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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/11/2015 (1709 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Tensions are flaring between Manitoba and the New West Partnership over preferential pricing for craft breweries west of Manitoba. The consequences of this trade dispute are anything but a half pint.
The New West Partnership is consequential. The region currently covered by this trade zone (British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan) has more than nine million people with a combined GDP of more than $550 billion. It consists of four agreements, the stated goals of which are to improve competitiveness and productivity; attract business, investment and talent; support and build capacity for innovation; strengthen and diversify the economy of the region; and achieve efficiencies and cost savings.
The partnership is a "trade-enhancement agreement" under the Canadian Agreement on Internal Trade, an agreement ratified by every Canadian province in order to "foster interprovincial trade of persons, goods, services and investments within Canada." Manitoba is a signatory to the Agreement on Internal Trade. In fact, Premier Greg Selinger sits on its steering committee.
The current dispute over beer may serve as an important catalyst for Manitobans to have an informed debate over whether the province should join the New West Partnership. Since its inception in 2010, Manitoba's government has been fundamentally opposed to joining the partnership (or its predecessor, the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement). The reasons why, however, have not always been clear.
In 2010, for example, then-finance minister Rosann Wowchuk said Manitoba did not join the partnership because it was "not invited to the discussions." This would be surprising in that the Agreement on Internal Trade mandates signatories to any "trade-enhancement agreement" such as the New West Partnership must "extend an invitation to all other provinces to join (the partnership) within a reasonable period of time." In fact Saskatchewan's Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison said last week "There has always been an open invitation to Manitoba to join the partnership."
The government has even opposed entering into exploratory discussions to join the partnership, even though there is precedent that premiers can negotiate changes to the agreement to make it more palatable. Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan, for example, was opposed to joining the predecessor to the partnership because of its treatment of Crown corporation subsidies. After lengthy negotiations with B.C. and Alberta, Wall got the changes he needed, and Saskatchewan joined. The Manitoba government, on the other hand, has defeated four private member's bills introduced by Conservative MLAs that would have compelled the government to enter into such negotiations.
In response to the current dispute, Jobs and the Economy Minister Kevin Chief said it's important for Manitoba to trade with Ontario and Quebec. "In fact," he said, "we do more trade to the East than we do to the West." While that may be true, there is nothing in the partnership that prevents a member province from trading with non-partnership members. In fact, because the partnership is enacted under the Agreement on Internal Trade, the partnership is consistent with the agreement.
Moreover, Ontario and Quebec have entered into their own agreement (the Trade and Co-operation Agreement), which leaves Manitoba sandwiched between two trade partnerships that encompass almost 95 per cent of the population and economic activity in the country.
The government may have a number of legitimate reasons why it has refused to join the New West Partnership, and those reasons may or may not be persuasive. However, because the agreement is so consequential for the economic future of our province, the people of Manitoba need to engage the government more directly on why it is refusing to join this trade agreement.
Break out the Manitoba beer and let the real debate begin.
Joshua Morry is a law student at the Robson Hall Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba. His article, The New West: Bill 202 and Manitoba's Future in the New West Partnership, will be published in the Manitoba Law Journal later this month.
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