CALGARY, ALTA. – The province of Alberta is dropping many of its exemptions to the Canada Free Trade Agreement and looking to do away with all the rest, Premier Jason Kenney announced this month.
“Alberta is a leader in promoting free trade, job creation, prosperity and value for tax dollars,” Kenney said at a press conference. “And we will do everything we can to encourage our fellow Canadians from coast to coast to help us realize the dream of an economic union in Canada.”
Kenney argued the new policy will save taxpayers money by ramping up competition and will help local businesses reach new markets.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) saw the move as ideologically motivated and politically unsophisticated.
“We in Alberta labour are not opposed to free trade agreements between provinces,” said Gil McGowan, AFL president. “We understand that there are beneficial results that come from the free movement of goods and services, however, we feel strongly that provinces should, from time to time, be able to give preference to local businesses and workers when it comes to projects that are funded by local tax dollars.”
McGowan said the previous government used these tools to ensure the rebuilding of Fort McMurray benefitted local workers affected by the global downturn in energy prices.
“Those are the kinds of provisions that Jason Kenney has unilaterally given up,” he added. “I find it ironic that on one hand, Kenney ran on a platform about creating and defending and creating Alberta Jobs, now that he is in office, he is getting rid of provisions in a free trade agreement that were designed to do those things.”
McGowan stressed that the AFL believes the changes will cost construction companies and construction workers, and that Kenney gave away the exemptions without getting anything in return.
“That’s not an example of good negotiation,” said McGowan. “That is an example of being a chump.”
He added that while Kenney sees the changes as spurring competition, the AFL sees it as starting a “race to the bottom” for wages and safety.
When asked about the changes, the Alberta Construction Association (ACA) confirmed its support for them, referring to its policy.
ACA policy states that, “under no circumstances should geographical location, political or social affiliation or membership in an organization be considered as a basis for awarding a contract to a contractor or supplier, nor should any price advantage or preferential treatment be given because of a location or affiliation.”
According to Statistics Canada, internal barriers to trade and labour mobility within Canada cost the economy between $50 billion and $130 billion every year. Kenney urged other provinces to follow its lead.
“As part of our government’s job-creation strategy, we are taking the bold step to drop all provincial exceptions to the 2017 Canada Free Trade Agreement related to procurement,” said Kenney in a statement to media. “I encourage other provinces to do the same. While there has been some progress toward free trade within Canada, we need to be more ambitious. That is why we’re also extending an invitation to other provinces to join the more trade-friendly New West Partnership Agreement.”