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The Progressive Economics Forum

Pear-Shaped Agreement Spotted on Canada’s East Coast

The deal, unveiled yesterday by the Premiers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, is not actually called PEAR, but PARE: Partnership Agreement on Regulation and the Economy.

Like TILMA, it was signed pursuant to Article 1800 of the existing Agreement on Internal Trade to further “liberalize trade, investment and workforce mobility.” Unlike TILMA, it does not establish an enforcement mechanism that allows business to directly challenge public policy.

While there is room for debate about the similarity between PARE and TILMA, it is worth remembering The Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s eminently reasonable recommendation that “Nova Scotia should hold public hearings, just like Saskatchewan, if it is toying with joining TILMA or a regional version thereof. Both sides of this interesting argument deserve to be heard – in full.”

To the best of my knowledge, no such consultations took place in either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. In PARE’s preamble, the provincial governments do not claim to have consulted anyone but business: “Atlantic Premiers directed their Ministers to consult with Atlantic stakeholders in order to target key areas in which opportunities exist for additional harmonization, and/or streamlining of regulations that would benefit the operation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.”

It makes sense for provincial governments to communicate and co-ordinate when developing or reviewing regulations. PARE formalizes a process for two governments to do so. Unfortunately, it may also imbue this process with an excessively pro-business tone.

Of course, business interests should be taken into account – along with labour interests, consumer interests, etc. – in formulating regulations that serve the broader public interest. However, PARE commits to “Utilizing a business lens, where appropriate, when reviewing or developing regulations, including a business impact test.”

By my count, the word “business” appears 26 times in the 20-page document. “Environment” appears six times but is preceded by the words “business” or “economic” three of those times. “Worker” appears six times and “citizen” appears only three times. Words like “labour” and “consumer” are not used at all.

A key issue is whether bilateral harmonization proceeds in an upward or downward direction. For example, PARE promises to “harmonize” employment standards legislation and particularly its administration. This explicit proposal is interesting because TILMA promoters typically asserted that basic labour standards were exempt.

Harmonization is not inherently good or bad. I would welcome harmonizing employment standards so that workers in one of the provinces gain the faster minimum-wage increases and additional vacation pay currently available in the other province. But I would reject harmonization down to the lowest-common denominator.

PARE also proposes to harmonize compulsory trades. To me, the ultimate solution should be for both provinces to train all of their tradespeople to Red Seal standards, enabling them to work in any province (except Quebec). Upward harmonization between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick could be a halfway house on the path to this solution.

However, I cannot see much justification for permanently harmonizing at some level below full Red Seal certification for all eligible trades. The worst-case scenario would be harmonization by making certain trades non-compulsory in the province where they currently are compulsory.

Anyway, the appeal from CUPE and the Council of Canadians to “read the fine print” is worth heeding.

Comments

Comment from scott
Time: February 25, 2009, 1:11 pm

What is the connection (if any) between these inter-provincial trade agreements and the SPP?

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