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The Progressive Economics Forum

Barrie McKenna’s Three Strikes on Internal Trade

I appreciate a compelling headline, but “The Walls that Divide Us” in today’s Globe and Mail is way over the top. For building the myth of “internal trade barriers,” Barrie McKenna’s column should have been entitled, “Another Brick in the Wall.” Three claims are especially questionable.

First, “A recent back-of-the-envelope calculation by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute puts the tally of internal trade barriers at 0.5 per cent of GDP, or $8-billion a year.” (The online edition even reiterated this assertion as a secondary headline.)

In fact, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute provided no calculation, back-of-the-envelope or otherwise. It simply picked 0.5% of GDP out of the air. But I guess since The Toronto Sun and National Post had already repeated this figure, it was The Globe and Mail’s turn.

Second, “Alberta insists that only provincially certified welders assemble components used in the oil sands and other projects.” I am no expert on welding certification in Alberta, but the province generally recognizes inter-provincial Red Seal standards for the skilled trades. The Alberta regulatory authority’s website makes it seem pretty straightforward for welders to transfer in from other provinces.

Third, “Carole Presseault, vice-president of government and regulatory affairs for the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, argues that U.S. accountants face fewer restrictions working in Ontario than accountants from elsewhere in Canada. . . . Ontario deems that Certified Public Accountants and Certified Management Accountants from the rest of Canada aren’t fit to work in the province.”

It is true that Ontario requires that public accounting be performed by Chartered Accountants, while other provinces permit other classes of accountants to do this work. So, an American Chartered Accountant may be better placed than a Canadian Certified Management Accountant to practice public accounting in Ontario.

However, Ontario is not discriminating against accountants because they are from other provinces, but rather preferring one type of accountant over other types of accountants. McKenna’s column sheds no light on whether that preference is justified. In any case, it is hardly an “internal trade barrier.”

UPDATE (September 17): I missed it at the time, but The Jurist also posted a great response to McKenna’s column.

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