The Big Deal about Brian Pallister’s “Grand Bargain”

February 26, 2019

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has once again called for a "Grand Bargain" on trade and health care: that the federal government would abandon any role in health care and in exchange, the Federal government would guarantee freer trade between provinces.

This scheme should be seen for what it is: the end of universal Medicare in Canada, in exchange for a Canadian Free Trade Deal with PT Barnum levels of hype. It is a deal based on outdated and discredited economic ideas with precious little evidence to back them up.

Let's consider the projected benefits of internal trade: they range from "adding only minutely to growth" (RBC, 2017) to 0.2% of growth (the Bank of Canada, 2017) to between $50-billion and $130-billion (Albrecht and Tombe, 2014).

When the benefits vary from "minimal" to $150-billion, Manitobans and Canadians should be extremely skeptical.

There are a few regulations about trucking, financial businesses and wine that would make a difference for affected businesses if they were harmonized, but not much else.

If there are no tariffs, what are the 7% barriers people are talking about? They are imaginary "tariff equivalents" conjured by mathematical formulas that assume Canada's economic problems are caused by trade barriers.

It has been claimed that the poorest provinces will benefit the most. Read more closely, and it is because poor provinces already produce less and import more, and their imports will be even cheaper.

So Canada's free trade agreement will not result in new growth, new businesses, and new jobs. It will not raise people's incomes or increase exports from "have-not" provinces. It means importing more cheap stuff at the expense of Manitoba's growth, health and safety.

Progress in health care usually means new treatment. Progress has meant new life-saving treatments - which mean that even greater numbers of people can be, and want to be saved. It does not mean having our Federal government abandon health care to allow conservative premiers like Pallister and Ford to privatize services. It is fundamentally unjust to choose who lives and who dies based on ability to pay.

On health care, Canada needs a government that will look after the interests of all its citizens. The provinces alone will not do this. Renewing Canada's economy and health care system requires investment and collaboration, not the schemes based on economic fiction that Pallister is proposing.

Worst of all is that Pallister is using this scheme as a reason to turn down $400-million in desperately needed health care funds for Manitoba, and another $1.1-billion in matching infrastructure funds.

If we go for Pallister and Crowley's "Grand Bargain," we'll be left saying "I gave up Canadian medicare and I all I got was a cheap T-shirt."



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