Western premiers grip, grin, talk labour issues, depart Nunavut
Closed door Iqaluit meetings focused on “developing the labour market”
Only four of the promised seven premiers showed up in person for Nunavut’s crack at hosting the annual Western Premiers’ Conference July 9 and July 10 in Iqaluit, but they claim to have made progress on wide range of issues from economic development to Aboriginal child welfare.
Meetings were closed to the public, but Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said the group had been “collaborating in addressing a number of issues.”
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, Alberta Premier Dave Hancock, Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, and the deputy premier of Manitoba, Eric Robinson, attended in person while Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall — each facing natural disasters at home — took part via video-conference.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark was unable to come. She seemed to have other things to attend to this week.
According to tweets from her Twitter account July 9, Clark had a “productive meeting with HH Sheikh Abdullah of the UAE. He’s seeing how much BC has to offer for investors.”
Before the Iqaluit meetings got started July 9, some premiers humoured locals at the Nunavut Day celebration by flipping burgers and mugging for the cameras.
A post-meeting news conference with leaders, which was supposed to be held at 11:15 a.m. July 10 in Iqaluit, was pushed back about 30 minutes because premiers were running late.
Organizers then told media the premiers only had seven minutes to answer questions. The news conference actually lasted 12 minutes, but was marred by technical difficulties.
Every few minutes, disembodied voices would thunder out from the Astro Theatre’s audio system as news conference participants, including the two prairie premiers, tried to connect and participate over the phone.
It often occurred when Taptuna was trying to speak, forcing him to repeat answers and for reporters to repeat questions.
Reporters managed to get five questions in before the premiers scurried off to catch flights out of the territory.
Members of the media were also invited to a photo opportunity with the premiers earlier in the day, but Nunatsiaq News and CBC were denied access.
In a four-page, densely-worded news release, the premiers said they discussed many issues including:
• developing the labour market;
• improving market access;
• modernizing internal trade;
• exploring solutions for off-grid communities;
• improving access to housing;
• addressing Aboriginal child welfare; and,
• disaster management and assistance.
The news release, which was typed out live as the meeting progressed, focused on “developing the labour market.”
“With a number of major projects either under way or in the development phase, existing labour shortages are only expected to deepen,” the news release reads.
Agreements reached by the premiers to address the need for skilled labour in Western Canada include:
• finding ways to build skills in rural and remote communities;
• researching labour mobility and the demands for major projects;
• supporting worker mobility by streamlining transferability of post-secondary and trades education credits; and,
• calling on the federal government to provide data such as Employment Insurance data by region.
The premiers also said they were concerned with recent changes to the federal temporary foreign worker program.
Those changes make it harder for companies to hire temporary foreign workers, something the resource-rich, and purportedly labour-poor, western provinces have been quick to criticize.
“Limiting the ability to hire foreign workers to address critical labour shortages will unduly punish responsible employers in Western Canada, particularly those in smaller and remote communities where Canadian workers are not readily available,” the news release said.
On the topic of disaster management and assistance, the premiers called on Ottawa to broaden the definition of a “disaster event” to include smaller events.
On the issue of housing, western leaders “stressed” how the federal government needs to work with them to “develop a long-term, sustainable partnership to support housing needs.”
The premiers also raised the issue of a “disproportionate and large number of Aboriginal children taken into care across the country.”
The premiers have “directed” their social services ministers to work with Aboriginal affairs ministers to try to reduce Aboriginal children being taking into care by child welfare authorities.
The 2015 Western Premiers’ Conference will be held in Saskatchewan.