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TILMA Hearings (12 June 2007)

From Economy Committee Hansard
12 June 2007

Enquiry into the State of Internal Trade in Saskatchewan

Ms. Shirley Ryan, representing the North Saskatoon Business Association, addressed the committee and, along with Mr. Kevin Smith, responded to questions. Video is not available for this meeting.  To listen to this section on audio, click here, and start play at 1:39:05. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Madam Chair. Good morning. Welcome to the committee hearings. In your presentation you talked about overly complex regulatory compliance, excessive regulation in form of divergent rules among provinces, and you quoted the CFIB’s study where they talked about $33 billion in the cost of complying with government regulations and paperwork, professional fees, and those sorts of things.

Mr. Smith, when you were asked earlier about providing an example of some of the regulatory complexities and those sorts of things, you quoted the transportation. I wonder if you, do you have other examples and do you have members of your association raising concerns about being able to attract human resources to their businesses with specific skill sets and any problems associated with bringing say pipefitters or . . . I’m just using some examples and perhaps your business wouldn’t have a need for a pipefitter, but people with specific skill sets from other provinces. Are there examples of problems with professionals, whether they be a journeyman tradesperson or professionals in other areas coming to this province?

We heard earlier from Mr. Hubich that the Saskatchewan union members don’t see any labour mobility problems, but we didn’t discuss with him whether that’s mobility problems with leaving the province or doesn’t he see any problems with labour moving into this province. And we probably should have asked that question.

But from your perspective I guess, number one, what are some other examples of excessive regulatory complexities that your businesses are facing when dealing with other provinces and also dealing with that human resource issue? I wonder if you could comment on those two areas.

Mr. Smith: — I don’t have any examples as far as the regulatory, but as far as the attracting qualified staff, I’m seeing clients of mine complaining to me all the time. The NSBA has actually built a website that actually now the members can go on there and place jobs. And this website is targeted to people in Edmonton and Calgary and we’re targeting those people. I’ve talked to businesses that I deal with, and the surveyors in this building boom, of course, that just the trades is significantly pressured for labour.

Mr. Hart: — Is the problem just a lack of people with those skill sets or is it the problem of people being able to come and practise their trade in this province because of some regulatory or other barrier? I would like some clarification in that area.

Mr. Smith: — Once again, as far as that, I have notes that I have relied upon. But other than the transportation, what key issues . . .

Mr. Hart: — You mentioned that there is a website that we could look at, or I wasn’t quite clear on when you mentioned . . .

Mr. Smith: — Just as far as attracting labour. You know, that’s what our members are really faced with. And part of it may be a perception where, you know, someone has to be relicensed to do . . . You know, it’s not a test. It’s not a six-month course. They see that as a hindrance — why do I need to do that?

And once again, we as a members’ association are trying to address that, you know, we here in Saskatchewan can attract that type of people to do these jobs. And becoming part of TILMA is going to encourage that even more.

Mr. Hart: — The second area that I’d like your comments on, you mentioned . . .

The Chair: — Excuse me.

Mr. Hart: — Sorry, Madam Chair.

The Chair: — We’re going to go forward with questions, to-the-point questions. We’re already about 20 minutes behind and we have one more questioner. So if you have a to-the-point question . . .

Mr. Hart: — Yes. Yes. The buy-local area, as far as municipalities buying, procuring locally from local businesses, is it an issue with your members? Have you had members come to you and say, if this thing goes ahead, we’re going to be in problems? I’m not sure where . . . The city of Saskatoon, as an example, you know, has a policy like that and is actually practising a policy like that. Just I’d like your comments in that area.

Ms. Ryan: — Absolutely not. We have heard no complaint.

And just one quick clarification on the website. We have an initiative going right now that is trying to repatriate expats. So it’s also open to anybody. To the best of my knowledge, members who have been successful in hiring through this website have not had any problems, but I could not actually say for sure to you.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Roy Atkinson addressed the committee and responded to questions. Video is not available for this meeting.  To listen to this section on audio, click here, and start play at 2:12:45. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Well just very briefly, well I guess the question is with regards to agriculture and the importance that it plays on the national scene. Quite often we in the West feel that with the population and the economic power of Central Canada that agricultural issues aren’t received that well in Ottawa and aren’t given the attention that they need to be. And do you see . . . My question to you is, do you see a value in Western Canada operating as a region versus independent provinces and thereby strengthening our presence on the national scene and then as a result of that, seeing more real attention being paid to issues with regards to agriculture in Western Canada?

Mr. Atkinson: — Glen, I used to believe that, until I got a little broader view of the world. And the answer is no. That’s not to say that we don’t have some unique things here. But one of the things that I learned was, that there is an interrelationship. Farmers have a mutual interest. They have some differences of interest which we shouldn’t allow to become conflicts of interest.

But if it were not for some high management of Ontario . . . Quebec is superb. A lot of people criticize the Quebec people. I learned to respect them a great deal. They understand the relationship between the farmer who produces and the market which is dominated by a few big buyers, and so they have supply management. And if you look at the stats across Canada, who were the farmers? You know, when I say agriculture’s not in trouble, I don’t mean that the farmers are not short; damn right they are. And the guys that are trying to escape that, that squeeze are just getting bigger and bigger and bigger. They’re leasing, and all of a sudden they hit the wall, and they’re out of business, and they call in Ritchie’s to disband their, you know, all the stuff that they lease.

So my answer is that we need to . . . and what I tell farmers when they come crying to me, I say well go down to Quebec and learn how it’s done. And they get quite upset about that. But I used to too. But by golly I learned that you’d better respect what they’ve done. And the Ontario people, BC people, yes, even Saskatchewan — we’ve had a tougher time because our guys think they’re free enterprisers. Well I’m going to tell you something. They ain’t no such animal. They ain’t no such animal.

You are an entrepreneur, yes. You live within a consolidated and rapidly consolidated economic system, and you’re a victim. You’re a victim because you’ve got no organization. And you think you’re a big wheel because somebody gives you a little benefit over Glen here.

Well that’s the greatest . . . I used to work, I used to work when I was pretty young for a food outfit. I had more information in the morning about the crops and where it was going than any damn farmer. And I knew that if Randy Weekes got mad at me and Glen got mad at my competitor, Randy would go to the other guy and Glen would come to me, and we’d both laugh all the way to the bank because we knew one thing — price cutting was profit destroying. Anyway that, Glen, is my answer.

Mr. Ken Winton-Grey, representing the Service Employees International Union Local No. 333, addressed the committee and, along with Ms. Sandy Weyland and Mr. Tom Howe, responded to questions. Video is not available for this meeting.  To listen to this section on audio, click here, and start play at 3:25:40. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Madam Chair. Very briefly. I’m always troubled when presenters take the position that we’re going to adopt the lowest standards, and you’ve made that statement on page 8. And I could understand that if we were looking at signing an agreement with another country, Third World countries, and so on where you would have much lower standards. But this agreement is an agreement between Alberta and British Columbia, and Saskatchewan is having a look to see if it has a fit for us.

You’ve already mentioned in a couple of the examples that in some instances licensed practical nurses, Alberta has higher standards than Saskatchewan does, and then I believe you also mentioned in one of the other areas that Saskatchewan has higher standards.

If we look at what’s happening in another area, in the area of education, where the amalgamation of a number of school boards into larger school divisions has occurred very recently, board members tell us that quite often when they look at the various areas that they need to deal with, that quite often the higher standard is the one that is adopted because there is various standards within the various smaller parts to the larger part. And it seems to me that the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, I don’t see a concerted effort for them, those governments and the people of those provinces, accepting lower standards. And I just wonder if you could help me understand why you naturally assume that we will go to the lower standards in most cases.

Ms. Weyland: — Well it’s a good point, and one of the things I referenced in our agreement. And it is from an article by Murray Dobbin from The Tyee — a very well-known columnist. And what it even says is that:

. . . Minister Maxime Bernier told the Senate banking committee when testifying about TILMA [that] “Mutual recognition is an important principle from the economic standpoint because . . . such a situation places regulators in competition with one another [for having the weakest regulations].”

And that’s part of his quote. And that’s good you referenced the examples, that actually sometimes we have the better standards.

But I’ll give you one example. And it’s my understanding that in Alberta they have lower labour standards. So if you’re trying to mutually recognize and bring your standards down to the same level, Saskatchewan is very well known for having very strong labour standards, labour legislation. So if we’re the stronger standard, I have a hard time believing that BC and Alberta would want to raise their labour standards to meet our standards. And there’s been several reports and several analysis and this as well saying that it will go to the weakest standard. And that’s one of my concerns is I do not want to see our labour standards go to the weaker Alberta standard.

And one of the things I believe in Alberta, because of their lower labour standards . . . We recently had a day of mourning. April 20 is our National Day of Mourning. And in Alberta they had to recognize I believe it was 124 workers killed in the past year in their province, and in the first two months of this year, another 27 workers killed on the job.

And I guess being a union activist, occupational health and safety has always been a very important concern to me. And I would not want to see regulations such as labour standards weakened in our province.

Mr. Hart: — Just a quick follow-up, Madam Chair. But I think you also probably recognize that Saskatchewan has a much higher injury rate in the workplace than both Alberta . . .

The Chair: — We are not here to start debating with the witnesses. Do you have a question?

Mr. Hart: — Yes. And I just wanted to point that out to the presenters that Saskatchewan’s injury rate is much higher than the other two provinces. And perhaps with the . . . Although occupational health and safety standards are exempted by the agreement, I’m guessing that they must have some other programs in place that perhaps Saskatchewan could adopt that would help rectify this problem because we have consistently been higher than these other two jurisdictions. And I think it’s a two-way street, is I guess the point I’m trying to make. And I’d just appreciate your thoughts.

The Chair: — The question, I believe the way he’s putting it, is that do you not think that there are other areas where we could benefit because a standard would be higher and alleviate some injuries?

Mr. Howe: — Well I agree that if there is better standards and can be adopted, I’m all for it. I mean, I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that would agree that we want to have people injured.

Do I believe that TILMA is the route? Not a hope. I won’t read it, but there’s the trade and investment agreement that was done by the Ontario Federation of Labour, and it actually talks about labour standards on page 11 and talks about bringing in foreign workers.

Now I think that, as provinces can make deals to better the lives of people, I don’t think TILMA is the venue. I just don’t.

Mr. Tom Graham and Mr. Steven Shrybman, representing the Canadian Union of Public Employees Saskatchewan Division, addressed the committee and responded to questions. Video is not available for this meeting.  To listen to this section on audio, click here, and start play at 1:26:20. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you. Good afternoon and thank you for making your presentations here this afternoon. Mr. Shrybman, I’m looking at the condensed version, I believe, of your report.

And you, in no. 10, you raised some concerns where under TILMA that investors in the US and Mexico under the NAFTA agreement may have some rights to proceed with actions. I wonder if you could just more explain the NAFTA implications with regards to TILMA because it’s been my understanding that TILMA is an agreement between two provinces, and it pertains to citizens and companies and investors within those two provinces. But you raise the NAFTA spectre, and I’d like you to explain how, what part of the NAFTA agreement may have implications with TILMA.

Mr. Shrybman: — Right. This is my understanding of how it would work. And let me just preface that by saying that if you look at the investor-state cases that have been brought, they’re actually more ingenious and inventive than I would have suspected. Some people accuse me of seeing problems where none exist. But if you actually look at the cases, they’re incredibly ambitious in terms of the way in which they’ve invoked NAFTA to go after Canadian measures. I would have never contemplated the type of challenges that have been brought and succeeded, S.D. Myers being a good example.

Under NAFTA 1102 you’re obliged to provide national treatment as a provincial government to foreign investors, which means the most favourable treatment — it’s not hard to read; you should go there — the most favourable treatment you accord to any investor in your jurisdiction. Okay? So the very highest level of treatment that you accord to anybody in your province is the standard that a foreign investor is entitled to.

Well under TILMA, arguably the most favourable treatment you accord anybody in your province is an out-of-province investor with rights under TILMA because no one within your province can invoke arbitration before a tribunal to claim damages against you for doing something that is lawful. It’s not a constitutional challenge. They haven’t got an administrative law complaint about what you’re doing. They accept it as being lawful and done properly and constitutionally. Nevertheless they can claim damages against you because they argue that their investor rights are impaired or diminished.

That is a favourable level of treatment I describe as a new high-water mark which, under NAFTA, now foreign investors can claim, well in Saskatchewan that’s the highest standard. That’s the one under 1102 we’re entitled to as well. That’s the concern. And it’s not a terribly creative argument. I mean I think it’s quite straight forward and is likely to persuade a tribunal if past experience is any guide.

Mr. Hart: — So then if I understood you correctly, it’s your position that if a investor or company or an individual from another province launches an action under TILMA, if Saskatchewan was part of the agreement, that would then open the door for investors and companies from Mexico and the US to say, well okay, you’ve dealt or you’ve acknowledged a case from a British Columbia entity that something that we’re doing in Saskatchewan is not in their best interests under the agreement, and therefore that opens the door to foreign investors from the US and Mexico who are NAFTA partners. Is that basically what your contention is?

Mr. Shrybman: — Yes. Very close. It’s a very good question because you’re asking me to make it more concrete and practical. So here’s how I think it might work. It doesn’t require that a complaint be taken first. It’s simply the right to take a complaint and what can be targeted.

So for example, a US investor that’s unhappy with, say, something in the health care system — they want to establish, they operate . . . They’re a private insurance company or — I can’t think of a good example — or they’re an HMO [health maintenance organization] in the United States. They want into the Alberta market.

Right now NAFTA doesn’t really allow them in because there’s a reservation for health care services. There’s no similar reservation remarkably in TILMA. So they might say, okay, I’m going to bring a NAFTA complaint, and what I’m seeking is the same level of treatment that Saskatchewan accords investors from Alberta. And that means the right to challenge provincial health care measures that keep private clinics out, without there being a complaint from Alberta or Saskatchewan.

And that’s a concrete example of how TILMA can create a new standard which opens the door even wider than NAFTA does to foreign investor claims. And the premise for the claim is other investors in Canada have these rights in Saskatchewan. They’re not constrained in the same way my rights as an investor under NAFTA are constrained to respect public policy around health care, for example, though the door’s open under NAFTA to environmental claims. So I want to bring forward a claim seeking that level of favourable treatment. That’s the way it would work or could work.

Mr. Hart: — Okay. Thank you.

Mr. Mark Ferguson, representing the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board, addressed the committee and responded to questions. Video is not available for this meeting.  To listen to this section on audio, click here, and start play at 1:53:05. Windows Media Player is required.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you. Mark, you mentioned the problems between provincially inspected facilities and federal-inspected facilities. I’m not familiar with the standards that a provincially inspected plant has versus federally, and perhaps you may have more information on that because, you know, I certainly can see that if provincially inspected plants could market their products in other provinces, it would be a huge benefit for them for future growth and those sorts of things. And you know, I’m not sure what level of knowledge you have in this area, but I’d appreciate anything that you would have because I feel this is an area that we certainly need to look at because that certainly is a real barrier to growth for our smaller abattoirs and meat processing plants. I wonder if you could just explain that issue as best you can.

Mr. Ferguson: — Well that is true. The smaller provincially inspected abattoirs, the provincially inspected abattoirs, the meat is inspected. There is just some small differences between the standards of equipment used in them and that type of thing.

Certainly it would open up additional markets for those types of processors. Right now their marketing opportunities are fairly limited because I mean you’re limited just to Saskatchewan and the roughly one million people here, but it’s a little more restrictive than that because lots of the larger grocery chains only buy from federally inspected because it’s a lot easier for them. Our feeling is that it could help with our current slaughter capacity issue. And you know, it would be many years down the road with negotiations between different levels of government and that type of thing if it was to occur.

I don’t know if you’ve had the Saskatchewan Meat Processors’ appear before your committee. These would be good questions for those folks.

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