Economic barbed wire

Barbed Wire

Steps are being taken by Atlantic Canadian political leaders to dismantle a virtual wall erected between provinces over more than a century.

In perhaps one of the most memorable moments of his presidency, in 1987 Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gates in Berlin and implored Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” The purpose of the speech was to compel the Soviets to submit their economy to accountability, transparency, and greater freedom. While there may be lingering questions about the impact of Reagan’s rhetorical flourish, there’s no doubt the subsequent destruction of the Berlin Wall was transformative for the European economy.
While not the magnitude of Reagan’s oratorical overture, steps are being taken by political leaders in Atlantic Canada to dismantle a virtual wall erected between provinces over more than a century by creating a new office to begin pulling apart the red tape that often acts like economic barbed wire between provinces. Mention of internal trade barriers is frequently met with confused stares. After all, there are no border guards on the Confederation Bridge or economic sanctions against the province of Nova Scotia. Our members tell us that these barriers take the more insidious form of unnecessary and burdensome regulation.
Whether due to political interference, parochial interests, or simply grown from the nature of our different bureaucratic cultures, red tape inhibits businesses that aim to work in other jurisdictions by creating a prohibitive and expensive maze of differing rules, requirements, regulations, and practices.

From a business perspective, why do New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have different requirements in fall arrest requirements when gravity appears to act with remarkable similarity in both provinces? Why would first-aid kits in each province require different contents or trucks require different wide-load signage? Some of the examples border on the ridiculous, but either by default, or in some cases by design, all of these differences add cost, drag productivity, and ultimately make things more expensive for consumers.

The recent signing of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe further highlights the need to move on freer trade within Canada. In some cases, the new agreement means that European companies will have access to opportunities across Canada that companies in a neighbouring province or territory may not. With a more global business environment and greater opportunities for free trade, we can’t continue to ignore the impact that our own provincial differences have on our economic competitiveness.

In fact, a recent poll conducted for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) by Ipsos-Reid shows that the majority of working Canadians agree it’s time for premiers to work together to remove impediments to the flow of goods, services, and workers across provincial and territorial boundaries.

With that in mind, CFIB has been cheering some of the recent work being conducted by both the Council of Atlantic Premiers and the Council of the Federation to help tear down those walls. Earlier this year, Premiers Gallant and McNeil took the significant step of creating the Joint Office of Regulatory and Service Effectiveness between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. More recently, Prince Edward Island’s Premier Wade MacLauchlan and Newfoundland and Labrador’s government are showing interest in the process.

All of the Atlantic provinces stated in January that they would create an Atlantic Red Tape Reduction Partnership that would help streamline business requirements to create a more competitive economic environment within the region. Our neighbours are important trading partners, and we encourage these bodies to set meaningful regulation reduction targets, reach them, and report publicly on their achievements.

Further to regional work, the Council of the Federation (Premiers) has also been the scene of some encouraging progress. While we’ll have to wait until next spring to see what progress is made with reforms to our main national trade agreement, the Agreement on Internal Trade, we did see a positive step with the premiers signing the Provincial–Territorial Apprentice Mobility Protocol at their recent meeting in St. John’s.

Most notable about this new mobility protocol is that it follows the principle of mutual recognition. Rather than a lengthy bureaucratic process of trying to harmonize each and every regulation across each jurisdiction, the premiers simply said, “If it’s good enough in Province A, it’s good enough for Province B.” This is the gold standard for modern trade agreements and is precisely the direction we want our governments to go when removing barriers.

While the stakes may not seem as high in Atlantic Canada as for the Soviets in 1987, reality shows that we’re facing many daunting economic challenges and unfavourable demographics. With the world of trade changing around us, it’s becoming increasingly important that we work together to break down barriers between our provinces to make the best use of our economic and human resources. If we don’t, we risk isolating ourselves behind our walls of red tape.

Jordi Morgan is the vice-president, Atlantic Canada, and Erin McGrath-Gaudet is the director, P.E.I. and intergovernmental affairs, for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. CFIB represents the voices of 11,000 small and medium-size firms in Atlantic Canada, with 109,000 members across Canada.

This piece originally appeared in Progress 101 issue online, by subscription and on newstands across Canada