Saturday, May 1, 2010

Western provinces sign economic deal

Western provinces sign economic deal

Last Updated: Friday, April 30, 2010 | 6:59 PM MT

From left, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, Saskatchewan Premier Brad  Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach signed the New West Partnership  Agreement at Government House in Regina on Friday.From left, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach signed the New West Partnership Agreement at Government House in Regina on Friday. (Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press)

The premiers of B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan have signed a deal designed to help the three provinces remove barriers to economic development and function more as a single economic zone.

Under the New West Partnership agreement, which was signed Friday in Regina by B.C.'s Gordon Campbell, Alberta's Ed Stelmach and Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, professional qualifications and business licences obtained in one province will be recognized by each of the partners.

"We signed an agreement today that creates an amazing economic force: the New West, an economic region of 9 million people strong and $555 billion in GDP," Wall said. "It is an economic region that is home to a number of industries the world is very interested in right now."

The deal means, for example, a teacher who's certified in Saskatchewan will also gain certification in the other two provinces.

The provinces also agree to promote the region together. The three premiers will start doing that next month when they travel together on a trade mission to Japan and China.

They also say they'll try to use the provinces' joint purchasing power to get better deals from suppliers for things like prescription drugs.

That should save all of them money, Campbell said.

"If we jointly procure equipment for our schools or we jointly procure textbooks or pharmaceuticals, there are substantial savings for British Columbians, Albertans and people from Saskatchewan," Campbell said.

The deal includes an innovation agreement, which the provinces say will better co-ordinate efforts to attract investment and talent.

Alberta's Stelmach said with all three provinces shopping together, they will be able to reduce some of their public expenditures.

"When we do that, we can then keep our taxes low, and that's what's going to attract investment from other countries," he said.

"We've just gone through a huge global economic shift," he added. "There's going to be tremendous competition for labour, for investment, and investment will naturally navigate to those areas that have same regulations, [a] larger base of population."

The deal has been the subject of intense Opposition scrutiny in the Saskatchewan legislature in recent days, with NDP leader Dwain Lingenfelter asking how the government can sign a deal without telling the public what's in it.

Labour groups have also raised concerns that the deal will lead to a lowest common denominator of health, safety and environmental regulations.

However, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business hailed the agreement, saying it will reduce the red tape its members face and could help solve labour shortage problems.

Manitoba welcome

Manitoba's NDP government was noticeably absent from the media conference Friday.

That province's deputy premier said her province wasn't invited to be part of the partnership — but Rosann Wowchuk says that's fine by her.

She said Manitoba already works with each of those provinces when common issues, such as energy, arise.

"When it comes to trade, we prefer a more national approach for Canada … rather than hiving off a certain part of the country," Wowchuk said in a phone interview.

Wall, Campbell and Stelmach said Manitoba and other provinces would be welcome to sign on, if they're interested.

(With files from The Canadian Press)

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