Provincial partnership for prosperity

TheStar.com – Opinion/Comment – Provincial partnership for prosperity: Ontario-Quebec deal will lower barriers and speed creation of an innovation corridor
Published On Tue Dec 01 2009.   Sandra Pupatello Ontario Minister of Economic Development and Trade

When I travel this province to talk about free trade with Quebec, the reaction often is, “Free trade? I thought we already had free trade with Quebec?”

Certainly there is trade. In this country, Ontario and Quebec are each other’s biggest trading partners. Can we do better? Are there barriers to Quebec-Ontario trade? The answer to both questions is yes.

A survey of Canadian business men and women a few years back found a deep level of concern over interprovincial trade obstacles. These industry leaders cited three areas where we need to do some work: labour mobility, transportation, and food and agricultural products. In the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement (OQTCA), we have addressed all three of those issues and more.

Under the terms of the OQTCA, an Ontario worker in a specialized trade will no longer have to pass a test to work in Quebec. His or her permit will be recognized automatically. The same applies to nursing and other professions.

Transportation firms operating in both provinces will save time and money as we harmonize rules and regulations governing trucking.

Food and agriculture has its own set of complexities in both Ontario and Quebec and there are no quick, easy fixes here from a trade perspective. This agreement commits us to regular meetings aimed at enhancing bilateral trade in agriculture and food products and acknowledges that freer trade will improve the competitive position of both provinces’ food industries.

This agreement is also about expanding trade in financial services. This is important to Ontario because financial services represent about 10 per cent of our economy. The Ontario and Quebec Trade and Co-operation Agreement points us in the right direction, toward greater harmonization of financial regulations between the provinces with an eye to making it easier and less costly for our companies to do business in Quebec.

There’s more.

Quebec’s heavy-duty vehicle emission standards will be strengthened to Ontario’s level. We’ll also begin work on developing an emissions trading system for greenhouse gases.

The agreement also lays the foundation for an innovation corridor to help foster networking opportunities involving business, universities and research in high-growth sectors such as life sciences and clean technologies. In doing so, the two provinces are building a life sciences corridor that would constitute the second largest such cluster in North America.

We need a high-speed rail link between Windsor and Quebec City to accelerate our economic integration. This corridor is the most densely populated and highly industrialized region in all of Canada. The agreement acknowledges this reality, and commits the provinces to taking another close look at the project to see if we can speed it up.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is an agreement with teeth. It contains a dispute settlement mechanism and significant financial penalties, which will make it difficult for either province to establish new trade barriers in the future.

Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Quebec’s Jean Charest showed leadership and vision in recognizing the need to strengthen our two provinces’ historic ties and our strategic relationship to compete in the rapidly changing global economy. Our leaders also understand that communication is essential to any relationship, and the OQTCA will build upon that understanding by opening up a regular channel of communication.

In a few months, Quebec Economic Development Minister Clement Gignac and I will be hosting the inter-ministerial council’s first annual meeting. This will be a face-to-face, high-level meeting involving ministers from both provinces as well as industry representatives. Our task will be to address new challenges and regional concerns in the spirit of free trade and co-operation.

Ontario and Quebec represent 58 per cent of the Canadian economy. Our combined economic footprint puts us in the same league as California and Texas. By working together, Canada’s two most prosperous provinces can punch above our individual weights.

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