Trade agreement should reflect northern reality

The following open letter was written by Yukon NDP Official Opposition Leader Liz Hanson regarding the newly announced Canadian Free Trade Agreement:

Canada’s provinces and territories have signed a new free trade agreement to replace the 20 year old Agreement on Internal Trade. While the bulk of the Canadian free-trade agreement (CFTA) remains to be announced we tentatively know some of its contents.

Premier Pasloski revealed that the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut’s Business Incentive Program, which allows the territories to provide incentives to contractors to hire local workers will continue. However, there is no indication that Yukon made any gains to strengthen such programs.

Initial reports suggest that the new trade agreement may prevent government from giving preference to local companies. This means that Yukon Government will not be able to provide any guarantees that Yukon Businesses will benefit from Government contracts. Large outside firms have the advantage of thousands of employees and much larger economies of scale. This allows them to underbid Yukon companies on important infrastructure projects and push them out of the market.

In 2013 the Yukon Party Government removed local preferences from Yukon’s procurement and contracting directive. It’s tough to understand why they would make such a decision at a time when Yukon’s economy was already struggling.  

We are a remote jurisdiction of less than 40 thousand people. And while the new agreement may have benefits, they will mostly be seen in places like Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, not Yukon. We have been hearing for many years that if Yukon wants to see a strong local economy, government needs to support local businesses and contractors.

During negotiations the Government of Alberta fought for a clause that would allow for an exemption to ensure that at least 20 percent of Government contracts would be awarded to local companies. They lobbied for this exemption because in tough economic times they have no intention of seeing important Government stimulus contracts going to anyone but struggling Alberta companies. Several media outlets are now reporting that the Provinces compromised and Alberta was allowed to keep a partial local procurement exemption. Yukon would have benefited from a similar exemption that would allow us to keep Yukon Government spending in Yukon.

Premier Pasloski and the Yukon Party may have committed Yukon to a trade agreement in which giving preference to local companies is not possible. But that will not stop a Yukon NDP Government from doing everything it can to help Yukon companies win Yukon Government contracts big and small. Yukon is full of skilled and capable people, companies and service providers who face barriers based on our size and location. We must ensure that our own government is not one of those barriers too.

Every dollar that we can keep in Yukon means more prosperity, stability and potential for Yukon’s workers, their families and our Yukon economy. A Yukon NDP Government will work with Yukon businesses, contractors and service providers to keep Yukon dollars in Yukon.