Sask. contractors say Alberta protectionism started licence plate spat

The Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association says Saskatchewan contractors have experienced being shut out from bidding on projects in Alberta.

Move to ban Alberta licence plates on road work sites 'levels the playing field': construction association

The Saskatchewan government is banning work vehicles with Alberta plates from road construction sites in the province. (The Muskegon Chronicle, Ken Stevens/AP)

The Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association says contractors from the province have been shut out on bidding for projects in Alberta in the past, and that the Saskatchewan government's new regulations around licence plates for road construction workers serves to "level the playing field."

Earlier this week, the Saskatchewan government said it is banning workers in company vehicles with Alberta plates from all new road projects undertaken by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.

Premier Brad Wall defended the move Thursday, saying the province made the decision because "this is the treatment our contractors get when they are working in Alberta."

"There have been a series of provocations from the NDP Government of Alberta that regrettably make this retaliatory measure necessary," Wall wrote in a Facebook post Friday.

"We will not stand by while the Government of Alberta discriminates against Saskatchewan contractors."

Protectionist policies in Alberta: SHCA

"When Saskatchewan workers go across the border to attempt to bid on work in Alberta, they are met with kind of a David and Goliath type of greeting," said Shantel Lipp, president of the SHCA.

She said the Alberta market is not an inclusive environment, and it's been that way for quite some time.

"They were more or less told, 'You know what, we're going to use somebody from Alberta so we're not even going to consider you,'" said Lipp.

The Saskatchewan Construction Association also weighed in on the issue, saying in a release "all parties in trade agreements have the right to be treated equally and to reasonably expect that no artificial barriers will be imposed."

The SCA added that the government's decision makes sense if there are indeed artificial barriers to Saskatchewan contractors working in Alberta.

"If Alberta can demonstrate that these conditions are unnecessary, we expect the government would revisit their decision accordingly," said the construction association's release.

Provincial sales tax

While it's difficult for Saskatchewan workers to break into the Alberta market, Lipp said it is very easy for Alberta contractors to come across the border to bid on work in Saskatchewan.

Alberta drivers don't pay PST when registering vehicles as Saskatchewan motorists do — an unfair trade advantage for Alberta contractors, the Saskatchewan government says.

While Alberta workers are required to pay PST on their big pieces of equipment used on projects in Saskatchewan during the construction season, they haven't had to pay the provincial sales tax on their smaller work vehicles, like trucks, or on fuel or parts for vehicles.

"There's a bit of a disadvantage for the local guys because they do have to pay PST on everything that is involved in their construction operation for 12 months of the year," said Lipp.

Now Alberta contractors will be required to get Saskatchewan plates and pay PST when they register their company vehicles for the time they work in the province.

Saskatchewan's Premier says he's standing up for his province's interest. (CBC)

"They did that to sort of level the playing field," said Lipp.  

Lipp said the SHCA fully supports free trade, and hopes this issue will be resolved and provincial borders can remain open for business.

"We support our contractors going across the border and doing work wherever they choose to do so, and we equally support Alberta contractors to be able to come into the Saskatchewan marketplace and bid fairly and bid competitively," said Lipp.

Wall echoed that sentiment in his Facebook post.

"Free trade is in the best interest of both our provinces," the premier wrote.

"It will be a good day for Western Canada when the Government of Alberta returns to its traditional position for free trade and removing inter-provincial trade barriers."

About the Author

Joelle Seal

Joelle Seal is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.