Monday, November 26, 2007

On regulatory measures

The CP reports that Ontario and Quebec have reached an agreement to negotiate regulatory harmonization. And it'll be interesting to see whether the move by Canada's most populous provinces sounds a death knell for the spread of the TILMA, or instead signals that the Charest government is giving in on the fight to preserve provincial autonomy:
Quebec and Ontario signed an agreement Monday to start talks to remove interprovincial trade barriers in an effort to help businesses - especially the struggling manufacturing sector - but the federal government needs to do "its share," said Premier Jean Charest.

Charest and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to begin negotiating an accord to strengthen the economies of both provinces by eliminating red tape and unnecessary regulations, saying provinces need to work together to meet global challenges...

Under the new deal, negotiators will look at harmonizing regulations that govern everything from the weight of trucks to health-care professions to find ways of making it easier for companies to operate in both Quebec and Ontario in hopes of increasing the $70 billion a year in trade between the two provinces.
Now, two major caveats are in order with the announcement. First, the issue of "internal trade barriers" doesn't deserve even a small fraction of the attention it's received over the past year and a half. And second, the last agreement which was announced to involve negotiation as to harmonized standards turned out to have far more damaging effects.

Indeed, there's some dangerous language even in the article: the contemplated "accord" could well signal that the intention is to negotiation a TILMA-type agreement rather than the actual standards in question. And it remains to be seen whether the public announcement is as deceptive as the one regarding the TILMA was last year.

That said, there's some reason to think today's announcement could nonetheless offer reasonably good news.

After all, the concept of harmonizing regulations makes plenty of sense as long as it's carried out with the goal of ensuring mutually effective standards - not the goal of gutting regulation entirely as is implicit in the TILMA. And the willingness of Ontario and Quebec to at least alert the public to their plans makes for far more transparency than the TILMA signatories ever offered.

Moreover, the federal Cons have made clear that they're willing to impose drastic measures on the provinces to try to ensure that trade takes precedence over all else. And while giving in to Harper's wishes to any extent is seldom an effective strategy for long, it may be that the willingness of Quebec in particular to negotiate some regulatory standards later will help to avoid the Cons going nuclear while the Libs don't dare to oppose them.

Update: Erin has more.

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