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PRESS RELEASE - GROWING THE ECONOMY

EDMONTON – May 29, 2012, Western Canada has emerged as an economic engine of significant national value and global influence.

Western Premiers believe this economic vitality is a strength not only for the West but for all of Canada.  More than ever, energy resources are central to Canada’s economic performance.  The efficient and responsible development of those resources are matters of national importance.

Canadian Energy Strategy:

Every province and territory in Canada brings a unique mix of energy resources and expertise to the table for example:  gas in British Columbia and Yukon, oil and gas in Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, uranium and clean coal in Saskatchewan, hydro-electricity in Manitoba and British Columbia.  A Canadian Energy Strategy would be grounded in a recognition of these regional strengths and respect for constitutional jurisdiction over natural resources.

Western Premiers support the development of a Canadian Energy Strategy.  Led by Canada’s Premiers, a Canadian Energy Strategy would build on our complementary energy strengths and opportunities.  Working with their colleagues across the country, Western Premiers want to develop a strategic, forward thinking plan for sustainable energy management and development that will advance the common goal of ensuring that Canada is a recognized leader in sustainable and secure energy production, supply and transportation including East-West and Northern electricity transmission.

Canada’s natural resources represent a national opportunity for every region of the country. Building on the Council of the Federation’s previous work, Western Premiers established a working group of officials to discuss further principles and opportunities that could be incorporated in the energy strategy.  Premiers wish to discuss these principles and opportunities further with their colleagues at the Council of the Federation meeting later this summer in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Infrastructure:

Continued economic growth in the West brings with it the challenge of ensuring that we have the infrastructure capacity to sustain increased economic activity, and that the region is linked and coordinated in its planning and development of key components to support ongoing growth.

As the primary funders of infrastructure, provinces and territories make priority investments in strategic infrastructure for the long-term benefit of their jurisdictions and the West.  Western Premiers welcome the federal governments’ commitment to long-term, stable and predictable infrastructure funding.  They call on the federal government to ensure that new programs are fair, flexible and align with provincial and territorial strategic priorities.  Premiers agreed that federal infrastructure programs must follow a “base plus per capita” formula that will allow a more strategic investment by all jurisdictions.  Funding programs that meet these criteria will maximize economic benefits, improve productivity and create new long-lasting jobs and improve critical services.

In 2011, the Prime Minister made a commitment to work with provinces and territories to develop a stand-alone national disaster mitigation program.  Premiers agreed that immediate action is required by the federal government to finalize this program so that provinces and territories can make the needed investments to better protect Canadians against the effects of future natural disasters.

Environmental Assessments:

For several years, Western Premiers have noted the importance of streamlining the environmental assessment process through a one project, one assessment approach that reduces wasteful duplication and delays. The 2012 federal budget shows that the federal government is taking action and Premiers welcome the progress being made.

Premiers and the federal government share a common goal: Premiers agreed that strengthened environmental protection and responsible resource development occurs through more predictable and timely processes and with reduced duplication.

Premiers are closely watching the federal government’s changes to the environmental assessment process.  Once implemented, these changes must truly allow for one project one assessment.  Provinces and territories want to work with the federal government to develop clear categories of projects that would require federal assessments.

One project, one assessment, one decision increases timeliness and certainty, and reduces bureaucratic overlap without compromising environmental rigour.  With an environmental assessment system that makes sense, resources at both orders of government are freed.

To ensure that the changes to federal environmental assessment process work well with provincial and territorial environmental assessment processes, Western Premiers urge the federal government to immediately engage provinces and territories in a discussion about the implementation of the proposed Canadian Environmental Assessment Act:

Devolution:

Western Premiers recognize that devolution of control over lands, waters and resources is key to the social and economic development of the territories. They stressed the importance of the federal government recognizing its commitments to conclude negotiations with the NWT and to begin reaching an agreement in principle with Nunavut as soon as possible.

Labour Market:

Western provinces share unique labour market needs based on their vibrant and growing economies, traditionally higher employment rates, and population growth through immigration and inter-provincial migration.

As the economy grows, labour market shortages in the West are expected to intensify. Meeting these shortages requires a multi-pronged approach that includes creating new training and skills development opportunities for underemployed groups, reforming the Employment Insurance (EI) program, and working toward a flexible and regionally responsive immigration system.

Employment Insurance Reform:

Western Premiers support the federal government’s recognition that change is needed to modernize Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program and noted that recently announced changes by the federal government are a good first step.  However, more work needs to be done to support a productive, competitive national economy.

Specifically, Western Premiers reiterate their 2009 call for EI reforms:

  • EI should be reformed using a principled approach that gives Canadians equal support regardless of the territory or province they work in;
  • EI should build a temporary bridge to get workers through challenging economic times;
  • The program should be streamlined from 58 regions with different eligibility standards to national-wide benefits that reflect employment opportunities in urban centers and rural and remote communities; and,
  • An emphasis on training should be a critical component of reform.

Premiers look forward to engaging the federal government in a constructive dialogue on how to improve EI for all Canadian workers.  Premiers also called for enhanced flexibility in the use of Labour Market Development Agreements to better meet the training needs of Employment Insurance recipients.

Skills Development:

Western provinces and territories are committed to helping unemployed, underemployed and under-represented groups maximize their participation in the workforce.  The Labour Market Agreements (LMAs) play a key role in assisting western provinces and territories in enhancing skills development opportunities and increasing labour market participation of underrepresented groups.  The LMAs are set to expire in 2014 and Western Premiers agreed on the importance of beginning to work now on their renewal.

Immigration:

Immigration is one of Canada’s key economic drivers and will be an increasingly important way to address Western Canada’s labour shortages.  Immigration is an area of shared constitutional responsibility.  Premiers agreed that to be effective, Canada’s immigration system must be managed jointly by the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Provinces and territories understand their local economies and communities and are essential to ensuring the immigration system is responsive to the economic and social needs of Canada, including the unique needs of provinces and territories.

Premiers noted the federal government’s recent initiatives aimed at building a fast, flexible and labour market driven immigration system.  As equal partners, Premiers believe that a reformed system must:

  • increase overall immigration levels;
  • allow for meaningful increases in the number of immigrants under the provincial and territorial nominee programs;
  • provide a greater role for provinces and territories in the selection of all immigrants; and
  • ensure a role for provinces and territories in managing successful, integrated settlement services.

Social Innovation:

Social innovation is about spreading ideas that work across all aspects of society – governments, businesses, charities and community groups – to tackle important issues that affect us all. Non-profit agencies play a large role in this arena, and Western Premiers are investing in new approaches that will enable the non-profit sector to fully realize its full potential. To improve social outcomes over the short and long term, government, business and community organizations must work together as partners.

Western provinces and territories are committed to helping non-profit agencies that help Canadians realize their full creative and entrepreneurial potential, ensuring that the non-profit sector is as strong as it can be. This includes removing barriers and ensuring non-profit agencies have the tools and vehicles they need to pursue innovative initiatives. Sharing strategies will help drive innovation across western provinces and territories.  Western Premiers discussed ways to achieve better results and deliver more effective solutions through social innovation.

2013 Western Premiers’ Conference:

Premier Greg Selinger extended an invitation to the Premiers to the next conference to be held in Manitoba in Spring 2013.