Campbell’s National Vision Laudable

Commentary, Frontier Centre, Trade, Worth A Look

Too bad Gordon Campbell is not bilingual. The British Columbia premier certainly has the sort of national vision required by a Canadian prime minister.

Campbell may lack flash and be wanting in the charisma department. However, with a single quote last week at the western premiers’ conference in Iqaluit, he demonstrated an ability to see through, and well beyond, the forest.

“When are we going to decide we’re a country?” Campbell asked. “When are we going to decide that the free movement of goods and people and services is something that’s part of what a national identity should be?”

He wondered, legitimately, why a Manitoba teacher can’t move to B.C. and immediately teach. Good question.

Campbell walks the talk, having negotiated an innovative interprovincial agreement with Alberta that took effect in April.

The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) gives businesses and workers access to opportunities in both provinces, in areas of energy, transportation, agriculture and investment. Workers now can move more easily between the two provinces. Alberta and B.C. have streamlined business registration and reporting requirements.

This makes sense. Canada is one country. Everyone in each province and the three territories should benefit from that notion.

In a June report, the Conference Board of Canada raised an alarm about a widening productivity gap between Canada and the United States that relates to this exact issue: Debilitating market complexities both within Canada and the continent are hobbling this nation.

The study by two leading international economists — the conference board’s Glen Hodgson and Jack Triplett of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. — advocates a common front and more trade liberalization with the U.S. Hodgson argues Canada would benefit enormously from creation of a single Canadian market.

“Currently, myriad regulatory barriers between and among provinces contribute to declining productivity by raising the cost of doing business and sheltering Canadian industry from domestic and international competition.

“A national business and regulatory environment is crucial to boosting productivity.”

In case you think this topic a tad esoteric, it’s worth keeping in mind that a country’s productivity inevitably has a direct influence on personal incomes of its inhabitants. By cutting needless bureaucracy and regulation, productivity is enhanced, processes of commerce become cheaper and more wealth is delivered to people.

To enhance productivity, the conference board report asserts we must “tackle the vast web of regulatory and other barriers that currently pervade the Canadian economy.

“The optimum end state would be the creation of a single Canadian market, through elimination of regulatory barriers among and between provinces, reduced barriers to competition in many sectors and improved regulatory alignment.”

Right now, for example, Quebec doesn’t permit Newfoundland to transport hydro power across its territory. And provinces lack common professional and credentials standards.

Hodgson praises the TILMA. While Canada’s overall fiscal performance of late has been stellar, Hodgson notes this country’s “weak growth in productivity and incomes over many years has resulted in a large income gap with the U.S.”

This is ironic given that the U.S., in macroeconomic terms — debt, deficit, balance of trade — has become a bit of a basket case.

Yet, for the same work, a Canadian earns just 84 per cent of what his American counterpart earns. In 1990, Canada ranked fifth in per capita income among OECD countries. By 2005, we’d dropped to tenth.

Once provinces get together to create a single integrated national market, the task will then be to remove obstructions to movement of goods, services, workers and investment within North America.

The conference board report says Canada has maxed out the advantages to be had from its free trade agreement with the U.S. To progress further, it must reduce remaining barriers to the U.S. market.

The board recommends investing in the border, harmonizing regulations between the two countries and eliminating remaining tariff differences. Campbell is to be congratulated for setting an example of what needs to happen next, both within Canada and bilaterally.