The territorial government has rejected a controversial trade pact, saying it’s redundant and that its potential effects remained unclear even after a thorough review.
Thursday, the Yukon announced it would not sign the Alberta-BC Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.
The territory doesn’t need to sign when it is already part of the 1995 Agreement on Internal Trade, a similar trade pact that includes all provinces and territories.
And the financial and legislative consequences of signing on to TILMA are uncertain, according to the government.
“Any issues around internal trade or inter-provincial barriers — and what those are is still unclear — is best solved with AIT,” said Yukon Federation of Labour president Alex Furlong.
The federation has run a Stop TILMA campaign since October.
It argued the trade pact is a bad deal for the Yukon and will take away the democratic rights of governments to enact legislation and make policies.
TILMA demands “no obstacles” block the movement of investments, goods and people between signatories, and requires the elimination of incentives and regulations, to create a competitive atmosphere for business.
Removing trade barriers would make it easier for labourers to relocate and businesses to invest outside of their home provinces, say proponents of the agreement.
“Not many people knew about TILMA or what it meant until the public campaign started,” said Furlong.
“This is a win for democracy and Yukon citizens are better protected today because of it.”
Saskatchewan rejected the deal last summer for similar reasons.
Alberta and BC have used the agreement since April 2007.
TILMA includes a ‘lowest common denominator’ condition that reconciles laws of signatories to the least restrictive ones.
The government was unsure how that could affect unique legislation such as the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
“One of the challenges associated with joining TILMA included possible difficulties implementing the recommendations of (YESAB),” according to the government.
Governments can be assessed penalties of up to $5 million if they violate the deal.
These fines are binding.
The government had a problem with the “large costs associated with the dispute resolution” process.
The Agreement on Internal Trade already addresses the issues that TILMA attempts to fix, said Andrea Buckley assistant deputy minister, corporate planning and economic policy in Economic Development.
That makes TILMA redundant, and negotiating the territory’s way into the trade pact would be a waste of resources and money, she added.
TILMA may not have solved any problems if the territory did agree to it, anyway.
“In the Yukon, there are not really any issues TILMA would have solved for us,” said Buckley.
“Any potential problems are things being worked on within the AIT process.”
TILMA lists the industries, business sectors and professions exempt from its provisions.
In the Agreement on Internal Trade everything listed is subject to its provisions.
“If it’s not there it’s in under TILMA and, under AIT, it’s completely the opposite,” said Buckley.
“That provides a lot of certainty for small jurisdictions like us.”
Also, Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon will assume the chair of the Committee on Internal Trade in December.
As chair, he can set the agenda and lead discussions, giving Yukon issues a prominent role at the meetings, said Buckley.
Alongside the federation’s campaign, ran one established by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
It brought up Alberta and BC officials who’ve negotiated TILMA for an informational forum.
The Agreement on Internal Trade is getting stronger so TILMA is unnecessary, said chamber president Rick Karp.
“If that strengthening continues, it’s a good thing,” he said.
“TILMA forced governments to look closely at AIT and tweak it.”
Negotiating a new trade pact is costly and the Agreement on Internal Trade already has the backing of all provinces and territories, said Karp.
That agreement is good because it already exists, he said.
He said provisions like the dispute-resolution process and penalties should be included in a fine-tuned agreement.
And with Kenyon as the chair, the Yukon is in a good position to negotiate beneficial provisions, added Karp.
Economic Development led the government review, soliciting views from other departments.
As part of its internal review, the government also sought input from the Council of Yukon First Nations, Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Yukon Communities, and the Yukon Indian Development Corporation.