N.B. ruling a small victory for internal free trade

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By Alex Whalen

International agreements like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership dominate our discussions of trade policy. While important, they are arguably less salient than free trade between Canadian provinces.

A New Brunswick court ruling may help to change the conversation. Last week, Judge Ronald LeBlanc struck down a clause in the Liquor Control Act that restricted interprovincial alcohol sales. He ruled that trade barriers violate Section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which prescribed goods to be “admitted free into each of the other provinces.” Internal trade liberalization was a founding principle of the federation.

Provinces have been able to circumvent this clear language through the “doctrine of incidental effects,” meaning that seemingly-unconstitutional consequences of a law can be tolerated if its overall purpose is constitutional. Judge LeBlanc was persuaded to depart from prior rulings based on new historical evidence.

Jurisprudence aside, removing internal trade barriers is smart policy. Markets, not legislatures, should determine prices — especially within our own borders.

The issue is far from settled. Canada’s Supreme Court interprets most constitutional issues, and this case is near certain to be appealed. But for the movement supporting freer internal trade, a small battle has been won.

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