the new western bloc.

The Premiers of Canada’s three western provinces declared a new economic agreement last week – the New West Partnership. Premiers Gordon Campbell, Ed Stelmach, and Brad Wall – all leaders of conservative parties – flexed their combined political muscles in a joint opinion-editorial heralding the agreement in the weekend edition of the Globe & Mail.

Just over a year ago, the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan met for our inaugural joint cabinet meeting. We knew then that it is critical that we break down unnecessary barriers between our provinces. Yesterday, we transformed words into action by announcing The New West Partnership. The New West Partnership recognizes the strong economic foundation of the West and the benefits of co-operation – co-operation that will foster lasting prosperity for the region, our people and our businesses.

Once you wade through the political language and buzz words of the op-ed, there appears to be little that is really “new” about this western partnership agreement. New West appears to be little more than an eastward expansion of the already existing Alberta-BC TILMA agreement, which the Premier of the bloc’s newest member denied being interested in joining only two years ago. I imagine Saskatchewan’s economy will benefit greatly by opening up to its western neighbours, but Premier Wall remains coy on what the agreement will mean for his province (as he will likely face strong opposition to the agreement).

Removing these kinds of inter-provincial barriers to investment, trade, and labour mobility are positive steps, but there are strong arguments against the secrecy in which these agreements have been created. There are also some negative elements of TILMA that many citizens may not aware of. For example, in March 2009, PC MLAs voted against removing Section 5 of Bill 18: Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement Implementation Statutes Amendment Act, which allows Cabinet Ministers to suspend or modify sections of the TILMA Act without having to deal with public debate in the elected Legislature. (Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman spoke against Section 5 of TILMA in March 2009).

While I am not holding my breath, it would be very encouraging to discover that the “new” elements of the New West Partnership are more democratically inclined than its predecessor agreements.