By Nigel Hannaford

It wasn’t that long ago when it was easier to buy Moosehead beer in the U.S. than it was in Canada, except in the Maritimes where it was made. For years, provincial regulations limited brewers to provinces where they had plants. Moosehead had breweries in Dartmouth, N.S., and in Saint John, N.B., and that’s where they could sell it. There, that is, and in the U.S. Now Moosehead is available in Calgary.

It seems bizarre but this was the reality of interprovincial trade in beer; it still the same in many other things.

One of those is labour. Although there has been some progress in the mutual recognition of trade qualifications among Canadian provinces, much remains to be done in the professions.

Thus when Human Resources Development Minister Jane Stewart suggested this week that those bodies which qualify as trades and professionals should expedite approval of migrants from other countries, one’s first reaction is Canada should fix its own interprovincial issues first. Why make it easier for somebody from outside before we achieve seamless portability of labour between the provinces?

Labour is, of course, a provincial jurisdiction, and Stewart’s suggestions are exactly that, suggestions. There is also broad agreement with her contention that the country faces a shortage of labour. To that extent, she was addressing a real problem. Still, there are many things Canada can do.

One of the most significant lies well within the federal reach, a reform of Employment Insurance regulations. Sadly, not every unemployed person actually wants to work. This is easy to forget in Alberta; people come here to work, rather than to avoid it. Elsewhere in the country though, notably where communities have historically depended upon cyclical resource industries, EI has evolved into a way of life. The culture has become one of getting in the required number of work weeks, then drawing the dole for the rest of the year.

As long as people can get by in this manner, some will choose to do so. Brian Lee Crowley of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies recently addressed a meeting of the newly formed Laissez-Faire Society in Calgary; there he related how in Halifax, for instance, employers find it hard for this very reason to keep permanent employees in a part of the country with a high unemployment rate.

It is the same in New Brunswick, says Nancy Hughes-Anthony, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

This is not a slur on easterners. People act in their own best interest and if Ottawa makes EI the best deal, accepting it is a rational choice.

On the other hand, it evidently removes people from the workforce, rather than accomplishing its original purpose, which was to tide them over between jobs. From the country’s point of view, this is not rational.

The second involves the rationalization of qualifications across provincial lines. Hughes-Anthony relates by way of example that funeral embalmers have to recertify for each separate province. Goodness knows why. It’s hardly a matter of life and death.

Many more urgent professions find the same though: Lawyers, physicians, and physiothrerapists, for instance, all have to recertify when they change jurisdictions. The process is not always difficult, but the obstacles are there.

In the trades at least, some good work has been done. Canada recognizes 214 apprenticeable trades, according to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. Of those, the 44 which represent the largest number of workers have negotiated interprovincial standards, so their qualifications are recognized coast to coast.

In 1995, Ottawa and the provinces signed the Agreement on Internal Trade, which covered a variety of products and issues, including labour mobility. By July 1, this year, the professions and trades were supposed to have removed irrelevant considerations such as residency from their qualification procedures and to be focused purely on competence. This process is not complete.

The group monitoring the AIT meets again in Winnipeg, this August. If true mobility of labour between the provinces is to be a reality, the rest of the country has to catch up to Alberta; 46 of the province’s 51 qualification bodies have reached common standards with their counterparts in other provinces. Not all other provinces are so advanced.

Until there are common standards for Canadians, it doesn’t make much sense to encourage these bodies to loosen up intake procedures for immigrants. What a bizarre old country it would be, if the Moosehead syndrome lived on and it was easier for a foreign trade or professional to work in Alberta, than somebody from Nova Scotia.

Nigel Hannaford can be reached at 235-7135 or by e-mail at: hannafordn@theherald.southam.ca