Canada's premiers want national-disaster program
VANCOUVER - Canada's premiers and territorial leaders announced Friday they're urging the federal government to create a new national-disaster program by this fall following a spring and summer saturated with flooding and forest fires.
The leaders, who were gathered for the three-day Council of the Federation meeting in Vancouver, said the program would develop mitigation strategies for fires, earthquakes, storms and floods and also raise funds for infrastructure.
The premiers also decided they would participate in a trade mission to China alongside the federal government sometime during the next year.
Those were the easy things to agree on.
The thornier matter of health care and what to do when the existing funding agreement between the provinces and federal government expires in 2014 was put over until next year. The premiers say they'll meet then to discuss an integrated approach to sustainable health care across the country.
"We focused on jobs and the economy and we also focused on health care," said British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, the meeting's host, in summing up the council's key accomplishments at a final news conference.
"We all know that you need jobs if you want to support health care, and you need jobs if you want to support families and allow them to be able to put food on the table for their kids so they don't go to school hungry every day."
The request to create a national-disaster program came after Premier Dalton McGuinty left the gathering early to deal with wildfires that forced the evacuation of thousands of residents in northwestern Ontario.
Alberta has already this year contended with a wildfire that devastated the town of Slave Lake and Manitoba was victim to some of the worst flooding on record.
Interests of First Nations communities should also be top-of-mind when developing a long-term disaster strategy, the group suggested.
Clark announced the trade mission to Asia as part of a larger program called Canada in the Global Economy.
The scheme includes a trade and investment agenda that will focus on U.S., European Union, Asian and emerging markets.
On Wednesday, Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Clement Chartier, president of the Metis National Council, noted their organizations are already preparing for trips to China to discuss economic development.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall reiterated a point raised several times by the provincial leaders: that the world's middle class now stands at about 1.9 billion people and is expected to grow to 3.2 billion by 2020. Wall said 85 per cent of that expansion is expected to occur in Asia.
India represents an important trading partner, Wall said, noting that 44 per cent of Canadian imports to the country in 2009 came from his province. Most of those imports were food while the other portion was potash.
Saskatchewan and the western provinces are well-positioned to provide Asia food and energy security, Wall added. He said economic competitiveness, immigration and education were also under discussion.
"We need more people in our jurisdictions, not less," he told reporters. "We've talked about advanced education as part of our global outreach.
"We need to be attracting more students from other countries and all the provinces agreed on that."
The leaders also discussed ways to make the border more efficient with Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the United States, and Christine Gregoire, Washington state's governor.
Doer said the two countries are currently discussing 32 items that will help.
Gregoire said she wants to replicate the ease present during the 2010 Winter Olympics, when there was a free-flow of traffic across the Vancouver-Washington border.
Canada is her state's largest trading partner, Gregoire said.
The next summer meeting of the Council of the Federation takes place in Halifax from July 25 to 27, 2012.