Bruce Johnstone on TILMA

In today’s Leader-Post, Bruce Johnstone makes the same point as I did about the Saskatchewan Party’s reversal on TILMA: that it is intended to minimize the agreement as a potential election issue.

He also makes the oft-heard argument that, since a couple of other “free trade” agreements allegedly worked-out fairly well, TILMA must also be pretty good. If the AIT was as successful as Johnstone suggests, one wonders why he thinks that TILMA is needed.

In any case, it is nice to see that my “fly with a sledgehammer” quip is still in circulation.


Wall’s TILMA move is political
The Leader-Post (Regina)
Saturday, June 30, 2007
Page: D1 / FRONT
Section: Business & Agriculture
Byline: Bruce

They say politics makes strange bedfellows, and the truth of that old saw can readily be seen in the Saskatchewan Party’s newfound antipathy towards the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA). 

Sask. Party Leader Brad Wall stunned more than a few observers when he announced this week that a Sask. Party government would not join the agreement to reduce or eliminate trade and other barriers between B.C. and Alberta.  

. . . 

In so doing, the Sask. Party joined with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Labour Congress, National Farmers Union and a long list of trade unions and their supporters in opposing TILMA.

. . .

The report also noted that since the implementation of the Agreement on Internal Trade or AIT (a precursor to TILMA) in 1995, the value of domestic or internal exports has grown by more than twice the rate of our GDP growth.

The all-party committee heard from 81 representations from 47 organizations over nine days of hearings. Most opposed TILMA, although most business groups, including the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, credit unions, land surveyors and Saskatchewan Construction Association, supported the agreement.

Proponents believed joining TILMA could help ‘level the playing field’ and allow businesses to compete fairly with businesses in other provinces and operate more efficiently. They also felt Saskatchewan should be at the negotiating table to protect its interests and not remain isolated. They also believed TILMA could help address the No. 1 problem facing the business community today — the labour shortage.  

Opponents believed TILMA was a “corporate bill of rights,” which businesses would use to legally challenge standards, rules and regulations in a “race to the bottom.”

They also felt TILMA was using a “sledgehammer to kill a fly,” as there were next to no barriers left to take down.

They also felt TILMA trade dispute panels would interfere with the governments ability to make policy decisions and, in effect, threaten the democratic process. Some expressed the fear that TILMA would force health care and other government services to privatize and private schools to proliferate.

Many of these concerns sound like rehashed complaints about the FTA and NAFTA trade agreements. No doubt, many of the same concerns were expressed when the AIT was implemented in 1995.

Yet, we have seen with the FTA, NAFTA and AIT nothing but positive benefits for business, the economy and society in general, with few, if any, of the real or imagined evils that were supposed to accompany them.

But the Sask. Party, knowing how the NDP skillfully exploited the Crown corporation ‘privatization’ issue in the 2003 election, wants to avoid any wedge issue that can get between them and the government benches.

In other words, politics, not policy concerns, is the real reason for Sask. Party’s about face on TILMA.

– Bruce Johnstone is the Leader-Post‘s financial editor.

For the full column, click here.

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