Wednesday, December 27, 2006

First shots

The good news is that it now seems clear that the TILMA's reach won't extend beyond B.C. and Alberta without some serious public debate. The bad news is that the National Post is now looking to hijack that debate by cheerleading for the agreement (or at least its own highly selective assessment of what the TILMA involves).

To see just how far off base the Post's coverage is, here's the article's take on what TILMA is supposedly intended to address:
Interprovincial trade barriers generally take the form of non-tariff barriers. For instance, trades people in one province are discouraged from moving and working in another without passing through myriad hoops; out-of-province firms are often prohibited from bidding on contracts tendered by the provincial government, because the rules say governments can use only local enterprises; and beer and spirits from one province may not be widely available in another due to guidelines that favour local firms.

Perhaps one of the most notable barriers is the requirement in Quebec that margarine and butter cannot be the same colour.
Now, if the TILMA were in any way limited to such commercial barriers, there would be a far more reasonable case to be made for it. Though it hardly seems that margarine-colour regulations are a particularly pressing issue in any event - and as noted by the article, the labour-mobility issues included in the TILMA are already being addressed through another provincial process.

But the reality is that nothing in the agreement itself limits its scope to commercial regulation. Instead, the TILMA presumptively classifies all government "measures" as illegitimate and subject to punishment to the extent that they could possibly affect interprovincial trade. Which makes it far more understandable if some provinces are "intransigent" (to use the article's ever-neutral wording) about the possibility of signing over their ability to govern.

Of course, there was never much doubt that any debate about the TILMA was going to include an awful lot of dubious information and obfuscation. And indeed, today's article only represents the second distinct type of spin that's been placed on the TILMA to mask its true contents (since apparently even the Financial Post wouldn't buy the initial claim that the TILMA would result in standardization to the higher applicable standard).

Which makes it essential that each new set of falsehoods be met with a strong dose of reality before it can spread too far as conventional wisdom. And hopefully, the end result will be to push Canada's less anti-government provinces toward agreements which produce all the benefits of the TILMA without the unnecessary straitjacket on government action.

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