Climate change and investments in key infrastructure were at the top of the agenda for Northern leaders at a Council of the Federation meeting this week, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver told local media.
“We pushed to get climate change in the communiqué,” he said on Dec. 2, following a press conference in Mississauga where all 13 premiers were present. “We really wanted to put it in the Northern context, whether it’s infrastructure or dollars for flexibility there. We believe as we are spending federal dollars and making sure it’s fitting the unique needs of an extremely vast geological area, where one of the ties that bind, I guess, is climate change. We have to prepare for the new normal.”
The Yukon government’s draft climate change strategy was provided to premiers, Silver said.
Central to it is axing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 compared to those in 2010. The strategy, which was unveiled on Nov. 14, is comprised of four goals: ramping up power derived from renewable energy sources, adapting to climate change, developing a green economy and lowering emissions.
Silver said the plan was received “very well,” adding that the federal government’s commitment to a clean power fund dovetails with it.
“We see each potential within that commitment because it’s intended to support electrification of Canadian industries, so in that conversation there’s lots of support and also specifically to help support Northern, remote Indigenous communities transition from diesel to renewable sources of energy,” he said. “That fits really well with the proposed actions in our draft strategy.”
The communiqué calls on the federal government to pour “robust” investments into infrastructure across the three territories. It asks for “greater support” from it to combat climate change.
Asked what the term “robust” means by reporters, Silver said, it doesn’t refer to a specific dollar value — more that funding is flexible.
“We did some wordsmithing on that particular word amongst the three territorial leaders and came up with ‘robust’ as a catch-all for relaying the three unique, different circumstances that all three territories are in.”
Northern premiers weren’t asked any questions by national media at the conference.
What matters, Silver said, is that the federal government receives and reviews the communiqué.
“It’s a great reflection of where we can agree,” he said, adding that it’s representative of the needs of the three territories.
“We can’t control what national media wants to talk about. It’s not written for the media.”
Silver is to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Dec. 6. His Ottawa itinerary includes meeting with Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations and Catherine McKenna, minister of Infrastructure and Communities.
Premiers want the federal government, according to the communiqué, to increase health care funding to 5.2 per cent per year, up from the current three per cent.
The latest meeting marks the second time premiers have gathered this year. In July, they were in Saskatoon. Topics then included internal and international trade, immigration, infrastructure investments and climate change.
Leaders had sent a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking what his government’s plans were to bolster Canada’s place on the world stage vis-a-vis the Arctic. They also asked how the federal government intends to work with Indigenous communities and invest in the area.
Climate change was also addressed in the communiqué. It calls on Trudeau to ensure that measures for combating rising temperatures fit the distinct needs depending on jurisdiction. The letter asks whether resources for natural disasters and climate adaptation will be “adequate, flexible, timely and streamlined.”
Premiers sidestepped divisive topics during the press conference on Dec. 2 like the Quebec law that bans public servants from wearing religious symbols. Pipeline politics were also avoided.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said leaders gathered to discuss “common ground” matters.
Most expressed hesitation about a national pharmacare program.
The premiers emerged from the meeting with a call to Ottawa to strengthen a program that provides a financial top-up to provincial governments suffering economic downturns — a key request of Alberta.
They’ll look to raise the issues with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau early in the New Year, at their first joint meeting with him since a federal election that exposed regional divisions and reduced Trudeau’s Liberals to a minority government.
A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she is “open and keen” to discuss those issues.
Several premiers said that now may not be the right time for a national pharmacare program — a promise the Liberals made during the federal election and that will require discussion with the provinces — with funding needed to address hospital overcrowding and growing wait times.
The premiers agreed that the Fiscal Stabilization Program should be more responsive to economic downturns, such as removing a per capita cap, lowering a non-resource revenue threshold and making changes to retroactive payments.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has called for the cap to be removed, as the money his province has received is barely scratching the surface of the financial impact of low oil prices. He thanked his fellow premiers on Dec. 2 for making fiscal stabilization amendments a priority.
“This was a tremendous moment of solidarity,” he said. “I’ve been trying to convey to Albertans that we are not alone, or isolated in the federation, that there are provincial and territorial governments who get what we’re going through and who understand our ask for a fair deal in the Canadian federation.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also credited his fellow premiers for addressing regional economic disparity, particularly in his province, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“They were unwavering in their support for recommended changes to the Fiscal Stabilization Program,” he said. “I would say that today they had our backs and I will commit to them that we will have theirs when needed as well.”
Under the banner of economic competitiveness, the premiers talked about improving federal environmental assessments by exempting projects under provincial or territorial jurisdiction from mandatory impact assessments and working to eliminate protectionist measures, such as those on softwood lumber.
They also talked about developing resources responsibly and getting them to all markets, but the somewhat vaguely worded communiqué does not specifically reference pipelines, an area of disagreement among the premiers.
With files from The Canadian Press
Contact Julien Gignac at email@example.com