Bill cutting trade barriers puts too much power in gov't hands: critics

It has been called Alberta's ticket to becoming part of Canada's second-largest economic region.

But whatever politicians want to call Bill 18, it officially ushers in Alberta's trade partnership with British Columbia on April 1.

Deputy premier Ron Stevens said the legislation enables the "nuts and bolts" of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement to go to work April 1.

Signed in 2006, the agreement allows lawyers in Edmonton to work in Vancouver, no problem. Or a marriage commissioner from Victoria to preside over a wedding in Red Deer.

A Calgary-based company can consider itself registered in British Columbia. And a charity in Grande Prairie can raise money in both provinces without worrying about creating a separate branch or bank account in Kelowna.

"What we're trying to do is eliminate stupid rules, or unnecessary rules that are nothing but a hindrance, a barrier to what business wants to do," Stevens said. "They're an additional unnecessary cost, so we're eliminating those.

"You should be able to do business, you should be able to move your labour around within Alberta or B.C. with very little legal impediment."

Critics say they never had a chance to argue the agreement's merits, but Stevens waved aside the complaint.

One key piece of Bill 18 is an amendment to the Government Organization Act, which allows ministers to change legislation or regulations to fit the agreement's needs.

It's a dangerous, unnecessary precedent-setter, Edmonton-Riverview Liberal MLA Kevin Taft said.

Edmonton-Centre Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman compared it to the War Measures Act, which puts ultimate power in the hands of Canada's cabinet if national security is in danger.

NDP Leader Brian Mason spoke of the Third Reich and the slippery slope of giving a government untethered rights.

"The Conservatives have presented TILMA as an economic cure-all, some kind of bullet that will allow the Alberta economy to sail through the roughest seas," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said.

"What it is is a corporate bill of rights. We're afraid that TILMA may be used as a battering ram to open up doors that previously were closed."

Stevens has a list of reasons why the agreement will pay off for Albertans: workers will have seamless access to job opportunities, for example, and companies will have more chances to bid on government contracts in both provinces.

Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 19 2009
Byline: Trish Audette

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