The Minister Responds

Today’s National Post includes a letter from BC’s Minister of Economic Development, Colin Hansen, in response to my TILMA op-ed. It is great that the Post has facilitated some debate on this important issue and that the Government of BC feels compelled to participate in this debate.

The fundamental point of disagreement is whether TILMA applies to all regulations (but specified exceptions) that allegedly “impair trade, investment or labour mobility” or whether it applies only to regulations that discriminate based on province of origin. My op-ed indicates:

Rather than simply preventing measures that are discriminatory against businesses in other provinces, TILMA purports to “eliminate barriers that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility.” The problem is that almost everything that governments do influences investment opportunities and could be challenged.

Hansen writes:

. . . he is simply wrong when he says that “almost everything that governments do influences investment opportunities and could be challenged.” TILMA does not restrict governments from regulating, but such regulations must be non-discriminatory.

My only response is that, based on the agreement’s text and legal analysis of it, Hansen is simply wrong.

A significant discrepancy exists between Hansen’s pro-TILMA arguments and those of the Post. The Minister’s letter presents TILMA as a forum for further discussion:

Under TILMA, different standards and regulations may continue and there is no requirement to de-regulate. . . . TILMA does not dictate that only the lower standards will be adopted by both governments; standards will be reconciled through consultation.

However, TILMA is a legally-binding document which specifies that, where such attempts at reconciliation fail, provincial governments must simply accept each other’s standards. As the Post’s original editorial quite correctly noted: “Both provinces are now bound to recognize the other’s occupational standards.”

There is obviously nothing wrong with negotiations to reconcile unnecessary differences. (To quote my op-ed, “provinces might reasonably choose to adopt common standards in some areas.”)

The problem is that mandatory mutual recognition in the context of different standards turns the lowest standard in any province into the minimum standard for every province. While the Post embraces this aspect of TILMA, the Minister seems to be backing away from it.

Finally, if TILMA is as benign as Hansen suggests, why has he balked at holding full public consultations on it?

UPDATE (August 20): Joe Kuchta has a good letter in today’s National Post responding to Hansen.

One comment

  • BC municipalities are now raising many of the same concerns, based on their own independent reviews of TILMA. Hansen’s line that it only applies to discriminatory measures is incorrect, according to Lidstone’s report for the Greater Vancouver Regional District. He points out that a BC company only need register in Alberta to be able to avail itself of dispute settlement against BC.

    What is interesting is that now Hansen can no longer dismiss critics, as complaints are coming from City councils and many public officials not associated with the left.

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