Premiers' deal will help lure workers: Alberta expects new rules to ease labour crunch

Canadian premiers and territorial leaders at the Council of the Federation gathering in Quebec City announced a deal to harmonize job credential requirements, which will help draw workers to combat Alberta's labour shortage. 

Premiers and territorial leaders agreed Thursday to tear down barriers facing Canadians moving within the country for work, a new labour deal that proponents say will help Alberta address its crippling labour shortage.

Next summer, accredited workers -- who sometimes experience a hodgepodge of rules from province to province -- will see job-credential requirements harmonized. The changes should reduce delays and obstacles that keep some trained people, in occupations such as accounting, engineering or a construction trade, from moving to another region for a job.

"This brings some common sense to labour mobility," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said Thursday at the Council of the Federation gathering in Quebec City.

Stelmach noted the new deal will help the province fill a portion of the 400,000 jobs expected to be created over the next 10 years.

"We're going to be critically short, even with the very aggressive aboriginal workforce strategy, and incorporating more women, more people with certain disabilities."

Alberta isn't the only province grappling with a severe labour shortage, particularly skilled construction workers. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said his province has 100,000 unfilled jobs, even as it endures downsizing in the auto industry.

According to Quebec Premier Jean Charest, a quarter of jobs in Canada face "serious mobility constraints."

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer added: "We believe working people and their families want to have a situation where they do not have to go through 13 separate accreditation processes, but rather one accreditation process.

"We believe a nurse is a nurse, a teacher is a teacher, a welder is a welder."

The new rules will exclude some professions, such as pharmacists.

The provinces and territories have been talking about revamping Canada's labour-mobility rules for sometime

Since the Agreement on Internal Trade was introduced in 1994, many professions have moved to harmonize job credentials.

However, a report completed last year for Industry Canada found progress to remove barriers was unfolding slowly because of a lack of urgency at some of the organizations that oversee accreditation.

"Governments will have to get tough with some of their independent regulatory agencies who have been allowed to get away with dragging their feet for too long," said the 2007 review of interprovincial barriers to labour mobility in Canada.

The bodies governing nurses and land surveyors in Alberta said Thursday their organizations have already reached nationwide mobility agreements. They expect meeting the premiers' 2009 deadline will not be a problem.

"Registered nurses have been leaders in this for many, many years," said Margaret Hadley, president of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, adding nurses do not have to write a new exam when moving to the province.

"There's no barriers whatsoever."

Most barriers to land surveyors moving to Alberta were removed in 2001, said Brian Munday, executive director of the Alberta Land Surveyors' Association.

Before then, two years of articling was required no matter how long a person worked as a land surveyor in another province. Today, newcomers must only complete a few exams.

"Alberta has benefitted from that in terms of an influx of land surveyors," Munday said.

Also on Thursday, the premiers approved a new mechanism to resolve internal trade disputes, building on, in some respects, a trade, investment and labour-mobility agreement inked earlier between Alberta and British Columbia.

Under the national measures, an independent body will have the power to impose penalties of up to $5 million when trade rules are broken.

The old dispute system was based on finding consensus. It contained no binding settlement measures or penalties.

Some labour unions, however, are raising alarms about the independent body.

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the new policy could open the door to corporations suing all levels of government over actions hindering trade and profits.

"If there's not really a need for these changes, the question is why are they being made?" McGowan said. "We believe the premiers have buckled to pressure from the corporate community."

Business lobby groups don't share this perspective, instead applauding the new labour deal.

"This is a great thing to see on behalf of the workforce across Canada," said Calgary Chamber of Commerce president Heather Douglas.

"It will encourage people to move where the jobs are that will further their careers."

After inking their deal on trade and labour mobility within Canada, the premiers placed a spotlight on the North American Free Trade Agreement on Thursday, highlighting worries about its future.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has said he might want to renegotiate NAFTA, if elected to the White House.

Calgary Herald, Page A5, Fri July 18 2008
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio and Marianne White

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