Skip to main content

In the current mayhem of international trade politics, one would hope that a country such as Canada, with a relatively small population, could at least achieve free trade inside its own boundaries. In fact, progress has been painfully and persistently slow.

There is hope that a new, improved internal free trade agreement will be achieved at a conference in Whitehorse in July 20 to 22, but barriers continue to raise their ugly heads.

Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island are pushing for a "gold standard" deal, ending most trade restrictions. Other provinces are dragging their feet.

One of the stumbling blocks? Government procurement. Some provinces are interested in maintaining the right to give preference to local companies when buying government goods and services. Navdeep Bains, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, is rightly resisting this idea.

Alberta is the largest province to be advancing this option. Premier Rachel Notley's government is trying to justify this as a way to rebuild Fort McMurray, by giving 20 per cent or more of the value of the city's reconstruction to Alberta-based businesses. Surely it would be much better to get competitive prices and the greatest efficiency for Fort McMurray's reconstruction. That's the point of free trade, after all.

The Senate committee on banking, trade and commerce has just published a good report on this whole subject, but it advances the dubious idea that, if negotiations fail, there should be a reference question to the Supreme Court of Canada. Unfortunately, asking the court to become involved may not improve matters. The Senate committee itself deplores the lack of a national securities regulator, but it is a Supreme Court decision that has made a national regulator virtually impossible.

In the end, the governments of Canada have to commit themselves to genuinely open markets. We've only been waiting for 149 years.