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Closed Borders, Closed Minds

March 1, 1993 -

It is bad enough that we cannot get our act together about trading with other countries. Witness the continuing furor about the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States and the current discussion about the North American Free Trade Agreement.

What is even more puzzling, if not absurd, is that we continue to erect artificial barriers between provinces in this country. As we reported in the last issue of WRF Comment, Quebec has been at the forefront of protectionist activities, notably in the construction industry. It has perfected a maze of regulations that have virtually frozen out firms from other provinces. This has led to some nasty disputes between Quebec workers and politicians and their New Brunswick counterparts.

Originally, New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna steadfastly refused to respond to the Quebec restrictions in kind out of a conviction that protectionism is self-defeating. However, the McKenna government has run out of patience and has been forced to fight back. In the words of Denis Losier, New Brunswick's Economic Development Minister, the province is now "doing exactly what they're doing in Quebec."

According to Losier, the real intention of these new regulations is to force Quebec to move faster in eliminating the barriers in favour of labour mobility. It is ironic that this announcement came right after the provinces appointed a team to begin negotiations for dismantling interprovincial trade barriers by the summer of 1994.

This is what ten years of frustration has come to, another reminder of how fragile the sense of Canadian nationhood is. And then there are those who think free trade with Mexico is what will destroy us.