2000 Western Premiers’ Conference


BRANDON, MAY 24, 2000 --This afternoon in Brandon, Manitoba, Western Premiers continued their 2000 annual conference by discussing Canada's health care system, agriculture and trade issues, transportation, environment, and northern economic development.


Premiers discussed the state of Canada's health care system and the various pressures that exist in each jurisdiction. They reaffirmed their commitment to the principles of the Canada Health Act and to a publicly funded, sustainable health care system.

Premiers agreed that there is an urgent need to stabilize federal-provincial-territorial funding arrangements in support of the public health care system, to seek innovative solutions to health care delivery, and to work together to share best practices in health care innovation, acute care services, community-based health, prevention and wellness, and prescription drugs.

Premiers reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining a sustainable publicly funded health care system and acknowledged the top priority that Canadians place on these programs. However, they expressed significant concern that federal funding for health and social programs remains well below the levels transferred in support of these programs in 1994/95. They reiterated their position that the federal government's first step in helping provinces/territories sustain health care must be to immediately and fully restore the CHST to its 1994/95 levels with an appropriate escalator to ensure that federal funding for health care keeps pace with the economic and social factors which impact on the sustainability of the system.

Premiers discussed their concerns over the future sustainability of Canada's health care system and, in particular, those factors that continue to drive up costs. They also expressed concern that, for the first time in history, the cost of pharmaceuticals on a national basis has exceeded the cost of physician compensation. Premiers agreed to share information on various efforts to deal effectively with rising drug costs.

They also noted that the costs of transporting patients is one of the significant factors driving health care costs in the north. Premiers agreed that it makes greater sense to spend more on community-based health services such as dialysis instead of medivacs.

Western Premiers directed their Health Ministers to work with their colleagues to finalize the report on cost drivers and health system sustainability and to submit it to Premiers on a priority basis. They look forward to discussing the Report and next steps with the other Premiers.

Premiers invited the federal government to make clear its intended financial participation to support the Canada Health Act. Western Premiers reiterated their request for a Premiers' meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the future sustainability of a publicly funded health care system, including cost drivers in the system.

Premiers discussed the various reform initiatives taking place in all jurisdictions and expressed their commitment to ensuring that Canadians continue to receive high quality health care services. They acknowledged that reform to the health care system needs to continue and that further reforms will require additional financial commitments from all governments to support the transition to these reforms. Premiers pointed out that provincial and territorial health care spending has increased significantly in recent years, including within all of their 2000 budgets.

Premiers discussed the challenge of finding the right balance between investments in front line services and investments in programs that promote wellness.

Premiers noted that many western provinces and territories will be undertaking or have completed special reviews or summits on the state of health care. These reviews will address the issue of adequate funding and examine innovative solutions to health care issues. They noted that an important focus of the reviews must be healthy communities, prevention, and wellness. Premiers agreed to share the results of these reviews with each other as well as best practices in acute care services, community health, health information networks including tele-health, and prescription drugs.

Premiers received a status report on work being carried out by Ministers of Health in four priority areas: Information, Health Human Resources, Aboriginal Health Status, and Centres of Excellence. They were pleased with the work accomplished to date and stressed the importance for continued collaboration. Premiers directed their Health Ministers to continue work in these important areas and to share research to support further innovations.


Premiers acknowledged that the economy of Western Canada was built over the past 100 years on the foundation of the family farm and noted that western agriculture is going through a historic period of change. They emphasized the importance of agriculture to the western economy and expressed confidence that it will continue to contribute to the future prosperity of western Canada.

Premiers discussed the emergence of genetically modified food as an important issue facing western agriculture, western grain transportation, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, and the ongoing problem of trade-distorting subsidies.

Premiers discussed the current economic benefits and future potential of the biotechnology sector. They emphasized, as a priority, the need to address consumer safety and environmental concerns on the basis of sound science. Premiers directed their Ministers of Agriculture to develop, on a priority basis, a strategy to promote western agricultural products, including canola and livestock, to the Asian and other world markets.

Premiers reviewed the recent federal announcement of changes affecting the western grain transportation system and endorsed the need for a more accountable, efficient, commercial grain handling and transportation system. They noted the importance of meeting customer needs and of western grain producers receiving benefits from an efficient western grain transportation system.

Premiers noted the importance of the provision for continuous monitoring and reporting by an independent private-sector third party to assess the impact of these anticipated changes. They called upon the federal government for meaningful provincial involvement in the monitoring process. Premiers stressed the need to increase federal funding for roads and also noted that the issue of increasing the global competitiveness of western ports, including Churchill and Prince Rupert, still needs to be addressed through further federal actions. They reiterated the importance of lowering grain transportation costs for western grain producers and indicated their desire for a cooperative approach with the federal government and key stakeholders to continue to modernize and reform the western grain transportation system.

Rising out of concerns raised regarding the effectiveness of the application of the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements in Western Canada, Premiers called on the federal government to meet to discuss the 1998 consensus position of Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements in an effort to improve ongoing arrangements and to ensure the integrity of this essential safety net program.

Premiers agreed that a successful outcome at the new round of agriculture negotiations recently launched by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is critical to the long-term economic viability of Western Canadian producers. They called on the federal government to ensure that Western Canadian agricultural interests are not traded-off to protect or promote other interests in these negotiations.

Specifically, Premiers urged the federal government to take aggressive action in the WTO negotiations on agriculture to achieve the elimination of all forms of export subsidies on an expedited basis, the elimination or at least substantial reductions in production and trade-distorting domestic subsidies and greater disciplines on all forms of subsidies, as well as substantial increases in international market access for Western Canadian agricultural exports. Pending a resolution of these issues, Premiers urged the federal government to work with provinces to aggressively review safety net programs to ensure that they reflect current realities for our producers. They also agreed that domestic plant and animal health and safety standards should be both high and effective, that they should be based on sound science, and that the WTO rules in this area should also reflect these qualities to the maximum extent.

Premiers noted the importance of taking immediate advantage of new and enhanced market opportunities afforded by trade agreements and improved bilateral relations with the U.S. They recognized the benefits of continued open communication and information sharing between governments and producers on both sides of the border. Premiers welcomed the opportunity to discuss strategies for further enhancing relations between Western Canada and the Western States at their meeting tomorrow with the governors of North Dakota and Idaho at the International Peace Garden.


Premiers reiterated their call for a National Transportation Investment Strategy, involving substantial, stable, and long-term federal funding. They stressed that funding should be directed towards transportation priorities such as highways, strategic transportation corridors, and urban and regional mass transit. Premiers urged the federal government to reconsider its support for such an approach, given that transportation investment is more critical than ever for Canada's competitive advantage. Premiers noted that the federal government raises over $5 billion per year in fuel tax revenues. In the 2000 federal budget, the federal government allocated on a national basis only $600 million over 4 years for transportation.

Premiers further noted that the federal government's proposed approach to allocating funding for the new national transportation and infrastructure program yields an insignificant and clearly inadequate share to the territorial governments. They agreed that federal infrastructure funding should provide an adequate base level of support to all the provinces and territories. This funding should take into account the pressing infrastructure needs of remote and sparsely populated areas.

Premiers agreed that they must work together to ensure Ottawa holds Air Canada to providing quality, affordable passenger and cargo services in Western and Northern Canada, and that Ottawa lives up to its responsibility to ensure that devolved airports remain viable and safe.


Premiers reaffirmed their desire for an effective agreement that will ensure that governments within Canada do not engage in artificial competition for investment. They renewed their commitment to honour the obligations of the Code of Conduct on Incentives under the Agreement on Internal Trade and directed their ministers responsible for internal trade to finalize improvements to the Code of Conduct on a priority basis.

Premiers indicated their support for cooperative efforts among governments to increase Western Canada's profile as an attractive location for international investments. They directed their ministers responsible for economic development to explore possible further cooperative ventures to enhance investment in all western provinces/territories.


Premiers reaffirmed that they must continue to place a greater emphasis on more sustainable and efficient forms of economic growth. They agreed that, to achieve this goal, new ways of thinking about environmental responsibilities must be embraced by all sectors of society.

Premiers discussed several critical environmental issues, including the five-year review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, climate change, water export, and endangered species. In all of these areas, Premiers recognized the need for a comprehensive approach that reflects the priorities and concerns of provinces and territories.

Premiers noted that provinces and territories have developed a set of proposals to amend the CEAA in order to promote a "one project-one assessment" approach. With respect to climate change, Premiers expressed support for reasonable actions to purse the most efficient and cost-effective options for greenhouse gas reductions and to ensure that no region is asked to bear an unreasonable burden. They renewed their commitment to prevent bulk water removal from Canada.

Premiers agreed on the importance of protecting endangered species and reaffirmed their support for the National Accord on Species at Risk. They called on the federal government to work with provinces and territories to ensure that the proposed federal approach respects jurisdictional responsibilities and complements actions being taken by provinces and territories to fulfil their commitments under the Accord.


Premiers discussed the challenges that provinces and territories face in developing their northern economies. They expressed concern that the territories are unable to access a federally funded economic development or diversification agreement. Recognizing the unique needs, desires, and capacities of each territory, Premiers called on the federal government to commence bilateral discussions with the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut to determine how current and future federal programming can best meet the economic development and diversification needs of northern people.

Premiers restated their support of efforts by Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut to strengthen their capacity for economic development and diversification by negotiating devolution of jurisdiction over land and resources and by establishing stronger direct relations with federal departments.

- 30 -