Conférence des Premiers ministres de l’Ouest 1997

COMMUNIQUÉ – Natural Resources Management

Western Premiers expressed their commitment to preserving and enhancing the health of the ecosystems that make up northern and western Canada. Premiers expressed strong concern, however, that recent activities of the federal government are intruding on the ability to manage effectively the natural resources owned by the provinces. Premiers stressed the exclusive provincial responsibility for natural resources and the need for federal-provincial cooperation in managing shared environmental issues.

Premiers repeated their support for harmonizing and rationalizing environmental management in Canada. Premiers noted the need to define federal, provincial and territorial roles and responsibilities clearly, and to develop effective cooperation in areas of shared responsibility. Premiers noted the ongoing work to finalize a Canada Wide Accord on Environmental Harmonization and three sub-agreements in the areas of standards, inspection and assessment. Premiers stated the urgent need to finalize the Accord, the three sub-agreements and to expand their work to conclude sub-agreements in other areas such an enforcement and international agreements.

Western Premiers emphasized the need for a cooperative national approach to endangered species conservation and noted that such an approach is essential for the effective delivery of programs to protect endangered species. They expressed concern that proposed federal legislation for endangered species and a new Canadian Environmental Protection Act represent an unacceptable unilateral approach to environmental and natural resources management.

Premiers stated that any future legislation for endangered species should be consistent with the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, supported by all Ministers responsible for Wildlife in October 1996. Premiers, also noted that any new Canadian Environmental Protection Act should conform to the spirit of flexible federalism and environmental harmonization necessary to effectively manage our national resources.

Premiers also reviewed the role of provinces and territories in developing, negotiating, managing and implementing international environmental agreements. Premiers expressed concern that the federal government appears willing to make international commitments in areas of provincial and territorial responsibility, with little involvement from the provinces or territories, or from affected industries. Premiers stressed the need for a meaningful consensus-based role in the negotiation and implementation of international environmental agreements impacting the provinces and territories.

Western Transportation System

Western Premiers discussed the importance of reliable, low-cost transportation systems to their economies.

Premiers emphasized that in an era of deregulated transportation policy and privatized transportation infrastructure, it is vitally important that the western provinces work together on transportation issues.

National Highways Program

The western Premiers recognize that a quality interprovincial highway system is critical for supporting economic growth, trade and tourism and agreed that a strong federal funding commitment is required to finance improvements in the National Highway System.

Premiers noted that the release of the Standing Committee on Transport's report, A National Highway Renewal Strategy, in February 1997 has focused attention once again on critical highway infrastructure needs.

Western Premiers agreed that the federal government, in conjunction with provincial and territorial governments, should develop specific proposals for a National Highway Program. Appropriate funding arrangements should be reviewed to develop a cost-effective infrastructure program that meets regional needs and promotes economic development, trade, and tourism.

Premiers agreed that in developing funding arrangements for a National Highway Program, special consideration must be given to the needs of remote northern regions which may have low traffic volumes but rely on the National Highway System for access, tourism and economic development.

Trade Corridor Planning

Western Premiers discussed the importance of strengthening north-south highway links to promote expanded trade with the U.S. and Mexico under NAFTA.

Premiers noted that the development of effective trade corridors can further expand north-south trade, and there are currently four major north-south corridors being developed in the western provinces.

Western Premiers directed their Transportation Ministers to initiate a regional and international corridor planning and development program, to promote trucking efficiencies through reconciliation of weight and dimension standards, enhanced customs facilities and procedures, and multi-modal initiatives.

Western Premiers noted that there is no surface access to the mineral-rich central Arctic region of the Northwest Territories between Yellowknife and the Arctic coast. Western Premiers agreed that it is in Canada's interest that this region be connected to the road, rail and port systems of southern NWT, Alberta and British Columbia.

Western Premiers agreed that a road corridor into Northwest Territories' central Arctic region, as well as the Mackenzie Valley Corridor and one through the Yukon connecting Alaska to the western provinces, should be added to the list of important north-south trade corridors currently under discussion.

Premiers welcomed the initiatives now underway to secure the long term viability in the Port of Churchill.

Comprehensive Review of the CTA

Premiers discussed the Canada Transportation Act and noted that to foster a more market-oriented national transportation system a review of the Act must be initiated by July 1, 2000 and completed within a year.

Premiers noted that western shippers have expressed concerns that specific provisions of the Act may affect their competitiveness and noted their previous statements in support of an early review of competitive access and shipper relief provisions of the Act.

Western Premiers directed their Transportation Ministers to cooperate in monitoring the effects of the Act on western shippers, and to develop strategies that meet the needs of shippers for competitive access, while maintaining the commercial viability of rail carriers.

Transparent Borders for Trucking

Western Premiers discussed the importance of increasing trucking efficiency to support expanded interprovincial and international trade. They directed their Transportation Ministers to continue their efforts to harmonize truck weights and dimensions throughout the region and to develop appropriate regional approaches to address permitting and compliance issues.

Grain Transportation Backlog

Western Premiers agreed that an inquiry into the causes of this winter's performance problems is required and that the inquiry should consist of three key elements:

It must be an independent and impartial inquiry, led by individuals with no commercial affiliation to any stakeholder, and with powers to obtain information on all aspects of the grain transportation system.

All interested parties, including producers, grain companies, railways, governments, labour, ports, and others must have an opportunity to make representation to the inquiry.

The inquiry must address grain performance problems on a system-wide basis, and develop modern logistics solutions that benefit producers and other stakeholders.

Western Premiers directed their Agriculture and Transportation Ministers to jointly develop proposed terms of reference for the review and to forward the proposal to the Federal Government.

Beyond an inquiry into grain transportation, western Premiers agreed on other actions to strengthen our grain transportation system.

Western Premiers directed their Ministers of Agriculture or Transportation Ministers, as appropriate, to establish a working group to pursue demonstration projects and other modern logistics initiatives that will directly contribute to improved system performance.

Western Premiers also directed their Ministers of Agriculture or Transportation Ministers, as appropriate, to cooperate on issues that will arise in the 1999 review of maximum freight rates, and the grain handling system.

Northern Economies

Recognizing the importance of economic development to northern regions, the Western Premiers directed their ministers, or other elected officials, to meet to develop an action plan on northern economic issues. Action items for consideration by Ministers include:

  • increasing trade promotion and strengthening communication and trade links;
  • linking the economy and the environment in an integrated approach to development;
  • building on the existing economic base in local communities;
  • ensuring relevant up-to-date education and training systems in regions and communities;
  • encouraging strategic decision-making at the regional level; and
  • capitalizing on the North's unique heritage and natural beauty.

The Premiers agreed to hold a Northern Economic Trade forum in conjunction with the British Columbia Premier's Summit on Northern Jobs and Development planned for Fall, 1997. It is expected that such a forum could lead to regional marketing approaches in such areas as cold-climate housing and road construction, mining, forestry, fish-farming, northern agriculture and other land-based economic pursuits.

The Premiers also acknowledged the constraints on northern economic development that result from lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities for program delivery. As in previous conferences, they agreed that the federal government should fulfill its long-standing commitment to devolve remaining provincial-type responsibilities to territorial governments.

Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements

The response of Canadians in other parts of the country to Manitobans during the recent disastrous flooding provided a clear example of what is best about our country and our values, and how strongly united we really are.

The federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) guarantee that, in the case of a large-scale disaster, substantial national resources are brought forward to help the people affected. This an example of how national programs provide invisible ties that hold our country together.

The 1997 Manitoba flood drew attention to problems with some aspects of the Arrangements in responding to disaster situations. Premiers believe a joint review of the Arrangements is essential.

Western Premiers agreed that Manitoba would take the lead in preparing a western position on the DFAA. The western position would be shared with other provinces/territories and the federal government as part of the national review. The western position will focus on the scope of coverage, as well as the consistent, transparent and fair application of the DFAA across the country.

The review should not affect the fundamentals of the formula, the threshold, or the cost-sharing arrangements that are vital for all provinces and territories.

Social Policy Renewal

Western Premiers reaffirmed their commitment to the partnership approach to social policy reform and renewal that was reflected at last year's Annual Premiers'Conference and expressed their support for the Council on Social Policy Renewal. Canada's social safety net is at the core of Canadian values and identity, and is a unifying force for all Canadians.

The Premiers noted that Western provinces and territories have played a major role in bringing issues critical to the well-being of Canadians, such as the National Child Benefit, to the national agenda. Western Premiers have consistently called for a clear delineation of the roles and responsibilities between the federal and provincial/territorial governments and reform of the financial arrangements for major social programs.

Western Premiers agreed that another key element in renewing the federation is the establishment of a new cooperative approach and mechanisms for the use of the federal spending power. Western Premiers called on the newly mandated federal government to work in partnership with provinces and territories on these important issues.

National Child Benefit

Western Premiers agreed that fighting child poverty is of the highest priority and expressed support for the initial federal investment in the new National Child Benefit as a good first step. Premiers called for a full federal government investment in the National Child Benefit by the year 2000, within existing fiscal frameworks. 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.

Premiers emphasized the federal government must ensure that Aboriginal children benefit fully from this initiative. Premiers also emphasized that cooperation between the federal and provincial/territorial governments and the flexibility of provinces and territories to reinvest funds in low income families with children are fundamental to the initiative's success.

The National Child Benefit combines a base federal level of income support with provincial/territorial initiatives that are tailored to meet the specific needs of children in low income families in each province and territory. Premiers noted that this initiative has the potential to remove children from social assistance across Canada and to have a significant impact on reducing child poverty. It will do this, when fully implemented, by providing a common level of support to children in all low income families, regardless of whether they are families in receipt of social assistance or working poor families.

Benefits and Services for People with Disabilities

Premiers reviewed the progress of the work being done by the provinces/territories and the federal government on harmonization and integration of benefits and services for people with disabilities, noting that benefits and services for people with disabilities need to be provided in a way that truly reflects and respects their needs, wishes, abilities and aspirations. Work is continuing on clarifying strategic directions and development of an overall vision for the initiative, as well as the identification of short to medium term harmonization actions.

Mechanisms for Intergovernmental Management

Western Premiers are strong supporters of national principles and standards in key social programs. They emphasized their continuing support for the principles contained in the Canada Health Act. However, Premiers noted the inappropriateness of the federal government's continuing unilateral approach to interpreting and enforcing these principles in areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Premiers stressed that it is essential that the federal and provincial/territorial governments achieve a common interpretation of the principles in the Canada Health Act, and a joint approach to promoting adherence to those principles.

Western Premiers encouraged the Provincial/Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal to move forward to complete their work on new approaches to how governments will work together in social policy renewal including new cooperative mechanisms for the use of the federal spending power, ways to manage and resolve intergovernmental disputes, and options to capture the principles in the 1995 Ministerial Council Report to Premiers.

Western Premiers expressed their interest in putting a priority on the development of a broad framework agreement with the federal government. Western Premiers are looking for proof from the federal government that it is willing to live up to its commitment to work cooperatively with the provinces and territories toward new approaches for intergovernmental management of social policy issues and programs. It is essential that provincial/territorial jurisdicition and authority be respected, that provincial/territorial priorities be addressed, and that there be an end to federal unilateralism in areas of provincial/territorial responsibility. Provinces and territories must be full participants in the design and implementation of national programs.

Western Premiers also emphasized their commitment to develop a broad agreement to strengthen provincial/territorial relationships that reflect the leadership role of provinces and territories in many areas of our social union.

National Children's Agenda

Western Premiers discussed the development of a National Children's Agenda and agreed that it is an important step to improve the health and well-being of Canadian children and families. Western Premiers emphasized the importance of the work underway by Health and Social Services Ministers to develop a National Children's agenda and agreed that this would be a western priority at the upcoming Annual Premiers' Conference.

Western Premiers discussed the importance of early intervention and concluded by noting recent studies which indicate that social and economic conditions, especially in childhood, have a profound impact on population health and subsequent social and economic well-being, demonstrate the need for a National Children's agenda. Western Premiers agreed that it provides an excellent opportunity for national collaboration on a comprehensive framework of initiatives to improve the health and well-being of Canada's children.


Premiers welcomed the successful completion of the provincial and territorial Health Ministers work on a Renewed Vision for Canada's Health System. The report which was released in January, represents a consensus of all provinces and territories except Quebec.

Premiers endorsed the Vision report and noted the importance of its key provisions, including the need for a strong partnership approach to health care renewal by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. They agreed that such an approach is critical to progress in the years ahead. They noted that the report also documents the damaging effects of federal transfer payment cuts and of Ottawa's continuing refusal to meet its responsibilities for health care for Aboriginal people.

Western Premiers discussed the traditional role of federal government which has been t

  • provide financial support for provincial/territorial medicare programs;
  • fund health services for Indian and Inuit peoples;
  • regulate food and drugs for safety reasons; and
  • support public education, health surveillance, and community action progams to promote improved population health.

Premiers noted that despite their declining level of financial support for health services, the federal government has consistently portrayed itself as protecting the principles of the Canada Health Act, and now wishes to be regarded publicly as supporting provinces and territories in modernizing their health systems.

Thus, while the federal government's relative financial contributions for health services have been steadily declining, it is attempting to assume public leadership role in the development of health services which are delivered by provinces and territories.

In order to instill public confidence in the future of health care, Premiers agreed that:

  • Canadians must continue to be assured that Western provincial and territorial governments support the principles of the Canada Health Act in the provision of insured hospital and physician services across Canada; and
  • the federal government should be challenged to match its stated commitment to Canada Health Act principles with the financial commitment to support those principles in the delivery of health services.

Western Premiers agreed that all provinces and territories should continue to press the federal government t

  • Negotiate a joint federal/provincial/territorial mechanism for management and interpretation of the Canada Health Act;
  • cooperate in the development of a national consensus for the future of health care, and a clear definition of roles and responsibilities; and
  • acknowledge and act in accordance with federal fiduciary obligations to Indian and Inuit people.

Premiers went on to discuss the recent federal government health proposals, noting that they could have significant implications for health and other social programs in Canada. At the same time, Western Premiers' emphasized the importance of working collaboratively with the federal government to support national discussions to explore the possibilities of a national Pharmacare plan, Home Care strategies, and sharing national health information technology.

Premiers concluded their discussions by noting that provinces and territories have been forced to bear by far the largest burden of federal restraint measures designed to produce federal budgetary surpluses. They accordingly have a right to jointly plan, alongside the federal government, the disposition of this expected fiscal dividend as it may be applied to future social programs.

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