August 27, 2014 8:25 pm

Premier Wall zeroing in on Ontario in push for freer trade

REGINA – Ahead of the premiers meeting in Charlottetown this week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is again garnering national attention by putting the focus on internal trade.

Certain barriers make it difficult for companies to do business in other provinces and Wall believes some Saskatchewan sectors are getting short changed.

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“I think the outlier here is the province of Ontario. Arguably, the most important cylinder in the engine of Canada’s economy is engaging in protectionism,” said Wall to reporters in Charlottetown on Wednesday.

Wall said local construction contractors in Ontario have a competitive advantage – as much as a ten per cent head start over outsiders.

However, his comments are not sitting well with the Ontario Premier.

“Rather than coming at it in a sort of confrontational way, I’d like to sit down and have a discussion about where the real problems are,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne. “We’ve got companies from around the world that are taking part in building in Ontario, so obviously we haven’t closed our borders.”

Freer trade between the provinces has been on Wall’s radar for some time. Back in July, he and the other western premiers proposed a new plan but now he needs the other premiers on board.

“If Ontario is not at the table and not going to play ball, that really is going to limit any progress we can make,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Trade barriers exist in many sectors; however some are simply a result of each province doing things a different way.

“A business that sells first aid kits has to comply with multiple provincial jurisdictions and regulations,” said Braun-Pollon

The Saskatchewan Construction Association said increasingly local contractors don’t even bother bidding on projects elsewhere and even worse, out of province competitors sometimes have an edge in Saskatchewan.

“They have subsidies and other benefits in Ontario,” said Mark Cooper, president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association. “It means we have Saskatchewan companies that are losing opportunities to work here and they also don’t have opportunities to work there.”

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