Premiers set nation’s agenda

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Wed Aug 04 2010

The annual premiers’ conference—which begins today in Manitoba—used to be largely a social event, combining rounds of golf with a few gratuitous shots at Ottawa. Not any more.

While Ottawa has been mostly consumed with “gotcha politics” over the past decade, the premiers have focused on substantive issues. As a result, their annual conference has become an agenda-setter for the nation.

Atop this year’s agenda are Aboriginal issues, with the premiers meeting native leaders in Churchill today, and the economy and health care when they shift to Winnipeg Thursday and Friday.

On Aboriginal issues, the premiers and native leaders are making incremental efforts to bring back the Kelowna accord, which was killed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They will discuss ways to kick-start economic development and to improve education for Aboriginal peoples.

On the economy, the premiers will debate the merits of extending stimulus spending beyond next year’s March 31 cut-off date, as opposed to launching austerity programs. There is concern that, if federal funding is withheld from projects not completed by the end of March, we may see buildings without roofs.

And on health care, the premiers will exchange ideas on saving money, especially on prescription drugs.

While it is not on the formal agenda, the premiers are also expected to discuss the federal government’s plans to gut next year’s census by making the long-form voluntary. Since the provinces depend heavily on information gleaned from the census in formulating public policy, the premiers don’t want to see it watered down.

Finally, the western premiers are expected to push for a declaration on water conservation.

Given that the premiers span the political spectrum from left to right, a meaningful consensus on most of these issues is unlikely. For example, the three western-most provinces—British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan—have small-c conservative governments (B.C.’s is only nominally Liberal) that are not expected to sign on to unambiguous calls for the continuation of economic stimulus or the retention of the mandatory long-form census.

Given that the premiers span the political spectrum from left to right, a meaningful consensus on most of these issues is unlikely.

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