It sounds like a broken record, but for the benefit of Canada’s first ministers gathered today in Montreal, it bears repeating.
Federal and provincial governments have no trouble recognizing that international trade agreements and lower tariffs support the Canadian economy. Yet our governments continue to stall on reducing red tape and removing obstacles to interprovincial trade.
Canada should get its own house in order to take full advantage of recent agreements with Europe, Pacific Rim countries, the United States and Mexico. Atlantic Canada, in particular, depends on international trade to sell seafood, farm products, oil and manufacturing products. Yet we are reluctant to allow alcohol to flow freely across provincial borders.
Analysts are expecting one of the more acrimonious meetings in recent years in Montreal.
Perhaps Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil will have good news to report in Montreal. He was asked — along with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister — during the July meeting of the Council of the Federation in St. Andrew’s, N.B., to lead discussions on cutting red tape and reducing interprovincial trade barriers.
There has been some progress but it’s painfully slow. Pallister had to twist arms in July just to get an increase in the alcohol that can be transported across provincial borders for personal consumption.
It seems Atlantic Canada has found a champion in Pallister. He’s also pushing Ottawa to cut federal restrictions that harm the fisheries and resource sectors. And, with reports that food prices are going to increase this winter, eliminating trade barriers is more important than ever.
During his recent fall economic update, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau listed 23 regulatory barriers to tackle, so alcohol has plenty of competition on the agenda. Any progress on trade barriers — the original focus of this first ministers’ meeting — will assuredly be sidetracked in a looming wrangle over pipelines, carbon pricing and oil prices. These are immediate and important issues and it took considerable provincial pressure to have them added to the agenda in Montreal. The oil crisis in Alberta hammers home the urgent need to get that resource to market. It re-opens interest in an eastern pipeline and the need to push ahead with the Trans Mountain expansion.
Analysts are expecting one of the more acrimonious meetings in recent years in Montreal. The stage is set for grandstanding by four provinces that have joined a court challenge to the federal carbon pricing plan. If all sides generally agree that carbon is a major problem, there can be different ways to reach an acceptable solution. Why is court the only option, instead of compromise?
Premiers are throwing up border barriers to block progress on pipelines, carbon and oil prices. They should step back and learn a valuable lesson from their own red tape and interprovincial trade committee. Co-operation and consensus is the best way to solve their problems.
Don’t the first ministers see the irony here?