Every province likes it in principle. Ditto every business group. And yet, somehow, there is always some reason to avoid fully embracing it in practice. Local business interests want protection. Provincial governments want to give it to them. Protecting jobs triumphs over creating them, or protecting consumers. And that’s how this country ended up with a host of small and large interprovincial trade barriers.
In theory, Canada is a single common market. Why, it’s right there in section 121 of the BNA Act: “All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces,” says the Constitution, “shall be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” In practice, that’s not exactly how it works.
Preferences given to local businesses when bidding on government contracts? We’ve got ’em. Ontario is a special offender, with a bid system awarding extra points to Ontario companies going after provincial infrastructure funding. Restrictions on the interprovincial sale of dairy, eggs and poultry? Provinces have those, too. Rules making it harder for professionals licensed in one province to work in another? Check. These and other impediments to the movement of people and goods are believed to cost the economy anywhere from a few billion dollars to $50-billion a year.
Taking down the walls has been one of the agenda items at this year’s premiers’ meeting. The man leading the charge is Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. He’s gone in for a bit of grandstanding, by threatening to start erecting new trade barriers if others, in particular Ontario, won’t dismantle some of theirs. But other than that, he’s on the right track.
The starting point for negotiations should be to start with a blank slate. Assume a Canada with no internal trade barriers, and then negotiate which barriers, if any, Canadians absolutely must erect against other Canadians.
Correct answer: How about none?