In mid-November, Manitoba joined British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan in the New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA), a barrier-free, Western Canada inter-provincial market.
With the addition of Manitoba, the partnership becomes a common market of more than 11 million people, with a combined gross domestic product of more than $750 billion.
The purpose of the partnership is to allow business, labour and investment to flow more freely within the region and to reduce barriers to inter-provincial sales.
"Business owners, community leaders and chambers of commerce from across Manitoba have long called for our province to pursue new opportunities for growth and reduced trade barriers," said Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister in an announcement. "Joining the New West Partnership will bring these advantages. We look forward to working with British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan to expand opportunities and support stronger economies right across Western Canada."
Before his Progressive Conservatives (PCs) were elected to government in April 2016, Pallister had campaigned on a promise to join the partnership. The PCs replaced the provincial New Democrats, which had balked at joining the regional trade deal, he said.
The original NWPTA came into effect in 2010 and has been fully implemented since 2013.
Colin Fast, the Winnipeg Construction Association’s communications and policy manager, said Manitoba joining the agreement will enable association members to take advantage of opportunities in other provinces.
"The association had spoken to both the previous NDP government and the current PC government about the benefits of joining," he said.
Fast said the Manitoba construction industry became concerned when, in 2015, Saskatchewan limited bids on provincial crown corporation projects to NWPTA members.
Fast said he expects the positive impact of Manitoba becoming a member of the trade agreement to be immediate.
"Being shut out of the partnership had us worried," he said.
Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, said his organization "celebrates" Manitoba joining the NWPTA.
"Through it, let’s make Manitoba the champion in tearing down trade barriers across provincial boundaries and Western Canada a global trading hub," he said in an announcement.
Lorenc said Manitoba Heavy believes the province’s membership is long overdue and that the deal will be good for the association’s members.
"Free trade is good for the whole economy," he said. "It helps make all of our commercial activities in every sector more productive and therefore more competitive."
Lorenc said both Western Canada and Canada as a whole depend on trade for their economic and, by extension, social well-being.
"Restricting activity between provinces is counterproductive to our economy’s best interests," he said.
Like Manitoba Heavy’s Lorenc, Allyson Desgroseilliers, president of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Manitoba, said the deal will be good for members.
"The agreement will create new opportunities for our members and eliminate any remaining barriers, particularly if QBS (qualification-based selection) is used in the implementation of it," Desgroseilliers said.
In addition, she said, using QBS for procurement will create better value for municipalities.
"The agreement requires municipalities to open up bidding above a certain threshold," Desgroseilliers explained. "The challenge for municipalities is to not be buried under proposal submissions. By pre-qualifying firms using QBS, a municipality has greater control over the quantity of submissions, which makes the process manageable."
Membership in the NWPTA "has had its plusses and minuses" for Saskatchewan construction companies, said Mark Cooper, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Construction Association.
"But on balance it’s been for the better because it has created new opportunities for us," he said. "We support free trade, but it also needs to be fair and on a level playing field."
Cooper said the NWPTA was started as a western alternative to the national Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT). He said the western trade agreement is more fair than the AIT.
"It has fewer exclusions than the AIT, plus a mechanism to mediate complaints," Cooper said.
Ken Gibson, executive director of the Alberta Construction Association (ACA), said his association lobbied the Alberta government to support Manitoba joining the NWPTA.
"The ACA supports free trade and the New West agreement provides greater access for Alberta contractors to procurement opportunities in other provinces," Gibson said. "At the same time, it also provides greater access to Alberta opportunities for contractors from outside the province."
Manley McLachlan, president of the British Columbia Construction Association, said including Manitoba in the NWPTA "just makes good sense."
"Manitoba becoming part of the trade agreement will be a great opportunity for Western Canada to market itself as an integrated economic region," McLachlan said.