ST. ANDREWS - August 8, 1997 — Premiers discussed Social Policy Renewal as a follow-up to their discussion at the 1996 Annual Premiers' Conference. The Premier of Quebec presented his views and did not participate in the consensus reached on social policy.
PROGRESS REPORT FROM THE MINISTERIAL COUNCIL ON SOCIAL POLICY RENEWAL
Premiers reviewed a Progress Report to Premiers - No. 2. This Progress Report was prepared by the Provincial/Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal to update Premiers on the progress made over the past year based on the directions set out by Premiers (except the Premier of Quebec) at the 1996 Annual Premiers Conference in Jasper, Alberta.
Premiers endorsed the work of the Provincial/Territorial Council in ensuring a coordinated and consistent approach to social policy issues of national importance and in supporting and coordinating the work of sectoral ministers to develop practical solutions in specific areas of priority. Premiers also endorsed the work of the Council with the federal government both in terms of progress in specific areas of priority as well and in the spirit of openness and cooperation that has been established.
Premiers agreed that over the next year, the Council should continue to move the social policy renewal agenda forward based on the areas identified in the Progress Report, both among provinces and territories and, where appropriate, with the federal government.
Premiers agreed that the spirit of cooperation that guides the work of the Council is an excellent example of how governments, working together, can strengthen Canada's social programs and the Canadian federation as a whole.
NEW APPROACHES TO CANADA'S SOCIAL UNION
Over the last two years, provinces and territories — working together — have succeeded in taking a leadership role and developing proposals for the renewal of Canada's social union. Their cooperation and progress have been unprecedented and have defined the agenda for Social Policy Renewal.
Premiers considered a paper from the Provincial/Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal which sets out options for new approaches for cooperation between governments that will strengthen and maintain the social union in Canada.
Premiers agreed that the federation needs practical approaches to renewing and revitalizing Canada and strengthening national unity. The time has come for the federal government to work cooperatively with provinces and territories on the practical approaches described in the paper.
Towards that end, Premiers committed to some tangible ways in which to further the work on renewing the social union they began two years ago.
Premiers agreed that the Council on Social Policy Renewal should negotiate with the federal government a broad framework agreement on the social union to address cross-sectoral issues such as common principles, the use of the federal spending power and new ways to manage and resolve disagreements.
Premiers also agreed that Finance Ministers should negotiate ways in which provinces, territories and the federal government can work more cooperatively on how Ottawa spends on social policy. Finance Ministers should begin early negotiations with the federal government on renewing Canada's existing financial arrangements in parallel with our discussions with Ottawa on the social union.
Premiers agreed that interprovincial/territorial cooperation and leadership in social policy renewal should be continued by developing a broad provincial/territorial framework agreement to guide national social policy renewal in areas of provincial/territorial responsibility on issues such as mobility, portability, comparability, common principles, outcome goals, and processes for resolving disagreements, etc., with specific agreements in priority areas within sectors such as education or health.
Premiers expressed their desire to strengthen the role of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal in coordinating and monitoring this work on social policy renewal, and clarifying its channels for communicating with First Ministers.
Premiers decided that the Provincial/Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal should continue to coordinate social policy renewal initiatives. Premiers asked that the Council provide a report on the status of their negotiations with the federal government on developing a partnership approach to managing the social union by January 1998 and endeavour to complete their negotiations by August 1998.
APPROACHES TO FEDERAL OFFLOADING
Premiers discussed the issue of federal off-loading, particularly with respect to federal reductions in services and support for Aboriginal peoples. Premiers emphasized their longstanding concern over the federal government's refusal to accept full treaty, historical, constitutional and fiduciary responsibilities for Aboriginal Canadians on and off reserve. As a result, provinces and territories face increasing pressure to make expenditures to meet the needs of Aboriginal peoples. Premiers agreed that transitional and implementation costs associated with self-government should be the responsibility of the Government of Canada.
Premiers directed Aboriginal Affairs Ministers to begin discussions with their new federal counterpart and national aboriginal leaders on a comprehensive approach to ensure the federal government meets its constitutional and fiduciary obligations to Aboriginal peoples. The comprehensive approach must recognize that different provinces and territories have different circumstances with respect to the financing, design, and delivery of programs and services for Aboriginal Canadians. They asked the Provincial-Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal to continue to monitor the progress made in advancing this critical issue with the federal government.
NATIONAL CHILD BENEFIT
Premiers emphasized their continuing commitment to eliminating child poverty in Canada.
Premiers acknowledged the substantial progress of Social Services Ministers in developing the National Child Benefit program, in partnership with the federal government, and directed them to complete work for implementation as soon as possible.
Premiers called upon the federal government to make a commitment that, by the year 2000, it will provide the annual investment necessary for the National Child Benefit to fully meet its objectives. It is estimated that an annual investment of at least $2.5 billion in the National Child Benefit is required for it to fully achieve its objectives.
At last year's Annual Premiers' Conference, Premiers asked Finance Ministers to work with their federal counterpart to ensure that an agenda for the redesign of financial arrangements proceeds and is coordinated with social policy renewal. Premiers stated "it is absolutely vital that when federal responsibilities are transferred to provinces and territories, adequate and predictable compensation for those responsibilities must also be transferred."
Provincial/Territorial Finance Ministers are working to finalize a report on these issues. This work represents a big step for provinces and territories, in developing a better understanding of each others' challenges and priorities, and in coming to a common understanding of the complex history of intergovernmental financial arrangements in this country and current issues that need resolution.
- there is a fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the provinces and territories and this imbalance is growing;
- the federal claim that part of provincial/territorial tax revenues constitute a federal transfer to provinces and territories has reduced accountability and confused discussion on the size of the cuts to federal funding for social programs; and,
- coordinating the redesign of financial arrangements with social policy renewal will require addressing provincial/territorial differences in the ability to raise revenues and ensure that individuals are treated as fairly as possible no matter where they reside in Canada.
Premiers have asked their Finance Ministers to meet, finalize their work, and recommend a plan to address provincial/territorial priorities in financial arrangements, including the equalization program. A process for developing a true partnership approach with the federal government is required. It is essential that all provinces, territories, and the federal government work together to ensure that financial arrangements allow Canadians to have access to reasonably comparable social programming, wherever they go in Canada.
Premiers asked Finance Ministers to work closely with the Council on Social Policy Renewal to ensure that finance issues are coordinated with the work of the Council.
NATIONAL CHILDREN'S AGENDA
Premiers discussed the work currently in its initial stages, being undertaken by sectoral Ministers to develop a "National Children's Agenda".
Premiers noted that a National Children's Agenda will complement the National Child Benefit by providing a national approach to healthy child development. Premiers agreed that a National Children's Agenda can ensure coordinated action between governments and across program sectors.
Premiers expressed their strong support for the development of a National Children's Agenda, and agreed that this is a priority within the overall social policy renewal process.
NATIONAL MOBILITY INITIATIVE
Premiers noted that Canadians should be able to move freely throughout Canada without barriers based on residency. Premiers agreed that the federal government's unilateral cuts to the Canada Health and Social Transfer have, however, reduced the funds necessary to help support the mobility of Canadians.
In discussing Social Policy Renewal, Premiers observed that a defining principle of Canada's social union should be that social programs do not create barriers to mobility. Premiers noted the federal government has expressed interest in addressing questions of mobility in social programs, and currently enforces mobility provisions on a unilateral basis through the CHST prohibition on residency requirements for social assistance and the portability principle of the Canada Health Act.
Premiers indicated that they are prepared to discuss this matter within the context of discussions on managing the social union. They directed the provincial/territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal to review questions of mobility issues in federal, provincial and territorial social programs, with a view to reducing or eliminating unreasonable restrictions to mobility, and better defining the commitments of governments to protecting mobility. Premiers also asked the Council to consider alternative means of enforcing current federal mobility requirements that would eliminate the unilateral aspects of these provisions.