Federal Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains, left, and assorted other federal and provincial ministers released the completed Canadian Free Trade Agreement in Toronto on Friday, April 7, 2017.
When Canada’s trade ministers revealed a mass internal free trade agreement last week, the list of exemptions and items to be discussed was as long as the barriers they removed.
Bull frogs, wild rice, weddings and funerals were among the integral provincial industries specifically outlined for protection.
In this photo taken Thursday, May 3, 2012, an a bullfrog floats in a stream.
“When you look at the exclusions, and you match them up to the size of the pie dedicated to provincial revenues in those categories: the exclusions have to do with protecting provincial revenues,” said Arnold Schwisberg, a constitutional lawyer who worked on a recent case where a New Brunswick man challenged his arrest for driving over the border with booze. Schwisberg said the internal trade agreement explicitly out big provincial cash cows, like booze and gambling and even user fees like hunting, because the provinces rely on those revenues. The irony, for him, is that it was the charges against Gerard Comeau for carting 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from Quebec to New Brunswick that turned Canadians’ attention to internal trade barriers in the first place.
The Rocky Mountaineer’s wine route begins in Vancouver and ends in Banff, Alta., with stops in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, which is home to more than 130 wineries; many are small boutique operations with names like Dirty Laundry, Laughing Stock and Misconduct.
Courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer
The exceptions for booze and supply managed agriculture — which includes dairy and poultry products — means consumers will continue to pay the prince for trade barriers within their own country, Schwisberg said.
The deal, however, is perhaps less about immediate changes and more about shifting attitudes over the longer term and setting up new processes to tear down old barriers and prevent new ones from cropping up. Trevor Tombe, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary, said some of the most costly regulations are unseen by consumers. They include trucking costs or requirements law firms used by big businesses have offices in certain provinces in order to practice there. All told, he estimated last year interprovincial trade barriers cost the national economy about $100 billion a year.
The changes laid out in the Canadian Free Trade Agreement will start a process to unravel the red tape covering provincial borders.
“The deal provides a pretty good framework to gradually lower internal barriers,” he said. And, importantly, he said the agreement requires progress reports and posting on exceptions, “some of which are silly.”
The seeming absurdity of say, rules about who owns a stallion used for breeding, at least bring attention to the issue, even if Tombe says they aren’t necessarily the most significant when it comes to dollars and cents.
As we celebrate Canada’s 150th year, it’s worth keeping in mind that the fathers of Confederation intended for the nation to be an economic union, and many of these barriers have crept up over time. Here are some of the weirder, head-scratching rules the provinces felt compelled to protect while inching towards a freer trade, within our national borders:
Ontario is bullish on the frog’s legs industry
The agreement includes a requirement that only residents of the province “may be issued a licence for taking of bullfrogs for sale or barter.” So all those people from Manitoba rushing over he border to stock up on frog’s legs better watch out.
For weddings and funerals
In Ontario, you must be a resident to become a marriage officiant — so guess you can’t have that cousin from the west conduct your ceremony. Oh, and in Quebec, all funeral directors must live in the province. And, you have to be a resident of Newfoundland and Labrador to serve as a notary public.
Do you have a Standardbred stallion your just dying to breed in Quebec? Well, pack your bags and then wait 183 days for sufficient residency status, because 182 days clearly means you’re a foreign interest from P.E.I or wherever.
Passing the joint
The agreement mentions the looming legalization of marijuana but passes the dutchie until such time as federalization has actually allowed for non-medical cannabis sales. Promisingly, the agreement says provinces will meet to discuss the budding weed trade once that happens, so maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to direct order B.C. bud in Ontario before you can buy a case of wine directly from a vineyard.
Wild rice rules
Apparently people still pick wild rice by hand, despite the fact it’s even stocked in the crappiest of No Frills. But if you’re doing it on Crown Land in Ontario you better be a resident, and in Manitoba, if you want to export it, make sure you live there for at least a year.
If you’ve ever wanted to set up a fireworks store in Quebec, make sure you’re in line with that province’s rules, since la belle province has felt the need to explicitly protect “conditions for use, sale, transport, delivery, preservation and destruction of explosives.”
The landlocked province of Saskatchewan wants to protect its fisheries. If you want to dig into the freshwater offerings, you have to live there to get a commercial fisheries license.
Don’t start giving your neighbours cows medicine in Ontario unless you both live there and have an established business. But if you truck in for the Royal Winter Fair or similar event, you can get permission for “a temporary place of business at events such as races and agricultural fairs or shows.”
Even provincial legislatures have gotten in on the local food trend, and many provinces have maintained protections for such provincial purchasing policies.
The agreement ensures provincial marketing boards for supply managed products like cheese, eggs and turkey meat stay in place. That means some of the more interesting raw-milk Quebec cheeses could still be harder to get in parts of Canada than French versions once the European free trade deal takes effect. Since this is one of the most visible aspects of interprovincial trade barriers to consumers, it means most won’t feel like the deal has done much at all.
Most provinces have maintained provincial control over hunting licenses, something done to ensure local outfitters and guides have a role in tourism, whether from within Canada or by foreigners.
The agreement does not affect aboriginal peoples, so they will continue to be allowed to, for example, ship tobacco between provinces when otherwise its sale remains restricted by each province. It’s also an important exemption to protect hunting and fishing rights on traditional lands that cross borders erected by colonial forefathers.