Trade and economic competitiveness was the main focus of the first day of the annual Council of the Federation (COF), taking place in Saskatoon Wednesday and Thursday.
This is the annual meeting of Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers.
“We know a strong economy is essential if we are to continue to ensure the high quality of life for all of the Canadians that we ultimately represent,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said in his opening address.
Much of the talk Wednesday will be focused on what can be done to remove domestic trade barriers and how to find increased export opportunities while questions linger on trade with China and the United States.
“Matter of fact it’s easier to trade with countries around the world including the United States than it is in the provinces,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.
“I’ve never seen more like-minded premiers sitting around a table than I did last night at dinner. Everyone’s working together and it’s not about being right or being left or being center. This is about creating jobs and boosting the economy right across this great country.”
Midway through the day, Moe said the provinces have agreed to giving each province the individual ability to remove exemptions on particular goods in the Canada Free Trade (CFA) agreement.
These exemptions have proven to be problematic in the past when premiers have looked at removing internal trade barriers. Previously, all provinces had to agree to removing an exemption.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney acted quickly, removing all exemptions related to procurement and encouraged all other provinces to do the same.
“We are also challenging other provinces to improve labour mobility by moving faster mutual recognition of licensed professionals and trades, and if this is not possible multilaterally, we are exploring how Alberta could do so unilaterally,” Kenney said.
The Alberta premier added the move should cost taxpayers less, as increased competition on government contracts will drive down bids.
WATCH: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe talks inter-provincial trade
Both Moe and Kenney also extended the invitation for other provinces to join the New West Partnership, which he described as “the CFA on steroids.”
Kenney added he would like to work toward having universal recognition of credentials across Canada, meaning someone licensed to practice medicine or nurse in Alberta should be able to work anywhere in Canada.
On the industry front, the premiers will discuss how to keep industries like energy and mining competitive. Moe added how to balance this growth with environmental concerns will also be on the table.
Outside Canada, the premiers are calling on greater leadership from the federal government on solving trade issues in China, where agricultural goods like canola and beef are reportedly being turned away at Chinese ports. Moe added the premiers are open to helping the federal government on trade missions, pointing to recent Saskatchewan trips to Korea and future missions to the European Union and Great Britain.
COF will conclude Thursday, where healthcare will be the main focus.
“We’ll discuss the fact our federal government is shouldering a declining share of total healthcare costs in this country,” Moe said.
Moe added this is taking place while provincial systems and families deal with increasing challenges around mental health and addictions.
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