Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A measured agreement

A couple of weeks back, Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest announced a plan to negotiate some regulatory harmonization which received comment here and elsewhere. The apparent consensus then was that the deal had the potential to turn into either a TILMA-style disaster, or a relatively reasonable means of addressing the ever-overblown issue of internal trade barriers.

Today, the Financial Post's Patrick Grady offers up the anti-government view on the talks. And from his reaction, it looks somewhat more likely that the McGuinty/Charest deal will fall into the latter category - if much to the chagrin of pro-corporate ideologues across the country.

Here's Grady's attempt to criticize the Ontario/Quebec announcement:
The TILMA between British Columbia and Alberta, the new gold standard for trade deals, addressed the two key generally recognized defects of the AIT, namely its lack of coverage and its ineffective dispute-settlement mechanism. The TILMA, unlike the AIT, includes all measures that restrict or impair the movement of goods, services and labour between the two provinces unless they are specifically excluded, and not just those specifically included. The TILMA also introduced a binding dispute-settlement mechanism, with easier access for private parties and significant monetary penalties (up to $5-million). Spurred by the TILMA, the Committee on Internal Trade is now also considering introducing monetary penalties to make the AIT dispute-settlement mechanism more effective. What exactly is Ontario and Quebec proposing to do to address these deficiencies in the AIT as it affects trade between them?...

(I)n contrast with the TILMA, which tackles regulatory barriers head on, the Ontario and Quebec governments only talk of eliminating "unnecessary" barriers and express their belief that "eliminating such barriers and restrictions can and must occur simultaneously with maintaining and enhancing governments' policies for labour, environmental and consumer protection standards, health, education, culture and regional economic development." This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the need to eliminate regulatory barriers and really isn't any more ambitious than the existing AIT.
Now, it speaks volumes about Grady's dedication to the anti-regulation cause that he's willing to criticize the Charest/McGuinty deal both for recognizing that there's a difference between necessary and unnecessary regulations, and for highlighting the continued need for provincial governments to be able to govern. And the fact that Grady simultaneously describes the TILMA as his "gold standard" should offer a strong hint that the TILMA itself does nothing of the sort.

Fortunately, it seems fairly likely from Grady's commentary that Canada's most populous provinces have indeed decided that an attack on the very concept of provincial regulation isn't in the cards. And if they end up sticking to that position, then the Harper Cons will be hard-pressed to try to force the TILMA onto the two provinces most crucial to their drive for a majority.

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