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Provincial 'free trade' deal an embarrassment

We could probably do nicely without provinces. Replacing them with 80 or 100 regional commissions could do very well.

We could probably do nicely without provinces. Replacing them with 80 or 100 regional commissions could do very well.

One benefit would be getting rid of the notion of parliamentary sovereignty that has an unfortunate effect on provincial legislatures.

The trappings of cabinet government give too much power to people who can't handle it, and provide too much of an excuse for secrecy in the conduct of public business.

Provincial legislatures waste a lot of time on largely ceremonial procedures.

And question periods have become a standing joke; they have turned into highly manipulated theatre with little attempt to ask real questions or answer them sincerely.

One of the worst effects of sovereign status is the subtle encouragement to use provincial authority in ways that frustrate ordinary people across the country. The longstanding prohibitions against transporting beer, wine and liquor across provincial borders are only a superficial irritation compared with many others.

Provincial leaders recently announced a Canadian “free trade agreement” to go into effect on July 1.

They appeared to expect praise. They ought to have been ashamed instead.

After 150 years as a country are we supposed to be grateful that provincial governments have moved to reduce (but not eliminate) barriers to free movement of goods and services across provincial borders?

The barriers should never have existed in the first place. Most of what provinces have done since 1867 has grown out of slick twisting of laws.

The Canadian Constitution gives the federal Parliament exclusive jurisdiction over “the regulation of trade and commerce.”

The section on revenues and taxation says: “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.”

That should have been plain. Provincial governments have instead adopted the attitude that moving across borders free of customs duties does not imply any right to move across borders free of other hindrances, or even a right to cross borders at all.

Why did they make concessions now? Because of the new Canada-Europe trade agreement. The spectacle of trade with Europe being potentially freer than trade within Canada forced the provinces to make changes.

What should have been an embarrassment has not prevented provincial politicians from being obstreperous in other ways.

Among the most obvious is resistance to new or expanded oil and gas pipelines. The opposition New Democrats in British Columbia have gone into a May election campaign promising to fight expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to the Vancouver area. That's so stupid that Alberta's New Democrat premier has barred her political staff from helping fellow New Democrats campaign on the other side of the Rockies.

Whatever anyone thinks about climate change, it's a perversion to say that provinces have a right to block the transportation of goods produced in other provinces. Claims about safety are red herrings. British Columbians seem to have no problem driving vehicles with tanks of flammable and explosive liquid supplying fuel for their engines. They have no problem heating homes with highly explosive natural gas.

They can't even manage logical consistency. One B.C. resident produced a column for the Edmonton Journal in which she worried that the huge oil tanks on a hilltop in Burnaby could someday rupture and send a flood of oil gushing across her community. Then she said that B.C. would gain only about 50 jobs from the bigger pipeline anyway. Really? How many jobs would make the perceived safety risk worthwhile? And if safety from disasters of Biblical proportions is a concern, why live in a notorious earthquake zone where scientists think a major quake is due anytime?

For that matter, it's highly odd to see a province worried about oil also being a prime supporter of legalized marijuana. How does the potential for oil leaks get more scary than the reality that inhaling smoke causes cancer, and that cannabis has bad effects on developing teenage brains?

Then there are bizarre insults like Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's attempt to lure oil company head offices from Calgary to Regina. Was it real or was it mere show for his voters? Either way it was more evidence that provinces are often better at promoting narrow interests than at making all Canadians' lives better.

You wonder if these people even notice that scores of thousands of Canadians move from one province to another every year. All those my-province-first politicians ought to be told they can't ever cross provincial borders themselves — see how they like it.

Mark Lisac

About the Author: Mark Lisac

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