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Provincial trade barriers must be resisted: Pallister

Premier Brian Pallister signalled he has heard MHCA concerns and is working to push back on trade barriers erected by the Saskatchewan government in recent weeks that effectively bar outside construction firms from being awarded provincial construction contracts there.

Pallister, in a public Chamber of Commerce webinar May 26, reiterated concerns he has expressed previously to the business community that the provinces must work to ensure the free flow of trade and labour across the provincial borders, fearing a “thickening” of borders as provinces emerge from the pandemic business and travel lockdown.

Manitoba has previously assured the heavy construction industry it is working in forums with provincial counterparts to uphold internal trade agreements, including the New West Partnership which Manitoba has signed.

Saskatchewan has been publishing tender ads and bid documents that include “community benefits” clauses, which award points to bids from companies employing local labour. The construction contracts, as well, include stiff penalties for companies that do not meet the local labour thresholds set out for the worksites, as the project proceeds.

The Saskatchewan government has justified imposing the bid requirements and penalties as a way to ensure local economies recover from the COVID-19 business shutdown.

“We are very encouraged to hear Premier Pallister recognizes the concerns MHCA has expressed. and sees the serious implications to the thickening of borders,” MHCA President Chris Lorenc said. “Saskatchewan’s move to effectively eliminate the chances any out-of-province contractor winning a construction tender is dangerous. Once such clauses are implemented, they begin a very slippery slope and are very difficult to get removed from procurement practices.”

The Premier’s position is consistent with his national free trade stance which recognizes that inter-provincial trade barriers cost the economy and therefore consumers billions of dollars annually in unnecessary costs and lost opportunities.

“Nothing that is wrong short-term, ever turns out right long-term. Wrong hurts all of us all the time, and this – barriers to free internal trade – is wrong,” said Lorenc.

“The very purpose of internal Canadian trade agreements, and especially the New West Partnership agreement, is to see labour and goods moving unobstructed between provinces,” he stressed. Such open competition benefits the country and local taxpayers because it encourages maximum value for dollar.

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