Vancouver – Expanding trade, investment and job creation across the West, consideration of a new regional pension plan option and further co-operation on tackling gang violence highlighted the inaugural Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan joint cabinet meeting today.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall stressed the importance for the three most western provinces to work collaboratively on innovative ways to bolster the economy.
“Breaking down barriers to trade and labour mobility is critically important to our shared economic strength and to creating jobs,” said Premier Campbell. “Working in partnership, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are taking action to build a strong foundation for innovation, by investing in people, encouraging investments and cutting red tape.”
Premier Stelmach emphasized that the western provinces and the North are well-positioned to lead Canada out of the current economic slowdown.
“It’s well-known that Canada is in a much better economic position than most major economies in the world. Western Canada has had a great deal to do with that,” said Premier Stelmach. “Our job is to continue to develop innovative policies that will ensure Canada emerges stronger and more prosperous.”
The premiers announced that the three provinces will begin discussions to create a new western economic partnership that will establish an open, efficient and stable domestic market encompassing Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, to be concluded by fall 2009.
“A new agreement would address the interests of all provinces, including our interests related to Crown corporations and municipalities,” said Premier Wall. “As I indicated two years ago, we would be interested in pursuing a trade agreement with Alberta and British Columbia if our interests could be addressed.”
The provinces agreed jointly to work on developing and considering a new regional voluntary pension plan option for workers who do not have an employer-based plan to build on the plan that has been in Saskatchewan since 1986. Currently, just over 20 per cent of private sector workers in the provinces are covered by pension plans.
With respect to infrastructure development as a way to stimulate the economy, the premiers stressed the importance to get their products to the Asia-Pacific region using the Asia-Pacific Gateway infrastructure and to aggressively pursue regulatory reform with the federal government.
Specifically, premiers agreed that the most efficient way to pursue environmental assessment is one project-one assessment, which will speed up job creation in mining, energy, resort development and other areas. The provinces will pursue reciprocal arrangements and equivalency agreements with the federal government to allow one thorough, comprehensive and scientific environmental assessment for projects. Premiers also want the federal government to repeal the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act and replace it with legislation that meets the needs of the 21st century.
Premiers Campbell, Stelmach and Wall agreed to pursue shared priorities in Asia-Pacific region, particularly co-operative marketing of their natural resource products.
The three jurisdictions also reiterated their view that the federal government needs to move forward with negotiating Open Skies agreements and in the interim open up existing agreements by granting foreign carriers landing rights in airports in Western Canada. Premier Stelmach and Premier Wall accepted the invitation of Premier Campbell to participate in the Open Skies Summit planned for the new Vancouver Convention Centre this fall.
The provinces will develop a joint agreement on co-operation to co-ordinate efforts to combat gangs and organized crime. The agreement, to be finalized by the end of 2009, will focus on further intelligence sharing by law enforcement, Crown prosecutors and corrections; joint or interjurisdictional projects; and shared training and support.
In addition, they agreed to ask the federal government to modernize wiretap laws, eliminate “two-for-one” credit for time served while awaiting trial, pursue significant bail reforms to protect the public, and simplify evidence disclosure requirements to speed up prosecutions. Premiers agreed to explore the feasibility of a shared high security remand centre for high-risk adult gang members.
“It’s unacceptable that communities across the region are being impacted each day by reckless violence in the streets,” said Premier Campbell. “Working together, we want to ensure families in our provinces feel safe at their homes, and that the criminals who cause the problems are taken off the streets.”
Premiers also took note of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and were encouraged by the two countries’ agreement to engage in a Clean Energy Dialogue, including commitments to co-operate and support the development of carbon capture and storage technology, and renewable energy resources, such as biofuels.
Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have carbon capture and storage research projects underway. Premier Stelmach and Premier Wall invited Premier Campbell to attend a conference on carbon capture and storage to be held in Edmonton in June 2009. Given the important role that provinces play in regard to climate change and the secure supply of energy, Premiers stressed the importance of provincial governments being actively engaged in these important discussions.
British Columbia took the opportunity of the joint cabinet meeting to outline the province’s Wood First Initiative to promote a stronger domestic and international market for Canada’s wood products.