The Council of Canadians organized a set of news conferences across Canada on March 31, the day before TILMA came into force for local governments in Alberta and BC. I was one of four speakers at the Toronto event.
There are obviously larger and more important economic issues facing Canada today than interprovincial “free trade” deals. However, the free-market approach that these deals aim to enforce contradicts the need for government intervention to address the bigger economic issues.
To the extent that there has been any public debate on TILMA, we won it. Now, federal and provincial governments are implementing some of TILMA’s objectionable features under the radar screen by amending the existing Agreement on Internal Trade and by negotiating new bilateral deals. Kudos to the Council of Canadians for trying to stop the losers of the TILMA debate from instituting this agenda by stealth.
Aside from some regional coverage, the only national press we garnered was a rather obnoxious John Ivison column. He (incorrectly) claims that Steven Shrybman “doesn’t provide examples” of how a TILMA-style enforcement mechanism could threaten government services and public-interest regulation.
So what examples does Ivison provide of “internal barriers” that TILMA is supposedly needed to address?
Consumers are hardly aware of its malign influence but they encounter it daily – from the Ontario tippler who fancies a bottle of B. C. merlot but can’t find it in the provincially owned store that gives preference to local wines; to the cheese lover who will have to pay more since the dairy industry successfully drove through an amendment to the Food and Drug Act (sic) that requires all producers to use more fluid milk.
The Food and Drugs Act is a federal law. It is not a provincial attempt to disrupt trade and cannot be altered by interprovincial deals.
On wine, there is obviously some conflict between the LCBO’s mandate to provide a reasonably wide range of booze to Ontario drinkers and its mandate to support Ontario’s wine industry. BC wine may get caught in the crossfire.
Perhaps provinces with public liquor stores should agree to promote all Canadian wines rather than emphasizing their own provincial wines. But such an arrangement would hardly require a sweeping regime like TILMA.
Ivison goes on to argue, “The greatest impact of TILMA will be felt in the area of labour mobility.” Given that there are almost no examples of interprovincial trade barriers, I tend to agree that labour mobility is a more relevant issue. The question is whether TILMA’s approach would improve or worsen matters.
Ivison repeats Robert Knox’s claim that, because TILMA does not explicitly mandate lower standards, it would not have the effect of lowering standards. In response, I wrote the following letter to the editor:
Re: Beware Of Medieval Economics, John Ivison, April 1.
John Ivison argues that the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between British Columbia and Alberta will “ensure that people deemed to be qualified in one jurisdiction are qualified in both.” He dismisses concerns that this approach will weaken provincial standards: “Nowhere in TILMA does it say that the lowest standards have to be adopted – it’s up to the provinces to agree on a common standard.”
Of course, federal and provincial governments should negotiate common standards where it is practical to do so. In most skilled trades and regulated professions, common standards already exist and TILMA’s legalistic approach is unnecessary.
TILMA and recent amendments to the Agreement on Internal Trade affect occupational certification only in areas where governments cannot agree on a common standard, or when particular provinces choose to train workers to a lower standard. In such cases, governments must now accept certification from all other provinces, including those with lower standards.
The lowest standard in any province becomes the minimum standard accepted by every province. This system clearly prevents governments from enforcing higher standards, even if it does not require them to formally adopt lower standards.
Erin Weir, Economist, United Steelworkers, Toronto