On Campus

Interprovincial barriers come down; student group opposed

CFS concerned about educational standards

Canada’s premiers decided at their most recent summit to relax restrictions on interprovincial labour mobility.

The restrictions are an impediment to the free movement of many Canadian skilled workers—teachers included—who can’t always easily transfer their credentials from province to province.

The deal is similar to the British Columbia-Alberta Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) reached in 2006 that harmonized occupational standards and removed residency requirements. The cross-Canada deal is expected to take effect in August 2009.

But at its semi-annual meeting last May, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) passed a motion opposing the TILMA and “similar agreements.” In an interview with Maclean’s, national chairperson Katherine Giroux-Bougard was skeptical about the implications of increased labour mobility on post-secondary education.

“On the surface, it sounds like there is something (positive), if it improves people’s ability to move from one part of the country to another,” she said.

But if the agreement is meant to alleviate skilled-worker shortages around the country —which it is, at least in part—then Giroux-Bougard said that could push universities and governments to lower educational standards and to provide more funding to trades education, and less funding to generalist education.

“There is a fear that because they are such specific skills shortages, it will put pressure on institutions to eliminate comprehensive programs in favour of more specific skills training to address those shortages—which could also water down educational standards,” she said.

No, we don’t understand the reasoning either.
Mainstream commentators lauded the premiers’ move to open up labour mobility, describing it as a long overdue step. Both the Globe and Mail and the National Post ran editorials patting the premiers on the back for what looks like a political no-brainer.

“Making interprovincial migration as simple as possible is in everyone’s interest,” said The Globe , because “it allows individuals to boost their economic prospects, gives employers much wider access to labour markets, and boosts Canada’s economy.”

The Post’s editorial was even more satisfied with the premiers’ announcement. But it also shed light on the argument made by labour mobility’s critics: “unions are demanding labour codes that permit discrimination in favour of in-province workers,” the editorial read. “Many provinces, for instance, currently have laws or labour regulations that forbid the hiring of out-of-province workers in a given trade unless all in-province workers in that trade are already employed.”

Not everyone was happy, however. A Cape Breton Post editorial went after a pro-labour mobility article penned by B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, which appeared in the Globe on July 16.

Wrote Campbell: “Why can’t a registered nurse practising in Ontario make a seamless transition to practising in Nova Scotia? … Why can’t a teacher teaching in Saskatchewan also teach in New Brunswick without being recertified?”

The CB Post replied with skepticism: “Is this what increased labour mobility will really mean or will the removal of most remaining barriers simply accelerate the exodus of professionals and other skilled workers from Atlantic Canada?”

The paper did concede, however, that the province’s premier should still sign on to the deal. “Nova Scotia won’t solve its future skill shortages,” said the editorial, “by trying to maintain a regulatory Berlin Wall.”

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