The Other National Newspapers on TILMA

Following the National Post’s complete endorsement of TILMA on Friday, The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star ran columns on Saturday that were relatively skeptical of this agreement. As both columns note, the joint statement released by the Premiers in Moncton leaves the door open to making the Agreement on Internal Trade more like TILMA without committing to do so.

(I classify the Star as a “national newspaper” because its circulation nearly equals that of The Globe and Post combined: 641,445 versus 414,860 and 234,409.)

Under the headline “No Consensus, No Problem,” The Globe’s Murray Campbell noted that the Premiers have

ducked a challenge by British Columbia and Alberta to sign on to their controversial bilateral pact, called TILMA . . . The premiers’ plan promised full labour mobility by April, 2009, to establish penalties of up to $5-million for trade-rule violations and to harmonize [trucking regulations]. But it stepped lightly when it came to outlining the exact mechanics of a dispute-resolution system. . . .

They could go no further because they don’t have a consensus. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have spurned the idea of a western trading pact using TILMA rules. Ontario is still studying the implications of the pact and pondering whether the better way ahead is simply to simplify its relations with its major trading partner, Quebec. . . .

But the course of future action shouldn’t be determined until we get a better sense of the problems. TILMA’s advocates are fond of ridiculing the current trade climate in Canada . . . Some trade economists argue, however, that remaining trade barriers do not justify what some call the “overkill” of TILMA.

Business loves the B.C.-Alberta deal, and well they should, since a former Alberta cabinet minister said it was “everything Canadian business asked for.” On the other hand, labour unions say the provision in TILMA that there should be “no obstacles” to free trade compromises governments. They say the agreement gives commercial interests the unfettered right to sue to remove any regulation – rules dealing, perhaps, with worker safety or land use – that might impair trade. . . .

But there is too much that is unknown about the impact of a TILMA-style pact to allow the premiers to meet behind closed doors and to commit their citizens to it. The leaders should return to the subject at the annual meeting next year equipped with more information. And would it kill them to actually ask people what they think?

The Star’s Ian Urquhart seemed to accept the alleged severity of inter-provincial trade barriers, although he described this concept as “a national cliche”. He provided some specific analysis of the Ontario scene, including some good quotes from Wayne Samuelson:

Ontario has made noises about joining TILMA. Last year, McGuinty called it “a step in the right direction.”

That set off alarm bells in the ranks of organized labour, which sees TILMA as an attempt to water down health, safety and employment standards to the lowest common denominator and to introduce privatization and deregulation through the back door.

“We would suggest that this is the wrong direction for Ontario,” wrote Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), in a letter to McGuinty earlier this year.

But Ontario government sources say McGuinty has been toying with TILMA to gain leverage with other provinces in his campaign to put teeth in the [Agreement on Internal Trade].

. . . the ink was barely dry on the premiers’ agreement before the OFL’s Samuelson raised concerns that it would be used to “reduce or remove the role of government” in setting standards.

“If Ontario or any government wants to go down that road, then they should not be talking about it with a bunch of guys in a hotel room in Moncton,” said Samuelson. “Let’s have a public debate.” . . .

With Ontario going to the polls on Oct. 10, this could well become an election issue.

One comment

  • Raising TILMA and the SPP during the Ontario elections would be a breakthrough indeed. Albertans and British Columbians never had a chance to debate the treaty — and public consternation at discovering the terms of the agreement probably helped warn Saskatchewan and Manitoba away from it. Murray Dobbin reports that cities and towns in BC are passing legislation to exempt themselves from TILMA.

    However, no matter what the Star’s circulation is, and even with the Internet, I think it’s kind of Torontocentric to refer to it as a national paper. Its audience is mainly local, no matter how much any of us might wish otherwise.

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