In Brief: The impact of the high Canadian dollar, equalization and infrastructure spending are all expected to be on the agenda when the premiers meet this week with the Prime Minister. AIMS acting President Charles Cirtwill explains what New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham should be looking to accomplish at the meetings.
OTTAWA – Premier Shawn Graham will undoubtedly have a strong message for the prime minister when he visits the nation’s capital Friday for a round of evening meetings with Stephen Harper and his provincial counterparts.
The high Canadian dollar, which has put pressure on the province’s predominantly resource-based industries, will likely be the main topic of discussion as Graham makes another push for his self-sufficiency agenda.
While the premiers likely won’t have much solo time with Harper, political observers say Graham won’t miss the opportunity to sell New Brunswick and his goal to wean the province off equalization payments to the other premiers.
Charles Cirtwill, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said the impact on the province’s forestry and manufacturing industries will likely be on Graham’s wish list Friday.
He said it’s also likely Graham will want to discuss infrastructure spending with Harper, and how the federal Conservatives’ Building Canada fund could tie into Graham’s vision for the province.
“It’s a good thing for Graham because his self-sufficiency agenda really fits into all of these subject matters,” he said. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t getting a positive response.”
Cirtwill said it can be difficult, especially during brief meetings, for premiers to adequately get their message across.
Showing the federal government how it can assist in the province’s plan is how Graham’s message will resonate in Ottawa, he said.
“The challenge is it’s very hard for Atlantic Canadian premiers today to overcome 200 years of tin-cup federalism. Graham can talk the talk about self-sufficiency, but he also has to point to things we’re doing in response to challenges.”
Harper is set to arrive in Fredericton today, where he will announce a funding package for the country’s ailing forestry industry.
Some political watchers say the move is likely preemptive, to give Harper more control over Friday’s meetings.
“I think that the feds are just as good at reading the tea leaves as the provinces are,” said Cirtwill.
“Harper is putting himself in a position so that the meetings are working sessions rather than panic sessions.”
Anthony Knight, general manager of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, said the province’s business community is hopeful Graham will focus on what the federal government can do to encourage business development in the region.
As an export-dominant province, Knight said New Brunswick’s manufacturing businesses need help to diversify their operations and sell their products on the world stage.
Funding for skilled worker training is also needed, given the numerous energy projects New Brunswick has on the horizon.
“With potash in southeastern New Brunswick, a refinery and other energy projects, we’ll require workers and we need to have systems in place to help people get the training they need,” he said.
“We also need to look at bringing in new Canadians to the region and getting skilled immigrants into New Brunswick.”