Premiers once again noted that the federal government raises over $5 billion per year in fuel tax revenue. Of that $5 billion, the federal government spends only $13 million for highways in western Canada. Premiers called on the federal government to bring its support for western transportation infrastructure more in line with the revenues it derives from federal fuel taxes.
Western Premiers called upon the federal government to commit in the 2000/01 federal budget significant, long term funding for a National Transportation Investment Strategy with a National Highway Program as a major component.
The Premiers noted that investment in a National Transportation Investment Strategy is urgently required to preserve infrastructure, help the growing economy support our social programs, improve domestic productivity and enhance international competitiveness, given that Canada's major trading partners and competitors have all made significant commitments to upgrading their transport systems. Canada is the only G-7 country without a transportation investment strategy, at a time when the federal government in the United States is leading a six-year, $218 billion (U.S.) transportation investment program.
Premiers agreed that funding should focus on upgrading highway infrastructure, but as part of a broader investment strategy, funds may also be invested in projects associated with other federal, provincial and territorial priorities and objectives such as the improvement of trade corridors, border crossings, strategic ports and harbours, intermodal facilities, urban and regional transit, and intelligent transportation systems.
Premiers agreed that in developing funding arrangements for a National Transportation Investment Strategy, special consideration must be given to the needs of remote northern regions which may have low traffic volumes but rely on the national transportation infrastructure for access, tourism and economic development. There was acknowledgment and support by the Western Premiers for Nunavut's aspiration to physically join the nation through the development of a highway system.
GRAIN HANDLING AND TRANSPORTATION REFORM
Premiers reviewed the status of changes to the grain handling and transportation system, which they first urged the federal government to undertake at the 1997 Western Premiers' Conference. They agreed that reforms are required to the system, in order to improve performance and maximize net returns to producers.
They noted that the Estey Review on the western grain handling and transportation system was an important start, and that the "next steps" in the reform process must support the stated objectives of western provinces. Premiers, therefore, directed western Transportation Ministers to continuing advancing western interests during these next steps.
Premiers endorsed the move toward a more commercial system, provided that:
Premiers reiterated their views that northern trade corridors must be improved and affordable access provided to northern ports such as Prince Rupert and Churchill. The Western Provinces agree with the goal of developing the potential of Prince Rupert, Churchill and the St. Lawrence Seaway so that the use of these international gateways will enhance the nation's grain exports.
Premiers called on the federal government to pursue its reform process, led by Mr. Kroeger, in a manner that actively involves producers and western provinces; and that addresses and links all components of the system, to ensure that the changes developed improve system performance and maximize net returns to producers.
Premiers renewed the call for a "standstill" to railway branch line abandonment at least until the Kroeger recommendations are made to the federal government.
Premiers emphasized the importance of agricultural trade to the western Canadian economy, and they noted the significance of the November 1999 Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle in launching a new round of global negotiations on agriculture and services. Premiers agreed that Canadian objectives in these negotiations should include:
Premiers noted that success in meeting these objectives could contribute significantly to reducing current tensions in bilateral Canada-U.S. agricultural trade.
Premiers observed that public consultations on the desired objectives for the WTO negotiations were either underway or being planned in several provinces. Premiers asked Western Ministers responsible for trade policy to consider further common western trade objectives.
PROVINCIAL ROLE IN INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS
Noting the federal government's recognition that 'domestic policy is foreign policy …foreign policy is domestic policy', Premiers agreed that western provinces and territories need a greater role in the negotiation, implementation and management of international agreements related to trade, investment, and the environment.
Premiers reiterated their longstanding support for a formalized federal-provincial-territorial agreement on the provincial-territorial role in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements. They called on the Prime Minister to provide direction to appropriate federal Ministers to work expeditiously with their provincial/ territorial counterparts to conclude such an agreement.
Premiers identified several upcoming international negotiations as critical for early provincial and territorial involvement:
Western Premiers supported British Columbia's bid for involvement in ongoing Pacific Salmon Treaty discussions and negotiations. Premiers noted with concern the federal government's decision to exclude British Columbia from participation in Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations with US States. Premiers agreed that the federal government should actively engage Canadian Pacific Salmon Commissioners and reconfirm its commitment to effective provincial participation in government to government negotiations.
Western Premiers discussed a range of ways in which their jurisdictions could co-operate on international trade promotion activities. Premiers agreed that western and northern jurisdictions share many common interests in the area of international trade and agreed that western provinces and territories can collectively benefit by raising the profile of Western Canada as a trading partner and as a place to invest.
Premiers took note of the recent work of Western and Northern Ministers of Economic Development and encouraged them to work together on ways to increase the visibility and effectiveness of western market development efforts. Premiers agreed to plan joint trade promotion activities in sectors that are a priority for all Western jurisdictions, such as tourism. Western Premiers also agreed to consider future Team West missions.
Western Premiers reviewed the status of the outstanding negotiations on the Agreement on Internal Trade. They noted that, while progress is occurring, further work remains to be done to complete the procurement, energy, investment and agriculture negotiations. Western Premiers urged their Ministers responsible for internal trade to work with their provincial, territorial and federal counterparts to complete these negotiations.
NORTHERN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Western Premiers discussed the challenges facing Northern economies. Premiers acknowledged the serious challenges that global economic uncertainties and depressed commodity prices present to resource-based economies throughout Canada. Given the high degree of dependence on resource extraction that is characteristic of northern areas, Premiers recognized the efforts of the northern territories to diversify and integrate their economies to respond to these challenges, while dealing with the additional unique challenges of demographic change and inadequate infrastructure.
Premiers supported the efforts of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to strengthen their capacity for economic development by negotiating devolution of control over resources and by establishing stronger direct relations with different federal departments. Premiers urged the federal government to include Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in all federal programs.
Premiers asked Western Economic Development Ministers to follow up on the initiatives identified by Northwestern Economic Development Ministers dealing with co-operation in transportation corridor development, electronic highway infrastructure, and in trade and tourism promotion.
DISASTER FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE ARRANGEMENTS
Premiers reviewed a consensus position on the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements that was developed by provincial and territorial Ministers last Fall. The position was developed in anticipation of possible federal proposals to cut back future support levels for emergency protection and disaster recovery. Premiers stressed the need for permanent ongoing federal-provincial-territorial arrangements, including cost-sharing, to support disaster protection and prevention. Premiers confirmed their strong support for the provincial-territorial consensus position and welcomed the undertaking by the federal Minister of National Defence not to initiate any changes to the current arrangements without prior consultation with his provincial and territorial colleagues.
Premiers noted with concern lapses in previous federal-provincial cooperation on diking arrangements. Preventative diking is critical to the protection of property. Premiers called for the restoration of the Fraser River Flood Control Program, operative between 1968 to 1995, which was an excellent example of federal-provincial joint funding on diking.
COOPERATION WITH SOUTH AFRICAN PROVINCES
Premiers noted that the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Program on Governance has played a very positive role in establishing successful cooperation arrangements between South African provinces and Canadian provinces. Arrangements with the western Provinces have been among the most active. Premiers called upon the federal government and the IDRC to renew the Governance Program for another five years starting in the spring of 2000. Premiers also reiterated their support for a Team Canada trade mission to South Africa at an appropriate time.
PAN AMERICAN GAMES
Western Premiers noted that the XIIIth Pan American Games will be held in Winnipeg, July 23 to August 8, 1999 bringing an expected 5,000 athletes from across the Americas to Canada.
2000 WESTERN PREMIERS' CONFERENCE
Premier Filmon announced that the 27th Annual Western Premiers' Conference will be held in 2000 in Manitoba.