Western Premiers focus on competitiveness and rural and remote communities

Iqaluit, Nunavut (July 10, 2014) – Western Premiers met in Iqaluit over the past two days and emphasized the importance of continued economic growth in the West. Premiers discussed a number of priorities including labour market development, market access and internal trade. They also acknowledged the vital role that rural and remote communities play in the prosperity of Canada.

Developing the labour market

The need for skilled labour continues to increase in Western Canada. With a number of major projects either underway or in the development phase, existing labour shortages are only expected to deepen.

Premiers agreed that residents in their rural and remote communities need to be prepared to take advantage of increased job opportunities from the growing economy. They emphasized the shared role of employers, industry and government in skills development and on-the-job training to build capacity at the local level, particularly in Aboriginal and northern communities.

Having trusted, reliable, and up-to-date labour market information is essential for governments, employers, and for workers making employment decisions. Premiers discussed the importance of prioritizing the use of data to make joint decisions, and committed to sharing labour market information.

Western Premiers agreed to:

  • call on their Labour Market Ministers to continue developing opportunities for individuals in rural and remote communities to build the skills needed to benefit from economic development;
  • ask Western Labour Market Ministers to prepare a report on labour mobility and demand of major projects within the western provinces and territories;
  • show leadership and cooperation in supporting worker mobility by enhancing the transferability of post-secondary and trades education credits, including competency-based assessments; and
  • call on the federal government to provide better access to existing data from areas of federal jurisdiction, such as Employment Insurance data by economic development region and tax data.

When discussing changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) announced by the federal government on June 20, 2014, Premiers agreed that it is important to ensure Canadians have the first chance at the available jobs, and that employers should be held responsible for violating the rules of the program. However, Premiers are concerned that the recent changes go too far in restricting access to the program. Western Canada has a strong economy and unique labour market needs that often make it necessary for employers to rely on foreign workers when qualified Canadians cannot be found. Limiting the ability to hire foreign workers to address critical labour shortages will unduly punish responsible employers in Western Canada, particularly those in smaller and remote communities where Canadian workers are not readily available. Premiers also noted that temporary foreign workers often transition to permanent residency, such as through the Provincial and Territorial Nominee Programs, and become long-term contributors to the labour force. Premiers emphasized the need to ensure that the planned overhaul of Canada’s economic immigration system in 2015 is responsive to the diverse needs of western Canadian jurisdictions.

In advance of the FPT Labour Market Ministers’ meeting, Western Premiers discussed their concern about the federal government’s intention to alter provincial-territorial Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDA). 

Labour Market Development Agreements enable provinces and territories to provide direct assistance to Employment Insurance-eligible clients, ensuring they attain the valuable skills required to return to the workforce as quickly as possible. Premiers noted that existing programs have proven to successfully support Canadians getting the training they need to get back to work. Western Premiers also noted that the responsibility over skills training has been devolved by the federal government to provinces and territories, as they are best placed to better deliver training and support programs that meet local needs. The federal government has provided no evidence that any change in approach is needed. Western Premiers will also discuss this issue at the 2014 Summer Meeting of Canada’s Premiers in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island later this summer.

Western Premiers also discussed the challenges posed by the timing of LMDA and TFWP changes. Premiers urged the federal government to:

  • consider how these changes may reduce labour availability; and
  • engage in a collaborative dialogue with western Canadian provinces and territories to explore ways to accommodate the unique labour challenges of the region.

Improving market access

Western Premiers congratulated the federal government on concluding the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement. They welcomed federal efforts to secure further free trade agreements (FTAs) with key markets to strengthen Canada’s competitiveness and urged the rapid conclusion of ambitious FTAs, including the Canada European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and bilateral agreements with India and Japan.

Premiers noted that an ambitious TPP would improve Canada’s access to the Asia-Pacific region and ensure that Canada remains a preferred market for the United States (US).  US protectionism continues to be a concern for Premiers.  Premiers supported the federal government’s work in the US and in international forums, to address US Protectionism, particularly the Grow America Act.

Premiers also discussed the need for improved bilateral air transport agreements to ensure western provinces and territories can fully capitalize on the FTAs.

Canada’s trade success hinges on having an effective and efficient transportation system to reliably get goods and services to market. To this end, Western Premiers:

  • welcome a transparent review by the federal government of the Canada Transportation Act, focusing on regulatory and policy changes to improve the competitive environment and balance the relationship between shippers and railways;
  • call on the federal government to expand monitoring systems and information sharing and ensure full transparency between stakeholders involved in Canada’s supply chain system; and
  • call on the federal government to work with provinces, territories and the private sector to ensure that gateway facilities and transportation networks, in particular the Asia-Pacific gateway, accommodate current and future exports.

Modernizing internal trade

Premiers agreed it is essential to accelerate cooperative efforts to strengthen Canada’s economic union. Western Premiers support an ambitious modernization agenda to achieve substantial progress. Premiers noted that the original Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) was signed as a direct result of Premiers’ leadership in 1994 and took effect in 1995. Since that time, significant progress has been made by the provinces and territories to broaden the AIT’s coverage on labour mobility and public procurement, to remove technical barriers in the agriculture and foods sector, and to put in place an enforceable dispute resolution mechanism.

Western Premiers remain committed to the objectives originally set out in the 1994 Agreement.  However, the Canadian economy and the global trading environment within which Canada operates have evolved since the AIT was signed. As such, bold new steps must be taken to maximize our country’s ability to be globally competitive and to ensure consistency between our internal and international trade agreements.

Exploring solutions for off-grid communities

Western Premiers are committed to supporting economic growth throughout the West and noted the challenges faced by some off-grid and remote communities that rely on diesel-fueled energy generation technologies, which are often expensive and emissions intensive. Premiers agreed that resource development and community and economic growth should be enhanced through the availability of innovative off-grid energy solutions in these communities.

Western Premiers directed their Energy Ministers to work on identifying barriers to the reduction of diesel use in off-grid communities and ways to increase access to affordable, clean, and reliable supplies of energy. Ministers are asked to focus on practical solutions that use innovative technologies that can be applied to small communities. Premiers directed Energy Ministers to report back on this work at the Western Premiers’ Conference in 2015. Western Premiers will also work with their colleagues across the country in addressing this issue through the Canadian Energy Strategy.

Improving access to housing

Western Premiers recognized that access to stable and affordable housing is fundamental to a strong economy and to the health and well-being of western Canadians. Adequate housing allows families to participate more readily in the workforce, reduces dependencies on costly government programs such as healthcare, policing and justice and increases the level of academic achievement attained by children and youth. This is particularly evident in Aboriginal and northern communities. Premiers stressed the need to work with the federal government to develop a long-term, sustainable partnership to support housing needs.

Addressing aboriginal child welfare

Western Premiers discussed the disproportionate and large number of Aboriginal children taken into care across the country. They recognized the need for governments to work in consultation with Aboriginal communities to address this Canada-wide problem.

Western Premiers urge the federal government to show leadership and commit to working in partnership with provinces, territories and Aboriginal communities to address these critical issues facing Aboriginal children and families.

Western Premiers directed provincial and territorial Social Services Ministers work with Aboriginal Affairs Ministers to consider ways to reduce the number of Aboriginal children taken into care by child welfare authorities and to improve the quality of care.

Disaster management and assistance

Western Premiers discussed the frequency and severity of recent natural disasters, including current major floods in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and stressed the critical importance of continuing strong, reliable federal support for disaster management and recovery assistance.

Premiers call on the federal government to:

  • broaden the definition of a “disaster event” to include multiple smaller events that have large, cumulative impacts;
  • maintain its longstanding 90-10 cost-sharing arrangement for disaster recovery; and
  • allow communities to rebuild to a higher, more resilient standard.

They praised first responders and Canada’s military for their exemplary efforts in dealing with emergency situations across the country and acknowledged that they had been key to saving lives and livelihoods. Noting that advance planning and investment in disaster mitigation infrastructure have been proven to reduce the scale and costs of natural disasters, Western Premiers called on the federal government to substantially strengthen its new mitigation programs to enable provinces, territories and Aboriginal communities to move ahead quickly with high-priority flood protection and other projects.

2015 Western Premiers’ Conference

Premier Wall confirmed that Saskatchewan will host next year’s Western Premiers’ Conference.

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Contact Information:
Yasmina Pepa
Press Secretary to Premier Taptuna
867.975.5059
ypepa@gov.nu.ca

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