MONCTON, N.B. (CP) – Quebec Premier Jean Charest and New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord say they are committed to reducing barriers to labour mobility between their provinces and throughout Canada.
The two premiers signed a wide-ranging co-operation agreement Tuesday designed to bring the two provinces closer together in terms of sharing expertise, research and services.
But on the difficult issue of labour mobility, the agreement has just one line stating the two provinces will do what they can to facilitate the freer movement of workers « to the fullest extent possible. »
The issue of labour mobility is a political sore point in New Brunswick, where construction workers and companies have found it difficult to get jobs and contracts in Quebec.
Quebec workers face no such impediments to their employment in New Brunswick.
The premiers said that although the language in their latest agreement is vague, their intentions are to make the situation better.
« The agreement declares the commitment of both governments to do it, and it’s very specific in the sense that it commits the governments to reducing barriers instead of building barriers, » Lord said.
Both Lord and Charest said the problem does not appear to be as alarming as some have suggested.
Charest said there were only two complaints from New Brunswickers last year about barriers to their employment in Quebec. They were dealt with and resolved, he added.
« We take it very seriously, » Charest said. « It is in our common interest that there be as much mobility as possible between our jurisdictions. »
Lord said there are barriers throughout Canada to trade and the movement of people. He said premiers are looking at ways to free the movement of goods, services and people across the country.
Shawn Graham, New Brunswick’s Liberal leader, accused Lord of being soft on Quebec when it comes to the labour mobility issue.
Graham is planning to introduce a proposed construction labour mobility act once the legislatue resumes after the Easter break.
He said Lord needs to be more forceful with Quebec to correct the labour imbalance. « Fairness is a two-way street, » Graham said.
He said the proposed bill is similar to legislation adopted in Ontario to deal with the problem of unfair competition from Quebec-based firms in that province.
Lord said Quebec is New Brunswick’s biggest trading partner within Canada.
He said the province exports more goods and services to Quebec than it does to the other three Atlantic provinces combined.
Lord said the labour mobility problem can be handled on a case-by-case basis while systemic changes are considered. He said there is no reason to get tough with Quebec.
« Unfortunately, some people want to make political gains by Quebec-bashing and it’s not needed, » he said.
Both Lord and Charest gave luncheon speeches to a Moncton development group, indicating cautious optimism about the future of federalism in Canada.
The premiers, who are both expected to face provincial elections within a year, said they are hopeful Ottawa and the provinces will be able to hammer out an agreement that will correct the fiscal imbalance and give the provinces more cash to provide services.