Provinces agree on internal trade—but release few details

Canada’s internal trade ministers say the agreement will open up procurement markets and reduce regulatory burdens for business

TORONTO – Canada’s internal trade ministers have reached an agreement on interprovincial trade but say more discussion will be needed on rules governing the flow of alcohol across the country.

They said Friday that the agreement will open up procurement markets and reduce regulatory burdens for business, but are releasing few details for now.

Federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains called the process he and his provincial counterparts set up to deal with the issue “very historic.”

“The fact that we’ve actually come to terms with that, put a process in place, does demonstrate there is meaningful progress,” he said.

The ministers would not talk specifics of the agreement because the premiers, who are meeting this month in Whitehorse, have the final approval.

The Agreement on Internal Trade was signed in 1994 and the updates agreed to Friday come after nearly two years of discussions.

Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said the agreement will improve Canadians’ access to public contracts, expand the trade of goods and services and reduce technical barriers.

“The recommendations will match or exceed the ambition in international agreements to increase opportunities for Canadian businesses to compete, expand and innovate nationally,” Duguid said.

The “crown achievement” of the agreement, he said, is the creation of a new process for reconciling regulations across the country. It will help companies expand nationally “without undue costs or burdens,” he said.

Two provinces could agree to recognize each other’s regulations, harmonize them, or have one withdraw a regulation.

The agreement, if approved by the premiers, would also “level the playing field for Canadian suppliers” by opening procurement markets to competitive bidding, Duguid said.

Purchasing rules will ensure that government contracts for goods, services or construction are open to all Canadian suppliers.

The rules would also come with greater monetary penalties if provinces fail to adhere to the terms, Duguid said.

Dan Albas, the Conservative critic for internal trade, said in a statement that it’s time for the interprovincial alcohol rules to be loosened.

“It’s time for the Liberals to take leadership and ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws that restrict consumer choice and business growth,” he said.

The Conservatives want the government to refer a New Brunswick court ruling on cross-border beer shopping to the Supreme Court for review, given the implications for interprovincial trade.

New Brunswick provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc tossed out all charges against Gerald Comeau, who was charged with illegally importing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from a Quebec border town in 2012.

Last month, the New Brunswick government filed a notice of appeal saying the judge in the Comeau case erred in his interpretation of rules governing the movement of goods between provinces.

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