Ontario's economic development minister says his provincial and federal counterparts have agreed on proposals for a new interprovincial trade agreement that will ease the flow of goods and services across the country — including alcohol.
Brad Duguid made the comments in Toronto on Friday after a meeting of the ministers but refused to give details of the deal until it was presented to Canada's premiers and the prime minister for discussion and debate — but he did offer a hint of what it would look like.
"The recommendations will match or exceed the ambition in international agreements to increase opportunities for Canadian businesses to compete, expand and innovate nationally," he said.
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Duguid said the agreement would level the playing field for Canadian suppliers by opening up government procurement contracts so that taxpayers get better value and governments get more choice.
He also said the agreement would cover every area of the Canadian economy, unless that area is listed as an exception to the deal, to provide a predictable environment for businesses in Canada.
Duguid said the "crown achievement" of the new deal was the creation of an "unprecedented new process" for reconciling regulations across the country that hinder trade and growth.
The deal will also introduce stiff fines for provinces that do not adhere to the rules of the new agreement once it takes effect.
The premiers will have an opportunity to discuss details of the plan together when they meet later this month in Whitehorse, Yukon, Duguid added.
Beer, wine and spirits
Describing it as a "historic" breakthrough in trade negotiations between the provinces, federal Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said the deal would address a number of key issues that have been on the agenda for some time.
And Bains thanked his provincial counterparts for agreeing "to a process and timetable for liberalizing trade in beer and alcohol. I think this is a very important step and it speaks to again an historic moment where everyone has come together to deal with this issue," he said.
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Regulations that restrict the sale of beer across provincial borders is one frequently cited example of how the current Agreement on Internal Trade, signed in 1994, has been a headache for businesses and consumers.
Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said in an April interview that Canada's internal trade is actually less free in many respects than its external trade. Poloz called a trade barrier something that amounts to a barrier to economic growth.
Dan Albas, the Conservative critic for internal trade who has championed freer domestic trade in beer, said in a statement Friday that it's time for the interprovincial alcohol rules to be loosened.
"It's time for the Liberals to take leadership and ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws that restrict consumer choice and business growth," he said.
The Conservatives want the government to refer a New Brunswick court ruling on cross-border beer shopping to the Supreme Court for review, given the implications for interprovincial trade.
New Brunswick provincial court Judge Ronald LeBlanc tossed out all charges against Gerald Comeau, who was charged with illegally importing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from a Quebec border town in 2012.
Last month, the New Brunswick government filed a notice of appeal saying the judge in the Comeau case erred in his interpretation of rules governing the movement of goods between provinces.