This week will be the second term inauguration of President Obama. As much as there is often talk on the importance of diversifying Canada’s international network of trading partners and related markets, we should not overlook the importance of Canada’s strong economic relationship with the United States. In 1989 as some will recall, the Canada-US Free Trade agreement came into force. I would say that in its day it was not without controversy and politics; as much in play then as they are with trade and investment agreements today. Only now, we have the benefit of hindsight to look back for more perspective on this historic free trade agreement. Contrary to false and alarming claims made by critics at the time, the border has not disappeared and as proud Canadians we continue to celebrate our love for our country and what it means to be Canadian on July 1st of each year. Not only have hardworking Canadians proven that we can compete today globally, we stand tall and continue to uphold those values that have built this great nation into one of the world’s leading economies.
Since the Canada-US Free trade agreement began in 1989, Canada’s annual GDP has increased by over $1 trillion– that translates to almost 4.6 million more jobs here in Canada today. Two way trade with the United States has almost tripled. As I travel throughout Okanagan-Coquihalla and meet with employers there are many who depend upon free and unrestricted access to the United States market. However it is also important to recognize that although “Free trade” in principle provides unrestricted access, in reality there remain many barriers; regulatory red tape and other legislative road blocks that serve to stifle the movement of goods and services. For example the “trusted trader” program is intended to assist those companies with cross-border trade opportunities and yet the registration process requires dealing with two different agencies of government essentially requiring similar information. My former private members bill addressed the problem where Canadian wineries could legally sell to a customer in Texas or Asia but not into Alberta or Manitoba. As I mentioned in a recent MP report, international ownership restrictions in one sector could put hundreds of local workers out of a job. As another example in the wine sector- a winery looking to bottle and produce wine and create jobs here in the Okanagan will pay a duty on those grapes unless they are grown in Canada – even if there is a shortage of locally grown grapes.
This week is "RED TAPE AWARENESS WEEK" and I believe it is important that we not just take notice, but take action to eliminate those barriers that are standing in the way of creating and sustaining jobs. Sometimes the solutions are relatively simple, for example in my Bill, an amendment of roughly 50 words helped open up the Canadian wine market to Canadians. A proposed change to the Food and Drug Regulations that would allow provincially regulated pharmacy technicians to transfer prescriptions to another pharmacy could benefit 15,000 pharmacists and save close to $ 9 million annually in administrative costs. Another change is the ability to consolidate business accounts under one business number when dealing with the CRA. This change allows business owners to spend more time running the business instead of time spent dealing with the criteria of the CRA. Another new initiative is the one for one rule. This rule ensures that each time a new regulation is introduced, it will be offset by the removal of another existing regulation. Canada will be one of only a handful of jurisdictions in the world to undertake such a leading-edge approach. There are more initiatives that are underway however these examples represent our Government’s commitment to help business owners grow and focus on generating revenue and jobs instead of being mired in regulatory red tape that in some cases can date back many decades or more.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached via email at [email protected]