Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Past time to join New West

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Manitoba's NDP government has rejected all calls to join the New West Partnership, a working trade agreement signed by British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan that last year formed an economic zone of nine million people with a combined GDP of $500 billion. Now Ontario might be going that way.

Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak is getting his ducks in line as talk of a possible election there heats up. Mr. Hudak has announced should his party form government, it would take Ontario into the New West Partnership, making for easier access for its manufactured goods to the hot resource economies.

Under the New West Partnership agreement, B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have harmonized their trucking regulations, easing the travel of large commercial vehicles across shared borders, and have melded rules for bidding for public tenders, which by default favours firms from partner provinces in government procurement. Standardized corporate registration and regulation mean firms go through one process, not three, to operate in the provinces. Those working in trade and professional fields can find employment in any of the three jurisdictions without having to re-certify.

Further, the premiers of the New West have jointly been seeking new global markets, including in Asia, for provincial goods, services and talents.

Joining a formal partnership -- as opposed to signing on to vague memorandums of understanding or communiqués at premiers' conferences -- to remove trade barriers picks away at the protectionism that has characterized provincial regulation. Yet Manitoba's NDP government refuses to see the potential, repeatedly insisting it prefers to work nationally toward interprovincial trade harmonization and labour mobility rules.

Promoting Manitoba's best interests through a ready-made agreement that offers tangible benefits now does not preclude a national effort. The New West Partnership has opened its arms to any and all provinces who want to join.

Manitoba Tories want to see Manitoba join in the partnership. The potential of Ontario's entry to the New West, should Mr. Hudak win power, should be a wake-up call for the Selinger government. Such a union would more than double both the population and the GDP captured by the new economic zone.

Manitoba's intransigence risks isolating the province's economy from the partnership's negotiations and the evident trade benefits, within and beyond Canada's borders. Manitoba cannot afford to be seen as disinterested in economic expansion, or -- worse -- fearful of its ability to compete. Manitobans deserve a bigger vote of confidence from their NDP government. It is time Manitoba joined the New West.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 A8

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