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Premiers to debate priorities for federal action on economy, climate

Canadian provincial and territorial premiers are meeting this week in Regina. And although the Prime Minister is not invited, the focus is expected to be on policies that the premiers want the federal government to adopt.

The meeting is the annual summit of the Council of the Federation, an organization established in 2003 to formalize the regular meetings and cooperative initiatives undertaken by provincial leaders.

The summit got unofficially underway today during a session with aboriginal leaders, in which the main focus was H1N1 flu preparedness.

The official agenda for the next two days is fairly broad:

On August 6, the discussion will centre on the economy, as Premiers take stock of the economic situation and discuss the impact of stimulus initiatives on their economies and citizens. Premiers will also discuss how Canada can emerge from the recession stronger than ever.

On August 7, the discussion will focus on building strong international relationships, as Premiers will examine how they can work together and individually to promote Canada internationally. Premiers will also examine current and upcoming North American and international climate change and energy dialogues.

Advocacy groups, ranging from ForestEthics to the National Union of Public and General Employees, have been focusing on the potential for decisions relating to climate change plans. A campaign led by Environmental Defence envisaged the meeting as a battle between the premiers of provinces that have been taking action to reduce greenhouse gases and those (notably Alberta and Saskatchewan) where emissions are expected to keep rising due to the fossil fuel industry.

But most pundits are predicting that the premiers will be focusing on economic issues.

Topics expected to be covered include the effectiveness of federal economic stimulus programs, reforms to the employment insurance system proposed by the federal Liberal and Conservative parties, and Canada-U.S. trade relations in advance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's participation in the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership summit this weekend.

In other words, the meeting is likely to be more a strategy session for creating a common front with which to pressure the federal government than a showdown between the provinces.

And when is the federal government going to get involved? Finance Canada this morning issued a media advisory announcing that Minister Jim Flaherty will be meeting with his provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss “continuing progress in strengthening Canada’s economy.” That meeting is scheduled for December in Whitehorse.

“I’m looking forward to this important dialogue with the provincial and territorial finance ministers as we work together on Canada’s economic recovery,” Flaherty was quoted as saying in the press release.

The timing of the announcement on the eve of the Council of the Federation meeting may be pure coincidence. But it is probably safe to say that Flaherty will be having dialogues with provincial and territorial colleagues sometime before they turn on the Christmas lights on Parliament Hill.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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