Meeting of Atlantic Premiers Concludes
Immigration, energy, harmonization of rules and regulations for small- to medium-size enterprises, and a partnership with the federal government to promote regional economic development were among the topics discussed at the Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting today, Dec. 6.
Premier Danny Williams, who chaired the St. John's, N.L. meeting, was joined by Premier Rodney MacDonald, their New Brunswick counterpart Shawn Graham and P.E.I.'s Pat Binns. This was the 13th meeting of the council since it was established in May 2000 and the first meeting for Premier MacDonald and Premier Graham.
Below are discussion capsules for the topics addressed:
National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and 89th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion
Premiers began the meeting with a moment of silence to recognize the 17th anniversary of the Montreal massacre and the 89th anniversary of the Halifax explosion.
Premiers welcomed the recent federal announcement of funding for gateways to Canada. Premiers directed the development of a joint approach to a broadly based Atlantic Gateway Strategy to benefit each of the Atlantic provinces and Canada.
Premiers discussed the federal government's approach to economic and fiscal policy, including the status of the federal government's commitment to resolve fiscal imbalance. Premiers encouraged the federal government to table proposals on all aspects of fiscal imbalance as soon as possible to provide provinces with ample opportunity to respond and prepare their budgets. As a first step, premiers called on the federal government to address equalization and the Canada Social Transfer. Premiers said equalization should be returned to a formula-driven program that reflects the constitutional principle upon which it is based. Premiers also noted that the federal government has committed to ensure that no province is adversely affected by changes to equalization. Premiers support the restoration of the Canada Social Transfer to 1994-95 levels, plus an appropriate escalator to ensure base funding grows annually, in support of post-secondary education and other social programs.
Premiers agreed Immigration is increasingly important to the economic, social and cultural development of the region with an aging population, emerging skills shortages and population decline. However, last year, the Atlantic provinces represented 7.2 per cent of Canada's population, but attracted only 1.4 per cent of Canada's immigrants. Atlantic premiers noted federal settlement funding, used to help integrate and retain immigrants in their new Atlantic communities, has not kept pace with other regions in Canada when considered on a per-immigrant basis. Premiers will direct their ministers responsible for immigration to work with the federal government on an Atlantic immigration framework and ensure that immigrants have access to the same level of services as immigrants in other regions of Canada.
Premiers agreed to pursue the development of an Atlantic energy framework to make region a leader in energy conservation and generation. Premiers directed their energy ministers to develop an inventory of potential collaboration projects and identify high-level topics of interest. The framework would build upon the work of the Atlantic Energy Ministers' Forum, which has been active in the areas of energy efficiency and awareness, renewable energy, and research and analysis of the electricity sector.
Promoting Atlantic Canada
Given the robust economy in Alberta, the premiers discussed the possibilities to expand business opportunities and partnerships in Alberta. They will lead a mission there early in the new year and plan to meet with business leaders, media and Atlantic Canadians living in several Alberta communities, including Fort McMurray, to deliver the message that Atlantic Canada is a competitive region in which to do business.
Harmonization of Rules and Regulations for Small- and Medium-size Enterprises
Premiers re-affirmed commitment to reduce red tape and streamline rules and regulations to encourage economic growth, increase the competitiveness of small- and medium-sized businesses, and attract investment to the region. While progress has been made with the implementation of the Atlantic Procurement Agreement, Atlantic Provinces Standard Terms and Conditions for goods and services, and Atlantic Harmonization Trucking Strategy, premiers recognized that more opportunities exist to improve the region's competitiveness. Premiers acknowledged the importance of working with stakeholders toward continuously improving the business environment, and have directed their ministers to consult with Atlantic stakeholders to target key areas for additional harmonization, and/or streamlining of regulations.
Atlantic Regional Economic Development
Premiers reaffirmed their commitment to promote the long-term economic competitiveness of the Atlantic region and to joint action on key competitiveness issues and opportunities. They call for a true partnership with the federal government, which reflects the priorities of all Atlantic provinces where economic development activities are co-ordinated, complementary, and delivered through cost-shared bilateral agreements. To expedite this, premiers are requesting a meeting with federal ACOA minister Peter MacKay, and federal regional ministers Loyola Hearn and Greg Thompson early in the new year.
Atlantic Premiers' Walking Challenge
Premiers agreed to participate in the 2007 Atlantic Premiers' Walking Challenge began by Premier Graham. It is a four-month event in which the premiers will wear pedometers and log their step count. The challenge is to walk through the equivalent of the four Atlantic Wonders (Confederation Bridge, Gros Morne National Park, Fundy National Park, and the Cabot Trail). The total distance is 544 kilometres or 652,800 steps. By participating in the event, the premiers want to lead by example and demonstrate the importance of physical activity to overall wellness.
Premiers Report on Progress on the Council of Atlantic Premiers' Action Plan
The premiers received a progress report on the implementation of Building on Progress: Atlantic Action Plan 2005-08 adopted in June 2005. Premiers noted progress in a number of sectors:
- Health: provinces are taking steps to integrate the use of electronic health with diagnostic imaging picture archiving and communication systems as Atlantic Canada is a recognized leader in this area.
- Government procurement: the region continues to pursue joint procurement tendering opportunities, building upon the examples of the Atlantic drivers licence project and the school bus procurement project, which achieved a savings of more than $1.7 million in 2006-2007.
- Education: premiers noted that the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training continues to focus its efforts on supporting program implementation and improving student performance, in addition to addressing post-secondary infrastructure and maintenance needs. The council will announce a number of classroom and teacher resource materials and provide an update on a federal-provincial-universities-college partnership to address campus infrastructure renewal.
- Transportation: provinces are harmonizing over-dimensional loads, and common escort driver training guidelines that will benefit the regional trucking industry by reducing government red tape.