Tag Archives: interprovincial trade

Our four solitudes must come together


When the rest of Canada reflects on its eastern shores (as it actually does, if only from time to time), it conjures the Atlantic Provinces as a tightly knit region of folksy, friendly people wise in the ways of the sea, perpetually determined to give the shirts off our backs, fiercely independent to a fault yet broadly willing to throw down a kitchen party.

The truth is more complicated and, frankly, disappointing.

This small collection of principalities – hosting all of 2.5 million souls at last count – remains one of the most economically divided, socially backward and culturally anxious of any in a nation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up to the Arctic Circle.

Although we are the putative birthplace of Confederation, we consistently maintain the worst track record in the country for interprovincial free trade. In fact we make it virtually impossible, in this region, for university students to transfer their credits from one institution to another; for skilled tradesmen and women to find meaningful work if they choose to leave the jurisdiction in which they received their accreditations; for doctors, lawyers and veterinarians to move between provinces without first obtaining professional papers proving that the practices of law and medicine are, somehow, locally relevant and compliant.

Sometimes, we litigate those who challenge the status quo, even if they had no intention of doing so.

Consider the shameful case against one Gerard Comeau who – not realizing he was on the wrong end of the judicial system – was caught crossing the border from Quebec into New Brunswick with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor in 2012. According to an antiquated Prohibition-era law, that’s still a criminal offense, punishable by fines and jail time.

This summer, Mr. Comeau was on trial for violating the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act, which states that individuals are permitted to bring one bottle of wine or liquor or 12 pints of beer into the province at any given time.

According to a CBC analysis of the historical context underlying the case, “The Canadian law regarding the shipping of alcohol was meant to thwart bootleggers, and led to a gradual devolution of federal responsibility to the provinces in matters relating to liquor. Each province established an agency that oversees the distribution, sale and consumption of wine, beer and spirits.”

According to more than one legal expert, the regulation is both anachronistic and absurd. Declared Mark Hicken, a Vancouver attorney who specializes in interpreting Canada’s quirky interprovincial trade regulations: “A lawyer down in California once said to me, ‘You can’t understand any North American liquor laws unless you trace them back to Prohibition.’ You look at any regulatory structure in North America and if it was examined in a global perspective, you’d look at it in stunned disbelief, like ‘What is going on here?’ It really does go back to the Prohibition mentality of control.”

This mentality of control extends far beyond regulated substances in Atlantic Canada. It has to do with energy agreements, food, real estate and river rights. In fact, it has to do with how we live and work each and every day in a region where ancient, restrictive provincial laws concerning commerce and labour mobility no longer apply but are still rigorously and ludicrously enforced.

Unless we break these structures down to the ground, we will always be, in this region of Canada, our own worst enemies.

We will never be able to be winners in our own backyards. We will never be able to sell to one another, to support our friends and neighbours with jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, to become the fiercely independent, yet the friendly, folksy and integrated Atlantic Canadian community, we have managed to persuade the rest of the country that we are today.

Our four provincial solitudes must finally come together in common cause. We need each other’s passions, energies and ideas, if only to tightly knit the best of our reputations with the truth of them.

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Loosen up the ties that bind in Atlantic Canada


The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, that favourite whipping post of the progressive left, is no stranger to provocation.

Its website recounts proudly its origin story:

“One evening in 1969, John Bulloch, a teacher at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, was soaking in his tub and reading the new federal White Paper on taxation. He was infuriated to see it proposed a 50 per cent tax rate for Canadian small businesses.

The then Liberal government had exempted the powerful from many of its proposals, and proceeded to hammer small business and middle-income Canadians.”

One tax revolt and three years later the CFIB was born, and it’s been fighting what it believes to be the good fight ever since.

Consider the recent doings of its Atlantic Vice-President Jordi Morgan, one of the featured speakers at last week’s Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce (yours truly was the other one) annual business awards dinner. He’s incensed by interprovincial trade barriers. Indeed, he has every right to be.

Almost everyone in the Atlantic provinces – businesspeople, politicians, economists, academics – agrees that the framework regulating the flow of goods and services across provincial borders is archaic, frequently absurd and often pernicious.

In fact, dismantling inter-provincial trade barriers in Canada has been one of the putative goals of swaths of provincial leaders since the last decade of the 20th century, when the Agreement on Internal Trade came into effect to explicityly “reduce barriers to the movement of persons, goods, services and investments within Canada.”

The problem is the effort has been like drawing blood from a stone. As Mr. Morgan observed during his address last week, “It takes leadership, and will require considerable. . .courage.”

That’s because we have quite probably lost site of the lessons of our own history – a common enough occurrence in this and every other country.

“Earlier this year,” Mr. Morgan reported, “we surveyed our membership. . .Almost 89 per cent of our members who responded in Atlantic Canada agree the premiers should commit to reducing internal trade barriers. This is nothing new.”

He continued: “In 1864, the first of the Charlottetown conferences was convened to hammer out some of the philosophical and legal structures of our nation. . .The founding fathers found a point of agreement in opposition to Inter-Provincial Trade Barriers. They believed if Canadians were to prosper it was essential that all Canadians could freely access markets within the country.”

In fact, the Constitution is clear. Section 121 (March, 1867) states: “All Articles of the Growth, Produce or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Province.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the national marketplace. “Through a variety of decisions throughout the 20the century, subsequent judicial interpretations of section 121 served to open the door to closing more doors,” Mr. Morgan said. “While custom duties and similar charges remain prohibited between provinces, successive government have successfully closed or restricted their provincial borders through mazes of indirect taxation and absurd regulations.”

How silly have matters become?

The size of milk and cream containers are tightly mandated. Asked Mr. Morgan: “Do we need protection from the amount of milk we put in our coffee?”

Then there’s the annoying fuss over truck tires. “From province to province, the regulations aren’t consistent,” Mr. Morgan said. “There are situations where depending on the load, trucks must stop and change tires when they cross the provincial border to be in compliance.”

These are only a few examples from a regulatory regime that, more often than not, continues to obstruct trade long after the protections it once provided outlived their useful purpose. It also seems patently ludicrous that while Prime Minister Stephen Harper jaunts around the world signing free trade agreement with the Europeans, the fine for bringing the equivalent of two bottles of wine purchased in another province into New Brunswick is 300 bucks.

Within this context, interprovincial trade in goods and services should not be a politically charged issue. To its credit, the CFIB is not making it one.

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