moved that Bill C-203, an act to amend the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise to speak to my private member's bill which I believe will do an awful lot to remove barriers to trade between provinces within Canada and between businesses within a province.
I will give some background to this bill, I will speak on what Bill C-203 will do, I will talk about the importance to Canadians of implementing this bill, then I will do something very important and read from letters of support I have received from various institutions and individuals across the country.
The agreement on internal trade was passed in this House in 1994. It was signed in 1994 by this federal government and by all provinces and the territories. It came into effect in July 1995 and I took part in the debate that preceded the passing of the bill. I supported the bill. I did not think it had gone far enough, I did not think it was strong enough, but I supported many aspects of the bill as did the Reform Party. It was right to support it.
Many of our concerns were very legitimate.
The agreement came into effect in 1995, but what the agreement really did was set a timeline and a framework for future negotiations that would complete an Agreement on Internal Trade, that agreement which would remove most of the barriers to internal trade within the country.
Unfortunately, every timeline that was set in that Agreement on Internal Trade which was passed in 1995 has passed and has not been met. None of the timelines have been met. The dates that were set have passed. What we find is a situation where a piece of legislation which had good intent, which was passed by this government in 1995, has had very little positive effect on its stated purpose which was to remove the barriers to internal trade within this country. So it has not done the job.
A main part of the reason that it has not done the job is due to a couple of terms used in the agreement, particularly the term “agreement by consensus” between the provinces, the federal government and the territories, or between all provinces and the territories. This term “agreement by consensus” has been interpreted by this group to mean “unanimous consent”.
The way the provinces and the territories have been interpreting this term “agreement by consensus” is that every single province and each territory and the federal government must all agree to any change which would help complete the Agreement to Internal Trade.
My bill would remove that unanimity requirement that has been self-imposed by the board. It would instead put in place a mechanism which would require consent of at least seven provinces, including at least 50% of the Canadian population. That is a formula which is much more realistic and which will allow, I believe, the completion of this Agreement on Internal Trade. With the completion of the Agreement on Internal Trade will come removal of most of the barriers to trade within this country. I will talk a little later about the importance of that to Canadians.
Back to a little bit of background, I have had people say: “With what you are proposing”—not many, mind you; they have mostly been from the Liberal Party—“are you not letting the federal government be heavy-handed in this issue?”
In fact, that is not the case at all. It is not the case at all because again what I am saying is that only in cases where the provinces and the federal government and the territories together have not been able to reach an agreement could the federal government impose a settlement when we have had agreement of at least seven provinces, including at least 50% of the population.
Second, Bill C-203 would apply only to cases where the proposal falls within the federal legislative powers as established by the Constitution Act of 1867. That is the part of the act that relates to the interprovincial trade. Particularly, we are talking about section 91 of the BNA Act of 1867, which states that legislative authority of Parliament extends to the regulation of trade and commerce, and section 121 of the BNA Act which states that all articles of growth, produce or manufacture of any one of the provinces shall, from after the union, be permitted into each of the provinces.
Clearly, section 121 of the BNA Act says that it is the obligation of the federal government to ensure free movement between provinces. The federal government has abdicated this responsibility in particular for the last 80, 90 years and it has allowed one barrier after another, after another, after another build up so that we do not have free movement of goods in this country anymore. It has come to the point where people who run successful companies have come to me and said “It is absolutely ridiculous in this country when it is more difficult for me to move goods to another province than it is for me to do business with a company in the United States”.
I have also had people who run successful companies come to me and say “I have stayed in Canada as long as I possibly can. I want to be a Canadian. I want to do business in this country. But if I want to do business with all ten Canadian provinces and the territories, I can do it much more easily from a company based in the United States”. That is the situation we have today. It makes no sense. It is costing Canadians an awful lot of money.
I will mention some of the studies that have been done which have shown the cost to Canadians.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce stated that a 10% increase in internal trade would result in 200,000 new jobs. With unemployment hanging around 9%, those 200,000 new jobs would be very important indeed. Of course, an increase in internal trade beyond 10% would mean even more jobs.
The Fraser Institute stated that removing interprovincial trade barriers would increase family income by $3,500 a year. The average family income would increase $3,500 a year.
The Canadian Manufacturers' Association stated that removing these barriers to internal trade would mean $6 million to $10 million more being put into the Canadian economy. That would have a huge impact.
I know I only have five minutes remaining, so I am going to skip over some of the things I was going to cover. However, I am going to refer to two studies which I believe must be referred to when we are talking about the complete lack of success of the agreement on internal trade that was passed in 1995.
A federal study leaked last May found that the agreement on internal trade only addresses 13% of the thousands of interprovincial trade barriers faced by the 50 companies who were taking part in this government survey. The study found that 56% of the trade barriers could be addressed if the agreement were completed. Only 13% had been removed, but 56% of the barriers would be removed if the agreement were completed.
We have to wonder why this government has not been more serious about removing these barriers. Surely that alone should indicate that this government should implement this bill. If it does not like the bill exactly as it is, then I say “Go ahead. Make the changes that you want to make to it, but put in place legislation which will implement the agreement on internal trade”. It is too important to Canadians to ignore.
Last spring the Canadian Federation of Independent Business asked their members the following question: Should the federal government take steps to ensure that the provisions of the agreement on internal trade are enforced without further delay? Of those who responded, 58% said yes, 21% were undecided, 10% were not interested in the issue and only 11% said no. When asked a question which directly relates to my private member's bill, only 11% said “No, don't do that”. Fifty-eight per cent said “Yes, and do it quickly”.
I would like to refer to some letters of support which I received from important groups in Canada.
The first letter comes from the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce. This letter is dated November 3, 1997. I sent a letter to a couple of dozen key institutions across the country and asked them if they would write a letter of support specifically for my private member's bill.
This letter is from John Winter, president of the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce. It reads: “The British Columbia Chamber of Commerce would like to commend you on your initiative to improve trade opportunities within Canada. Much has been made of the success Canadian businesses enjoy in a free trade environment within North America, and the opportunity to improve trade conditions in Canada is overdue. We support you in your efforts and wish you much success in passing An Act to amend the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act.” That is the title of my bill.
That is from the British Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
From the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Catherine Swift, CEO, a letter written November 4, 1997 in response to that same letter: “Thank you for your recent letter on Bill C-202, an act to amend the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act. Small and medium size businesses in Canada have long supported the elimination of internal trade barriers and welcome your initiative on this matter.
“In your letter, you cited CFIB's recent mandate ballot survey which showed that 58% of the respondents supported the federal government ensuring that provisions to the agreement on internal trade are enforced without further delay.
“I have attached the full text of the question as well as two earlier member votes on related topics to your information.
“Please be assured that Canada's small businesses are supportive of your initiatives in this area”.
From the C.D. Howe Institute, I want to make clear up front that this letter is from Daniel Schanen, a real expert in this area. He does say, and I want to get to this first: “Our mandate as an independent institute does not allow us to support or disapprove of particular bills”. But the rest of his letter goes on to show strong support for the initiative that I have taken through this piece of legislation.
They also expressed the importance of the barriers to internal trade being removed in this country. So many of the letters really stressed their disappointment in the lack of action on the part of this government when it came to making some progress on implementing the agreement on internal trade, finishing the deal so that we have barriers to trade reduced and eliminated in this country.
We have the information from studies on the importance of removing these barriers to internal trade. The industry minister has stated on several occasions that he thinks this is an important issue.
I guess I have to ask why this same industry minister who again and again has stressed the importance has said, and I have a quote here on that, that maybe it is time that the federal government went beyond what it proposed to really do what it has a right to do and ensure that this deal is completed.
Every single province and every territory in this country said that if the agreement on internal trade is passed, the people of their provinces would be better off.
That confirms the information that has been received from studies and from the responses I have received from the letters I have sent out on this bill.
I appreciate the time given to me to present my bill and to make some key points on it. I look forward to the debate from other members on this bill.