Western premiers call for more health care dollars, immigration, free trade

May 6, 2016

By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun |

Canada’s western premiers on Friday called on the federal government to increase its share of health care funding, to reduce barriers to immigration, to put more money into roads, rails and ports and to improve international trade access to natural resources.

Wrapping up a two-day conference in Vancouver, the premiers struck a somewhat defiant tone as they laid many of the issues on their agenda at the feet of the federal Liberal government. Without changes from Ottawa, Canada’s trade in resources and its workforce employment and health care will all suffer, they said.

And to underscore their view that much of the country’s economic power comes from Western Canada’s natural resources, they pointed to the effect the Fort McMurray wildfire is having on the economy. On Friday, some economic analysts downgraded Canada’s second quarter GDP growth forecast from 1.5 per cent to zero as a result of the wildfire’s effect on Alberta’s oil production.

“If any Canadian listening today doubts how important Western Canada’s natural resources are to this country, they should pay attention to that fact,” said B.C. Premier Christy Clark. “As Fort McMurray burns, and as the economic infrastructure that has so long has supported Canadians is threatened, international observers are suggesting our economic growth is going to suffer disastrously.”

The conference, with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley absent because of the fire, also called on Ottawa to reverse a trend in declining federal support for health care.

Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski said with the federal share of health care funding at just 17 per cent, Ottawa’s policies are out of sync with its funding commitments.

“One of the important things for us as we move forward talking about health is that we have the policy discussions and the financial discussions at the same table. Otherwise, it is difficult to see progress if you are talking about policies at one table and leave the financial discussions to another.”

The premiers were also defiant in the face of sustained environmental lobbies against increased resource extraction, including Alberta’s oilsands and the construction of natural gas and oil pipelines to the West Coast.

“We are going to keep moving to get our product to tidewater. We are not going to apologize for that. It is in Canada’s best interests to make sure we get the best price,” said Alberta deputy premier Sarah Hoffman, who was standing in for Notley.

“The bulk of natural resources in this country come from Western Canada and that is therefore the bulk of the wealth. I would argue that for some people the importance of Western Canada and resources has been entirely lost when they are talking about trying to keep all of our natural resources locked underground forever,” said Clark. “It would hobble Western Canada and absolutely harm irreparably the Canadian economy.”

The premiers also reiterated their perennial call for the federal government to relax its provincial nominee program to allow more access to skilled immigrant labour.

“The limits in the PNP program that the federal government has placed over many, many years have meant real constraint to growth in Western Canada,” Clark said.

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