MOOSE JAW, May 31, 2001 -- Western Premiers discussed the current state of federal - provincial/territorial relations, and reaffirmed their commitment to continuing to strengthen the relationship among provinces and territories, both on a western and a Canada-wide basis. They agreed that close cooperation among provincial and territorial governments is essential for making progress on key priorities and in dealing with the federal government.
Premiers noted that some progress has been made since last year's Western Premiers' Conference in Brandon, Manitoba on a number of important issues, including health care. The results of last August's Annual Premiers' Conference in Winnipeg, and the good first step taken by the federal government to address health care and early childhood development funding at the September First Ministers' Meeting, demonstrate what can be accomplished when governments work together.
Given the size of the federal government's surplus and the need to address the fiscal imbalances in Canada in a sustained way, Western Premiers called on the federal government to continue to build on the September First Ministers' arrangement by putting in place an escalator for the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) and immediately removing the ceiling on the Equalization Program. They noted that adequate federal funding for health care and post-secondary education remains a top priority of Western Canadians.
Western Premiers emphasized their expectation that the federal government will provide its share of the financing for health care and other social programs through existing transfer mechanisms, rather than through so-called "boutique programs." Time-limited, unsustainable programs that are developed and announced unilaterally by the federal government and are designed to leverage provincial/territorial funding, come at the expense of funding for core services and may conflict with the priorities of provincial/territorial governments and their citizens.
Western Premiers are concerned that "photo-op" federalism has the potential to make the fiscal imbalances in Canada even worse, and that programs and services for Canadians would suffer as a result. They expressed their disappointment that in many instances the federal government has proceeded unilaterally rather than through the collaborative process envisaged by the Social Union Framework Agreement. Premiers noted that the federal government had agreed in September 2000 to develop, within six months, a dispute settlement mechanism to apply to the Canada Health Act. They expressed concern that little progress has been made. Premiers reaffirmed their support for the process proposed in the Social Union Framework Agreement and the administrative mechanism developed by the Provincial-Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal. They urged the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to conclude a dispute settlement mechanism as soon as possible.
Western Premiers agreed that it is important for provinces and territories to continue working together to develop common positions on matters of priority to Canadians. They agreed to cooperate and show leadership on health care and child protection, energy market developments, water quality, and agriculture including the protection of animal health, as well as in other areas. They believe that this ongoing dialogue and relationship will allow them to take practical steps together and contribute toward the implementation of their vision for a strong and prosperous West.
Note: Mr. Gordon Campbell, Premier-elect of British Columbia, attended the 2001 Western Premiers' Conference. However, in his current role as Premier-elect, Mr. Campbell was unable to give the official endorsement of the Province of British Columbia to the positions and commitments outlined in this Communiqué.