Western Canada’s premiers expressed their desire for federal collaboration on future infrastructure projects and commented on advancing Arctic security and sovereignty.
The comments came at a press conference in Whistler, B.C., following the conclusion of the Western Premiers’ Conference 2023.
They also shared their dismay at a stalled federal bail reform bill.
The political gathering brought together the premiers of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the three territories to discuss shared challenges and areas of mutual interest.
The needs to upgrade strategic infrastructure, strengthen trade corridors, bolster energy security and collaborate on climate action were discussed at length at the conference.
Part of the infrastructure conversation revolved around the allocation of funding from the federal government, with some premiers raising concerns that their respective regions were not receiving a fair share of the pie.
“When we talk about equity, we need to make sure people in the North have the same level of services that people in the South take for granted,” said Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane after highlighting the discrepancy between transportation, power and communications infrastructure in the territories and other parts of Canada.
“So, yeah, I do think there needs to be a redistribution of the wealth, and I do think that the federal government needs to not only give large funding to the eastern provinces, I think they need to take care of the West and the North.”
B.C. Premier David Eby drew attention to his province’s hydroelectric power generation capabilities and its potential role in supporting other jurisdictions with de-carbonizing their electrical systems.
“If we can find ways to inter-tie with, for example, the Yukon, to support them in their efforts to access more energy to grow their economy and de-carbonize their electric grid, then that is very good news for everyone,” said Eby.
Following the press conference, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai told the News that the electrical grid connection between B.C. and the Yukon is extremely important to the Yukon’s economy and emissions reduction efforts. He added that the “ball has been rolling” on this potential project for several years.
“It’s about supporting Yukoners and their quality of life, it’s about ensuring that we reduce our emissions […], and it’s also about nation building and the importance of a strong western Canadian economic strategy,” Pillai said.
The Yukon premier spoke about some of the natural disasters and extreme climatic events that have struck the territory and Canada at large this year, including the spring floods in the Klondike. He also highlighted the territory’s contributions to fighting wildfires in other parts of Canada this year, as parts of the country have been battling fierce wildfires since May.
“What I touched on today is that we were lucky so far this season in that we’ve been able to deploy our [firefighting] resources to our neighbours, and that hasn’t always been the case over the last couple of years,” said Pillai.
“The Yukon has been on the frontline of climate change for a long time, and we have been learning for a long time on how we should be investing, and we continue to have those conversations with Canada.”
Crime and public safety were also discussed, with a focus on the bail reform bill — Bill C-48 — that failed to pass at the federal level. Premiers shared their “deep disappointment” that the bill was not passed during the recent session of parliament.
In their joint communique, western Canada’s premiers urged the feds to work with provincial and territorial governments to address RCMP staffing shortages, develop First Nations policing legislation and tackle the new issue of privately made firearms, such as those made with 3D printers.
Territorial premiers discussed the importance of preserving Canada’s Arctic sovereignty, a topic that has received increased attention in recent months following the downing of an unidentified aerial object by NORAD over the Yukon in February.
Speaking about the important steps Canada must take to ensure Arctic security and sovereignty, Pillai returned to the topics of federal investment and infrastructure.
Pillai told the News that territorial leaders hope the Canadian federal government will work closely with the territories to roll out Arctic policy strategies and investments. He added that investment in infrastructure in the North is dual purpose – improving life for northern residents while bolstering national defence capabilities.
“When we think about the extensive connection to the southern Canadian electrical grid, we think that is a very important piece of how we look at Arctic sovereignty and how we will be able to support the installation of defence infrastructure through the North,” said Pillai.
“Every time we are talking about infrastructure in the Yukon, we are also thinking about how that supports Arctic security and sovereignty.”
Discussions also touched on the labour market and immigration, including support for Ukrainian refugees in Western Canada.
The Western Premiers’ Conference comes on the heels of the Northern Premiers’ Forum, which saw the three territorial premiers meet in Inuvik, N.W.T., on May 16 and 17. Premiers nationwide will meet next month in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the Council of Federation.
The Western Premiers’ Conference 2024 will be held next summer in the Yukon.
Contact Matthew Bossons at email@example.com