When it comes to the question of how to increase trade within Canada, Premier Dennis Fentie says one thing and does another.
This will come as good news to Yukon contractors, and bad news to anyone who takes Fentie literally.
Ask his thoughts on removing trade barriers and Fentie speaks like a true free-market enthusiast.
“Protectionism is a folly and leads jurisdictions to what I would call very serious consequences,” Fentie told reporters last month, fresh from a meeting in Montreal with fellow premiers on the economic downturn.
“This country preaches free trade and free enterprise. In many cases, jurisdictions don’t practise it because of protectionism,” he said. “It not only creates impediments, it drives the cost of business upwards. It actually costs the taxpayers of the country more to get the same thing.”
His remark was prompted by a discussion he had with his counterparts on the importance of tearing down trade barriers between Canadian jurisdictions.
There’s a push underway to remove these internal trade barriers in advance of a proposed trade deal with the European Union.
Currently, it’s easier to move goods and services between countries within the EU than to do so between provincial and territorial boundaries in Canada.
Fentie has pledged Yukon will do its part by coming into full compliance with part of the Agreement on Internal Trade that deals with labour mobility by April of 2009.
Labour mobility means a welder from Yukon should be able to work on the oilsands projects of Alberta, or anywhere else in the country, without fear that his professional credentials may not be recognized.
Or, as Fentie puts it: “A welder is a welder is a welder, wherever in this country.”
But Yukon will continue to give preferential treatment to Yukon firms and workers when the territory awards contracts.
To a hard-headed economist, this preferential treatment is also a barrier to trade.
So, does Fentie the free-marketeer support preferential treatment of local firms?
“I disagree with preferential treatment. That’s not what it’s all about,” he said.
Maximizing profits and getting the best value with taxpayers’ money is what matters most, he said.
Yet Yukon has negotiated big loopholes in the internal trade deal that permit the territory to continue treating local contractors one way, and Outside contractors another way.
Had it not, the territory would be required under the deal, which was signed by all provinces and territories in 1994, to treat all companies equally.
But, as it stands, local companies continue to be more equal than Outside ones.
Contact John Thompson at email@example.com.