Western labour barriers flattened

Agreement eases flow of workers between Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/21/2011

A few years ago, Janet Salopek was working on a labour market strategy for the oil sands in northern Alberta and one of her biggest concerns was being able to secure tradespeople to build the infrastructure.

At the time, she was able to look west and draw upon workers from British Columbia, thanks to the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between the two provinces, but that still wasn’t enough. Now, she can also look east and recruit tradespeople from Saskatchewan thanks to the New West Partnership Trade Agreement (NWPTA), which replaced TILMA.

“The labour market out here, particularly in Alberta, is really starting to heat up,” said Salopek, president and senior consultant at Salopek Consulting in Calgary. “It was and still is a major concern, our labour shortage… and this will basically open up that market.”

The NWPTA is an accord between Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan to create Canada’s largest barrier-free interprovincial market. The three provinces together represent nine million people with a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $550 billion, according to the provinces.

“All the western provinces are very oriented on job growth and export growth, so it is a very strong platform to create opportunities for citizens by eliminating barriers, cutting red tape and collaborating in a number of areas that are extremely important to the West,” said Dylan Jones, associate deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs for Saskatchewan.

The partnership was launched April 30, 2010, and while several measures are already in place, it will be fully implemented by July 1, 2013.

In May, B.C. passed legislation related to the trade agreement.

“The legislation was necessary to make sure B.C. had the statutory authority to exercise all its obligations under the agreement,” said Pat Bell, B.C.’s minister of jobs, tourism and innovation. “The legislation ensured that any monetary penalties and related dispute costs awarded could be enforced by law.”

The partnership allows for easier labour mobility for certified workers to practise their occupation in the three provinces. All regulated professionals and skilled tradespeople can move between the provinces without facing additional exams or training requirements. This builds on the federal government’s Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) that was implemented in 1995.

“From a human resources perspective, it will make recruiting employees easier,” said Bell. “Workers can quickly move to jobs and employment opportunities… and this will help companies and HR agencies get skilled workers and employees into the workforce faster.”

This will also make it easier for foreign-trained professionals since there will be greater consistency among the three provinces in recognizing their credentials and qualifications, said Bell.

“If a foreign-trained worker has her or his credentials recognized in one of the three provinces, then the credentials will be recognized in the other two, just like any other worker who has credentials from Canada,” he said.

The agreement also allows for the free-flow of goods, services and capital to enhance the competitiveness.

“We’re on par with Ontario now and that’s a huge benefit,” said Salopek. “It’s basically opening up the competitiveness of our market and it strengthened our economy because, now, we have three provinces that can compete together.”

Another provision of the agreement is for the three provincial governments to streamline regulations and eliminate any unnecessary differences in business standards that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility.

“When a nurse or firefighter shifts from one jurisdiction to another, there are safety risks associated with operating under different standards or rules or with different equipment,” said Jones. “There are huge safety benefits to adopting best standards and cost savings for governments and also businesses.”

This led to the colleges of pharmacists in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. working together to find greater commonality in their policies, said Greg Eberhart, registrar of the Alberta College of Pharmacists in Edmonton, representing more than 4,100 pharmacists across the province.

“If you are a London Drugs with pharmacies in three western provinces, when you’re looking at the operations of the pharmacies, we try to have policies and standards that are as consistent as possible,” he said. “We’re very early in those discussions but at least the framework and commitment is there.”

Under the new agreement, businesses registered in one province will be able to seamlessly register in the other provinces at the same time as their original incorporation, removing all residency requirements.

For example, when a business is registered in Saskatchewan and wants to do business in B.C., it has to file the exact same forms and pay fees twice, so why not just do it once? said Jones.

“Those are the things we’re reaching for — improve competitiveness by reducing costs that don’t add any value to the product,” he said. “That money could be paid in better wages or lower cost to the clients.”

While employers are already seeing many benefits from this agreement, they can also be inspired to look for even more ways to improve, said Eberhart.

“There is a motivation, a symbolism, if nothing else,” he said. “When we get provincial leaders to come together and say, ‘We’re going to work together in this way,’ it kind of suggests to the rest of us how might we rethink what we’re doing to try and be more effective to support those principles.”

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