With these many benefits to internal trade between provinces, it was distressing to learn earlier this week that Alberta, under the leadership of Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, was holding up the negotiations by seeking a procurement exemption that would give 20 percent of Alberta contracts to Alberta companies. On the surface, this may seem like a reasonable measure given the current state of the Alberta economy but like most NDP government policies, the unintended consequences will be devastating. For starters, what incentive would other provinces have to open their procurement up to Alberta-based companies if our government wasn’t prepared to do the same? The reciprocity that will come from this kind of protectionism will cost Alberta businesses billions and could prompt many to move their headquarters, tax dollars and jobs out of the province.
Beyond the implications for Alberta business, the NDP’s protectionism will directly impact our ability to get a pipeline to tidewater approved and built. Premier Rachel Notley has been vocal about the need for pipelines and the national benefit inherent in these projects. But, the national interest argument becomes much less compelling if we aren’t willing to offer our neighbours the same consideration in return. If the NDP takes Alberta down this protectionist path, no climate change policy or price on carbon will be enough to convince the rest of Confederation to put self-interest aside and support these vitally important projects. Given this monumental shift in trade policy, Notley’s position on pipelines has become incoherent. Is she for increased pipeline access or not? She may talk a good game, but her actions run completely contrary to Alberta’s economic interests.
Albertans should be deeply concerned about the direction this government is taking our province when it comes to trading relationships both within and outside our borders. It’s no secret that NDP ideology has an inherent mistrust of free trade and free enterprise and their negotiating tact proves this to be as true in practice as it is in theory.
We can hardly expect our partners to sit idly by while Alberta takes and gives nothing in return. What’s more, robust trading relationships are key to achieving much-needed economic diversification. If Minister Bilous is serious about increasing Alberta’s trade and diversifying our economy, he will immediately reverse his obstructionist position and begin encouraging the complete elimination of inter-provincial trade barriers.