It was the letter former NDP jobs minister Kevin Chief expected. The CEO of Winkler-based Grandeur Housing wrote that his business and other Manitoba companies were starting to be excluded from the Saskatchewan market. According to John Froese, Grandeur had secured contracts from Saskatchewan crown corporations to sell 130 modular buildings since 2000. But now, Saskatchewan was looking specifically for a New West Partnership Trade Agreement partner.
The agreement between the three western provinces deals with the millions of dollars spent each year by government and their crown corporations on goods and services. And now, Manitoba was being excluded. The previous Selinger government decided not to join the alliance and Froese provided evidence it was starting to hurt.
Grandeur Housing Ltd., together with many other Manitoba companies stand to lose access to a significant market if these new rules are put into force… This could negatively impact the jobs that we currently provide in the province.
Chief responded by sharing his concern, noting they had hoped for a nation-wide agreement on internal trade would be achieved by March 2016. It’s now May and that government has left the building.
Premier Brian Pallister is scheduled to meet with his western counterparts this week in Vancouver. The Alberta wildfires may delay Manitoba coming into the New West deal but our new premier is an unabashed booster of this trade alliance.
Manitoba needs to be part of this, according to several business leaders. Don Leitch, president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba tells 680 CJOB “It’s a much better arrangement if all four provinces are in that block at a time when there is very little progress on a national internal trade agreement.”
Ron Hambley, vice-president of the Winnipeg Construction Association says his Saskatchewan counterpart has been encouraging the Brad Wall government to purposely exclude Manitoba firms from bidding on government work in that province. On how serious a threat this is to Manitoba firms, Hambley says “They’re hurting for jobs in northern Saskatchewan. Construction companies are putting a lot of pressure to limit competitors on projects.”
There are detractors to Pallister signing on to the deal. The president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, Kevin Rebeck cites very specific concerns with the alliance. “There is no exemption for healthcare, education and other social services. That means, a for-profit healthcare corporation could claim a right to compete with Manitoba’s public healthcare system. The agreement strongly encourages a reduction of worker training, apprenticeship and certification standards to the lowest standard amongst the participating provinces.”
Dave Angus, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says this is essential to protect the jobs we have and grow Manitoba’s economy. “In today’s world, economic blocks are how regions compete globally. This is long overdue and now we must develop a robust strategy to truly leverage it.”
Angus and Rebeck will debate the issue Friday morning at 9:00 in our 680 CJOB studios.