Western premiers meet here to stoke ‘economic powerhouse’

EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Alison Redford will host her counterparts from Saskatchewan and B.C. on Tuesday to discuss the direction of the New West Partnership.

The partnership, established in April 2010, is an attempt to create "an economic powerhouse of nine million people with a combined GDP of more than $550 billion."

"It's the premier's first meeting as the host province," Alberta intergovernmental affairs spokesman Bill Strickland said Monday in advance of the meeting. "They're going to be discussing the Canadian Energy Strategy, employment insurance reform and replacing the Building Canada Infrastructure Program. ... They want to look at the future, and what the New West Partnerships role will be in the energy strategy."

Strickland was unable to provide details concerning discussions about the infrastructure program.

Redford, B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall are also expected to talk about the importance of immigration in meeting growing labour market needs.

The meeting will take place at Government House in Edmonton, beginning at 2 p.m., Strickland said.

Richard Truscott of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said he is pleased to hear the premiers will discuss immigration, which is crucial for supporting small independent businesses in Alberta.

"Immigration is at the top of our list," Truscott said. "We are going to have to be very innovative and engaged on the immigration file for years to come. If we don't we're definitely going to see the impacts."

In under two years, the partnership has helped establish unprecedented co-operation among the provinces, governments say.

In May 2010, former premier Ed Stelmach, former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell and Wall travelled to China and Japan on a joint mission to encourage trade.

During the trip, they announced the opening of the Western Canada Trade and Investment Office in Shanghai, China, which promotes natural resources, agriculture and green technology.

In October 2010, Stelmach backed Wall in Saskatchewan's fight against BHP Billiton's hostile takeover bid for Potash Corp., and in July 2011 the provinces streamlined regulations for truckers, a move lauded by the shipping industry.

The partnership's most controversial work followed the Dec. 16, 2010, signing of an energy memorandum of understanding. The memorandum was designed to encourage streamlining of regulations, promotion of Western energy and faster development and use of green energy," a government statement said at the time.

The governments initiated consultations with stakeholders, including the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

In August, the Alberta Federation of Labour alleged that CAPP was improperly lobbying the provincial government by offering to help "enhance" the government's public relations strategy concerning controversial shale gas development.

The federation pointed to leaked cabinet documents that suggest the province is worried about environmental groups undermining public support for shale gas development by spreading "misinformation" about health and environmental effects of chemical fracking.

"Environmental non-government organizations are supporting an ill-informed campaign on hydraulic fracturing and water-related issues in British Columbia and this is expected to grow as shale gas development expands into Alberta and Saskatchewan," the outline says. "The New West Partnership lacks a cohesive inter-governmental and inter-agency strategy to address growing public concern in the rapid expansion or shale gas development."

Alberta's lobbyist registrar investigated and cleared CAPP of wrongdoing, largely because the MOU invited the association's input. Alberta's ethics commissioner is now reviewing the investigation.

The government has since embarked on its own public relations strategy, without CAPP's input.

Edmonton Journal, Mon Dec 12 2011
Byline: Karen Kleiss

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