On June 3, 2010, Erin Weir commented on a paper that I wrote recently discussing the effectiveness of the Canadian government’s efforts to eliminate barriers to labour mobility in Canada. In the process, he makes some puzzling comments about domestic trade and the regulation of workers in Canada.
He says that there are no trade barriers between Canadian provinces. Of course there are.
Canada is a federation and provinces have the authority to regulate. Every time governments regulate, including the Federal government, it could and often does interfere with economic activity.
Regulation is necessary for the proper functioning of the domestic market but that is not always its intent or the result. Any federation, including Canada, needs to make sure that when its governments regulate it is for a legitimate purpose such as health and safety or protecting consumers and the environment and doesn’t restrict trade and mobility.
Mr. Weir says that proponents of open trade are preoccupied with identifying barriers.
Actually, Mr. Weir is obsessed with lists and examples of barriers. Proponents of open trade are preoccupied with ensuring that there is a structure based in law that ensures that all Canadians have the right to move, work and do business anywhere in Canada.
Canada is not unique. Any federation or common market in the world has to deal with the same problem, the United States, the European Union and Australia for example. Each federation deals with the issue in their own way but they do it as a matter of principle not based on lists.
Our concern is that Canada hasn’t dealt with the problem at all except through a multiplicity of voluntary intergovernmental agreements. This is like using duct tape. It works up to a point but it isn’t a solution.
If the Federal government were to use its constitutional authority for inter-provincial trade as our founders intended and introduce an Economic Charter of Rights along with a Commission to apply it, that would be a solution.
Also, Mr. Weir is confused about occupational standards and the purpose of occupational regulation.
Occupational standards are the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for an occupation. If occupations are the same so are occupational standards. Regulated workers and professionals acquire and establish their competencies through education, training, and experience and through tests or exams appropriate to the occupation. These are certification requirements and they are not always the same since a person can acquire their skills, knowledge and abilities in different ways.
A person either has the basic skills, knowledge, and abilities for an occupation or they do not so there are no higher or lower standards. Some may excel at their occupation but that doesn’t mean that others are not qualified.
The purpose of regulating skilled workers and professionals is to protect consumers and their health and safety. If regulating workers is not necessary for this purpose or if the certification requirements are different or more onerous than is necessary to protect the public they are probably barriers to mobility.
For some reason Mr. Weir seems to believe it is right to restrict competent Canadians from working or providing services, from doing business, or producing and selling products in other parts of Canada.
You have to wonder why any Canadian would want to do that.