Canada’s premiers are gathering in Whitehorse this week to discuss the economy, trade, health care and climate change during the first meeting of the Council of the Federation north of 60.
Premier Darrell Pasloski says it’s significant that the annual meeting is being held in one of the territories for the first time.
“I think what it really does is it really acknowledges the ever-increasing role that the territories play in our federation and how important the territories are to this country,” he said Tuesday. “And it recognizes the level of maturity that we have gotten to at this point.”
The premiers may reach an important deal on internal trade during meetings on Thursday and Friday this week, which is set to bring down trade barriers between Canadian jurisdictions.
“We need to make sure that our Agreement on Internal Trade isn’t more restrictive than what we have when we have trade agreements with other countries,” Pasloski said.
Yukon’s business community will likely be watching that discussion closely. Yukon Chamber of Commerce president Peter Turner has previously raised concerns about what the agreement will mean for Yukon companies’ ability to compete for contracts.
Pasloski also plans to propose a premier-led trade mission to the European Union and the United Kingdom to support a free-trade deal that has yet to be ratified.
Health care is also expected to be a major issue at this year’s meeting. The federal government is currently negotiating a new health accord with the provinces and territories. The previous health accord allowed for a six per cent annual increase in the federal health transfer to the provinces and territories, but that increase is slated to drop to three per cent or an amount matched to Canada’s GDP growth after this fiscal year.
“That’s not sustainable,” Pasloski said. “The provinces and territories aren’t going to be able to deliver the health care that is needed and expected by Canadians. So this will be a big topic for us and I expect that we’ll be talking to the prime minister about those commitments.”
Carbon pricing is also likely to be top-of-mind for Yukon’s premier. On Tuesday, he reiterated that the territories oppose a national carbon tax.
“A tax on carbon makes everything cost more money, which is a big hardship on families, but it also makes businesses less competitive as well,” he said.
Instead, he said, the federal government should help the Yukon to retrofit buildings and make them more energy-efficient.
“By doing this, we’ll create this whole mini-economy of retrofitting buildings for contractors, for Red Seal journeymen, for apprentices to do work,” he said.
The premiers were slated to be in Haines Junction today to meet with leaders of the five National Aboriginal Organizations – the Assembly of First Nations, the Indigenous Peoples’ Assembly of Canada, the Metis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
Heavy fog prevented planes from landing and the meeting was moved to Whitehorse.
They will discuss aboriginal investment in the economy as well as training and education opportunities, especially for women, Pasloski said.
Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations said he’ll be sitting on a panel to discuss economic opportunities for First Nations.
“I’m going to extol the virtues of self-government and how it has led to a positive economic outlook for the citizens of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations,” he said, adding that self-government has led to increased employment and better education outcomes.
The leaders are also expected to discuss implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which sets out indigenous peoples’ basic rights, including to culture, language, health, employment and land.
Canada fully adopted the declaration in May, but questions remain about how it will be enacted.
Smith said UNDRIP gives more weight to Yukon’s final agreements.
He said he’d like to see Canada and the Yukon fully implement the final agreements of Yukon’s 11 self-governing First Nations, especially when it comes to support for social issues.
“We need to be able to get a little bit more support so that we can have the capacity to deal with the mental health issues, to deal with the addiction issues,” he said.
“If you take a principle from the U.N. declaration, which is to deal with aboriginal peoples in a just and fair manner, then that would be for me an agreement to implement the land claim, and fully implement that.”
The Yukon government budgeted $679,000 this year to organize the three-day Council of the Federation summit.
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com