Cooperation between west, feds focus of Freeland meeting
EDMONTON -- Although a meeting in Leduc between Canada's deputy prime minister and western municipal leaders on Monday was held in private, outward appearances were that Ottawa is listening to concerns from the west.
Canada's second-in-command, Chrystia Freeland, and Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly were in the capital region for talks with the members of WEST, a group of western Canadian leaders called the Western Economic Solutions Taskforce.
"This is a really important group for me and for our government to be working with," Freeland commented.
Joly added: "There are lots of miles between here and Ottawa, but we don’t always need to feel so much far apart."
WEST was created in November under the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to unite the four western provinces during a time of economic instability.
At Monday's full-day summit, WEST members said they were focused on short-term solutions ahead of Ottawa releasing Budget 2020, expected to drop March. 13.
"There's a layering of challenges that we're seeing in the west right now: You've got rail backlogs getting products to market, you've got trade agreements that are blocking things like canola and lentils and exports that are really fundamental to our communities," explained Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, also describing increasing desire by municipalities, and pressure on them, to become more sustainable.
"There's this fundamental tension and we've been having some very frank and honest conversations between us about how do we have a constructive and productive conversation."
Media were also told orphaned oil and gas wells were a "top-priority issue," alongside the fiscal strain on agriculture producers by the carbon tax.
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Yorkton, Sask., city councillor Randy Goulden said she and her colleagues were asking the federal government to consider farmers' needs, but wouldn't specify what they wanted to see changed.
"We're not trying to build the program for them," Goulden said.
"That's for federal government to determine on how they're going to provide the assistance and to provide the environment for our farmers to be able to go about the work that they do in the food production we export as a country."
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said the summit was a significant opportunity to work with other leaders as a counter force to regional division.
"There is a lot of fear and anger out there, and the best antidote to that is hope and a plan."
WEST said it was first focused on immediate solutions, but would begin to look at medium and long-term issues after the federal budget.
With a report from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson