Kenney tells business audience Alberta will drop more trade barriers

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government is eliminating more of exemptions to a free-trade agreement between provinces.

Kenney announced during a speech to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Saint John, N.B., on Saturday that Alberta will remove eight of 14 remaining exceptions to the Canadian Free Trade Agreement.

Kenney says it will move Alberta from being the province with the third-highest number of exemptions when he announced in July that he would remove half of them, to being the province with the fewest exemptions in Canada.

A news release from the Alberta government says the announcement on Saturday deals with areas such as the energy sector, alcohol and the sale of public lands.

The previous federal Conservative government began negotiations with the provinces on what eventually became the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, which went into force in 2017.

But critics, including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, have said there's nothing free about it since it includes 130 pages of exemptions.

"All of the premiers say the right things, and I think they mean them. I think they really do want to get to real free trade within Canada. And there have been important incremental steps in that direction," Kenney told the audience in Saint John.

"But honestly my take is this — that the progress is important, but virtually glacial."

The province says an exception which permitted Alberta to restrict ownership of public lands to provincial residents will be removed, although it will remain for foreigners outside Canada. Grazing permits will also be opened to people and corporations in other parts of the country, as will permits for guiding and outfitting for wildlife hunting.

On the energy front, the province says power purchase agreements that helped protect privately owned Alberta companies will be allowed to expire on Jan. 21, 2021. Alberta will also remove protectionist policies intended to expand renewable energy development.

The government further says it will remove an exception that allowed it to retaliate against other provinces that it believes inhibit energy trade, although it notes it has never used it. It also notes it won't negate Alberta's Bill 12, which would allow it to stop oil shipments to the British Columbia coast as part of the fallout over B.C.'s legal measures against the TransMountain pipeline expansion.

For alcohol, the government says it is wants to work co-operatively with other jurisdictions that discriminate against its beverages rather than resort to retaliatory measures.

Kenney told the audience that there are estimates that inter-provincial trade barriers cost the Canadian economy $130 billion a year.

Some exemptions remain, which the province says are not intended to inhibit trade. An example it gives is exceptions that are required to maintain the authority of the province's gaming and liquor agency to apply a markup on alcohol.

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