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TILMA Hearings (6 June 2007)

From Economy Committee Hansard
6 June 2007

Enquiry into the State of Internal Trade in Saskatchewan

Mr. David Winter, representing the Canadian Labour Congress, Prairie region, addressed the committee and responded to questions. To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 32:50. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning, Mr. Winter, and thank you for being here today to present your concerns. There’s one or two questions that I would have. I guess, you know, I heard you talk about NAFTA and, you know, comparing the TILMA agreement to NAFTA and so on.

I’m not sure whether we’re not, if we’re comparing NAFTA to TILMA, whether we’re not comparing apples to oranges whereby the TILMA agreement as it stands now is an agreement between two Canadian provinces — British Columbia and Alberta — and Saskatchewan is having a look at whether we want to become part of that. You know, we’re part of the same country and there’s many of the same regulations that apply across the piece and so on which I don’t think we can say is the same for the countries involved in the NAFTA agreement.

And you know, I heard you talk about job losses and yes, you know, I too admit that, you know, there certainly has been job losses. I guess I haven’t seen the evidence as to whether or not those job losses would have occurred or at least some of them would have occurred regardless of whether these trade agreements were in place or not.

I mean, there’s certain rationalization. We see the growing emergence of China as an economic powerhouse and with their lower costs of production and those sorts of things, I would think that some of the losses that we’ve seen, particularly in manufacturing and labour-intensive jobs, I think we will see in those losses, you know, regardless of the trade agreements. In fact, China isn’t part of NAFTA.

And you know, you hear some of the complaints from the US — you know, very similar to what we’re hearing from Ontario and Quebec currently — you know, that we’re not competitive. And we need to deal with those things and we need to have proper public policy to deal with these changing times.

But the question that I would have that piqued my interest in your presentation is on the last page when you talked about, and I’ll just quote: “TILMA restrictions undercut efforts to maintain or strengthen Canadian apprenticeship, training and inter-provincial certification requirements.” And I’d like you to explain that.

I guess my question would be, is it your opinion that Alberta and BC have lower standards than what Saskatchewan has? How do we compare? I have to admit I am not totally knowledgeable in those areas and I would certainly rely on your opinion and then I would like you to explain that particular statement that you made.

Mr. Winter: — Yes. I mean, the comment comes from discussions I’ve had with building trades representatives in a number of areas. And there have been efforts, particularly notable I know in British Columbia out of the manufacturing sector, to challenge the idea of a Red Seal qualification which is, you know, transmittable anywhere across the country. I would describe it as almost an indenturing process of certifying somebody to do a particular task for a particular company. And there was enormous pressure to do that.

It’s that reduction to the lowest denominator that is my concern. When you move to deregulate, what are you deregulating to? The history is not to a higher standard, it’s to a lower standard. And you know, I also appreciate that current economics, tradespeople are in very short supply and that there seems to be a pulling back from that position about the Red Seal versus the, sort of, locally qualified person.

So it’s not just in the qualification area. But you know, I probably should have included a few more sentences. I was trying to keep it under four hours, you know, in terms of the subject. But it’s health and safety. It’s the kind of regulation on the health and safety. And there’s been recently an example, I think, in the tar sands where there were two people killed that, two people that went into . . . They were foreign workers. There may have been language issues. There may have been lack of understanding in terms of our own standards. But there were workers, Canadian workers, that wouldn’t go into that project at that time because it was unsafe. And not only did the tank fall that killed the two people; there was an additional tank collapsed the next day.

You know, I mention that in the context of the need for why we need standards. We have lots of areas, I think, of common public good that municipalities deal with. And I see largely this applying at the municipal level, issues like water purity. You know, who sets the standards and the requirements there?

Employment, you know, local hire. I mean I would think, you know . . . Again I’m looking at people that are all elected by communities, you know, that often a local-hire policy, procurement policy allows you to buy locally, supports the communities that you come from. And I think that that’s a part that I think isn’t really addressed in the overall impact of TILMA.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you for that. I must say that I certainly have some concerns in that whole area of local procurement and local hire, and I need to hear from the officials and people who have drafted these agreements as to, you know, exactly what those sections of the agreement mean and, you know, why they were drafted in such a fashion and so on too.

I guess the question that . . . Your reference to an accident in Alberta in the tar sands dealing with foreign workers, you know, I should state that, you know, I feel that foreign workers should be treated no different than our own, you know — our provincial or Canadian workers. And I guess the question and you know, I’m not familiar with, I’d heard about the case but just, you know, in the news media and that sort of stuff. I guess the question that comes to mind is, if this situation was in Saskatchewan, do we have occupational health and safety regulations that are stronger or different in Alberta that would have prevented the case? Or was that accident just one of those unfortunate things that we don’t like to see but unfortunately happen once in a while, you know, on large construction jobs and those sorts of things?

You know, I think there’s a conscious effort I know in Saskatchewan — and I would assume in the other two provinces — to keep risks at a minimum. And I’m just wondering what’s different in Saskatchewan that, in your view, may have prevented that very unfortunate incident in Alberta.

Mr. Winter: — Overall I think Saskatchewan has a good record on health and safety, and I refer to the mine incident where all 76 miners came out of the mine because of regulations that are here in Saskatchewan. And we’re noted, you know, internationally as having made a difference in that. I don’t want to say the wrong name. Is it Esterhazy?

A Member: — Esterhazy.

Mr. Winter: — Yes. So, you know, in a general way. But often health and safety inspections, worker compensation issues, are seen as barriers to businesses going ahead. It’s certainly been, you know . . . Governments have lessened inspections and investigations in different areas and I think that that’s an issue.

In the case in Fort McMurray, I mean yes, the overall provincial and, you know, other regulations apply. But the tendency is that when people don’t understand the language that there’s not a concerted effort made to orientate, to make aware. People that are coming into the country under permits, we’re hearing increasingly horror stories of, you know, I use the term indentured. You know, somebody’s holding their passport, somebody’s . . . If the company that they are indentured to is unhappy with something that they’re doing, they’re gone, you know? That to pretend that they have the same rights as Canadian citizens is a misnomer.

They’re often coming in and out of the country. They’re flying into dedicated airports and they’re going into camps that there’s no regular inspections going on. And I’m told, I mean I don’t have all of the details, but I’m told that by some of the trade unions that are on that site up in that area, that they had workers, they had people that wouldn’t go in on the condition that those tanks were on. So they brought in a couple of Chinese workers.

Mr. Gary Schoenfeldt, representing the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, addressed the committee and responded to questions. To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 1:20:00. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning and thanks for being here and making your presentation and raising your concerns. I noted in your presentation you quite often refer to the lowest common denominator, and I’d like you to define that, keeping in mind that the TILMA agreement is an agreement between two Canadian provinces — British Columbia and Alberta — and Saskatchewan’s looking at becoming part of it, and that’s the purposes of these hearings.

Are you suggesting that Alberta and BC, on many levels, have much lower standards and a much lower standard of living and those sorts of things than what Saskatchewan has? Could you define what you mean by lowest common denominator and who, in your opinion, is that lowest common denominator?

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — Well I wasn’t talking about standard of living. I think that it’s fairly obvious if we had the oil and gas and so on that Alberta had and the mountains that attract tourists, we’d have a higher standard of living here in Saskatchewan as well.

What I was talking about were things like The Trade Union Act. Here we have a superior system of organizing trade unions than they have in other provinces, and I wouldn’t like to see us have to lose what we’ve worked for over the many decades just because now we have to go by what they do in Alberta or BC. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Mr. Hart: — Do you suggest that Alberta and BC have lower standards as far as occupational health and safety?

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — I’m not aware of that. But if that’s the case, why would we want to go to that? That’s my, that’s my thing. And you know what? For them the same way. If our standards are lower, I don’t know why anybody in Alberta would want to have their standards lowered to our standards. It just doesn’t make any sense, but there’s nothing in TILMA says we’re going to a higher standard. And if we look at the pattern, you know, of these types of agreements all over the world, it’s always lowest common denominator. It’s happening in the European Union; it’s happening over there.

Mr. Hart: — Well I guess, you know, I agree with you. Like why would Alberta and BC want to go to lower standards if Saskatchewan has lower standards? I don’t think that’s the purpose or the intent. And I believe that’s a responsibility of the two jurisdictions. And if Saskatchewan becomes a partner to this agreement, the responsibility of the province of Saskatchewan to make sure that our occupational health and safety regulations are such that protect workers. Currently Saskatchewan has the second-highest workplace injury record in Canada, much higher than Alberta and BC. That would . . . Just looking at it you know very quickly, using that number, one would draw the conclusion that in fact they have stronger or more effective programs in those two provinces than what we do in Saskatchewan. And I’m sure it would be of concern to those two provinces if they had to drop their standards or redesign their programs that are working to mirror Saskatchewan’s.

But I would suggest that if Saskatchewan becomes a partner to this agreement and if those, in fact those areas do fall under the agreement — which I’m not familiar enough with the agreement to suggest that they do — that we would need to improve the programs and the regulations in Saskatchewan to reflect the experiences in Alberta and British Columbia.

You also mentioned that TILMA, you see TILMA as an attack on human rights and labour laws and I guess the question I would have is: do you perceive British Columbia and Alberta as jurisdictions that are attacking human rights?

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — I’m not sure if I said that, that I see them as an attack on . . .

Mr. Hart: — You said if exceptions such as human rights and labour laws are treated as something that can be dismissed over time . . .

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — Oh okay.

Mr. Hart: — And you know . . . And that raised the question in my mind, do you see our two neighbouring provinces moving in that direction?

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — What I was talking about was the exceptions and the fact that in TILMA it says that exceptions are to be reviewed every year with a view to reducing their scope. And so that suggests to me that anything that could be deemed to be . . . or anything that’s listed under the exceptions — which is occupational health and safety and all these other things — are already seen as some sort of a problem that we have to meet every year to try to reduce their scope. Why do we want to do that?

Mr. Hart: — I guess the point and the question that I had for you, do you see Alberta and British Columbia as jurisdictions that are actively working to reduce the scope of occupational health and safety and attack on human rights? Personally I don’t see that.

I mean we are talking about the possibility of signing an agreement with two of our neighbouring provinces. We’re not talking about signing an agreement with a number of Third World countries who have much lower standards and us having to lower our standards to those much lower standards that we see unfortunately in many Third World countries of this world. We’re talking about an agreement that an analysis such as the Conference Board of Canada, which I know you say you feel there may be some flaws in it, but nonetheless they are talking about increased opportunities for working men and women in our province. And I would think that, if their analysis is sound, that would be something that your organization would view favourably as many of us do.

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — Well we don’t agree with that agreement or with that . . . I should say we don’t agree with that analysis. We think that that analysis is very superficial, based on some four respondents. I don’t know. For some reason or another you can go and talk to four different respondents and come to the conclusion that hundreds of thousands of jobs are going to be created. I’m not sure how that’s . . .

The Deputy Chair: — Very quickly, Mr. Hart.

Mr. Hart: — I mean I’m not a trade expert, and I very briefly looked at the Conference Board of Canada, and I’m not going to defend their work. I will let them defend their own work.

But I guess the question I would have for you, has the federation undertaken or do you have access to an analysis that would show the opposite of the Conference Board or at least do you have any statistical, empirical data that would show that we would in fact see a net decrease in career opportunities for Saskatchewan people as a result of signing TILMA?

Mr. Schoenfeldt: — We have information on that, and I can make that information available to you. But also I think that from our review of TILMA, the fact that Alberta and BC signed it, I think that is evidence that they don’t have any respect for the occupational health and safety legislation or the human rights legislation that’s in force. Otherwise why would they list them in exceptions when those exceptions are supposed to be reviewed annually with a view to reducing their scope?

Mr. Marianne Hladun, representing the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairie Region, addressed the committee and responded to questions. To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 2:12:30. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Well thank you, Mr. Chair. Good morning and thanks for coming in and presenting your views on the trade agreement.

I heard in your presentation, as I did from the earlier presenters, talking about the lowest common denominator. And that’s something that troubles me because I don’t know where or who this lowest common denominator is. And I wonder if you could explain what you mean by the . . . Or I know we don’t have to explain what you mean by lowest common denominator, but is Alberta the lowest common denominator? Is British Columbia the lowest common denominator, or perhaps is Saskatchewan? Could you explain what you mean or who you feel or where you feel the lowest common denominator exists.

Ms. Hladun: — I think it could be any signatory to this agreement. You know, Saskatchewan has stronger legislation, I think, in some areas than other provinces, you know, because different things are important to different people in different places. So we may have policies that support rural citizens more so than in Alberta or in British Columbia.

So to me the lowest common denominator, depending on what regulation you’re looking at and, you know, looking from the regulatory standpoint it could be any province. It could be, you know, the minimum wage in Alberta. It could be the, you know, the speed limit in Saskatchewan, you know. You can drive faster in Calgary on the highways, which means your truck can get there faster, which means you make more money because you saved an hour on your trip. So I mean everything is up for challenge.

So I wouldn’t say . . . You know, we talk about Alberta because they have openly said they’re trying to go to deregulated state, to deregulate as much as possible. But in my mind that not necessarily will they always be the lowest common denominator.

Mr. Hart: — Well if we can use — and I’m not sure if it’s a fair comparison, but I’ll throw it out there anyway — the amalgamation of school divisions that took place across this province here in the last year or so, where we saw the formation of large school divisions and amalgamation of up to three, four, five school divisions, board members tell me that in most cases the standard for the new supersized school division was the highest standard of the parts, and very rarely did they accept or put in place the lowest common denominator.

Now as I said, I’m not sure if that’s a fair comparison, but it is an example of where you see a number of entities joining to form a larger entity which in fact, I guess, just on the larger scale this agreement would at least partially put in place. We’re not talking about wiping out provincial boundaries, although some, you know, one of the previous presenters said that could perhaps be a possibility. You know, I don’t want to get into that because I’m not so sure and I’m not, you know, I don’t think that’s an issue right at the moment and I don’t know if it’ll be an issue down the road.

You know, I don’t necessarily accept the fact, and I don’t understand why you and other presenters would naturally assume that the regulations and practices that would be put in place would be to the lowest common denominator. Governments do have the ability to adjust things, deal with things like occupational health and safety regulations, minimum wages, those sorts of things. I’m not so sure that, I don’t think that this agreement abdicates government from their responsibilities in these areas.

And also, you know, recognizing that if in fact Saskatchewan should sign on to this agreement, we’re signing on with our two sister provinces in the West. We’re not signing on with two or three third world countries who have, you know, in many areas much lower standards than we enjoy here in Saskatchewan. So you know I’m just not so sure that this lowest common denominator would be a fact of life if Saskatchewan should move in this direction.

Ms. Hladun: — I think where the lowest common denominator comes in is, you know . . . And all the credit to the members that were working with the school board issue that they went to the higher level.

However, I mean, directly in the agreement it says, you know, parties “. . . shall ensure that . . . measures do not operate to restrict or impair trade . . .” You know, that’s a direct quote from the agreement. The problem is the people at the dispute panels are limited to the wording in here. So they can’t recognize that, you know, a provincial government introduced legislation or, you know, city council introduced legislation that was for the good and they had a reason for it and it was the absolute best thing for that body. They can’t take that into account. They have to look at it. Does it restrict trade? So if it’s in place in Saskatchewan and not in Alberta, there’s a restriction and a barrier to investment.

A good example is in the city of Burnaby who, you know, has opposed TILMA. They decided to ban junk food in their public schools. You know, they said with all the health issues going on, let’s get rid of the vending machines. It’s going to be, you know, no more soda, no more junk food, no more snacks. They went to the provincial government. Provincial government said, yes we’re with you; this is, this is the right thing to do for these kids. The school boards passed it. The provincial government said it. But then somebody in government said, oh wait a minute. Remember that TILMA thing we signed? It’s not allowed.

And what happened was the ruling that came back is that the school, the school board was not allowed to ban junk food from that school because that’s a barrier for investment for the soda companies, for the junk food companies. It’s a barrier to their investment over and above . . . because they can go to the next school and sell it. And if they can’t sell it at that school, that’s a barrier. So they said all they could do was ask these companies to voluntarily remove their product, and that was the ruling from, I believe, the lawyers for the city of Burnaby that said you can’t do, or the provincial government in BC, that you can’t do that.

Mr. Kenton Emery and Mr. Pat Bidochka, representing the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority Local 6080, addressed the committee and responded to questions. To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 37:05. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon and thank you for being here and making your presentation. For information purposes, how is alcohol retailed in British Columbia? I know Alberta has privatized it. But it seems to me if I recall — it’s been some time since I’ve been to British Columbia and had occasion to observe how it’s retailed — I believe they have a system similar to Saskatchewan?

Mr. Emery: — The Campbell government in BC I believe three years ago now announced wholesale privatization in all of BC. There was a public outcry. The Campbell government reneged on that, but not after they sold off half of their liquor stores, which they sold to private enterprise that then reopened it with the same signage that the government-run liquor store had on it. There is still a mixture, but the mixture in BC is dwindling. I know talking to my counterparts in BC the push for privatized liquor sales is still on and is still on the forefront of their concerns.

I’ll be frank. I think the fact that the Olympics are going to be there in 2010, and the fact that Alberta went through a real problem getting alcohol to their retail outlets last summer, has sent a bit of a wave through the privatization segments of BC. I think they would like to be able to show the world that you can come to BC and have fun in 2010. And I think they were a little concerned that the privatized liquor sale system that Alberta has may not be able to supply that, based on last summer’s fiasco in Alberta.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you for that information. You mentioned recommendation 16 from the report reducing alcohol-related harm in Canada. And section (b) of that recommendation talks about enhanced staff training at outlets and implementing ongoing enforcement compliances and so on.

Earlier at the beginning of your presentation, you had indicated that there are 80 government-run liquor stores and 189 franchisees. I can understand how I guess enhanced staff training can happen at the 80 government liquor stores, but how do we accomplish more staff training at the franchisees? Is there some of that happening now and this recommendation would build on that? What is the status of this staff training and awareness at the local . . .

In my community it’s the druggist that happens to have the little corner just at the back of his store and that sort of thing, and it would have a whole variety of small businesses in rural Saskatchewan that retail liquor. How do you see that working? What’s in place now and how do you see that recommendation working? I certainly don’t disagree with the recommendation. I think, you know, we need to look at these things. I’d just like to get a better understanding of what the current situation is and how you envision seeing that going forward, this enhanced training.

Mr. Bidochka: — You’re right. The authority does train their own employees and continuously. Saskatchewan Tourism Education Council run programs; they have for 10, 12 years, maybe longer. I know I sat on that board for a while, for a number of years. And they run a program called It’s Good Business, and the hotel association promote it. Some of their franchisee people go and attend their seminars. I think they’re $25 a person and $50 for a manager’s course. One is, I think two days, and the other is three or something of that nature. So that’s one of the educational tools.

The authority also uses it in regards that, and this is voluntary in this province where Ontario and Nova Scotia and a variety of other jurisdictions make it mandatory to take these courses if you work in the industry. We make it . . . it’s voluntary here except if you misbehave, and then we will instruct that particular permittee and their staff to attend the training course if we’ve got problems with minors or over-serving or that type of thing.

So there is training out there — most of it done. The good people that run the good businesses, they jump all over training. You know, they’re there.

Ms. Marilyn Braun-Pollon, representing the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, addressed the committee and responded to questions. To view this section on video, click here, and start play at 1:37:05. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Ms. Braun-Pollon, we’ve heard municipal governments raising concerns about loss of some of their autonomy and those sorts of things, and one of the areas that is raised by urban municipal governments and also rural municipal governments is control over local procurement. Article 14 talks about procurement values over $10,000 will be affected by, you know, by this agreement and so on. Are you hearing, you know — and I think we can all, we can find examples where local business, small businesses are given sort of preferential treatments to provide goods or services — are you hearing from your members any concern about that particular issue? Have any of your members raised that issue with you and expressing their fear of this particular article in the agreement?

Ms. Braun-Pollon: — Not current with respect to TILMA. But I should go back to the survey that we did on economic development strategies — it was a few years back — of what should be the priorities for the government to look at for economic development strategy. And we had 80 per cent of our, you know, a majority of our members saying that the government shouldn’t have direct investment in the economy. But on the flip side, then you have about 20 per cent of them saying we should have that. So there will be the minority. But as you know CFIB’s member driven. We take the majority vote. If it’s a strong vote, we go forward with that.

So there will be those that say that well I quite like being protected from competition. It’s a good deal for me. It’s a good deal for those involved, so they think. But is it a good deal for taxpayers are the end of the day? Are they getting the best value? And you may find that that individual who was under the agreement that they had, the buy-local, may be just as competitive and just as cost-efficient as anyone else. And so I think it gets back to the business owner knowing what they’re good at and competing, and they’re not afraid to compete.

Mr. Hart: — So you haven’t had any of your members pounding on your door or sending you e-mails or telephone calls saying this is something we need to deal with and get some changes in this area or that . . .

Ms. Braun-Pollon: — No, we have not.

Mr. Hart: — Good. Thank you for that.

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