Premiers hit Prairies for brainstorming session

Premier Dennis Fentie is meeting with other provincial and territorial leaders at the Council of the Federation in Regina this week.

Premier Dennis Fentie is meeting with other provincial and territorial leaders at the Council of the Federation in Regina this week.

The annual summer meeting began in 2003 as a chance for premiers to knock heads over critical national issues and share ideas on how to get the federal government to better co-ordinate policies that affect the entire country.

This year’s agenda featured the swine flu epidemic, the Buy American clause in the US economic stimulus bill, and Canada’s own economic stimulus legislation as top priorities.

The meeting was also the first high-profile appearance by newly elected Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Shawn Atleo.

Fentie met with Atleo on Thursday, said cabinet spokesperson Roxanne Vallevand.

Fentie also “led” the discussion amongst the premiers on reforming employment insurance, said Vallevand.

Calls made last week and Thursday requesting an interview with Fentie were not returned.

But Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s office did release a statement yesterday suggesting the council agreed on four principles for reforming employment insurance.

There should be a temporary bridge to make employment insurance more generous during the current economic recession, the premiers agreed, and the system should be administered in the same way across Canada.

Employment insurance is currently doled out differently in 58 regions across the country and each one is based on a different level of chronic unemployment.

The welfare system is a federal responsibility, but the premiers discussed it in order to lobby Ottawa, said Yukon Opposition Leader Arthur Mitchell.

The Yukon’s main concern should be making employment insurance fair to workers whose livelihoods are seasonal, he said.

“Mining and tourism, aside from government, are our biggest industries,” he said from Old Crow.

“So the qualifying period—how many weeks it would take to qualify (for employment insurance money)—should be the main issue,” he said.

But no one should be working half the year and living off employment insurance the rest, added Mitchell.

“People should be able to collect employment insurance until they’re able to find gainful employment,” he said.

The Council of the Federation is taking place in Regina’s historic Government House until Friday.

Contact James Munson at

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