In the middle of a federal election, the best example of bold political leadership has come from a province – Alberta. Premier Jason Kenney just announced the unilateral removal of a swath of internal trade barriers for Alberta. This is a big deal. Section 121 of the Canadian Constitution 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.”
Sounds pretty straightforward, and it’s likely the drafters thought so, too. Except that over the years, provinces have erected more and more barriers to trade between them – usually for political, not economic reasons, and the Supreme Court of Canada, first in 1921 and then more recently in the Comeau case, interpreted s.121 far, far more narrowly than one suspects the drafters ever intended. (…)
The Alberta government had already announced in July the removal of 13 of its exemptions under the CFTA. This recent announcement unilaterally removes eight of the remaining 14 Albertan exemptions, relating to issues such as energy, alcohol, sales of public lands, procurement by the legislative assembly and some procurement exemptions for regional economic development.
Alberta will now have the fewest exemptions in Canada and is calling on others to follow suit. Will they? There is much that the federal government can do to help move this issue forward, but those steps – as distinct from just talking about it – would also require political will and courage. Will any of the federal politicians running for office step up to this truly national challenge?