This past weekend, the Council of the Federation (the premiers) gathered and amid the concern over Canada-U.S. trade threats there was also some talk about improvement on interprovincial trade. They’ve decided to talk some more.
Fourteen months ago, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) handed out awards to all the provinces for reaching an agreement on the Canada Free Trade Agreement. Today, the trophies are still on display, but very little has happened. There are no clear timelines and little sense the interprovincial trade committee has set priorities, let alone rolled back any barriers.
While this national agreement appears mired down, there is no reason the Atlantic Premiers can’t take a stronger lead on this. Small business has delivered a virtually unanimous verdict on the Atlantic Provinces working together more effectively and efficiently. It’s time to just do it.
When asked in a recent survey, fully 96 per cent of business owners agreed the Atlantic Provinces should work together to find solution and cost savings in areas of shared concern.
This is not new, shelves of studies over the last 50 years say the same thing. Unfortunately, those recommendations were torpedoed by parochialism and provincial political interest. The difference today, is with an aging and shrinking population, our provinces must change the way they do business if they are going to be able to manage the strains of reduced sources of tax revenue while providing adequate public services.
While we’ve seen some progress recently, each of the provinces need to come to the table - now — with equitable resources and an equal level of consistent leadership. It’s true, each of the governments have made commitments and even passed legislation to this effect, but meaningful follow-up has been seriously lacking in some quarters.
Some of this is the result of difficult fiscal and economic priorities diverting attention away from these commitments, but people expects governments to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. If a government commits in legislation to take action, especially in area of vital economic importance, it must step up with the necessary resources, set measurable goals and take action.
CFIB released a report in June making specific recommendations to meet these commitments. In addition to political leadership and equitable resources, CFIB is asking governments to get the cooperation structure right, set and communicate clear goals, focus on the concerns of small business and publicly report results. It may be a great deal to ask, but there is a great deal at stake.
Given these recent Canada-U.S. trade issues, it’s more important than ever that internal trade restrictions are eliminated, regulations are streamlined, and Atlantic Canadian businesses don’t find themselves at a further competitive disadvantage.
One or two governments in this region cannot do this on their own. Each of the Atlantic Premiers must take this issue seriously and take responsibility for the efforts of their governments to do what is required. CFIB is not the only organization calling for these measures. A recent report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) goes so far as to recommend specific structures and provides a detailed roadmap to advance this important agenda.
The evidence is in, and it is compelling. All Atlantic Premiers must step up, show equal levels leadership, put the resources, people, and accountability measures in place to make this work for the benefit of all Atlantic Canadians.
Vice-president, Atlantic for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business