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Free movement not the answer, says Litwin

Proposal for unrestricted travel between Canada, U.k., Australia, NZ 'a big, complicated beast': Chamber



A proposal to allow for the free movement of citizens between Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand has already garnered support from tens of thousands of Canadians.

But the head of Whistler's Chamber of Commerce believes officials should focus on restructuring Canada's visa and work permit programs before considering such a major agreement that could bring with it significant social and economic ramifications.

"I think we should always be looking at ways to facilitate trade and travel between Commonwealth countries, so I think it's a nice idea in spirit, but it gets very tricky very quickly," said chamber CEO Val Litwin.

An online petition from the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organization — which is advocating for unrestricted travel between the countries based on shared cultural, social, economic and legal values — has drawn close to 64,000 signatures. A CBC poll also found that 91 per cent of the more than 77,000 surveyed were in favour of the proposal.

The organization's founder, James Skinner, envisions the agreement being modeled after the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, an informal agreement that allows the citizens of Australia and New Zealand to live and work in the other country, but said "ultimately it would be up to the governments involved to decide the best way to implement this."

A vocal critic of the 2013 overhaul of the federal temporary foreign worker program, as well as recent cabinet-level discussions that revealed Ottawa is considering limiting the number of foreign youth allowed into the country on worker holiday visas, Litwin said a free movement agreement that could take years to implement is not the solution.

"If you're talking about free movement, that's a big, complicated beast," he said. "If you were to entertain free movement, I think you'd be looking at a very dramatic net migration rate and that would seriously affect unemployment rates around (Canada)."

But Skinner believes if the model that currently exists in the European Union can work, then a similar agreement between Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand is bound for success.

"If it can work in the European Union with all these differences, with 500 million citizens and such a vast array of people, there's absolutely no reason whatsoever that somebody could suggest a union between our four countries wouldn't work given the similarities we have," he said.

With the support his proposal has already seen, Skinner believes the political will to undertake such a major agreement won't be far behind.

"If enough support is there, something will be done about it because that's what democracy is all about," he said.

To view the petition, visit Skinner also encouraged those in favour of the proposal to write to their local Member of Parliament.