Canada's western and northern premiers are rallying behind calls for a Canadian energy strategy and territorial resource rights, saying the energy sector will continue to drive economic growth in the country.
Meeting in Edmonton on Tuesday, the premiers agreed to form a working group to discuss Alberta's notion of a unified, pan-Canadian energy strategy while not shying away from criticizing Ottawa, pressing the federal government for changes to immigration, employment insurance and environmental assessment laws.
They were, however, careful not to criticize one another. Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger – the lone New Democrat among the group – avoided echoing federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's criticisms of the energy sector, instead saying he "generally" supported a Canadian energy strategy so long as it's focused on sustainability.
"What we talked about today is how we can all leverage our energy assets, wherever they are in the country, in a sustainable way," he said. Saskatchewan's Brad Wall agreed that premiers are "recognizing we need to do more in terms of sustainability."
The issues on the agenda of the annual Western Premiers' Conference were connected by a common theme – growth. "There was a pretty dynamic agenda that I think most jurisdictions in the world would want to have before us today," Mr. Wall said. "Because they were related to the fact this part of the world is growing. People are finding opportunity here."
Alberta Premier Alison Redford applauded the consensus on the need for a unified approach to Canadian energy, saying it's too soon to nail down specifics about such a plan but that the whole country benefits when the West booms. "We truly are an economic powerhouse for Canada, and we want to work together. Not only to benefit people in our own region of the country, but to build an economy across this country that benefits all Canadians," she said.
The provincial premiers also agreed to back pushes by the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for "devolution" of resource rights, or province-like control being handed down from Ottawa – such deals could unlock new resource development across the North, but will also see Ottawa give up royalties from the regions.
The NWT has an agreement-in-principle, with Premier Bob McLeod saying a final deal is "very close," while Nunavut is also pushing for an agreement. Yukon already had its rights devolved.
The premiers urged the Harper government to do more to overhaul its Employment Immigration program, by focusing more on skills training that would, presumably, help the labour-starved West lure workers from other provinces. "I think there's progress we can still make, though we laud the first steps the federal government has taken," Mr. Wall said.
The seven provinces and territories also renewed a call for the federal government to raise or do away with a cap on the number of foreigners each jurisdiction can nominate for permanent residency, saying immigration is needed to drive growth. Manitoba's premier called it "one of the big outcomes today."
The premiers also said the federal government is right to look at streamlining environmental approvals for energy projects, but raised red flags. "We're hearing, sort of, rumours of trouble, whereby we might be replacing a previous set of barriers to growth with a new set of barriers to growth in project evaluation," Mr. Wall said.
The premiers arrived in Edmonton Monday evening and concluded their meetings on Tuesday afternoon. B.C. Premier Christy Clark backed out, sending a cabinet minister instead. Other premiers shrugged off the impact.