With a midnight deadline passed, Alberta has reported its neighbour Saskatchewan to the New West Trade Partnership Agreement secretariat over its ban of Alberta license plates on Saskatchewan worksites.
“We have every confidence we will win this dispute and when we do, every dollar we are awarded will go back to Alberta businesses this reckless policy has affected,” Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous said.
The NDP gave Saskatchewan until midnight Wednesday to drop its decision before taking the measure.
Bilous said Saskatchewan still has 30 days to stop with no penalty and the Lloydminster Construction Association has agreed to host both sides in January.
Bilous warns if they don’t, they could face up to $5 million in penalties.
“If they refuse to back down, they will be the first example in the history of the New West Partnership, that a province has received monetary penalties,” Bilous explained.
Saskatchewan Economy Minister Steven Bonk said he was taken aback by the Notley government’s threat of court action and hopes trade irritants between both governments could be worked out at the January meeting.
Bilous and Transportation Minister Brian Mason said in a call with Bonk and Saskatchewan Infrastructure Minister David Marit that they asked for evidence that their workers faced similar treatment in Alberta.
“There doesn’t seem to be any evidence, they certainly didn’t have any to offer,” Mason said. “And yet, here we are.”
Instead, Mason said they’ve given shifting reasons.
“They say that we’re discriminating against Saskatchewan companies, when you press them on that, they say well you don’t have a PST,” he said. “Then they move away from the level-playing field thing, then it’s beer and then it’s over here to something else.”
Bonk said they have anecdotal evidence.
“We’re hearing loud and clear from the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association as well as some of our contractors that this is a real issue for them,” Bonk said Wednesday.
“This is a measure to protect Saskatchewan companies. We just want to level the playing field.”
Bilous said starting from Thursday, if the case went to its fullest extent, a final decision from New West would come in 226 days, but he’s confident it will be resolved before then.
Despite the message from Saskatchewan that Alberta plates are no longer allowed and as of Thursday, there had been no reports of contractors being told they had to leave.
LCA president Cody Bexson said Saskatchewan’s move would lead to complications.
“We pick up our coffee on the Saskatchewan side and go to work on the Alberta side, so we are crossing the border all the time,” he said. “We’re still looking into the cost implications that will be handed to us, but if we bid on them jobs, we will have to look at increasing our bid in order to get our vehicles plated in both provinces.”
He also said there are insurance and inspection issues that could arise, but on the ground, there’s no animosity between Alberta and Saskatchewan workers.
“We’re not seeing anything in our local area as far as any distrust or hurt feelings or anything like that,” he said. “Everybody’s just a little baffled, to be honest.”