Sask.-Alberta border city offers to host meeting to resolve 'Plategate' spat

The head of the construction association in the border city of Lloydminster has invited the two province’s trade ministers to the city to help resolve their dispute.

Lloydminster construction president says no examples of Alberta discriminating against Sask. workers

Alberta and Saskatchewan government's could meet at the border in the new year to try to resolve a smouldering trade dispute. (CBC Radio-Canada)

The head of the construction association in the Saskatchewan-Alberta border city of Lloydminster has invited the two province's trade ministers to the city to help resolve a trade dispute centring around licence plates on construction vehicles.

"We want both governments to come to Lloydminster and see, first-hand, the effects this kind of stuff has on us," said Cody Bexson, president of the Lloydminster Construction Association.

The association's headquarters and Bexson's business are both on the Alberta side of the border, less than a kilometre from Saskatchewan.

"We cross the border 10 times day. To have any type of restriction makes it very difficult to do business."

'Plategate' origins

Last week, Saskatchewan imposed a ban on Alberta-plated vehicles on new Saskatchewan road or building construction sites.

Saskatchewan Minister of Highways David Marit said it was an attempt to "level the playing field."

"Saskatchewan contractors tell us that vehicles with Saskatchewan plates are not welcome on Government of Alberta job sites," Marit told reporters last Wednesday.

In response, the Alberta government gave Saskatchewan a week to lift the restriction. After it did not, a trade injunction was filed on Thursday by Alberta Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous.

Alberta's minister of economic development, Deron Bilous, called Saskatchewan's plate policy 'reckless.' (CBC)

The complaint will be dealt with by the arbitration panel of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, which will render a binding decision.

Saskatchewan faces a maximum $5-million fine if it is found to have violated the agreement. The panel has 30 days to collect evidence. If Saskatchewan backs down within that period, it will face no penalty.

The panel can also charge the losing complainant full costs of the dispute resolution process if it feels the complaint was "frivolous."

"We have every confidence we will win this dispute," Bilous said Thursday. "And when we do, every dollar we are awarded will go back to Alberta businesses this reckless policy has affected."

No evidence, says construction president

Bexson said he was surprised by Saskatchewan's policy. In the past week he's been trying to find evidence of Saskatchewan workers being discriminated against on Alberta work sites.

"Definitely shocked, wondering why they had put this in place and where in Alberta something had happened that would make them put this in place."

Bexson said he's reached out to employers on both sides of the border and has yet to find one example to support the Saskatchewan government's claim.

"We can't find any instances where this may have happened."

The Saskatchewan government has also argued Alberta workers don't pay PST when registering vehicles as Saskatchewan motorists do — an unfair trade advantage for Alberta contractors.

Bexson denies that's the case for contractors working in Saskatchewan.

"We already pay PST. There's no benefit to being a Alberta company and doing business in Saskatchewan."

He said if companies in Alberta are forced to change their plates and register vehicles, that will add costs.

"I really think this is going to disappear over the holidays unless they can back it with something saying that, 'Yeah, we were treated unfairly on a construction site in Alberta,' and I just don't see where that has happened.

"I wish if there was something they would come forward so it could be corrected."

Bexson said he thinks this dispute goes beyond licence plates and into the recent beer war between the two provinces.

"I just doesn't make a lot of sense."

Saskatchewan not willing to let issue go

On Friday, Saskatchewan Minister of Economy Steven Bonk said the province is willing to see the matter through the 30-day review period.

"We do have anecdotal evidence, plus we have cases of discriminatory practices against our contractors in the province," he said.

Steven Bonk, Saskatchewan's minister of economy, maintains Saskatchewan contractors have faced discrimination in Alberta despite offering any evidence.

"As you can see from our past history, Saskatchewan has been one of the strongest defenders of Alberta, Alberta's oil industry. They are our good neighbours, our partners, we want that to continue but on an open and level playing field."  

Saskatchewan's ministers agreed to meet in January to discuss trade issues with their counterparts from Alberta but have not set a date or location.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the Provincial Affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca