Fraser Forum

Single national labour market would benefit businesses and consumers in Canada

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“Canadians should be able to work anywhere in Canada in their chosen profession.” So declared Canada’s first ministers at a conference on the economy in January 2009. At the conference, and in the midst of a global financial crisis, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the premiers to discuss how to strengthen Canada’s economy.

A centrepiece of the meeting was an agreement between the federal government and the provinces to significantly liberalize the rules governing labour mobility in regulated occupations. The first ministers came to an agreement that workers already certified in a province or territory are entitled to be certified in another jurisdiction in Canada.

Provinces retained the right to impose additional requirements if they were in the “public interest,” such as those related to health and safety. Not surprisingly, some provinces had reservations, but the meeting nonetheless brought Chapter 7 of the Agreement on Internal Trade much closer to reaching its stated goal of labour mobility.

While considerable progress has been made both through the 2009 amendments and through regional agreements such as the New West Partnership and the Ontario-Quebec Trade and Cooperation Agreement, more remains to be done (as detailed in a recent Fraser Institute study). A more coherent labour market is in the interests of governments, businesses and consumers across Canada.

Two areas where labour mobility needs to be improved are:

• greater standardization and mutual recognition of apprenticeship qualifications.

• development of a way to harmonize the licencing rules for professions that currently have different licensing requirements and different scopes of practice in each province.

The urgency to create a single national labour market in Canada stems from recent skills shortages in some professions in Western Canada and a curtailment of the use of temporary foreign workers.

While the recent decline in oil prices has reduced the tightness of the labour market in this region, one cannot count on low oil prices and weak demand in perpetuity. Canada needs to use this respite to complete the construction of fully integrated labour and skills markets.


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