Council of the Federation summer meeting 2013 .. award-winning wines, beers and cuisine prepared by students!

Jul 22nd, 2013 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois speaks in Lac-Mégantic July 6. Will she also be talking about this at the Council of the Federation this week? Photograph by: Dario Ayala , Montreal Gazette.

It sometimes seems that little of real interest would happen in Canada without the first people who called themselves Canadians in Quebec. (This is also a good argument against real Quebec “separation,” for those Canadians outside Quebec who value interesting things.)

To take just one current case in point, the first meeting of provincial premiers in the history of the 1867 confederation took place in the fall of 1887 in Quebec City — at the behest of the Quebec premier of the day, Honoré Mercier. Almost 126 years later provincial (and now territorial as well) premiers will be meeting at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, this coming Wednesday, July 24 to Friday, July 26. Since 2003 they have somewhat grandiloquently been calling themselves the Council of the Federation — at the urging of the Quebec premier of the day, Jean Charest.

Some may object that the current Quebec premier is the theoretical sovereigntist Pauline Marois. She will nonetheless be meeting “with all the premiers … at the annual Council of the Federation summer meeting, to be held this year in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.”  (She will also, btw, be hosting “the annual meeting of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers, being held this year in La Malbaie [Quebec — just south and east of Rivière-du-Loup, on the north side of the St. Lawrence] Sept. 8 and 9.” At both events, it is reported, the question of safer methods of oil transportation, to avoid more tragic disasters like Lac-Mégantic, will understandably be one of Me Marois’s top priorities.)

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall wants to abolish the unreformed Senate of Canada. Liam Richards/The Canadian Press.

Meanwhile, contemplating the view from the vast lone prairie of the Canadian West, John Ivison at the National Post has been telling us that “Brad Wall’s government is set to introduce a constitutional amendment into the Saskatchewan legislature this October calling for the abolition of the Canadian Senate … the Premier will try to sell the idea when the provinces meet in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., for the Council of the Federation … Mr. Wall has long argued that the premiers are better placed to represent the provinces than party loyalists sitting in the Senate.”

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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Just how much luck Premier Wall will have with his Senate abolition pitch is unclear. According to other reports : “Provinces downplay Senate reform expectations …  While the Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s office said it wanted the provincial government caucus to debate legislation ‘calling for the abolition of the Senate,’ the premiers from other provinces, including the host, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, have suggested alternative solutions …  ‘The Premier’s preference is reforming the Senate but [she] looks forward to the discussion … with her colleagues,’ Wynne’s office told Postmedia News in a statement.”

Similarly, “other issues will also be discussed at the meeting … including jobs training as well as calls for a national energy strategy and tackling infrastructure needs in the wake of devastating flooding that has struck Alberta …  Wynne’s office, which noted that the meeting would, for the first time, have almost as many women as men around the table, said she also hoped to discuss job creation as well as developing a strategy to convince the federal government to commit to strategic infrastructure investments in transit, roads and bridges.”

Alberta Premier Alison Redford (1) and BC Premier Christy Clark (r). Photo: Premier of Alberta via Flickr.

Another report, this time from Canada’s capital city, confirms that : “When Premier Kathleen Wynne meets with her counterparts from across the country in Niagara-on-the-Lake next week, she’ll be looking to cement a united front on two major issues: changes to the federal jobs grant program and a national infrastructure program.”

Meanwhile again, yet another report from the vast lone prairie — by Len Coad, director of the Centre for Natural Resources Policy at the Canada West Foundation —  urges that “Co-operative energy policy vital … If Canadian producers are going to reap the benefits of the international demand for energy, the provinces have to figure out how to come together around transportation issues.” Back in 2007, believe it or not, the Council of the Federation actually “produced a shared vision for energy,” which “called for action in seven areas.” Now, a half-dozen years later, Mr. Coad is urging that the Council (ie 13 provincial and territorial premiers with many different practical interests) “needs to transition from the original list of seven things where each province can make some progress on its own to a shorter list of priorities for truly collaborative action.” (Well, nice work if you can get it, some will say — and they are probably right, though Lac-Mégantic could provide some tough focus for debate on transporting oil by rail or pipeline.)

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale. (ANDREW VAUGHAN / The Canadian Press.)

Moreover, to show that the Council of the Federation is nowadays attracting attention beyond the 13 different narrow universes of provincial and territorial policy wonkery : “While the premiers from across the country meet in Niagara-on-the-Lake Wednesday to Friday, hosted by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, thousands are expected to attend a shadow summit and mass rally taking place just down the road …  The shadow summit is organized by the Canadian and Ontario Health Coalitions, and is chiefly concerned with the Harper government’s retreat from a federal role in social programs and cuts to health care … The shadow summit will run Wednesday, July 24 from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at St. Mark’s Anglican Church.”

Winners of the National Student Pastry competition at Niagara College, this past February 19.

Finally, some cynics will say that the Council of the Federation is ultimately just an excuse for the provincial and territorial premiers (and their most favoured staff)  to get together for some good food and cool mid-summer beverages, on the taxpayers’ dime. But critics of this sort may want to ponder the news that “Niagara-on-the-Lake is gearing up for a high-profile gathering of Canada’s premiers … And for Dorita Pentesco of Niagara College, it represents a tasty opportunity to showcase the campus and its programs … That 2013 summer meeting of the Council of the Federation of Premiers takes place Wednesday to Friday at the Queen’s Landing Inn … To kick the event off, the college was selected as the site for its opening reception social … Offerings will include award-winning wines, beers and cuisine prepared by students and faculty at the College’s Canadian Food and Wine Inn” (or should that be “Institute”?)  I am sure that the students at the College are quite dedicated — and that the College itself and its Canadian Food and Wine Institute have earned their reputations. But, to be only a little excessively blunt, all this at least sounds a little like going to your local dental college to have your teeth fixed by the students there, because, frankly, you just can’t afford anything else. On the other hand, some will say that’s just what is so wonderful about Canada. And who knows? They may be right (depending on exactly what you mean by “wonderful,” of course).

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