That the House: (a) recognize that it is a constitutional right for Canadians to trade with Canadians; (b) re-affirm that the Fathers of Confederation expressed this constitutional right in Section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867 which reads: "All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces”; (c) recognize that the recent Comeau decision in New Brunswick creates a unique opportunity to seek constitutional clarity on Section 121 from the Supreme Court of Canada; and that therefore, the House call on the government to refer the Comeau decision and its evidence to the Supreme Court for constitutional clarification of Section 121.
Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an honour to kick off our opposition day motion on a subject that is near and dear to me, which is the subject of interprovincial trade in this great country.
Let me first take a moment to provide some background on the subject and why this is an important debate for Canadians. First, let me take members back to 1867 and our Canadian Constitution. In our Canadian Constitution, section 121 states:
All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.
To the credit of our country's founders, they not only had the foresight to understand the critical importance of internal trade to our Canadian economy, but even put it, in plain language, I might add, directly into our Constitution.
Unfortunately, over the years since 1867, many provinces, through regulatory regimes, and in some cases outright protectionism, have created barriers that hinder internal trade. In fact, it is easier for winemakers in Nova Scotia or British Columbia to sell their wine to Asia than to sell it to Ontario. This is in spite of the fact, as I often pointed out during the debate on my wine bill in the last Parliament, Bill C-311, that seven out of every 10 bottles of wine consumed in Canada are made outside of Canada. Yet provinces like Ontario refuse to get on board and support the free trade of Canadian wine.
Over time our federal predecessors realized that internal trade barriers were limiting our economic prosperity in terms of both jobs and gross domestic product growth. That is why, in 1995, which was in the era of Prime Minister Chrétien, Canada's first ministers, working with the federal government, signed the first agreement on internal trade. The stated purpose of this new agreement on internal trade was, “to foster improved interprovincial trade by addressing obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and investments within Canada”.
It was a historic, groundbreaking agreement for that time, and I will rightly credit the Liberals for the agreement occurring under their watch. I should take a step back to say that it was the Canada-U.S. agreement on free trade that caused these concerns to arise in the first place.
For the history buffs out there, of which I am one, some of the provincial premiers of the era who supported this agreement were Ralph Klein, Mike Harcourt, Gary Filmon, Frank McKenna, Clyde Wells, Jacques Parizeau, Roy Romano, and, as that was an election year in Ontario, both Bob Rae and Mike Harris.
These are prominent names, and these premiers represented the entire political spectrum, from the New Democratic Party to the Progressive Conservatives of the day.
From my work on internal trade, starting with Bill C-311 in 2011, I can say that internal trade is a very different subject for Canadians than international trade. While international trade deals are often divided between left and right on the political spectrum, when it comes to internal trade, it really comes down to right and wrong. From my experience, Canadians are hugely supportive of increased internal trade and think it is wrong that many Canadian producers can more easily access the markets of other countries than the markets of other Canadian provinces.
Let me provide an example of this that does not involve Canadian wine.
For the province of Saskatchewan, canola oil has become a significant driver of the export economy. Canola oil, which basically is a vegetable-based oil that has become an alternative for dairy products, has become known as Saskatchewan's other oil boom. Canola is considered to be the most profitable legal cash crop in our country and is part of a $15 billion a year industry in Canada. There is only one problem. In Quebec, the government decided to place restrictions on the sale of certain types of canola-oil-based products, things as common as margarine, for example.
The Quebec government of the time imposed trade barriers that were considered by many to be protectionist, given that over 40% of Canada's dairy industry is supplied by Quebec producers. Ultimately, this is where the Agreement on Internal Trade comes in. Saskatchewan challenged Quebec through the Agreement on Internal Trade process back in 2013, and in 2015, after two years of very expensive legal proceedings in Saskatchewan, it finally won the case.
I think most would agree that in today's fast-moving economy, two years in regulatory limbo is a long time. Critics of the Agreement on Internal Trade frequently reference this process as far too slow moving and extremely expensive.
Here is the good news. Everyone, including all of the provinces that first signed on to the original Agreement on Internal Trade, also agree that this now 20-year-old agreement needs to be replaced. In fact, at the Council of the Federation conference in Prince Edward Island in August 2014, the premiers not only announced that they would conclude a new agreement on internal trade but announced a deadline of March 2016 to do so.
Why did they do so? They did so because Canada's premiers recognized that internal trade is valued at $366 billion a year. That is roughly 20% of Canada's gross domestic product. These are huge numbers, and the best part is that eliminating interprovincial trade barriers would not add tons of new debt, nor would it increase the deficit budgets of governments. In fact, it is probably the most cost-effective way to increase jobs and help grow our Canadian economy. This is a point we all in this place can agree on.
What happened? We have to look to the deadline month of March 2016, the month when Canadian premiers, working with the federal government, should have been concluding an agreement on internal trade to see what happened.
We know that in March 2016, the new agreement on internal trade was derailed. We know that the Prime Minister summoned the premiers to a conference in Vancouver that month. We also know that this Vancouver meeting was not about internal trade but rather was the Prime Minister's attempt to force a national carbon pricing strategy on the premiers. That effort failed. Instead of a national agreement on a carbon pricing strategy, the only agreement we witnessed was an agreement to disagree and talk again at a future summit down the road.
Where does that leave a new agreement on internal trade? Frankly, here in this place, we do not know. We have been told that we will see something possibly in July, but already details are leaking out that a new agreement on internal trade will have all kinds of exemptions, alcohol, again, being one of them. No doubt, in today's debate, the government will use a potential new agreement on internal trade as a reason to oppose this motion, and that is not good enough to give our Canadian economy the kick-start it needs.
Fortunately, there is another way. First, let us recognize why we have so many internal trade barriers to begin with. The reality is that in many cases, over time, various interest groups have effectively lobbied successive governments of all political stripes. The purpose of this lobbying was to enact regulatory red tape that would stifle competition, limit market access, and in some cases, create monopolies. In other situations, provincial governments have directly intervened in certain industries, largely for self-serving political considerations. I know that this is a shocking revelation.
Instead of it being a political debate, which is often influenced by lobbyists, what if this were strictly a legal question? What is the constitutional right of Canadian producers to access Canadians in other provincial markets? Ultimately, I contend that this is the question we should be asking, and that is why debating this motion today is so important for this place and for our national economy.
If we can convince the government to elevate the Comeau ruling to the Supreme Court for clarification, we will be creating an opportunity to grow our economy and create jobs through increased internal trade, because it would be a constitutional right instead of a political backroom deal. If we think about it, that is what we are debating today.
What is the Comeau decision for those who may be unfamiliar? In New Brunswick, a local resident, Mr. Gerard Comeau was charged for personally importing beer and some spirits across a provincial border from Quebec. Fortunately, a New Brunswick judge, after hearing evidence regarding the original intent of section 121, the free trade provision of our constitution that I mentioned earlier, found Mr. Comeau was not guilty. Sadly, the Province of New Brunswick has decided to file an appeal.
It is for that reason we created the “free the beer” campaign. We had some fun with our “free the beer” campaign, which has been widely supported by Canadians, but let us not lose sight of what “free the beer” really means. It means asking the Liberal government to elevate the Comeau case to the Supreme Court for constitutional clarification, and to do that now, rather than waiting on further delays.
This not only has the potential to free the beer and other forms of alcohol for Canadians, but more importantly, it would open up our internal economy for all Canadian producers of a whole host of different products. This obviously includes farmers and other agricultural producers.
Imagine if buying Canadian truly meant buying from all Canadian producers in all provinces, something that in many cases we cannot do now. I submit that needs to change.
I would like to share a few quotes from the chief executive officer of Moosehead Breweries Limited. Moosehead, as some will know, is Canada's oldest independent brewery and is located in New Brunswick. When asked by the CBC on how elevating the Comeau decision to the Supreme Court would benefit the industry, the Moosehead CEO was crystal clear in response. He said:
“The sooner there's some kind of decision, the better for everyone involved,”....
He said Moosehead can compete in an open market if both tax and non-tax barriers to trade are eliminated by all provinces.
“We sell beer in all 50 states in the United States with pretty open borders and hopefully we'll get to that point in Canada soon.”
I like that last part, “hopefully we'll get to that point in Canada soon”. I hope so, as well.
How soon? Today, our Liberal government could vote yes on the motion. If it does, it would send a message that the Liberal government is committed to eliminating trade barriers and wants to help grow our Canadian economy. If the House supports the motion, members will be sending a message that growing our economy through increased internal trade is something they support.
I know the Liberal government, in particular our Minister of Finance, loves to use the talking point “grow the economy”. In fact, I found over 100 references to “grow the economy” from the finance minister alone. The motion would present an opportunity for the Liberal government to do exactly that, grow the economy through increased internal trade.
The best part is that there is little to no cost to taxpayers to remove interprovincial trade barriers, meaning the Liberals' second favourite talking point, “adding debt”, or what the Minister of Finance refers to as “investing”, is not required here. How about that? It is a debt-free way to help grow our Canadian economy. What do folks think about that?
Earlier today, the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce from the other place issued a report on the very subject of interprovincial trade. In fact, it is called “Tear Down These Walls: Dismantling Canada's Internal Trade Barriers”.
Among other findings, this report concluded that internal trade barriers reduce Canada's gross domestic product by between $50 billion and $130 billion annually. Let us think about that for a moment. That is why among other recommendations this report also supports that the federal government pursue, through the Governor in Council, a reference of section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The only question that remains is timing. When do we take action? Do we continue to wait for a new agreement on internal trade, as we have been anticipating, or do we recognize that the Comeau decision has created a unique opportunity to do so now. I think most would agree we need to take action now.
Canada could be a stronger country economically and it could be more prosperous, if we can truly harmonize our regulations to eliminate interprovincial trade barriers. Again, let us not forget that this need not be a political battle. This could well be a constitutional right for Canadians if only we dare ask.
With Canada soon celebrating our 150th birthday, the anniversary of Confederation, I can think of few better ways to celebrate from an economic perspective than strengthening our internal economy to create more access for Canadian producers.
Before I close, I would like to add a few points. Sometimes in this place motions are done for political or ideological reasons. Some motions are even crafted to appeal directly to certain interest groups or demographics. In this case, I believe that every member of this chamber has producers in their home ridings, be they farmers, small business owners, manufacturers, whoever. All of these people can benefit through supporting the motion before us.
In my view, anything we can do to help increase the accessibility of the Canadian marketplace to Canadian producers is not only helping to grow our Canadian economy, but it is also helping to grow a stronger, more united country. The Fathers of Confederation did not intend Canada to only be a political union. They intended and put it in section 121 that it is meant to be an economic union as well, yet for some reason, there are those who fear competition and increased consumer choice between provinces.
Internal trade barriers not only harm our Canadian economy, but they also stifle innovation and often give competitors outside our borders market access advantage because of our collective inaction. While we all support the notion of Canadians buying from Canadians, let us not forget that we must first remove the barriers so that Canadian-produced goods, products, and services can reach our local marketplace.
I ask all members of the House to support buying Canadian by supporting this motion to ensure we can remove barriers that stand in the way of Canadian producers. It is an opportunity that is before us. Let us grasp it together.