Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba's isolation must end

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When dealing with the issue of Manitoba's economic and population growth, the old maxim "good fences make good neighbours" doesn't apply.

Over the past decade, Manitoba's neighbours have created free-trade agreements among themselves. Like good neighbours, they have decided to tear down fences in order to work together to increase their properties' values.

Unfortunately for Manitoba, our neighbours to the west and to the east have both decided to leave their fences up around us.

Their agreements have isolated Manitoba from the country's biggest and most valuable markets.

I refer to the New West Partnership signed in 2010 between Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. and the 2009 Trade and Co-operation Agreement between Ontario and Quebec. These agreements strengthen the provincial economies through regulatory harmonization, lower trade barriers and creating a single investment market.

This week marks the two-year anniversary of the New West Partnership, and the recent Statistics Canada population numbers from the 2011 census showed the great impact that being left out of this partnership has had on Manitoba.

It was no surprise that Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan lead in provincial growth. While Manitoba posted positive growth numbers, it still fell below the national average. We were even behind recession-plagued Ontario in terms of growth.

The impact on Manitoba businesses is twofold. First, they are faced with higher costs to enter these markets in Canada's richest provinces.

Second, they also find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in relation to firms in these markets because their regulatory schemes are not harmonized.

Does it seem logical that a publishing house in Manitoba is able to do business freely and competitively internationally and in all 50 states in the United States but faces government-sponsored barriers in Canada?

Current protectionist policies in Ontario and Quebec mean publishers printing in Manitoba are unable to compete in these two provinces.

This policy alone is estimated to cost publishing $3 million a year.

Interprovincial free trade has been on the radar for years and its economic impact should not be underestimated. The government of Alberta estimates these internal trade barriers are costing Canadians $14 billion a year. This $14 billion in economic activity would go a long way in providing governments with the revenues needed for social services and paying down debt.

Being isolated from the regional trade agreements not only increases the costs of doing business in Manitoba, it also causes our businesses to miss opportunities.

Through the New West Partnerships, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have been on international trade missions, opened a joint trade and investment office in Shanghai, and signed a memorandum of agreement to expand the reach of the region's energy sector into the lucrative Asian market.

The reality is that for the provinces already part of these regional trade agreements, the exclusion of Manitoba doesn't matter. For Manitoba, however, it does.

It is imperative that the provincial government take action on this issue. This means doing more than paying lip service to developing an internal trade agreement for the entire country.

Manitoba should take concrete action to liberalize trade within the province and make every possible attempt to join the New West Partnership as a first step towards attaining a truly national trade agreement.

These trade deals leave Manitoba like the only unrenovated house in the gentrified neighbourhood. If Manitoba wants to increase its value, it must improve and upgrade the property.

Originally from La Broquerie, Patrick Boily is currently completing his master's degree in public and international affairs at the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2012 A11

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