Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Labour mobility

Recent newspaper articles about the surge in Maritime labour movements to Alberta and its high paying jobs reminds us of the importance of free movement of labour. Of course, Canadians are entitled and privileged to travel interprovincially to secure employment and to maximize their well being. We would not think of our Dominion in any other way. Certainly, the opportunities for labour to maximize earnings is an important cornerstone of open markets. Economic development is adversely affected by labour shortages. But more importantly, human resources are squandered when they cannot be put to their best use. While some people find it near impossible to pick up roots and look for a better life if their home region denies them that opportunity, we know that the New World was built on the very spirit of self preservation that guided our ancestors to this distant continent. Indeed, immigration is still a driving force of our economy. Inter-provincial labour mobility is an important conduit to economic growth.

This should remind us that such efficiencies are prevented from blossoming completely in North America. The border that separates Canada from the United States (and indeed the U.S. Mexican border that creates such fear in America) prevents individuals from maximizing their capacity to earn income and contribute to a more dynamic North American economy. One of the failings of the market system is that while capital moves relatively freely across borders, people do not. This puts individuals without capital at a disadvantage. Surely labour should be free to move to its best advantage. The U.S. - Canada border forces most human capital to take up opportunities that may be secondary in advantage - taking people even farther from their native regions than would be the case in a borderless North America. Would not an unemployed/underemployed native of Halifax prefer to relocate in Boston than in Toronto? The political boundaries give individuals poor choices sometimes. The result is often continued unemployment/underemployment. For others, it is a life far from where they were raised.

On a personal level, I know this well. I am celebrating my 20th anniversary of arriving in Toronto this month. When I first made the long trip from the prairies to begin a career in Canada's financial heartland I knew that Toronto was the place for a Canadian to find work in the financial services industry. And yet, my western roots were pure. I had never been east of Winnipeg previously. Indeed, my urban experiences were largely American as a young person. Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles seemed to have more of a geographic affinity to my prairie homeland than Ontario's capital. I might well have made my way west to other financial centers, if only to be closer to my family. Instead I am in Ontario. It is a wonderful place, this place I call home now. But sometimes I wonder...

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