters the provincial government was "ungrateful."
Mr. Calvert said yesterday the Prime Minister was simply trying to divert attention from breaking a promise about reforms to the federal government's equalization program.
Provinces sluggish on free-trade agreement: B.C., Alta.
Last Updated: Friday, July 6, 2007 | 4:52 PM CT
The premiers of Alberta and British Columbia say they're frustrated with delays in getting other premiers to sign on to an interprovincial trade agreement.
Ed Stelmach and Gordon Campbell, both speaking Friday at the end of the western premiers' conference in Iqaluit, said they want the other provinces to agree to the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), which both provinces signed last year. It came into effect April 1.
"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."
TILMA allows businesses, tradespeople and professionals to work and move back and forth across provincial borders with less red tape.
Under the agreement, businesses in the two provinces don't face duplicate registration requirements, and occupational standards for professionals like engineers and teachers are harmonized. As well, government procurement is more open to suppliers in both provinces.
But some provinces, like Saskatchewan, have expressed concern that by signing on to TILMA, they may lose control over what happens within their boundaries.
Saskatchewan's New Democrat government is concerned the province's Crown corporations could be hurt by the deal, as it would give all companies equal status in applying for government contracts. And just last week, the Opposition Saskatchewan Party announced it would not sign onto TILMA if elected, saying the deal may take away too much power from the provincial government.
Other jurisdictions are concerned that businesses registered in one province may have to be recognized in another.
But Campbell said all provinces identified the free movement of goods, labour and services as an issue more than a decade ago, so he doesn't understand why there's been so little movement in making TILMA a countrywide agreement.
"I'm proud of the fact that we've got TILMA signed between Alberta and British Columbia, and I think it's time for us to decide whether we're a country or not," Campbell said.
"I think it's ridiculous that someone can be trained as a teacher in Manitoba and isn't able to teach in British Columbia."
All of Canada's premiers will discuss the standardized accreditation and mobility of labour at the Council of the Federation meeting next month in Moncton, N.B. At the meeting of the council, which brings together premiers and territorial leaders to deal with "collaborative intergovernmental relations," Campbell and Stelmach said they'll try to convince everybody to consider signing on to the agreement.
All the western and northern premiers ended the Iqaluit meeting Friday with promises to work together on issues such as climate change, education and infrastructure.
By Tom Fletcher
Jul 08 2007
Opposition critics are urging municipalities to keep the pressure on the B.C. government over its new trade deal with Alberta.
NDP municipal affairs critic Charlie Wyse and economic development critic Jenny Kwan have sent a letter to local councils across the province, the latest step in a campaign against the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), which went into effect in April. The letter accuses the B.C. Liberal government of giving contradictory answers on the key question of whether municipalities will be open to bylaw challenges or financial penalties from Alberta businesses demanding equal treatment.
Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen has rejected suggestions that TILMA could affect local bylaws governing things like building heights, billboard sizes, noise levels or pesticide use if local rules were stricter than those in Alberta.
The NDP's letter notes that while a B.C. government backgrounder states "municipalities are not required to defend their own measures or pay monetary awards," it gave a different answer in response to a legal opinion obtained by the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM). There it said: "The course of action that the Province would take in any dispute proceeding involving municipalities would depend on the particular circumstances of the dispute."
Hansen has also promised that the Union of B.C. Municipalities will be represented in discussions to clarify grey areas during a transition period that ends in April of 2009. And it appears that significant grey areas remain.
"The agreement is vague and there are no precedents, so one of the issues for councils and boards is the uncertainty that surrounds TILMA," lawyer Donald Lidstone wrote in his analysis for the UBCM.
Lidstone said the key issues relate to tendering for municipal work, whether business regulations will be harmonized, municipal assistance to local business, and "the remote possibility that a regulatory (including land use) bylaw might have the effect of restricting or impairing an investment in British Columbia by an Alberta investor."
Wyse said in an interview the transition period means municipalities have time before they must open up bidding for major goods, services and construction contracts, but bylaws they pass now will soon fall under TILMA rules.
The NDP letter says TILMA is the latest in a series of moves by the B.C. Liberal government to restrict local government control. Others include:
• the 2003 Significant Projects Streamlining Act, allowing the government to overrule local authorities on projects deemed "provincially significant."
• the 2006 legislation taking independent power projects out of the hands of local authorities. Energy Minister Richard Neufeld defended the move, saying projects such as wind and small hydroelectric power are a key part of B.C.'s energy plan and should be handled provincially, like mines and power dams.
• Bill 11, passed this spring, "allows the provincial cabinet to bypass regional districts and create 'instant' municipalities in rural areas to promote resort development," the NDP letter says.
• Bill 36, yet to be passed by the legislature, restructures the Lower Mainland transportation authority, removing day-to-day control from a board made up of municipal politicians.
TILMA Campaign Coordinator
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