Cablegate: Canada's Provincial Premiers Take a Stand

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

151701Z Jul 03



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: Canadian premiers met for their annual
conference on July 9-11 at Charlottetown, Prince Edward
Island (PEI). The tone was upbeat. The premiers went
beyond the ritual criticism of federal heavy-handedness and
demands for more funding out of Ottawa and focused on ways
to make their collective voice better heard. Their
frustration over the perceived domination by Ottawa of the
common agenda provided impetus for their proposal for a new
Council of the Federation, a regular gathering of the
provincial and territorial premiers to hammer out common
positions on the major shared issues facing the provinces
and territories. The premiers, buoyed by the welcome
participation of the newly elected federalist Premier of
Quebec, Jean Charest, have taken an impressive first step
toward the establishment of a more balanced consensual joint
governance. The GOC has not given the proposed Council much
consideration, as new leadership will soon take command and
have to deal with the challenge. End Summary.

2. Canada's provincial and territorial premiers met July 9-
11 in Charlottetown, PEI, for their annual gathering. Three
main themes dominated the discussion: provincial/federal co-
operation, the role of the premiers in Canadian-U.S.
relations, and a more equitable sharing of federal-
controlled resources in support of provincial
responsibilities. The highlight was the group's attempt,
led by newly elected Quebec Premier Jean Charest, to inject
more provincial input into the national agenda, heretofore
largely dominated by the federal government. The vehicle is
to be a newly created "Council of the Federation." The goal
is to give the premiers a forum to discuss and hash out
common positions on key Canadian issues under their purview
and, as a result, reassert provincial prerogatives. The
thirteen premiers will initially meet alone, excluding the
Prime Minister and the federal government until the Council
decides to invite them. It is particularly noteworthy that
the impetus for this initiative was the newly elected Quebec
Premier, Jean Charest, a federalist without the anti-federal
baggage of some previous Quebecois premiers. This
impressive display of national leadership from Quebec bodes
well for inter-provincial cooperation vis-a-vis Ottawa,
which has been impeded for at least the past decade by
Quebecois determined non-participation.

3. The Council intends, most basically, to improve federal
and provincial co-operation. It is a renewed expression of
provincial strength and unity that may replace the annual
premiers' meetings. The exuberant premiers termed the
establishment of the Council (which, however, will not
require an amendment to the Canadian Constitution) as
approaching in importance the historic 1864 meeting in
Charlottetown, which set the basic outline for the creation
of the Canadian Confederation. Despite the headlines,
however, it is very much a work in progress, and it is far
from clear what the Council will do for the ordinary
citizen. The follow-up meeting of the premiers and
territorial leaders on October 24 in Quebec City will
indicate what kind of legs, if any, the Council has. It
will meet perennially and likely have a small secretariat to
help organize the agenda, but will primarily serve the role
of a think-tank to help the premiers focus on and consult
over such issues as health care, inter-provincial trade, and
mobility rights.

4. The premiers also discussed their potential role in
Canadian-U.S. relations. International affairs have not
fallen within provincial jurisdiction in the past, but they
argued that they can act as effective interlocutors with
their counterparts in the U.S. states. The Canadian federal
government, they argue, could use help on the various issues
that affect the provinces and territories directly, such as
BSE-related embargoes of Canadian beef, softwood lumber,
pipeline construction, cross-border pollution, SARS, wheat
exports, and fisheries. They contend the governors and
legislators, including Federal Senators and Congressmen from
U.S. states that have similar issues, would be more likely
to be receptive to their arguments than Washington.

5. The flow of funding from the federal government to the
provinces has been a constant source of friction.
Constitutionally, the federal government has greater tax
powers, but the provinces have the responsibility for
providing costly services such as roads, health insurance,
and education. Typically, after such gatherings, the
meeting ended with a call for Ottawa to inject an already
promised C$3 billion into the healthcare system over the
next two years and to make good on federal promises to top
this up with some C$2 billion in surplus revenues projected
for the current year.

6. Comment: To claim that the creation of the Council of
the Confederation will represent a serious challenge to
federal authority would greatly overstate the meaning of the
recent provincial premiers' meeting. However, Premier
Charest, throwing Quebec's newfound federalist weight into
the mix, has energized his provincial colleagues and has set
in train an interesting and potentially significant positive
development. This fresh attempt to redefine federal-
provincial relations, while it may come too late to be
implemented by the outgoing Prime Minister, will pose his
successor with an interesting option. Will he (or she) be
tempted to underplay this potential challenge to federal
authority, or be tempted to deal with it in a positive,
creative manner, one which might well lead toward a
constructive redefinition of the federal-provincial
partnership? Prime Minister Chretien has not responded to
the proposed Council of the Federation; however, Liberal
Party leader Paul Martin, the suspected future PM, continues
to give this proposal thoughtful consideration.

© Scoop Media

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