THE BOTTOM LINE
The Unfairness in Fair Trade
They go by a variety of names
– inter-provincial trade
trade or partnerships – but
whatever moniker is hung
on them, they can be sticky.
That’s because politicians,
and not businesspeople,
are hammering them out.
deals are designed to foster
freer or fairer trade, but there’s
that other nasty reality of the
desire by each side to get the fair-ness
tilted slightly in their favour,
because politicians are hardwired to
curry favour. It’s about eliminating protec-tionism
for them while trying to preserve pro-tectionism
for us: 10,000 politicians dancing on the head of a pin.
On the face of it, we all want a level playing field. Fair and equal
treatment as well as opportunity spark good competition, giving
customers the best value at the lowest price and so on. But pulling
that off can be complicated.
The New West Partnership is a prime example of a good idea on
paper, but messy in reality. The rules of this arrangement are that no
province can treat outsiders differently than they treat insiders. On
the face of it, this is good stuff. But the devil is in the detail.
Alberta, perhaps the most protectionist province in the coun-try,
for example, has regulations requiring players have a minimum
level of experience for bidding on public sector tenders – say, two
years. Saskatchewan doesn’t. That means Albertans can come here
and bid freely. However, Saskatchewan companies have to get two
years of experience under our belts before we can bid in Alberta.
It kind of makes you feel like a Boy Scout – you’re welcome to play
on our field even if you banish us from yours – because we’re hon-ouring
the philosophical argument in favour of open borders while
the business side is ignored. If we had adopted Alberta’s regulations
– simply substituting the word Saskatchewan in place of Alberta
on every line – we would have a level playing field. Instead, we had
players rolling in here, low-balling one-off projects to use up excess
capacity and then head for home, while the Saskatchewan compa-nies
not only miss out on local work, but also cannot retaliate in the
same way because we don’t meet the qualifications Albertans easily
meet on their home field.
All of this may sound a bit “Trumpish,” but it has been a longstand-ing
irritant in Saskatchewan. Lobbying and griping by aggrieved
businesspeople prompted the creation of Priority Saskatchewan
by the government, which has done little to address the underlying
challenges of avoiding local preference in purchasing while still try-ing
to find a way to give local enterprise an edge in fulfilling the pro-curement
needs of the government it funds with its own tax dollars.
By definition, in a competitive world, one side is always trying to
get the upper hand on its opponent. Trade agreements are supposed
to balance the strength of the two sides so value or lowest cost can
become the true competitive test. But any time we have regulations
that are different from one province to the next, even the best inten-tions
will be thwarted and the griping will be sustained.
BY PAUL MARTIN, MARTIN CHARLTON COMMUNICATIONS
“The New West Partnership is a
prime example of a good idea
on paper, but messy in reality.”
MAXX-STUDIO/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM 56 Think BIG | Quarter 3 2017 | saskheavy.ca