Kings-Hants MP: Region should follow example of western provinces in setting up binding deal

The Maritimes need a regional free trade agreement that holds harsh penalties for provinces that don’t play along, says MP Scott Brison.

Such a system would force provinces to merge their standards and regulations, and potentially enforce millions of dollars in penalties against a province that refuses to collaborate.

Brison, the Liberal MP for Kings-Hants, says Maritime provinces have only taken baby steps toward regional co-operation because it’s always been voluntary.

In a speech Friday to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Halifax, Brison said the region needs to follow the example of Western Canada.

British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are about to finish implementing the New West Partnership Trade Agreement. Essentially, it’s a free trade deal among the provinces, guaranteeing goods can flow freely and professional workers can move their jobs within the region.

It also prevents provinces from subsidizing companies to try to lure business away from a neighbour.

Provinces caught breaking the agreement without a reasonable excuse can be fined up to $5 million.

Brison said the non-binding agreements in Eastern Canada, by contrast, have failed to produce results.

“Until we get serious with a binding agreement with real penalties for non-compliance, we will continue to tinker as opposed to making significant progress,” Brison said in an interview Friday.

“Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan do not face the fiscal and economic challenges that we do in the Maritimes, but they had enough vision to move forward with the New West Partnership.”

Like with international trade agreements, a separate board would be set up to enforce the agreement. In the New West Partnership, each province appoints one minister to a board that ensures the agreement is being honoured.

Disputes are settled by a panel of administrators appointed by the provinces.

Brison said Eastern Canada should go farther than the western provinces, such as merging liquor commissions, bulk-buying health equipment and having education departments work together on technology and research.

He warned the audience at the Westin Nova Scotian that if the region didn’t make choices now to save costs and grow its economy, tough choices will be forced upon it soon.

“We sign free trade agreements with other countries, why not have free trade between our provinces, for God’s sake.”