Economy dominates premiers' meeting with PM
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, January 11, 2008 10:56PM EST
The economy dominated a working dinner between the premiers and the Prime Minister at his Ottawa residence Friday night.
The premiers emerged from the meeting saying it offered them a good opportunity to discuss their concerns with Stephen Harper. But they noted that there were no concrete developments or announcements coming out of the three-and-a-half-hour meeting.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said topics included:
- lower business taxes;
- research and development investment;
- and labour shortages.
The premiers were hoping to push Harper to give them more funding following his announcement Thursday of a $1-billion aid package for communities and workers hurt in export-reliant industries. Some sectors of the economy are struggling because of high gas prices, a strong loonie, and a slowing U.S. economy.
They didn't get any additional funds, and that disappointed Ontario's Dalton McGuinty.
"I hoped we had a strong, committed and willing partner in the federal government. I did not find that partner here today," he said after the meeting.
"I'm happy to get the $350 million and we'll use that as best we can, but ... there are going to be certain sectors of the economy, the manufacturing economy particularly, and forestry, which will remain challenged for an extended period of time. So, I'm looking for a long-term partner for those folks, and I didn't get that."
New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham, who chairs a council representing the provinces, said it was a "productive dialogue." He said the tone of the meeting was cordial.
Friday's dinner was the second such meeting between the premiers and the Prime Minister. Harper has not held a formal first minister's summit since becoming Prime Minister.
The premiers say they would prefer more common meetings.
"I'm not worried about the type of form. I'm worried about the type of meetings where we can discuss constructively how we can be more effective for the Canadian public," said Manitoba's Gary Doer.
B.C.'s Gordon Campbell said the meeting provided a good starting point for future discussions.
Harper said he was pleased with the outcome of Friday's dinner.
"We want to see our vast country move forward productively, with all its regions as full participants," Harper said in a press release.
"It is essential that Canada's governments work together, in a spirit of open federalism, to ensure the right conditions for Canada's economic success."
While gathering before the meeting, the premiers collectively said the informal meeting wouldn't be enough.
Friday afternoon, the premiers held a 90-minute strategy session to discuss how to keep the focus on economic issues. Many believed that the prime minister was hoping to turn the conversation toward senate reform.
But after the meeting, premiers said the discussion over that issue lasted no more than five minutes.
Earlier, critics of Harper's aid package said it was nothing more than an election platform. If opposition parties vote down the budget, the government would fall and an election would be called.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that the timing behind the package would not change.
"We are a democracy ... this is not a dictatorship. We must have parliamentary approval to spend money," Flaherty said. "It's a money item and we do money items in budget bills."
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said Friday that the House of Commons should be immediately recalled to deal with the new budget proposal.