Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to talk about another important issue, one about which I believe Canadians in all regions of our country would be concerned, and that is the issue of trade. Whether internal trade or external trade, it delivers the type of lifestyle we have known over the years and have come to expect going forward.
I want to begin my comments by talking about this whole change in attitude, which I believe has been significant. We need to realize that this is about Canada's middle class. It is about the creation of jobs. It is about consumers wanting more choice and seeing costs going down where they can. It is about allowing businesses to expand, thereby creating jobs. It is about mobility. We want employees to feel they have choices as to whether they want to live in my home province of Manitoba, or in Nova Scotia, or in British Columbia, or anywhere in between or up north.
This is a very important debate. I disagree with the motion and will vote against it . However, this is not to underplay the importance of this debate. Our Prime Minister and the ministers of this government have been fairly clear from the outset. This goes back to shortly after the election when the cabinet was put in place and instructions were given by the Prime Minister. We are entering a new era, one in which we recognize the valuable contributions that others have to play in making good, sound government policy.
I say that specifically with reference to the need for consultation and working with the different stakeholders. The greatest way to achieve interprovincial trade and take down barriers is by working with the different stakeholders, including our provinces, territories and our indigenous people, businesses, labour groups and others that have a vested interest in this very important issue.
I believe in my soul that trade is absolutely critical. A number of Conservatives have talked about external trade. We even had one member reference to 43 agreements in the last number of years under the Conservative Party. That is a bit misleading in the sense that one of those agreements included 28 countries, and that agreement was kind of going off the track. However, we were able to get it back on track when our minister went to Europe to build that consensus. Who knows what will ultimately happen with the trans-Pacific partnership. However, our government has made a commitment to work and consult, and we will do that and see what happens on that front.
The point is that external trade is of critical importance to all of us. We have a very progressive and proactive government that has the capability to do so much more on the international scene. I look forward to where we might go in the years ahead.
However, when we talk about internal trade, I will go back to the instructions that were given by the Prime Minister's Office with respect to working with our provincial, territorial and indigenous counterparts to make a difference.
Let us look at the Conservative motion.
The Conservatives seem to want to focus their attention strictly on the court ruling on Comeau, about the purchasing of a considerable amounts of alcoholic beverages. It is something I personally do not necessarily partake in. I am told I already talk too much, and if I engaged in that, I might not stop talking for some time. However, this incident is about a consumer who purchased alcohol in one province and brought it back to his province, and it ended up in court. I understand the purchase was for personal consumption. The case is now being appealed. Based on that appeal, the Conservative Party has brought forward this motion.
I will not read the entire motion, but I will focus on what the Conservatives are asking us to do, which is to take the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada for an interpretation. They are basing this on part (b) of their motion, which states:
(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”;
If we look at the Constitution Act of 1867, section 91(2) both supports and takes away from the argument that the sponsor of the motion has put forward. The Constitution Act of 1867, under section 91(2), gives the federal government jurisdiction over the regulation of trade and commerce, which includes the power to legislate with respect to interprovincial trade and commerce.
However, we need to also look at section 92(13), which gives the province jurisdiction over property and civil rights, and regulations which often impact intra-provincial and interprovincial trade, and other areas that are not exclusively assigned by the Constitution to one level of government.
It is the issue of the division of power that has to be taken into consideration. It has historically been seen to require a collaborative approach to government in addressing many aspects of interprovincial trade and commerce. In fact, the Council of the Federation had announced its intention to comprehensively renew the Agreement on Internal Trade, with an initial focus on government procurement, goods, services, investments, technical barriers to trade, and regulatory co-operation.
These are all very important aspects of the Constitution, even going beyond the Constitution, that we have to take into consideration when we talk about public policy. This is why I had indicated this earlier in my question for the New Democrats. When we look at what is being requested of us through this motion, I do not believe it is appropriate for us, at least at this point in time, to make reference to the issue going to the Supreme Court of Canada. In fact, the Council of the Federation, the premiers, territories, and others have expressed intentions to do what they can to modernize it.
I appreciate modernizing the Agreement on Internal Trade. I appreciate the fact that the member across the way did provide us a bit of a historical perspective. He made reference to the Constitution, but he also made reference to a very significant event, which was the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade. This is what we have been talking about so far today.
I was elected to the Manitoba legislature in the 1980s and went through the 1990s. I was very much a part of the discussion on the free trade agreement. I can appreciate why we had this push for an internal trade agreement, which really might have started toward the late 1980s, because whether it was through technology or the issue of trade at the time, there was a heightened sense of public awareness through the media. I can recall the debate that went on. It was something to the effect of how it was that we could have freer trade with America but have more trade barriers within our own country. People were generally concerned about it.
I remember the news stories a few years earlier about a local bus manufacturing company, New Flyer Industries, which is still here today. It was not able to compete in another provincial jurisdiction, yet most of its contracts were actually going to the United States. I do not think that point, along with many others, was lost when we were having the whole trade debate during the late 1980s and early 1990s. For the common person, including me, it was hard to understand why we did not see a more proactive and progressive approach in trying to deal with those interprovincial trade barriers.
They are still there today. The former Conservative speaker seemed to give the impression that in fact those barriers are growing. I do not know if I concur with that. I would like to think that is not the case. I suggest the member should examine this, whether through a standing committee or by writing to the ministers and highlighting the areas of that growth he believes might be taking place, or other means. I would like to think those barriers are coming down more and more. In the minds of many it could never be fast enough, but we need to recognize it.
I was a provincial politician for many years. One of the Conservative members across the way spoke on the issue. Excuse me for not knowing the riding offhand, but he was also a member of the Quebec legislature for many years. We understand. When one has had the opportunity to serve in a provincial legislature, one develops a fairly good understanding of why these barriers are in place today. There are provincial and territorial entities that have a vested interest in trying to ensure that the regions they represent are being taken care of, and sometimes we might go a little too far in terms of the protective measures.
I will use a budgetary measure as an example, because it is very easy for people to understand this one. I recall a provincial budget that came out where we wanted to promote to people to purchase hybrid cars. We wanted to reduce fossil fuels, so the government said it would give a $2,000 tax break if they purchased a hybrid car. Interesting enough, there were some limitations on that. They had to purchase the car in the province of Manitoba.
I will use the Toyota Prius as an example because at the time I raised the issue. I said that the consumer was not really getting a break because a better deal could be had on the car in Edmonton than in the city of Winnipeg, even with the $2,000 tax credit. Many people have taken advantage of that, but from a consumer's point of view this was found to not make sense. From a provincial perspective on something of that nature or a regulatory nature, it does have a negative impact, a negative perception, and a negative reality.
What can we do? The Red Seal program is an excellent example, where many workers through an interprovincial standards program are able to have more mobility. This applies to cooks, electricians, welders, roofers, many different professions. We are seeing more movement in that direction in terms of getting individuals certified. Mobility is an important issue when we are talking about interprovincial barriers.
Regulations are critical. Harmonizing regulations has the potential to generate millions in extra economic activity for our country and all of us will benefit under that. Harmonizing regulations would allow businesses in all regions of our country to expand. Dealing with those regulations and finding commonality and promoting and incorporating, that alone can add phenomenal value to Canada's economy. By doing that we are strengthening our economy. By strengthening our economy and with good, sound government policy, we are enhancing Canada's middle class and we all win. Consumers will benefit.
Whether it is a reduction in consumer price or an increase in consumer choice, there is a great deal in terms of benefit. We should look at ways to allow the better movement of goods, services, and investments. We need to look at ways to encourage labour mobilization. We need to take down barriers and allow a free flow of merchandise while at the same time recognizing that the best way to achieve this is not necessarily by taking it through the courts but by working collaboratively with our provincial, territorial, and indigenous counterparts. That is the best way to achieve what the opposition motion wants to achieve.
If both New Democrats and Conservatives would recognize the value of consultation and co-operation with the stakeholders I just listed and became a part of this government's plan to marginalize the problems with internal provincial trade, then all of Canada would benefit in every way.
As much as we want to talk about international trade, there is so much more that we could do about internal trade barriers between the provinces and territories.
If we continue the course that the minister talked about earlier today, that this government has talked about in terms of working in co-operation, then we will in fact have the desired outcome of having reduced the number of barriers that are there, and all Canadians will benefit by that.