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With new Quebec government, Bernier says free trade within Canada possibility

OTTAWA - Small Business Minister Maxime Bernier says he is hopeful the election of a federalist premier in Quebec will help break the log-jam toward freer trade within Canada.

Liberalized trade, both internally and externally, is an important factor in the success of small firms and entrepreneurs, says Bernier, and while Canada is moving aggressively to remove foreign barriers, it must also tear down walls between provinces as well.

"Every province knows we must do something (on the issue) and now with the new Quebec government, they are on board," he said. "We'll see, but I am optimistic that we can have real free trade in our country."

The Harper government is hoping the election this spring of Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard will result in a thawing of relations, after the chilliness of the previous separatist Parti Quebecois government, which at times appeared intent on picking fights with Ottawa.

Industry Minister James Moore has declared removing domestic barriers to internal trade a priority and has launched a cross-country effort to begin the process. He will be in Halifax on Thursday.

By some estimates, protectionist policies and lack of labour mobility between provinces costs the economy about $50 billion annually through higher prices, inefficiencies and lost business.

Ottawa is also seeking to create a national securities regulator, but there is no indication as yet if the new Quebec government will be any more accommodating on the issue than the previous one.

Bernier said the federal government is doing what it can to increase business opportunities through free trade deals, lower taxes and cutting red tape, but firms need to take advantage.

He made the comments while meeting more than a dozen young entrepreneurs, who will travel to the G20 meeting in Australia next month as part of a Futurpreneur Canada mission.

Futurpreneur chief executive Julia Deans said such missions are key to expanding Canadian business contacts with the wider world, noting that young entrepreneurs tend to look mostly to Canada and then to the United States for markets and connections.

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