The Federal Government has acknowledged, in a substantive manner, that Canada's economic house needs to be put in order, and that is good news. At the very least, the need has been recognized.
I was particularly encouraged by the fact that of the Federal Government's 28 proposals for reforming the Canadian constitution and preserving the country, 15 are concerned with "preparing for a more prosperous future."
For the first time, the discussion is going beyond the purely political realm of distinct societies, aboriginal rights, senate reforms, and amending formulas to encompass the economic union of our country. In fact, Shaping Canada's Future Together, the discussion document which accompanies the proposals states:
"A strong and well-functioning domestic market is essential to the well-being of all Canadians. Existing barriers to the mobility of people, goods, services, and capital within Canada impede trade among the provinces and limit the mobility of individual Canadians.
"The inability of Canadians to benefit fully from the advantages of an internal market weakens their ability to compete effectively in the global economy."
It is going to be a challenge, however, to turn this vision into reality. My only hope is that we can do a better job of it than we did the last time.
The Constitution Act, 1867, prohibits barriers to trade through section 121 and states that goods from any province shall be admitted freely into the other provinces. In reality, there are about 500 restrictions to interprovincial trade. These barriers cost the country an estimated $6.5 billion annually, according to the Canadian Manufacturers Association.
In other words, the existing prohibition is totally ineffective: there is freer trade between Canada and the United States than there is between Canada's provinces. No wonder we have a hard time competing.
As Shaping Canada's Future Together notes, "This clause [section 121] does not reflect the realities of today's market place. It does not mention the mobility of capital or of services. It does not provide for the full mobility of people which not only is important to the operation of the economic union, but is a basic right...."
To alleviate the situation, the government is proposing creating a "Canada clause" in the constitution which, among other things, would guarantee "the free flow of people, goods, services and capital throughout the Canadian economic union and the principle of equality of opportunity throughout Canada." In addition, the government is planning to broaden section 121 to ensure the same thing, effective July 1, 1995.
If this really comes to pass, it will have beneficial repercussions far beyond freedom of movement. …