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        • MPlibblog Stéphane Dion 119 post Intergovernmental Affairs

          Mr. Speaker, investments postponed to 2019, that is the truth.

          The letters the federal Minister of International Trade exchanged with Newfoundland and Labrador on the CETA-releated seafood industry agreement are crystal clear. The minister promised a transition fund to help the industry, but never mentioned that it would be dependent on a demonstrated loss. That is pure invention.

          In all my years in politics, I have never witnessed such a callous betrayal of a federal commitment to a province. Will the government honour its commitment to Newfoundland and Labrador, yes or no?

            • MPlibblog Judy Sgro 1728 post Business of Supply

              Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join this very important debate. I am sure that Canadians who are watching understand how important it is to have positive relationships among one another. That is very helpful when it is possible, but it is quite difficult in this environment. Certainly positive relationships with our provinces would be much more helpful.

              As members of this House know, one of the unique characteristics of Canada's federal system is something dubbed by many as “summit federalism”. The key component of this kind of federalism is commonly known as the the first ministers conference, which brings together the Prime Minister, provincial premiers, and territorial leaders. This allows the first ministers to tackle collective problems in a collaborative way that is good for every Canadian, regardless of the province of residence.

              I think that makes sense to anybody who is watching. That sounds like the kind of Canada that they would want.

              Since 1906, Canada's first ministers have been meeting every year to discuss ideas of pressing federal-provincial concern, to exchange notes and best practices, and, most importantly, to avoid misunderstandings or a misallocation of resources and even duplication. In short, they meet to build a consensus, to craft common policy responses, and to work co-operatively to make Canada an even better place in which to live and work. That has been happening since 1906, and we have had a lot of success up until the last eight or nine years.

              Most experts agree that it is critical for these deliberations to be chaired by the Prime Minister, the head of our country, the elected official guided on a broader, more national perspective. Sadly, the current Prime Minister's vision for Canada is much smaller and much more inward-looking than all of that.

              As evidence of this, the last time the current Prime Minister met with the premiers and territorial leaders was in 2009. There has not been another high-level gathering of all of the premiers and territorial leaders and our Prime Minister for six years, which means that for six years the Prime Minister has hidden in the proverbial closet and abdicated his national leadership responsibilities to others.

              I have to wonder what he is so afraid of that he cannot sit down in a room with all of the premiers collectively. Does the Prime Minister lack the confidence? Is that the issue? Is it that he is concerned he will be challenged on his ideological mantra and be rebuked by many of them?

              Previous Conservative leaders have not been afraid to meet with the first ministers, and in many cases their meetings have been very fruitful. However, the current Prime Minister continues to hide in his office and avoid working on any kind of pan-Canadian vision for the future of Canada, as is very evident when we talk to the premiers or territorial leaders on a variety of issues and hear their frustration.

              Certainly there are several issues on the federal agenda that would benefit from a national approach. The establishment of a national securities regulator has been talked about a great deal. The government has done quite a job at trying to push that forward, but it requires the co-operation of the provinces and territories.

              Infrastructure renewal is a major issue facing Canada. Yes, money has been put into infrastructure, but has it been put down in a collaborative way? Has it been one project versus another? Was it always done in the best interests of Canada as a whole? That is what our job is and that is what the Prime Minister's job is: to do what is best for Canada as a whole and not benefit just one province versus another.

              The economic recovery continues to be a significant problem for all of us. That is especially the case in southwestern Ontario, where we are concerned about the manufacturing sector. There has been a lot of emphasis put on the oil industry, much to the detriment of many of the other provinces.

              I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that I will be splitting my time with my great new colleague from Trinity—Spadina.

              Let us talk about employment and the huge unemployment that is facing many of our young people. They are graduating from universities and colleges with debts of $20,000 or $30,000, and there are no job opportunities. Little investment has been done in that area.

              The government can talk about creating 1,200,000 jobs, but it does not talk about the 300,000 that have been lost, especially in southwestern Ontario.

              These are issues that could be dealt with much more effectively if the Prime Minister would set aside his personal fears and inadequacies and sit at the same table with the premiers and talk seriously about how we can together get Canada to move forward.

              As an Ontario MP, I know that the manufacturing sector alone has bled more than 300,000 jobs since the premiers last met six years ago. Middle-class families are in trouble, and they are looking to government for leadership and help.

              Imagine what could have been done to stem the tide if the first ministers, including and led by the Prime Minister, had set their collective minds to stabilizing the manufacturing sector instead of ignoring it for nine years. Instead, the Premier of Ontario was forced to deal with this crisis and many more. Only recently did the Prime Minister squeeze in a brief meeting on the way to a hockey game. It shows how much respect there is for the Province of Ontario.

              It is no secret that the Prime Minister does not play well with others. He prefers the bully pulpit over the conference table. However, after six long years of locking the doors of 24 Sussex to the rest of Canada, surely it is time to plan for the collective and long-term success of the nation.

              I understand that the Prime Minister detests these meetings because he cannot control conferences or those sitting around the table. One never knows what is going to come out of them, although usually they are very positive things. I understand the preference for absolute and total control over a situation, environment, and message, but that is not the way to move a country as big as Canada forward. It cannot continue in this way without serious harm being caused.

              There has been a regrettable inclination on the part of the government and the Prime Minister to rely on reference cases and the Supreme Court of Canada to resolve federal-provincial disagreements, but this is hardly an optimal way of dealing with these disputes and it is hardly the way to manage a country.

              As we speak, there are several pressing policy issues on the table that demand a more collective approach. Pension security is one of them. Others include infrastructure spending, the environment, changes to employment insurance, health care funding, and many more, not to mention that the premiers should have the right to speak to the Prime Minister directly on issues such as the status of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, the CETA, with the European Union, which they will all presumably have to ratify at some point. Clearly Newfoundland and Labrador has some very serious concerns that are going to have to be listened to, one way or the other.

              The Prime Minister needs to take a leadership role and start working with his provincial and territorial counterparts. By hiding in his office in the Langevin Block or on the Hill, he is undermining the proper functioning of a federal state and weakening the federal government's central role in the process. He is also forcing the premiers to move collectively to fill the gap and to move ahead with their own policy initiatives. For example, on the pension front, Ontario is relegating the national voice to a whisper on the sidelines.

              Perhaps this is all part of a well-known firewall strategy. As the Conservatives move deeper and deeper into their bunker, who will speak for Canada as a whole? Why would any political leader not take advantage of the impending first ministers meeting to re-establish the federal government's role and the desire to be part of the process, unless there is no desire to be part of it?

              The Prime Minister assumed office by promising open federalism. It is long past due for him to sit down and meet with the premiers and territorial leaders. Refusing to do so is an admission of his own failures and shortcomings and is no way to run a country.

              • MPlibblog Stéphane Dion 2329 post Business of Supply


                That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.

                Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal caucus, I am pleased to rise in the House to support one of the commitments made by my leader, the member for Papineau. This is a very simple and obvious commitment completely removed from partisanship. I invite all members of all parties to get behind this commitment by voting for the following motion:

                That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.

                As I said, I am pleased to speak in favour of this motion because it is very clear to me that it has become necessary; however, I am not pleased that it has become necessary. It should not be necessary. It was not necessary under any of the prime ministers before this one.

                Since Laurier, all prime ministers of Canada have felt the need to meet with their provincial and territorial counterparts regularly. They met as a group and also held bilateral meetings. It just made sense. It makes sense for any civilized federation. It makes sense to everyone but the Prime Minister.

                In 1906, Prime Minister Laurier called the first joint meeting of premiers and the prime minister. As time went by, these meetings became a regular occurrence. In 2003, the premiers formed the Council of the Federation. The council generally meets twice a year. Unlike traditional first ministers conferences, where the prime minister invites the premiers, the provinces play the lead role in council meetings, which are coordinated by a provincially funded secretariat.

                The Council of the Federation has met 23 times since the member of Parliament for Calgary Southwest became Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has not met his colleagues as a group since January 2009. It is the longest such gap between first ministers meetings in 97 years.

                The provincial and territorial premiers are criticizing this affront to the smooth operation of our federation, and rightly so. Meetings between the federal and provincial governments in Canada are almost always complicated. They have caused a lot of headaches for many politicians. They have not always led to successful outcomes. However, they often do, and I am confident in saying that, overall, these meetings have been positive for Canadians.

                The Kelowna accord, which was signed with first nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples in 2006, was one of the great success stories of these federal-provincial-territorial negotiations. The current government refused to honour that agreement. One can only imagine the progress that could have been made had the Kelowna accord become a reality.

                Another success story was the 2004 health accord, a joint action plan with a 10-year funding commitment. Unfortunately, the current government ignored the joint plan and unilaterally refused to extend the funding agreement.

                Those are the results of the current Prime Minister's unwillingness to collaborate on a joint project. Much of the blame for the problems with the health care system and the poor living conditions of aboriginal people in Canada can be attributed to the current Prime Minister's unwillingness to work with the provinces and territories.

                The provincial and territorial premiers are not the only ones the Prime Minister is ignoring. He does not appear to be any more inclined to meet with his NAFTA counterparts. The entire country is suffering because this Prime Minister does not know how to work collegially with others.

                If the Prime Minister had a greater sense of collegiality, he would understand what a federation is. He would therefore avoid wasting so much of Canadians' time, money and energy on ventures that undermine the very foundation of our country's federative nature. A sad example of such waste is the pointless and botched Senate reform saga.

                The Prime Minister has spent eight years attempting to achieve fundamental Senate reform, despite the Liberal opposition and literally every expert telling him that he needed to work with the provinces to change the nature of our Senate. In April 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the Liberals and the experts were correct. Shamefully, the Prime Minister blamed the Chief Justice for this predictable fiasco, when he had only himself to blame for that monumental waste of time and money.

                Is he that ignorant of our institutions, or is it plain contempt? A simple, frank, face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and his constitutional colleagues could have avoided that debacle.

                This is not just about a constitutional principle or a principle of federalism. The absence of first ministers' meetings is having tangible negative consequences for Canadians. Let us look at what is happening right now.

                As oil prices and the dollar fall, as our economy faces uncertainty, it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister of Canada to meet with the premiers and develop a united plan. Under such circumstances, a Liberal government would hold a first ministers conference.

                Because they know how important it is to work together, the premiers will meet tomorrow, a few blocks away from Parliament Hill. Regrettably, they have no scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister in the foreseeable future.

                This is not a symbolic issue. Our federation faces real and significant challenges, from infrastructure renewal to retirement income security and climate change. These challenges can only be tackled successfully if all levels of government are sitting around the same table.

                By refusing to meet his constitutional partners around the same table, the Prime Minister shirks his constitutional responsibility. By refusing to pull together the strengths of our federation, he fails all Canadians.

                Why does the Prime Minister refuse to live up to his responsibility? Considering the huge challenges we are facing, why does he refuse to bring together the premiers of Canada's provinces and territories in order to work toward solutions that benefit all Canadians?

                One has to wonder why the Prime Minister would choose to postpone tabling his budget unilaterally with no consultation with his constitutional colleagues. Most provinces and territories typically table their budgets in April or May of each year, having had the opportunity to see what the federal budget has in store and fine-tune their own budgets accordingly. By delaying the budget until April at the earliest, the federal government has deprived the provinces of that opportunity at a very critical time for all of them.

                Regrettably, the Prime Minister's lack of collegiality and understanding of what the federation means does not stop there. Here are a few more ways in which the Prime Minister is hurting Canadians in all provinces and territories.

                On infrastructure, the 10-year new building Canada fund, announced in budget 2013, is heavily back-end loaded; until after 2019, very little money will be available to the provinces and municipalities to help them tackle their urgent infrastructure challenges, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. This is wrong. A first ministers conference would help clarify the needs and establish priorities.

                On pensions, the Government of Ontario is currently creating its own version of the Canada pension plan. It is expected to phase in on January 1, 2017.

                Other provinces are considering following along. The lack of federal leadership is leading to a patchwork of public pension systems that will act as a barrier to labour mobility in Canada. This should not be allowed to happen. There are much better options, which the Prime Minister might discover should he agree to sit down with his colleagues.

                For instance, the Prince Edward Island finance minister, Wes Sheridan, has proposed an expansion of the Canada pension plan that would target the segment of the middle class that Jim Flaherty himself said was not saving enough for retirement.

                With respect to old age security, while in Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister announced by surprise that the qualifying age for old age security would be raised from 65 to 67. Not only will that unnecessary measure penalize Canadian seniors, particularly the less well off, but it will also have a big impact on the provinces, since many Canadians between 65 and 67 years old will be left to rely on provincially funded social assistance in the absence of old age security.

                With respect to refugees, in April 2012, the federal government announced it would no longer provide money to the provinces for the cost of refugee claimants' health care, a cruel measure, as the Federal Court said. Some provinces have decided to deliver this essential service on their own.

                With respect to manpower training, in budget 2013 the federal government announced it would cut the transfers to provinces under labour market development agreements. It simply expected the provinces to contribute their own money to its new unilateral Canada job grant. It took years to sort out a half-baked solution to this mess, which a good first ministers conference, held at the outset, would have avoided.

                With respect to climate change, in the absence of federal leadership, some provinces have taken the lead on Canada's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While this has led to some positive results, the absence of federal leadership has prevented much better results from happening for Canada.

                The comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, is particularly outrageous. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador gave its approval to CETA after the federal government agreed to provide $270 million toward a $400 million transition fund for its seafood canning industry. Once the agreement was signed, the federal government changed its mind. It is now telling the province that the money was for demonstrable losses in that industry after the agreement was in force. This has resulted in the province signalling a willingness to rescind its support for the agreement, thus breaking our federation's united front on this needed agreement.

                In the 18 years I have been actively following federal-provincial relations in this House, never have I witnessed such blatant betrayal of a federal government's commitment toward a province. The letter exchange makes it crystal clear that the federal trade minister did concede that there would be a transition fund to help not only the displaced workers but the whole industry. The expression “demonstrated loss” is nowhere to be seen in the trade minister's letters. This is a pure invention.

                The good functioning of a federation requires negotiating in good faith and living up to commitments. The federal government should not retroactively invent conditions that were not in the written agreement between ministers. Premiers, like all Canadians, need a prime minister they can trust.

                It is because the Prime Minister is so often unable to live up to his commitments and stick to his words that he does not want to meet his colleagues all together? A lack of trust may be the real issue here.

                However esoteric federal-provincial relationships might appear to many Canadians, all Canadians want their leaders, especially their Prime Minister, to be trustworthy. Sure, a first ministers' conference agenda might include many other items, such as interprovincial trade barriers, energy policy, pipelines and so on, but I think I have made my point clear.

                The leader of the Liberal Party has committed to inviting all of the provincial premiers to an annual first ministers' meeting. Today more than ever, that is the right thing to do. This is why I invite all my colleagues to support the following motion:

                That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister of Canada should hold annual First Ministers' Conferences.

                • MPnews news Trade balks - The Telegram
                  You have to feel sorry for Ed Fast. Perhaps the federal trade minister can smack down little old Newfoundland and Labrador — that whiny, seven-seat fiefdom that always wants to eat its cake and have it, too. read more
                  Thu 3:56 am> |
                    • MPnews news Trade balks - The Telegram
                      You have to feel sorry for Ed Fast. Perhaps the federal trade minister can smack down little old Newfoundland and Labrador — that whiny, seven-seat fiefdom that always wants to eat its cake and have it, too. read more
                      Wed 12:38 am> |
                        • MPnews news CETA could unravel with decisive Syriza win in Greece - rabble.ca (blog)
                          That's because even if Newfoundland and Labrador cannot stop the ratification of CETA in Canada (as federal trade minister Ed Fast contends) and if Greece alone among 28 European Union member state national legislatures cannot veto the deal (that is a ...and more » read more
                          Tue 7:10 am> |
                          • MPconblog Gail Shea 99 post Questions on the Order Paper

                            Mr. Speaker, in response to (a), the communication between the department and the minister’s office regarding the extension of the recreational groundfish fishery in fall 2014, in Newfoundland and Labrador, included the drafting of a note regarding the decision to extend the fishery.

                            In response to (b), the formal reason for the extension was the result of poor weather during the second half of the fall fishing seasons, September 20 to September 28, which created safety concerns for recreational fishers. As a result the minister made the decision to extend the fishery by three days.

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