Western Canada sets itself apart

VANCOUVER — A few years back, Alberta and B.C. established a trade and labor mobility pact following a groundbreaking joint-cabinet meeting. Now, Saskatchewan is getting in on the action as all three province’s cabinet members joined together for an inaugural tri-cabinet meeting on March 13.

Expanding trade, investment and job creation across the west, consideration of a new regional pension plan option and environmental matters highlighted the meeting.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall stressed the importance for the three most western provinces to work collaboratively on innovative ways to bolster the economy.

With respect to infrastructure development as a way to stimulate the economy, the premiers stressed the importance to get their products to the Asia-Pacific region using the Asia-Pacific Gateway infrastructure and to aggressively pursue regulatory reform with the federal government.

Specifically, the premiers agreed the most efficient way to pursue environmental assessment is one project-one assessment. The provinces will pursue reciprocal arrangements and equivalency agreements with the federal government to allow one thorough, comprehensive and scientific environmental assessment for projects.

“Breaking down barriers to trade and labor mobility is critically important to our shared economic strength and to creating jobs,” said Campbell. “Working in partnership, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan are taking action to build a strong foundation for innovation, by investing in people, encouraging investments and cutting red tape.”

Some critics suggest regional deals are a roadblock
on the way to a national consistency in regulations.

Stelmach emphasized the western provinces and the North are well-positioned to lead Canada out of the current economic slowdown.

The premiers revealed the three provinces will begin discussions to create a new western economic partnership that will establish an open, efficient and stable domestic market encompassing Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., to be concluded by fall 2009.

“A new agreement would address the interests of all provinces, including our interests related to Crown corporations and municipalities,” said Premier Wall. “As I indicated two years ago, we would be interested in pursuing a trade agreement with Alberta and British Columbia if our interests could be addressed.”

The provinces agreed jointly to work on developing and considering a new regional voluntary pension plan option for workers who do not have an employer-based plan to build on the plan that has been in Saskatchewan since 1986.

The premiers also took note of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and were encouraged by the two countries’ agreement to engage in a Clean Energy Dialogue, including commitments to co-operate and support the development of carbon capture and storage technology, and renewable energy resources, such as biofuels.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. have carbon capture and storage research projects underway. The premiers stressed the importance of provincial governments being actively engaged in these important discussions.

A recent joint-cabinet meeting between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick resulted in the two provinces signing an agreement to work together on a handful of trucking regulations. While seen as a positive step forward by the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, some critics suggest these regional deals could stand in the way of ever having a national standard.

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