House of Commons Hansard #163 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.


Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you could make a ruling from the chair as to whether it is all right to call you Mr. Speaker while you are in the chair because Mr. Speaker is Mr. Speaker. Is it all right to address you in that manner, Mr. Speaker?

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Speaker (Lethbridge))

On the hon. member's point of order, I want to make it very clear that Mr. Speaker is Mr. Speaker and I hope the hon. member will adhere to that understanding.

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address you as the Speaker today. It is a temporary honour, but I must say you do look good in the chair.

I want to talk for a few minutes about this private member's initiative by the member for Vegreville. He has put together the essence of the Reform Party's position on internal trade barriers into one neat package.

This bill will not become law and we are not going to have a chance to vote on it. However, this bill is important because it details what we would do if we were to form the government, or perhaps I should say when we form the government.

The Reform Party says there are 10 roles the federal government must maintain and in fact should strengthen in order to encourage a strong national government. One of the areas in which it should be strong is in the ability to strike down internal trade barriers.

The federal government should be involved in 10 essential areas. If we are going to have a nation, then we have to have a strong federal government. One of areas is the ability to regulate international trade or to enter into international trade agreements. Other areas are national defence, customs, the justice system and so on. Some areas are obvious but one many people do not think about is the ability to strike down internal trade barriers. If we cannot have a common trading market in our own country, how can we keep our country together? Economic ties will help us keep this country together.

One of the disappointments has been the inability of the Liberal government to conclude an internal trade agreement. The framework agreement is there and it sounds good. We were all very excited when in 1994 the government brought forward this internal trade agreement. We supported it. We thought that good, this is what we have been saying all along. The Reform Party has been firm on this from the beginning; it never changed its view. We must have a strong ability to strike down internal trade barriers.

But what do we see? All the easy ones are done right away. It is easy to talk about a few parts of the trade agreement, but when it comes to the tough stuff, the ones which grate between provinces, look what has not been signed. There are blank pages on the energy

side. There are blank pages on the agriculture side, another contentious issue. There are blank pages when it comes to municipalities and academic institutions, the so-called MASH group. There are blank pages in the natural resources sector.

There must be a free trade zone between the provinces but the federal government allows these trade barriers to stand. What is the cost of that? A lower standard of living and less trade between provinces. It is ironic that it is sometimes easier to trade north and south, as far down as Mexico in my part of the country, than it is to have free trade between the provinces. What a sad development.

Is it any wonder that the federal government relies almost exclusively on the export market for job creation. And I do too. I love export markets. It is a great opportunity for export companies. There is a danger in that. All job growth, for example, has been in the export market. There has been no job growth in Canada of any kind in the domestic market.

What kind of a message does that send down the road? What if there is an international downturn? That can happen and will happen. It is inevitable that it happens from time to time. The country would become totally reliant on international trade. If the country still has its own trade barriers, has not developed a strong national economy and has an export based economy only, when the downturn comes it will hurt and hurt a lot. This is why the federal government should adopt the step by step proposal of the member for Vegreville on what we should enforce as our national trade policy.

They should be given another little shot at it and told to listen up. All provinces should be told that we will have a national free trade economic zone. They have agreed to it. They have the framework agreement. They have been squabbling among yourselves for three years, which is not good enough. They should be given another few months to get it settled. They should think of Canada now instead of their own neighbourhoods. They should get with it and sign it.

The second proposal would be to change the ratification formula from unanimity, which is very hard to get when they are protecting their own turf, to a formula where two-thirds of the provinces and territories representing at least 50 per cent of the Canadian population would be used to pass sections that are contentious.

Why is that important? I have talked about job creation. The member for Vegreville talked about the cost per family of some $3,500 as a result of the trade barriers and the inability to trade freely between provinces. It causes poor business decisions to be followed and endorsed by the government.

In times past a brewery would be put up in one province because it could not sell in the next one. In those kinds of decisions they felt it was better to have a company headquartered in one province and another one headquartered across the river in the next province because it helped to get jobs, grants and business influence. That should not be the case in Canada.

We should say we are a free trade zone. The labour market should move freely to where it can find work and the best jobs. We have intellectual property that travels freely between the provinces. We have standards that keep us together as a nation. We should make sure in the energy sector, a valuable part of Canada domestic trade, that there are no barriers to trade. As we enter into the North American power grid with the provinces and the Americans, one province should not be pitted against another trying to sell at a cheaper rate and undercutting.

It should not be like that. We should be free to trade energy in Canada. When we get on the international power grid there is no use back biting one another. We should work together because we are a small player in the big scheme of things. We should work to protect our agricultural industry. It is amazing to me that one of our most valuable industries, the agricultural community, does not have free trade between provinces.

I remember earlier in Parliament asking members of the Bloc Quebecois what they thought would happen if Quebec separates. What will happen to the dairy industry, one of the most important agricultural industries in the entire province of Quebec? National agreements allow for trade of milk products from coast to coast. They had better get in on the agricultural deal. If they think they will get a better deal by pulling Quebec out of the country, they should think again. The dairy farmers in my region will say if Quebec is not part of the national scheme it does not get to sell them industrial milk.

I hope Bloc members tell their farmers the truth in upcoming federal election campaign. They are far better off staying in Canada and trying to work out a good deal with all the provinces than going on their own and finding out that the butter they are shipping to British Columbia will not get past their border because we will produce our own.

I am just saying in general that it is better for those in agriculture and energy to be part of a strong national system and a strong national government that protect their rights internationally and allow them a huge trading bloc within Canada. I hope they are paying attention and are telling that to their farmers.

Overall the reason this matter is important is that it is one of the 10 key areas the Reform Party says we need to have a strong national government. We cannot weaken the federal government by taking away its ability to control the common economic market and farming it to the provinces. It is something that must be maintained in Parliament.

The ability to strike down barriers to trade is something that we will strengthen. We will take advantage of our constitutional right to do so. The federal government needs to flex its muscles a little to try to get an agreement. The provinces need to know that a Reform government will make sure the common economic market will be maintained in all of Canada.

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Jean Augustine Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to private member's Bill C-375.

The bill serves as a timely reminder of how important trade is to Canada, not only international trade but domestic trade. From its very beginnings Canada has been a trading nation. Trade is the lifeblood of the country. The well-being of all Canadians depends on our ability to create and profit from competitive trading environments, both internationally and at home.

For this reason the federal and provincial governments during 1993 and 1994 negotiated the agreement on internal trade. The purpose of the agreement was to create a framework for continuing co-operative efforts among governments to open up the domestic market.

It established a set of rules and a work program aimed at ensuring the free flow of goods, services, people and capital, and at more generally governing trade and trade disputes between provinces and territories.

The agreement on internal trade came into effect on July 1, 1995. It is no secret there are problems with the agreement. From the start the government recognized that the agreement was only a first step. We have accordingly consistently sought to bring other governments to agree to make it a more effective instrument for economic growth.

The Minister of Industry at every meeting of the committee on internal trade pressed his provincial colleagues to ensure the work mandated by the agreement was done within the deadlines set. He has repeatedly challenged the other parties to the agreement to consider seriously ways to improve both its scope and the way it operates.

Recent studies and reports by business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and by other observers have underlined many of the agreement's weaknesses. They have pulled few punches in identifying the reluctance of various provincial governments to live up to the spirit or the letter of their commitments. Most of the observers identified the decision making process of the agreement. that is its requirement for consensus as a major impediment to progress.

The bill reflects an attempt to address that issue. The intent is understandable. The bill unfortunately is neither realistic nor practical.

As most hon. members will recall, last year we considered and passed the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act which the bill proposes to amend.

The government introduced legislation in 1995 because we were then and remain today firmly committed to making the agreement work. The agreement enables the federal government to meet its obligations under the agreement on internal trade. That legislation was necessary to give the government the appropriate authority and specific tools to act within its own areas of direct responsibility.

However it is most important to recognize that the Agreement on Internal Trade Implementation Act and the agreement on internal trade are quite different and distinct instruments.

One is legislation by and for one government within its own jurisdictions and powers. The other is a collectively achieved accord on how all the government parties to it will exercise their respective powers within their own jurisdictions.

The agreement on internal trade was the outcome of a difficult process of negotiation among the federal government, the provinces and territories during 1993-94. It was, however, successful, with a consensual outcome which all the governments accepted and which all signed.

The authority of the agreement on internal trade does not derive from federal legislation. Rather, the authority of the agreement on internal trade derives from the commitments, obligations and undertakings which all governments accepted when they signed it. That is a fundamental point which the bill before us fails to recognize.

Simply put, no one party to the agreement on internal trade can on its own amend that agreement. That is what this bill is attempting to do and that is why this bill is flawed.

There are therefore two main reasons why this bill is inappropriate. First, it cannot accomplish what it wishes to do. Second, it directly conflicts with the fundamental basis on which the agreement was negotiated.

The Canadian business sector has a legitimate expectation that the agreement on internal trade should deal effectively with internal trade barriers and impediments. It has a legitimate expectation that the agreement should also deal with the burden and extra costs imposed by conflicting, overlapping and duplicate regulatory requirements. Dealing definitively with internal trade issues is not a simple task.

It is easy to read sections 91(a) and 121 of the Constitution and conclude that what is needed is bold and decisive action by the federal government; easy but simplistic and ultimately ineffective.

It is simplistic because unilateral federal action could not address some areas that are exclusively within provincial jurisdiction like labour market mobility or local government spending on subsidies and other incentives. It is ultimately ineffective because it fails to recognize how this country works best.

Permanent, practical and effective change is best achieved when based on acceptance and co-operation among government, not on the basis of legalism and coercion.

All governments in Canada must work together to ensure that the national economy is strong and efficient, producing new products, services, jobs and growth opportunities. It is important to that end that all governments be pressed to make the agreement on internal trade work better.

The agreement belongs to all its parties. Its implementation is the responsibility of all its parties, not just that of the federal government.

While I cannot support the bill before us for the reasons I have outlined, I hope its message will not be lost on other governments. This government certainly can be counted on to continue to try to co-operate and work with others to strengthen and improve the agreement on internal trade. We look to others to work with us.

This bill is not viable. It is inappropriate. It is unnecessary. It is divisive and it is poorly drafted. I stand as a member not being able to support this private member's bill.

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, there are a couple of minutes left in the hour. If I could get unanimous consent, I would like to make a couple of wrap-up remarks.

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Does the House agree?

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to make clear that this is consistent with what Reform members have said all along, that we believe in decentralization in many areas. We have talked about those over the years.

One of the Bloc members intimated in his speech that we were changing our direction. That is not true.

From the time this political party started in 1987, the leader of the party and others have said that there are certain areas where we have to strengthen the role of the federal government. The member for Fraser Valley East mentioned some of those areas. One of them is certainly the area of freeing up trade between the provinces.

Government members who have spoken recognize the need for freeing up trade and yet, curiously, they said that we do not really have to do anything to make that happen. They feel that it is just going to happen. I suggest that it will not happen. I also suggest that the Canadian Constitution allows the federal government to take a stronger role.

Agreement On Internal Trade Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The period provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to the Standing Orders, the item is dropped from the Order Paper.

It being 6.30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow, pursuant to Standing Order 24 (1).

(The House adjourned at 6.31 p.m.)