When premiers and territorial leaders gather for their annual summer meeting in Edmonton this week, they’ll compare strategies on trade relations with the United States, grapple with the tight timelines of legal marijuana sales, and consider what to do about lengthy court delays.
The Council of the Federation, or COF, is a once-a-year meeting that brings together Canada’s most influential political leaders to seek common ground and common strategies.
“It will not be a mid-summer meet and greet,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who is chairing the meeting for the first time.
“It will be a mid-summer ‘we have a whole heck of a lot of work to do,’ ” Notley added.
Economy to top agenda
Topping the agenda for the two-day meeting is the economy.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, will brief the premiers on emerging issues such as NAFTA and the softwood lumber trade dispute, according to Notley.
“That will be a key piece,” said Notley, adding the premiers will then address the challenge of implementing the sale and use of legalized marijuana.
“It is a very big job,” she said.
“We’ve told the federal government that we will do everything we can to be ready but we are not promising that it will happen,” the premier said.
The gathering will attract interest groups and lobbyists from across Canada, hoping to steal a moment with political decision-makers.
Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, says he hopes the premiers concentrate on trade, jobs and business.
“If there are any changes they’re going to make or any new ideas they’re coming up with, what’s going to be the impact on business, particularly small business?” said Kobly.
Although he sees signs the economy is recovering in Alberta in places such as Grande Prairie and Fox Creek, Kobly said that’s not the case in Calgary where there’s a noticeable absence of professional and planning jobs.
“The telling tale is how quiet the downtown Calgary office towers are at this point,” he said.
‘They’re actually hard work’
David Mitchell, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, is a veteran of the COF meetings.
As a former MLA in British Columbia, former vice-president of three Canadian universities, and former head of Canada’s Public Policy Forum, Mitchell has seen the COF evolve from “social gatherings” with golf games and receptions, to “hard work,” where he says substantial progress is made.
“Now there’s a bit of an infrastructure built up around these council meetings, and they’re actually hard work,” said Mitchell.
Noticeably absent from the gathering will be British Columbia, avoiding the obvious ideological clash around the table over differing pipeline perspectives between B.C. and Alberta.
Incoming B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan, who is vehemently opposed to the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to B.C., will be sworn in this week, right in the middle of the COF meeting.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says the absence of B.C. will likely change the dynamics of the group.
“Obviously British Columbia is an important part of confederation and it’s unfortunate they can’t be there. But they also are going through a highly unique circumstance, and so it is what it is,” Notley said.
The last time Alberta hosted Canada’s premier’s and territorial leaders was in Banff in 2005.
At that time, Alberta was flush with a billion-dollar surplus and natural gas royalties contributed an unexpected $8.2 billion to provincial revenues — $2.8 billion higher than budgeted.
This time around, Alberta is battling a growing debt and deficit forecast at $10.3 billion.
Notley said this meeting of the premiers will be “modest” by comparison.
The Lord is my Shepard [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack. – Psalm 23:1