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Canadian free trade is here—but there is still work to do

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After years of CFIB’s advocacy, the Canadian Free Trade Agreement came into effect on July 1, 2017! This was a great gift to the country on the 150th anniversary of Confederation, but there is a lot of work to be done before trade barriers actually fall.

We have fought for you on this issue since 2008, when we started calling for a new internal free trade agreement. We are now happy to see that the provinces and territories have taken important steps in this direction.

l’édition spéciale du prix Coupe-paperasse d’or

Laura Jones and Monique Moreau from CFIB present the Special Edition Golden Scissors Award to the Trade ministers in recognition of the CFTA

Premiers taking up our red tape challenge

For Red Tape Awareness Week 2018, we challenged the premiers to address three key pain points right away to take CFTA from words to action. We recommended:

  • A common corporate registry, so you don’t need to register one business multiple times in different provinces.
  • Aligning regulations for wide-load transportation, to eliminate cases where a difference of inches can cost you thousands of extra dollars.
  • Recognizing more trade and professional certifications from other provinces, so elevator technicians and dental hygienists, for instance, can work in different provinces without having to get re-certified.

We also recommended:

  • Mutually recognizing food inspections so you don’t need to meet two sets of requirements for the same product.
  • Improving mutual recognition of Worker’s Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety to eliminate contradictory or confusing regulations.

At a meeting of the Council of the Federation in July, the premiers announced that they would tackle many of the issues raised by CFIB, including corporate registries, meat inspections and occupational health & safety! You can find the full list here.

While this is a good first step, we will keep pushing the provinces to take concrete actions to make sure these trade barriers come down. 

The provinces also loosened some of the regulations around transporting alcohol across provincial borders, suggesting the premiers recognize how archaic some of our internal trade barriers are. Unfortunately, this only affects consumers, meaning more work needs to be done to ensure businesses can freely access markets across Canada.

What it means today

Since the CFTA came into effect on July 1, 2017, a few things have become easier. It should be easier to bid on government contracts across the country, and to hire workers from other provinces and territories. 

A “Regulatory Reconciliation and Cooperation Table” or RCT was also created when the agreement was implemented. This is a tool for the provinces and territories to align their regulations and eliminate barriers, taking concrete actions to help you do business across provincial boundaries.

Supreme Court case puts onus on provinces

The Comeau case was based on a New Brunswick retiree, Gerald Comeau, who was fined for purchasing alcohol in Quebec and transporting it over the border between the two provinces. He challenged the fine and his case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. This case had major implications not just for alcohol, but for Canadian free trade in general. 

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Comeau. The court’s decision does push the needle in the right direction, but it does not completely address the barriers that continue to exist between the provinces. Now it is up to the provinces to come up with a solution to eliminate these barriers through channels such as the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, which had established the Alcoholic Beverages Working Group.

How you can help

We’re only going to see action on this if the premiers know how regulations affect your business. We want to hear your horror stories of red tape, endless phone calls and indecipherable regulations.

Here are some examples members have shared with us in the past:

We had a considerably hard time bringing fresh goods like SUSHI into the NWT. This is because our supplier only has a provincial licence, and cannot ship across borders. I agree with food safety, but does it need to be to this degree?
Grocery Store, Northwest Territories

Worker's Compensation requirements vary for every province & territory. Our small company has to keep 7 provincial/territorial WCB policies open. We often only work a day or two in each jurisdiction. About 8 hours are required for each of the 8 bureaucratic (and different) administrators.
Airport Assessment Company, Alberta