Western premiers ink deal to tumble trade barriers: Provinces to pool drug purchases, int'l marketing plans
EDMONTON - Canada's three westernmost provinces signed a wide-ranging deal Friday that will apply to everything from trade, investment and labour mobility to international marketing.
The New West Partnership creates a powerful $550-billion trading block with roughly nine million people that the governments say will save money and allow them to better exploit Asian markets.
"We've just gone through a huge global economic shift," Premier Ed Stelmach said from Regina. "There's going to be a tremendous competition for labour, for investment. And investment will naturally navigate to those areas that have the same regulations, larger base populations."
The agreement between B.C., Saskatchewan and Alberta builds on the trade, investment and labour mobility agreement, or TILMA, that Alberta and B.C. signed in 2006.
But officials say this agreement is more far-reaching, since it is coupled with an international marketing push and puts an emphasis on procurement and innovation.
The agreement seeks to co-ordinate virtually all government regulation and professional standards. Teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers and members of any other regulated profession will be able to move freely between the provinces.
The premiers say their provinces could save money under the deal by pooling their purchases for things like machinery and medical supplies.
In particular, Wall said they are looking at bulk drug buying. "Of the $8 billion in procurement that each province is making, a lot of that money is going toward health care."
Governments will still be able to enforce their own regulations for "legitimate objectives," such as public health and safety, environmental protection and worker safety.
The deal also offers protection for Crown corporations through a separate agreement of the provinces' trade ministers.
The TILMA agreement has faced opposition, particularly from labour groups who fear it will create a regulatory race to the bottom.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the new deal passes too much power from elected officials to companies who have their own interests at heart.
He was skeptical of claims that governments will be able to protect the public interest once the deal is fully implemented in 2013.
"Governments shouldn't have to spend millions of dollars trying to protect their right to regulate in the public interest. They should just be able to do it," McGowan said.
Liberal Leader David Swann said the deal should be debated in the legislature so Albertans can have concerns like McGowan's addressed. But overall, he said it makes sense to knock down trade barriers between the provinces.
"If we're going to have free trade south of the border, surely we should have it across our own borders here," Swann said.
The three premiers will all be part of a trade mission to Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo from May 14 to 22.
Edmonton Journal, Sat May 1 2010
Byline: Archie McLean
Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan have come together to form an alliance they say will make Western Canada an "economic powerhouse."
The three provinces signed the New West Partnership in Regina on Friday, a partnership that would put the trio's combined market value at $555 billion.
"We signed an agreement today that creates an amazing economic force," said Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
The partnership aims to look at ways to attract more investors and deal internationally, specifically in Asia.
"(Western Canada) is an economic region that is home to a number of industries that the world is very interested in right now. It is home to not only the resources that people want, but the innovations and the science that the world is interested in," Wall said.
"When you can say to international investors there's a nine million-person market that's available, when you can say that to our own businesses, it is a very positive economic launching pad," said B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.
But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour doesn't agree.
"The vast majority of companies that decide to invest in Alberta make those decisions based on our resources, rather than our rules and regulations," McGowan said.
Under the agreement, there are also plans to remove trade, investment, and labour mobility barriers between the three provinces, similar to concepts of TILMA, the trade, investment and labour mobility agreement signed between Alberta and B.C. in 2007, which had been openly protested by the Council of Canadians and the Alberta Federation of Labour. But the premiers have stressed that New West is not the same as TILMA.
McGowan says the labour and trade component of the New West agreement is trying to "fix a problem that doesn't exist."
"The reality is there isn't a problem of labour mobility in this country and there hasn't been for years."
But a spokesman for the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation says any initiative that lessens or removes trade and investment barriers is positive for the economy.
New West will also look at joint procurement, whether items like medical equipment, textbooks for schools and pharmaceutical products can be bulk purchased as a way to save on provincial spending.
"All three provinces are going to be able to reduce some of their public expenditures and when we do that we can then keep our taxes low," Premier Ed Stelmach said.
"When we move to a common procurement strategy, we will save millions of dollars for our taxpayers," Campbell said.
"Our taxpayers will get much better value for every dollar that we take out of their pockets."
The three premiers head to Asia on May 14 to make their first appearance as part of the New West to Asian investors.
The New West Partnership trade agreement will officially come into effect July 1.
Edmonton Sun, Fri Apr 30 2010
Byline: Linda Hoang
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
QUEBEC CITY -- A meeting code-named Quadrant took place 65 years ago in the Chateau Frontenac - the very same hotel the Council of the Federation gab fest is being held this week.
It's the spot where Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt basically cut the D-Day deal to invade Adolf Hitler's Fortress Europe.
The 2008 Preem Fest is not exactly in the same league as that eventful get-together that changed the course of history.
But the premiers managed to unleash a war of words by agreeing in principle to a deal on full labour mobility, including a mechanism for resolving disputes.
Any discussion on inter-provincial trade barriers at similar events was seen by reporters as a sure cure for insomnia.
Now, the thermonuclear rhetoric is coming from leaders of the country's provincial labour organizations, who are holding their own gab fest here. They object to the dispute resolution mechanism.
"It's not in the public interest, it's anti-democratic," complained Alberta Federation of Labour prez Gil McGowan. "Decisions about public policy should be made by elected, accountable officials."
Quebec federation president Michael Arsenault picked up where Gil left off.
"It's the end of democracy if we allow a private tribunal to make the decisions regarding the law of the land," Arsenault snapped.
He warned that Quebec's rock-bottom hydro rates and subsidized daycare could be under threat. Then he demanded the premiers "back off."
Ontario Federation of Labour honcho Wayne Samuelson branded the dirty deal "disgraceful," which puts workers "at the beck and call of the business elite."
"When politicians start talking about free trade," he blasted, "if you are a worker in Ontario, you better duck."
He also complained about a "crisis in the economy" after 45,000 Ontario jobs were lost in the last month.
Meanwhile, a labour press release said the agreement was negotiated in a "culture of secrecy."
Adding to the union guys' overreaction was a letter from Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty and other business booster outfits, which urged the premiers to beef up the agreement with an "effective and enforceable" dispute resolution mechanism "to bring parties into compliance."
The union bosses charged this will "open the door for corporations who might want to challenge a province or municipality's laws and regulations if they are deemed a barrier to trade."
It sounds a whole lot different than the simple labour mobility agreement - where trade tickets and other qualifications are recognized across the country - that the premiers were spinning it to be yesterday.
"The sad part of this issue," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach shot back, "is there's a fair amount of misinformation."
But the deal clearly has teeth: The tribunal will have the power to impose fines up to $5 million for non-compliance.
"This brings some common sense to labour mobility," Stelmach said. "In Alberta, we're greatly short of people."
But he did admit "there are some details to work out."
It didn't get any better for the Alberta Tories when it was revealed that taxpayers could be stung for up to $6.5 million to pay Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis's settlement after the unelected authority was disbanded.
Meanwhile, Stelmach goes into the final showdown over greenhouse gas reduction later today with a poll that shows he's got a majority of Canadians on his side.
And premiers like Ontario's Dalton McGuinty and Quebec's Jean Charest are on the outside looking in when it comes to the dubious carbon-cap-and-trade scheme they want to impose on Canada's energy provinces.
The Innovative Research Group survey found Alberta's plan to capture and store carbon dioxide in rock formations received a "more positive initial response," with 54% of Canadians for it. Only 46% backed the McGuinty/Charest deal, which Stelmach calls a sneaky "wealth transfer."
Churchill and Roosevelt have no fear of being upstaged by these guys.
Edmonton Sun, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Neil Waugh
Deal means workers trained in one province will be able to work in any other province without recertification
QUEBEC - As premiers and territorial leaders reached a deal on trade and labour mobility across Canada Thursday, they also expressed worries about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"We feel it's very important as provinces and territories to do our share to nurture this relationship (NAFTA) and defend what is the most important trade relationship in the world," Quebec Premier Jean Charest said on behalf of his counterparts.
"There is a shared concern about the future of NAFTA and we feel the federal government needs to be very vigilant in defending NAFTA and making it very clear that if Americans choose to question this trade agreement everything will be on the table," he added.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has said he might want to renegotiate NAFTA if he is elected to the White House.
Premiers spent the day talking about trade and labour at the Council of the Federation meeting in Quebec City on Thursday.
They inked a deal to remove labour mobility barriers across Canada beginning next year. The agreement means workers trained in one province will be able to do their job in any other province.
"We believe working people and their families want to have a situation where they do not have to go through 13 separate accreditation processes, but rather one accreditation process," Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said at a news conference.
"We believe that a nurse is a nurse, a teacher is a teacher, a welder is a welder," he added.
Charest said it is important for professional qualifications to be recognized across the country as provinces face worker shortages.
"There are serious mobility constraints in about 25 per cent of jobs in Canada, so our task is to smooth away those last difficulties to create the most stimulating market," said Charest, who hosted the meeting.
The provinces expect full labour mobility to be effective on April 1, 2009, but will still have to work out how to harmonize professional credentials between provinces at a future meeting.
And certain professions will be exempted. Provincial labour ministers are to meet at a later date to develop a list of the exempted professions. It could, for instance, include pharmacists, who are allowed to write prescriptions in Alberta -- but not in other provinces.
"We're very pleased with the significant progress we made this morning on labour mobility," said Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. "This is a bold step forward."
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the agreement makes the country more competitive.
"I'm not worried about Alberta and B.C., I'm worried about China, India, the U.S. and Europe," he said. "Also, I've got 100,000 jobs in Ontario that I can't fill."
But labour officials from Canada, who are also meeting in Quebec City this week, don't see any silver lining in this deal.
"This is not the most pressing issue facing Canadians," said Jim Sinclair of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
"They are worried about the fact they can't afford to put gas in their car and where is the premiers' response to that problem?" he added.
The provinces will amend the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) by Jan. 1, 2009. The premiers will harmonize the different provincial requirements for job credentials at their next meeting, in August, 2009.
Also on the trade front, Charest stressed that the premiers fully support the conclusion of a Canada-European transatlantic accord that will be discussed between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Nicolas Sarkozy this fall.
The premiers also pressed the federal government to commit more financial resources to reduce the visa backlog at the Immigration Department in Ottawa. There are currently more than 900,000 pending requests and the provinces want to bring the figure down to 200,000 by 2011.
"It is unacceptable as it is right now," Charest said, adding many of those waiting for a visa to come to Canada are workers.
Also on Thursday, the premiers approved a new mechanism to resolve internal trade disputes that will include an enforcement tool.
The old dispute system is based on the consensus of the parties and contains no binding settlement mechanism or penalties.
"The former mechanism was weak, anemic and without effects," said Charest.
The new formula also provides for penalties of up to $5 million for failure to comply with the terms of the agreement.
The dispute mechanism will be implemented as of Jan. 1, 2009.
Labour federations voiced their own concerns about the new mechanism and said they fear it could open the door for corporations that might want to challenge a province's laws if they are deemed a barrier to trade.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the new policy could open the door to corporations suing all levels of government over actions that hinder trade and profits.
He also expressed doubts that Canada's labour-mobility rules required an overhaul, contending few workers experience obstacles when moving from province to province.
But the premiers stressed this new mechanism isn't a tribunal but a panel made up of a representative of the province complaining and of the default province, as well as a third-party member chosen by both parties.
Edmonton Journal, Page A3, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Marianne White
Canadian premiers and territorial leaders at the Council of the Federation gathering in Quebec City announced a deal to harmonize job credential requirements, which will help draw workers to combat Alberta's labour shortage.
Premiers and territorial leaders agreed Thursday to tear down barriers facing Canadians moving within the country for work, a new labour deal that proponents say will help Alberta address its crippling labour shortage.
Next summer, accredited workers -- who sometimes experience a hodgepodge of rules from province to province -- will see job-credential requirements harmonized. The changes should reduce delays and obstacles that keep some trained people, in occupations such as accounting, engineering or a construction trade, from moving to another region for a job.
"This brings some common sense to labour mobility," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said Thursday at the Council of the Federation gathering in Quebec City.
Stelmach noted the new deal will help the province fill a portion of the 400,000 jobs expected to be created over the next 10 years.
"We're going to be critically short, even with the very aggressive aboriginal workforce strategy, and incorporating more women, more people with certain disabilities."
Alberta isn't the only province grappling with a severe labour shortage, particularly skilled construction workers. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said his province has 100,000 unfilled jobs, even as it endures downsizing in the auto industry.
According to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, a quarter of jobs in Canada face "serious mobility constraints."
Manitoba Premier Gary Doer added: "We believe working people and their families want to have a situation where they do not have to go through 13 separate accreditation processes, but rather one accreditation process.
"We believe a nurse is a nurse, a teacher is a teacher, a welder is a welder."
The new rules will exclude some professions, such as pharmacists.
The provinces and territories have been talking about revamping Canada's labour-mobility rules for sometime
Since the Agreement on Internal Trade was introduced in 1994, many professions have moved to harmonize job credentials.
However, a report completed last year for Industry Canada found progress to remove barriers was unfolding slowly because of a lack of urgency at some of the organizations that oversee accreditation.
"Governments will have to get tough with some of their independent regulatory agencies who have been allowed to get away with dragging their feet for too long," said the 2007 review of interprovincial barriers to labour mobility in Canada.
The bodies governing nurses and land surveyors in Alberta said Thursday their organizations have already reached nationwide mobility agreements. They expect meeting the premiers' 2009 deadline will not be a problem.
"Registered nurses have been leaders in this for many, many years," said Margaret Hadley, president of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, adding nurses do not have to write a new exam when moving to the province.
"There's no barriers whatsoever."
Most barriers to land surveyors moving to Alberta were removed in 2001, said Brian Munday, executive director of the Alberta Land Surveyors' Association.
Before then, two years of articling was required no matter how long a person worked as a land surveyor in another province. Today, newcomers must only complete a few exams.
"Alberta has benefitted from that in terms of an influx of land surveyors," Munday said.
Also on Thursday, the premiers approved a new mechanism to resolve internal trade disputes, building on, in some respects, a trade, investment and labour-mobility agreement inked earlier between Alberta and British Columbia.
Under the national measures, an independent body will have the power to impose penalties of up to $5 million when trade rules are broken.
The old dispute system was based on finding consensus. It contained no binding settlement measures or penalties.
Some labour unions, however, are raising alarms about the independent body.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the new policy could open the door to corporations suing all levels of government over actions hindering trade and profits.
"If there's not really a need for these changes, the question is why are they being made?" McGowan said. "We believe the premiers have buckled to pressure from the corporate community."
Business lobby groups don't share this perspective, instead applauding the new labour deal.
"This is a great thing to see on behalf of the workforce across Canada," said Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Heather Douglas.
"It will encourage people to move where the jobs are that will further their careers."
After inking their deal on trade and labour mobility within Canada, the premiers placed a spotlight on the North American Free Trade Agreement on Thursday, highlighting worries about its future.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has said he might want to renegotiate NAFTA, if elected to the White House.
Calgary Herald, Page A5, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio and Marianne White
Legislation knocks down trade barriers: Business between Alberta and B.C. gets easier but critics have concerns
EDMONTON - Alberta introduced legislation today that the governing Conservatives say will knock down trade barriers between Alberta and British Columbia, save companies money and enable workers to move easily across the provincial boundaries.
Premier Ed Stelmach called the legislation - the first bill of the new government's first session - "ground-breaking" and claimed it is the envy of other provinces.
He said other provinces should "join the team" if they want to compete with other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world.
"This is all about getting our act together and removing some of the most ridiculous regulations," he told reporters following the bill's introduction.
The premier conceded that the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) "is quite a mouthful" but it will allow people in 100 occupations to work in either province without having to upgrade their certification requirements.
The bill eliminates the need for small businesses to register in both provinces and allows Alberta to waive corporate presence requirements that force out-of-province oil companies to set up bases in the province.
Although some terms of the deal took effect a year ago, the agreement will remain in a transitional phase until next April 1 when it comes fully into force.
International and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Ron Stevens went after critics of TILMA during a press conference, saying the deal has the support of the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
"It's pretty obvious to most that TILMA is a powerful step forward for our economy but there are some who would believe otherwise," he said. "TILMA does not threaten the ability of local governments to make laws. It does not affect environmental priorities, social programs, aboriginal programs, taxation, royalties, water and labour standards or health and safety. Bill one is truly a great piece of news for Albertans."
Stevens said he didn't know why Saskatchewan has opted not to participate in TILMA, but he said the deal is being watched closely and with an admiring eye by many other provinces and the federal government.
During last fall's Saskatchewan election, both NDP Leader Lorne Calvert and victorious Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said they were concerned that the deal might negatively affect the operation of their numerous Crown corporations.
Stevens said he didn't see that as an issue.
"The principles we're working on are sound," he said in a later interview. "What we're trying to do is break down and eliminate redundancy and rules that don't make any sense basically and enhance the trade between the two provinces. It's difficult to see what the concern is."
Stevens said Ontario and Quebec are now exploring the idea of a similar deal between their two provinces and his office has fielded queries from the Yukon and New Brunswick.
The agreement stipulates that governments or third parties must take alleged violations of the agreement to a TILMA tribunal rather than the courts. Stevens, the province's former justice minister, said he didn't think that requirement could be successfully challenged under the Canadian Constitution.
"I am confident this process will stand any challenge that may come," he said. "I can't stop people from challenging things but I am satisfied the system we've put in place will stand up to any challenges that will come forward."
So far, no cases have been brought before the three-person tribunal that consists of one member from each province and a chairman selected from either side by both.
Opposition leaders have opposed the agreement.
"The concern is that it's really a race to the bottom in terms of standards, and I think the secrecy in which the government has pursued this up until now, said NDP Leader Brian Mason. How long has it been since they signed the TILMA agreement with British Columbia and they're just bringing it in now?"
Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said he doubted the agreement would help address Alberta's labour shortage and he was dismayed the deal was signed last year without any public discussion or debate in the legislature.
"It illustrates or ought to illustrate how much the Alberta legislature has become a rubber stamp," he said. "The deal is done and then they bring it to the legislature."
Union leaders have been some of the biggest critics of the deal.
Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said the TILMA isn't needed and is simply a way for the government to further corporate interests.
"The reality is that workers and investment flow freely between the provinces already, so there's no real need for this kind of agreement," McGowan said. "What we're concerned about is that this agreement - which is ostensibly about labour mobility - is a Trojan Horse for something much more sinister. We think this is nothing more than a corporate bill of rights."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 15 2008
Byline: Darcy Henton
A new study released by the Alberta Federation of Labour says the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) will dumb down trade qualifications. The study claims the agreement opens the door to "watered-down trade qualifications" of Alberta workers to meet lower B.C. standards.
"We see this as a TILMA-triggered race to the bottom in the areas of professional and skilled labour qualifications," said Gil McGowan, federation president. "It's clear this isn't really a deal about trade or investment. It's setting the stage for dumbing down ... getting the job done with lesser qualified employees."
The implications of this should concern everyone, he said. He wondered "do you really want your homes to be built by someone with lower qualifications?"
The federation is sending copies of the study to all Alberta MLAs and asking the province to rescind the legislation.
McGowan pointed out there is an intent in TILMA to harmonize requirements for 50 Alberta occupations, mostly in the construction industry, currently exempt from TILMA because of higher standards. He's skeptical of the outcome, saying it will be a harmonizing down rather than up to the higher Alberta standards.
"That's bad news for both workers and the public," he added. "We should always be pushing for the highest possible occupation requirements, no matter which province they come from," he said.
"The last time I checked, there were no border guards stopping people or goods going between the two provinces," said McGowan. "We question the entire rationale (for TILMA). There already is free trade between the two provinces."
Danielle Smith, the director of provincial affairs in Alberta for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says she didn't see anything in the agreement that Alberta standards are going to erode.
"I don't believe any government is going to allow that kind of erosion because public support isn't going to be behind them for it," she observed.
Smith noted the real agenda here is to protect the local labour market.
"When the unions are able to restrict the number of people who can come into this market then it creates shortages and it bids up wages," she said.
Someone who's a certified funeral director, for example, in B.C., should be able to move seamlessly into the same career here. "If there are barriers in the way that are preventing that, I think the government has an obligation and a duty to strip those down and I think that's what workers want," said Smith.
Saying the agreement is to ease trade and labour movement between the two provinces, she cited truckers hauling hay who had to stop at the B.C.-Alberta border to reload to meet some new rules in B.C. "Those are the kinds of silly things they're trying to sweep out of the way," said Smith.
The summary of the study, prepared by Steven Shrybman of the law firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell in Ottawa, describes TILMA as "an instrument for de-regulation" with a corrosive influence on employment-related standards that will be weakened and undermined in both provinces. The study was also critical of the lack of public consultation and legislative debate in its creation. With the predicted impacts on many spheres of public policy and law, it concluded both provinces should reconsider their commitment to such a "draconian and unwarranted constraint on the exercise of public and democratically determined authority."
Fort McMurray Today, Page A3, Tues July 17 2007
Byline: Carol Christian