Alberta challenges ‘petty’ Saskatchewan licence plate ban under free-trade rules

EDMONTON — Alberta is taking legal action against Saskatchewan’s licence plate ban, calling it a slam-dunk case over a small-minded policy.

“This petty and ridiculous restriction has real consequences for businesses and hard-working people on both sides of the border — and we are going to end it,” Alberta Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous said Thursday.

“We have every confidence we will win this dispute.”

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s government announced a ban on Alberta plates on any vehicles doing business on future Saskatchewan government road and building construction sites.

Alberta and Saskatchewan are both members of the New West Partnership interprovincial free trade deal.

Bilous said Alberta has filed the paperwork to have the dispute heard by a New West arbitration panel.

He said the process could take until next fall, with Saskatchewan facing up to $5 million in penalties if it’s found they broke the rules promising free and equal access for anyone seeking work or contracts in another province.

Bilous said if any money is awarded, it would be divided up among firms affected by the licence plate ban.

He had earlier promised to impose other ”consequences” outside the lawsuit, but said Thursday he will focus on the free trade panel because there is no benefit escalating the dispute.

“What we want to avoid, quite frankly, is engaging in a process that will see continued escalation,” he said.

In Regina, the government stood by the ban.

Saskatchewan Economy Minister Steven Bonk said they were surprised Alberta had threatened litigation under the New West Partnership given the two provinces have already agreed to meet in Lloydminster next month to try to resolve the dispute.

“We were a little taken aback by this,” Bonk said.

He said there are other concerns that will be addressed in Lloydminster, including recent changes to Alberta’s tax structure on beer to help grow its own craft brew industry.

Wall’s team has given multiple reasons for the licence plate ban, but says it is primarily a response to similar rules on Alberta job sites.

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