WINNIPEG—Manitoba companies could be shut out of some contracts in other western provinces under a regional trade deal that stops at the Saskatchewan boundary.
Some Saskatchewan Crown corporations have started stating explicitly in contact offers—for items ranging from trucks to fencing—that bids may be limited to provinces who have signed on to the New West Partnership Trade Agreement.
Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia set up the agreement, which is aimed at reducing barriers to trade and investment, in 2010. Manitoba has not joined in, despite pleas from business leaders.
“Some of our members have done a great deal of work in Saskatchewan over the last five years, and we’d be very concerned if the rules change such that they weren’t permitted to work across the border,” Ron Hambley, president of the 700-member Winnipeg Construction Association, said Thursday.
Saskatchewan started aggressively promoting the new approach last month, when it listed seven Crown corporations that will “primarily” purchase from jurisdictions in the partnership. More recently, the different treatment has been made explicit in some contract offers.
A request for fencing for SaskEnergy says the utility “may choose to only accept bids from (partnership) region suppliers or give preference to bidders who are (partnership) region suppliers.”
Hambley is worried Alberta and B.C. will adopt similar restrictions and would like to see Manitoba join the regional trade deal.
He would also like the Manitoba NDP government to challenge Saskatchewan’s rules. He said they appear to violate the Agreement on Internal Trade, which covers all provinces and territories.
The Saskatchewan government has said some Crown corporations are exempt from the national trade agreement, including SaskPower and the Saskatchewan Transportation Co., which provides bus service across the province.
The Manitoba government had considered joining the New West agreement in 2010. Instead, the province is focusing on a mandatory renewal of the national trade deal due by next March.
“We are in the centre of the country and we want to make sure that people understand that we are going to work equally as close with our western neighbours as we are with our eastern and southern and northern,” said Jobs and the Economy Minister Kevin Chief.
“Where we’re going right now … is a strong commitment to find ways in which we can have a national agreement.”
Chief added that he feels preferential treatment goes against the spirit of the national trade deal and wants to address any specific examples.
Some Manitoba groups have opposed the idea of joining the partnership. The Manitoba Federation of Labour, among others, has said the trade deal could lead to lower regulations for worker safety and other items as the provinces try to harmonize.