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Local governments reach a new trade deal

VICTORIA — Local governments get to keep some of their local purchasing choice under an agreement with the B.C. and Alberta governments for their new trade deal.

As of next year, municipal governments will be exempt from interprovincial trade rules when buying goods and services up to $75,000 and construction projects up to $200,000. Those exemptions are lower than the existing national rules for trade between provinces, which are $100,000 for goods and services and $250,000 for construction.

Municipalities have been negotiating since last fall on the more contentious parts of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between the two provinces.

In addition to the purchasing agreement, local governments also get an exemption for zoning and land use bylaws, as long as they operate to treat B.C. and Alberta residents equally.

The purchasing rules cover school districts, health authorities and academic institutions, and go into effect April 1, 2009. Parts of TILMA that allow workers to move from one province to the other with the same credentials are already in effect.

“Over the past nine months, we have worked with the province and agreed on a package of amendments to the TILMA that we feel goes a long way toward addressing the issues identified by B.C. local governments,” said Susan Gimse, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

Municipal associations in Alberta also endorsed the changes.

The province is also expanding its BC Bid website to include Alberta government offers to buy goods and services, which is expected to add 30 per cent more bid opportunities for B.C. businesses.

Since signing the original agreement with Alberta in 2006, Premier Gordon Campbell has been promoting it to other provinces.

At the recent premiers’ conference in Québec City, all provinces agreed to a similar deal to provide labour mobility between provinces. None have followed B.C. and Alberta into the area of purchasing.

The national agreement takes effect at the beginning of 2009, making any worker certified for an occupation by one province or territory qualified in all others. The premiers also agreed to a dispute resolution system for 2009 that would provide for penalties of up to $5 million.

“The dispute resolution mechanism is an important part of ensuring full mobility, and gives weight to the shared commitment to labour mobility,” Campbell said.

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