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Stopping TILMA at the Fourth Meridian

Count me among those pleasantly surprised by the right-wing Saskatchewan Party’s rejection of TILMA, a complete reversal of its previous position. I think that labour’s extensive participation in the legislative-committee hearings helped to convince the Saskatchewan Party that (1.) there is significant opposition to signing TILMA and (2.) there are genuine problems with the agreement.

During the first week of hearings in Regina, Saskatchewan Party MLAs mainly seemed interested in dismissing criticism of TILMA. During the second week in Saskatoon, they seemed more interested in seriously considering the agreement’s pitfalls. We had a reasonably good sense that the governing NDP would oppose TILMA, but changing the Saskatchewan Party’s stance is a major accomplishment.

The Saskatchewan Party’s members of the Standing Committee on the Economy deserve some credit.  However, the Saskatchewan Party’s main motive is to neutralize what could be a wedge issue between it and the NDP in the upcoming provincial election. Of course, the risk remains that a potential future Saskatchewan Party government would sign TILMA, possibly after pretending to renegotiate it. Its leader, Brad Wall, still seems to think that the agreement’s main problem was Saskatchewan’s absence from the initial negotiations. Clearly, the best way of keeping Saskatchewan out of TILMA would be to re-elect the NDP.

Yesterday, the Standing Committee on the Economy released its report, which is essentially a synopsis of the hearings. My submission to the Committee is available here. A collection of documents on TILMA, many of which the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour submitted, is available here.

PS – The Fourth Meridian is the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

UPDATE (July 5): Joe Kuchta has catalogued the Saskatchewan Party’s statements on TILMA.


Sask. Party rejects TILMA
The Leader-Post (Regina)
Friday, June 29, 2007
Page: D1 / FRONT
Section: Business & Agriculture
Byline: Angela Hall 

Surprising groups that believed the Opposition to be friendly to a controversial B.C.-Alberta trade pact, the Saskatchewan Party said Thursday it wouldn’t sign on to the agreement.

The Sask. Party has outstanding concerns about the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement as it is today, Leader Brad Wall said.

“I think there is a concern there’s not enough answers to questions. Were we the government today, we would have to be pragmatic and not sign on to an agreement,” said Wall, who acknowledged his party had liked the agreement from an economic and Western co-operation standpoint. The announcement came as an all-party legislative committee tabled a report Thursday outlining what it heard during public consultations earlier this month on the possibility of joining TILMA.

Government Relations Minister Harry Van Mulligen said cabinet will consider the report and will likely announce a decision on TILMA by the end of summer, if not sooner.

“I want to carefully consider the views that people have put forward, but at the same time (I) want to ensure that cabinet is in a position to make a timely decision in this matter,” said Van Mulligen, who was travelling and had not yet studied the report. He said the Sask. Party’s stance appeared to be a surprise reversal in its position.

But Wall said it’s “unfortunate” the government didn’t take part in the TILMA negotiations between B.C. and Alberta from the start because it might have resulted in a more agreeable deal.

There are specific areas of concern in the present TILMA, such as whether provincial “new growth tax incentives” would be exempt, Wall said. He said he is also unclear about whether that kind of incentives at the municipal level, such as tax abatements to new businesses, could be lost.

Wall also said while there was “fear-mongering” on the issue of Crown corporations under TILMA, there are still questions about what constitutes a commercial operation.

“In other words, what division of a Crown is commercial, and so therefore is not exempt?” Wall said.

He said the Sask. Party is still in favour of working on trade agreements between provinces, and would like to see occasional joint cabinet meetings between Western provinces, similar to what B.C. and Alberta hold.

For the complete article, click here.

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Comment from Elaine Hughes
Time: June 30, 2007, 7:55 am

Don’t be fooled by Mr. Wall’s sudden decision to stand against TILMA.

He has his eye on something much, much bigger…

You’ll find TILMA hidden in the description of the duties of the Working Group on “Trade & Economic Development’ on this website:

Pacific NorthWest Economic Region

“With over 20 million people and over US $700 billion in gross regional product, the US Pacific Northwest (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington) and Western Canada (Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon) is one of fastest growing regions of North America. We are China and East Asia’s gateway to North America, the host of the 2010 Winter Olympics and the site of several major infrastructure projects and business opportunities. Now more than ever, the Pacific Northwest needs a bi-national, regional advocate that works with both the public and private sectors.”

Comment from Steve
Time: June 30, 2007, 12:08 pm

I’m sure the Sask Party’s “road to Damascus” conversion would last about 10 seconds once he was elected. One week they dismissed any criticisms of it, the next they’re concerned? Smells like orders from on high. Neutralizing a wedge issue is exactly what’s going on here… they’d rather the election be about the “tired, old NDP.” I’m sure they’d make some show of renegotiating it, then sign it quickly so people have time to forget about it before the next election.

Sad part is, I doubt the provincial NDP would have the guts to get us out of it once it’d been signed.

Comment from Erin Weir
Time: July 1, 2007, 5:05 pm

Elaine, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Banking, Trade, and Commerce is also extremely interested in PNWER. It strikes me as a western version of the Atlantica concept, rather than as a legally-binding agreement like TILMA. Nevertheless, we need to pay attention to it.

Steve, I agree. However, I think/hope that this public rejection of TILMA will make it more difficult for a potential future Saskatchewan Party government to sign this agreement.

Comment from Larry Kowalchuk
Time: July 4, 2007, 10:42 am

It had become clear during the first week of hearings that TILMA was the wedge issue for the next Provincial election. The Saskparty members on the Committee revealed themselves and where their party stood. Murray Mandryk’s article confirmed it and set out the battleground for the next provincial election. Week two saw the SaskParty capitulating despite efforts by the business community and an editorial by Randy Burton to salvage them.The blatant opportunism and perhaps dishonesty going into the next provincial election is there for all to see, as editorial writer Bruce Johnstone pointed out. The SaskParty policy documents contain TILMA like platforms which include lowering labour standards/labour laws to those in Alberta. These they have not changed nor hidden. The significance of the SaskParty stance and the end result is that the labour movement has demonstrated to the public its commitment to what makes this Province work. It is a time to be proud to be union and recognize the essential importance of acting as a collective movement working in the best interest of working people and citizens in Saskatchewan. It was the labour movement that forced this to be reviewed in public hearings for all to see, that brought the information and raised the alarm to SUMA and SARM and the major city councils, that gathered the legal and analytical perspective for everyone to undersatnd and that defended the right of citizens to have a voice in major policies their representative governments might consider. We defended democratic process and the democratic aspects of this special place we call Saskatchewan. Be proud to be UNION.

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