Canada’s western premiers say they want swift action on bail reform and a fairer share of federal investments in economic and infrastructure projects, following a tête-à-tête in Whistler, B.C. on Tuesday.
The comments came after B.C. Premier David Eby said he and his counterparts from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Canada’s three northern territories had a fruitful discussion on their needs and how to support one another as the west continues to grow.
The premiers found common ground on topics including strengthening strategic infrastructure and trade corridors, climate adaptation and action, immigration, labour shortages, labour mobility and Arctic sovereignty, Eby said.
They were also united on one key crime and public safety issue, he added.
“We discussed crime and the bail reform bill that was not passed at the federal level … and our shared deep disappointment that that bill was not passed in the recent parliamentary session,” Eby said.
The federal government drafted new bail reform legislation this spring, but that initiative never made it past its first reading, meaning the earliest it could be considered is next fall, Eby said.
“We were happy when they listened to us and brought forward a bill, but of course they have not followed through on that, and if those changes are not made for bail reform, it has a significant impact on our communities, and we’re seeing that right across the country,” Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said.
“We need to make sure those violent offenders do not get out on bail. We need to make sure this reform takes place as quickly as possible.”
The premiers also agreed to press the federal government to increase infrastructure funding.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told reporters premiers were united in calling for funding to be provided on a per-capita basis — with special accommodations for the-lower population northern territories — and with no strings attached to how the money is spent.
She said western provinces want to ensure they’re getting their fair share of investments, as Ontario gets $13 billion for a battery factory and the Maritimes receive a $4.5-billion long-term loan for the Atlantic Loop hydroelectric project.
“We’ve got equivalent investments that need to be made in western Canada,” Smith said.
“We’ve got equivalent investments that need to be made in western Canada, we’ve got carbon capture utilization and storage in Alberta, we’ve got hydrogen, we’ve got various jurisdictions exploring small modular nuclear, we’ve got the strategic infrastructure that needs to be built in the northern communities with ports and rail access so we can get critical minerals to market,” She added.
“So seeing the federal government is prepared to make those kinds of investments in eastern Canada, is fantastic, and we support those kinds of investments. That’s what I am talking about with equivalencies.”
In a communique issued after the meeting, the premiers called on Ottawa to cut project approval times and reduce red tape to address ongoing project delays.
The premiers said they were also looking for details on what the federal government would replace the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program with.
They also pressed Ottawa to help expand market access for Canadian oil and gas, uranium and minerals,.
Efforts to protect the sovereignty of Canada’s north, along with the need for climate mitigation and adaptation supports for Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon were also discussed.
Northwest Territories Premier Catherine Cochrane said communities in the north remain disproportionately affected by Canada’s carbon tax, while also taking the brunt impacts from the changing climate.
“We have infrastructure gaps that are huge that people don’t realize, we have no road systems to many of our communities … the energy sources aren’t there, we rely on diesel, we don’t have the telecommunication that people take for granted here,” she said.
“So when we talk about equity, we need to make sure that the people in the Northwest Territories, or the north period, have the same level of services that people in the south take for granted, so yeah, I do think there needs to be a redistribution of the wealth.”
The premiers said they also discussed working with the federal government to improve the immigration system to help address provinces’ unique labour shortages, while also ensuring they’re getting enough support to help refugees and new immigrants settle.