The Consumer Perspective of Trade & Commerce Powers


Janet Lo


Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)




Interprovincial trade barriers are often cited by the government and economists as a costly part of doing business in Canada and a disincentive for provincial businesses to expand and participate in the full Canadian economy. These barriers allegedly increase inefficiencies in the market and adversely affect the ability of Canadian firms to compete on international markets. Removing interprovincial trade barriers could result in benefits for consumers, such as lower prices and increased choices flowing from increased efficiencies and competition in the market. While the definition of interprovincial trade barriers can be agreed upon by most economists and scholars, the question of what constitutes an unacceptable interprovincial trade barrier that requires reconciliation through government action has been the subject of much debate.

Three potential solutions using the federal trade and commerce power to strengthen the Canadian economic union are discussed.

First, shifting to judicial oversight over s. 91 (2) of the Constitution would empower courts to determine the magnitude of unacceptable burdens on commerce weighed against a wide array of policy justifications advanced by provincial governments.

A second possible solution is increased Parliamentary leadership to enhance the Canadian economic union. Parliament could enact legislation to promote the economic union by giving effect to a non-discrimination principle, prevent or eliminate obstacles to internal trade and provide a common set of rules for mutual recognition of provincial standards and regulations.

A third possible solution is the oversight of barriers to interprovincial trade by an expert agency or tribunal. The agency or tribunal should be required to provide consumers and consumer organizations with avenues to participate in their proceedings and also ensure that obstacles to effective participation are removed.

In conclusion, as interprovincial trade agreements are struck and more efforts to remove interprovincial trade barriers to stimulate the Canadian economic union are pursued, it is imperative that governments do not fail in their responsibility to protect the public interest and strive to protect consumer interests.

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OCA Funded Research
This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

Contact information

Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
285 McLeod Street, Suite 200
Ottawa, ON   K2P 1A1
(613) 562-4002
(613) 562-0007

Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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