DRUMHELLER, Alberta - May 20, 1999
Western Premiers convened their 26th Annual meeting in Drumheller at the world class Royal Tyrrell Museum. Premiers welcomed their new colleague, Premier Paul Okalik, to this year's conference. Participation by the new territory of Nunavut represents a historic occasion for Western Premiers as they considered current priorities and future directions for the west and north.
WESTERN FINANCE MINISTERS' REPORT
Premiers reviewed and endorsed the 1999 Western Finance Ministers' Report.
The Report highlights the West's achievement of strong overall economic and employment growth over the past five years. Through their commitment to sound fiscal management, Western provinces and territories have successfully balanced the need for deficit and tax reduction while maintaining quality services in priority social programs like health care.
The Report addressed federal-provincial-territorial funding arrangements under the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). Premiers called for the federal government to restore the remainder of the $6.2 billion cut to the CHST cash transfer to bring it back to 1994-95 levels. Premiers did note that in its recent budget the federal government responded positively to the unanimous provincial-territorial position calling for increased federal funding for health care through the existing transfer arrangements. The report notes that the funding increase was a partial restoration of the health care portion of the CHST but not enough to keep pace with rapidly increasing provincial and territorial health care costs. Premiers stressed that governments must maintain a strong focus on health care in order to ensure that Canadians continue to receive quality health care.
Premiers also emphasized the importance of post-secondary education for Canada's future and called for a commitment to the restoration of the post-secondary education portion of the funding under the CHST by the next federal budget. Premiers also asked Western Ministers to work together to develop a paper toward a national strategy on post-secondary education issues. The paper will be advanced at the Annual Premiers' Conference in Quebec City in August.
Premiers expressed their support for the Federal Equalization program. Premiers stated that the equalization program should be the vehicle to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services, at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. At the same time, to ensure fairness, Premiers stated that other federal programs should treat all Canadians equally - regardless of where they live in Canada.
Other key recommendations of the Report considered by Premiers included:
Premiers acknowledged that health remains the number one priority of western Canadians and discussed the challenges and critical issues facing western provincial/territorial health care systems, including:
Premiers noted that the prosperity of Western provinces and territories is inextricably linked to the health and wellness of residents, and that ensuring a healthy population is crucial to the economic future of the west.
They agreed that the determinants of good health go far beyond the provision of health care services. Education, housing, employment and many other factors have significant influence on the health status of Canadians.
Premiers affirmed their commitment to working together to sustain an affordable, high quality health care system, and directed Western Health Ministers to prepare an action plan which, among other things, might include public forums. The action plan will be presented at the next Western Premiers' Conference. The report should focus on opportunities for collaboration in health care, including:
CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Premiers discussed Social Policy Renewal initiatives regarding children and youth, including: the National Children's Agenda (NCA); and National Child Benefit (NCB); Youth Employment Strategy; National Aboriginal Youth Strategy; and Student Financial Assistance.
National Children's Agenda
Premiers acknowledged the work of the Ministerial Council on Social Policy Renewal in releasing discussion papers on the National Children's Agenda and initiating public consultations at its meeting in Saskatoon on May 7. The National Children's Agenda provides a framework for government and community actions to improve the well being of Canadian children, co-ordinates efforts and creates partnerships among sectors which share responsibility for services to children, and assists in the development of a national approach to child well being. Premiers expressed strong support for the public dialogue process.
The Goals for the National Children's Agenda include:
National Child Benefit
Premiers noted the release of the National Child Benefit Progress Report: 1999, at the meeting of Social Services Ministers in Quebec City on May 14. This report is the first comprehensive public report issued on the National Child Benefit since the implementation of the initiative in July 1998.
Although substantial progress has been achieved on the first phase of the National Child Benefit, significant further progress is required to reduce child poverty and move children off welfare. To date, the federal government has committed $1.7B annually. Full implementation requires a total federal investment of $2.5B annually combined with associated provincial/territorial reinvestments in programs and services for low-income families with children.
Premiers confirmed their determination to achieve full implementation of the National Child Benefit, and agreed to call on the federal government to make the necessary provisions as soon as possible. In addition, Premiers agreed to review the National Child Benefit funding issue at the 1999 Annual Premiers' Conference.
Youth Employment Strategy
Premiers reiterated their continued commitment to addressing youth unemployment on an urgent basis and reviewed the status of progress in implementing the federal/provincial/territorial "Four Point Agenda on Youth Employment":
They noted that the agenda is continuing to be implemented within each jurisdiction, as well as through joint federal-provincial projects. Premiers expressed their interest in raising this issue at the 1999 Annual Premiers' Conference.
National Aboriginal Youth Strategy
Premiers discussed the status of joint work being undertaken by F/P/T Aboriginal Affairs Ministers and national Aboriginal organizations to develop a National Aboriginal Youth Strategy. Premiers urged that development continue on a priority basis, to ensure that the needs of Aboriginal youth are addressed.
Noting the importance of collaborative partnerships, as well as effective planning and coordination, Premiers directed their Labour Market Ministers and their Aboriginal Affairs Ministers to work together, to ensure there are effective linkages between the Youth Employment and the National Aboriginal Youth strategies.
Student Financial Assistance
Premiers discussed the situation facing students pursuing post-secondary education and skills training, namely the continued need for improved employment opportunities and effective student financial assistance.
Premiers noted the discussions between Provincial-Territorial Ministers and the Millennium Scholarship Foundation to ensure that the scholarships will be awarded in accordance with needs-based eligibility criteria currently used in federal and provincial student financial assistance programs. These developments have begun to allow provinces and territories to sign agreements with the Foundation.
Premiers agreed that continued federal-provincial efforts are required to achieve harmonization of federal and provincial student financial assistance programs, and called on the federal government to work with provinces/territories to pursue agreements that meet students' needs, and reflect fair financial arrangements between both orders of government.
AGRICULTURE INCOME DISASTER ASSISTANCE
Western Premiers discussed the Agriculture Income Disaster Assistance program (AIDA) and expressed concern about its current structure. Premiers noted that it is too bureaucratic and the application process is too complicated. The program is unlikely to help in a timely fashion many farmers who are most in need. Premiers stressed that the federal government should urgently reevaluate the program with a view to addressing these problems.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR THE WEST
Premiers discussed the rapid change and evolution of the West over the last 25 years. While many have viewed the West as a resource dependent region, its economy has evolved and job growth is now occurring in such sectors as small business, tourism and high technology. Premiers discussed a number of important trends and challenges that have helped to shape the west - globalization, changing demographics, economic transformations. Premiers directed Ministers to develop an agenda and an action plan for a special Western Premiers' Conference to be held in the fall in Alberta.