REGINA — Canada’s premiers say the provinces are prepared to open their doors to American businesses to fend off protectionism in the United States.
If need be, the premiers say they could force Canadian municipalities to follow suit and open up their own projects to American bidders.
The premiers wrapped up their annual meeting Friday saying that they will back the federal government’s fight to stop “Buy American” provisions from being tacked on to about US$290 billion earmarked for infrastructure projects in the United States.
“We are very concerned about the ’Buy American’ provisions in the U.S. economic stimulus package,” said Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who chaired the meeting in Regina.
“We want to support the national government in their efforts to send a very clear message to the United States that we believe it’s important to be free and fair traders and we believe that of our trading partners as well.”
The comments come after Stockwell Day, the federal trade minister, said last month that he wanted all the provinces to sign on to a commitment not to discriminate against U.S. companies that want to bid on government projects in Canada. Day said once provinces agree to that, he’ll take the agreement to Washington and seek the same kind of treatment for Canadian companies.
Business leaders in Canada complain they have been shut out of bidding for water treatment and school renovation projects in the U.S.
Ottawa believes U.S. lawmakers are using the reluctance of provinces to sign on to international free trade guidelines on such projects as an excuse for protectionism.
The premiers noted that millions of jobs on both sides of the border depend on freer trade. Wall said business and political leaders in both countries recognize the economic havoc protectionism could cause.
Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said such an agreement would benefit both sides.
“We’re not asking for something from the United States that we’re not absolutely confident we can provide here in Canada,” said Doer.
But he noted they have work to do to fend off U.S. protectionism.
“We’re going to have to make this case neighbour to neighbour, company to company, worker to worker, governor to premier, prime minister to president,” Doer added.
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said they would also make the same case to Canadian municipalities.
“If they (the Americans) open up for us, we will open up for them,” said Campbell.
Messages left for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities were not immediately returned Friday. Municipalities have said they’ll work with Day and the provinces to push for fairer trade. However, they also gave the U.S. until Oct. 4 to back down on protectionist measures or face retaliation on bids for municipal projects.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty cautioned that it’s premature to talk about retaliation.
“I think there’s a profound understanding that we are in this together and that the best way for us to get out of it is by doing so together,” he said.
Doer suggested that the provinces have the legal authority to ensure municipalities abide by such trade agreements if need be.