Twelve years after the provinces, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories signed off on a national agreement to break down internal trade barriers, some critics say it’s still harder to do business across provincial borders than international ones.
Frustrated with the delays to get all provinces and territories on the same page with the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), Alberta and British Columbia took matters into their own hands and created the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), unifying everything from professional and trade designations to the financial services industry.
Under the agreement, more than 60 professional and trade standards will be recognized or harmonized in the two provinces, creating greater labour mobility between Alberta and B.C. For example, a teacher in B.C. will be able to work as a teacher in Alberta without having to write any extra exams or take any extra courses.
“The biggest benefit will be to the individual workers who are going to have more options available to them,” said B.C. Minister of Economic Development Colin Hansen. It will also mean flexibility for employers, he added. “If they have a project that they have successfully bid on in the other province, then they can move their workforce from one province to another without having to go through a whole bunch of new paperwork and applications.”
The provinces signed the agreement on April 28. It will take effect April 1, 2007, but there will be a two-year transition period. After April 1, 2009, professions, businesses or sectors that haven’t removed inter-provincial barriers could be penalized up to $5 million.
It is this dispute settlement mechanism that sets TILMA apart from the AIT and why Shawn Robbins, the director of internal trade for Alberta’s ministry of international and intergovernmental relations, thinks the new agreement will succeed where the AIT has failed.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates TILMA will create 78,000 additional jobs in B.C. alone and add $4.8 billion to the provinces’ gross domestic product.
The agreement will also most likely ease labour shortages in both provinces by allowing workers to move easily between the two provinces. The freedom to move about a large economic region could also attract more workers from the rest of the country, so employers will have a larger labour pool from which to choose, said Robbins.
“We think (TILMA’s) a model for how internal trade should operate within Canada, certainly in the area of labour mobility,” said Robbins. “The more who join on to the agreement, the more benefit it’s going to have to the country as a whole.”
Saskatchewan has already publicly expressed an interest in signing up. The province has completed a cursory review of the agreement and found there are definite benefits for Saskatchewan, especially in the area of labour mobility.
“Now we’ve engaged in a detailed review of all the clauses within the TILMA agreement to see what specific issues and opportunities this creates,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Government Relations Harry Mulligan. But it will be a while before any decision is made.
“It’s taken B.C. and Alberta three years to get to the point where they’re at now, which is essentially an agreement to enter into two years of discussion,” said Mulligan.
While Mulligan sees the advantages of Saskatchewan becoming a partner in such a large trading block, he said a countrywide trading block is even better. That’s why he’ll continue to work with the other provinces to refine a national trade agreement.
“TILMA may provide the impetus for provinces to say, ‘We need to have one agreement that meets all our needs and is an effective agreement that provides a framework for all of our activities,’” he said.
TILMA has already had an effect on the rest of the country. At a meeting of provincial and territorial ministers responsible for internal trade in Halifax last month, the ministers agreed to have full labour mobility under the AIT by April 1, 2009, the same date as the TILMA deadline.
In Alberta and B.C., the professional and trade regulatory bodies are already off to a good start recognizing each others’ credentials. Many professions such as dietary technicians, architects, lawyers and engineers, have already completed the process.
Under the AIT, differences in scope of practice led to difficulties harmonizing many professions and trades. But since full harmonization isn’t required under TILMA, B.C. Minister of Economic Development Hansen doesn’t see scope of practice as a barrier.
For example, a registered practical nurse can dispense medication in B.C., but not in Alberta. The regulatory bodies might decide that a registered practical nurse trained in B.C. can work in Alberta, but won’t be able to dispense medication since that isn’t in the scope of practice for Alberta nurses. Conversely, a registered practical nurse trained in Alberta would be able to practice in B.C. but not dispense medication.
If some regulatory bodies aren’t able to come to an arrangement, Hansen is willing to use legislation to ensure credentials are recognized in both provinces by the deadline.
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