Brian Pallister is the Premier of Manitoba
Next year, Canada’s fifth province celebrates its 150th birthday. Manitoba is Canada’s keystone province – the geographical bridge to an East-West, Northern miracle that is our Confederation.
We have always been a bridge between the two halves of our great country. The West was populated through Manitoba. We connected East and West by building roads and railways.
At this moment when discord and division loom large in our federation, and some voices even speak of leaving Canada, it’s worth remembering that Manitobans actually staged a rebellion to join Canada. We wanted in. And that’s where we’re staying. Manitobans believe Canada is stronger than the sum of its individual parts.
Manitobans are known for their friendliness. So, here’s some friendly advice from Canada’s friendly province to the Prime Minister.
We first need to acknowledge that the country’s divisions are real. Western Canada is hurting. The federal government’s economic, energy and environmental policies have caused today’s discord. The Prime Minister must move quickly and honestly to heal them.
Let us seize this moment and build a more united country. A united country with a stronger economic union, a stronger social union, and a stronger union of common rights and values. They are intertwined.
Here’s an agenda – a unity agenda – to do just that.
Building a stronger economic union means establishing certainty for energy projects and corridors that turn our natural wealth into financial wealth that benefits all Canadians. Build the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, now. Canadians own it; let’s finish it.
Standing in the way of a stronger economic union is C-69 with its elaborate, duplicative and cumbersome energy and infrastructure project assessment process. It was meant to enhance trust in the regulatory process. Instead, it has brought delays, uncertainty and politics to its very centre.
Eight years ago, a significant flood occurred in the Lake Manitoba basin. Billions of dollars in costs later, with evacuations of Indigenous communities only now returning home, our new government announced and budgeted in 2016 for the construction of a flood-protection outlet channel to protect people and property. Yet, not one shovel of earth has been moved to build this much-needed outlet because of delays incurred by the environmental review.
It is ironic that this regulatory regime, championed by some as a way to prevent fossil fuel pipeline projects from being built because of climate change concerns, is now preventing an urgently needed climate-adaptation project in Manitoba from being built.
This year, Manitoba suffered a perfect storm of spring flood, summer drought and fall rains. A federal government committed to combatting climate change would not put barriers in the way of provinces actually acting on this growing phenomenon. It would revisit C-69 to de-politicize it with true regulatory independence and establish time-frame certainty to get critical infrastructure projects done.
At the heart of a stronger economic union is free internal trade and smart shopping by governments. This means eliminating internal trade barriers that hurt jobs and cost taxpayers’ money. And it means combining our procurement power to get better value on joint purchasing such as in health care. This is just common sense.
Federal and provincial trade barriers cost the average household about $1,500 annually. Both Manitoba and Alberta have eliminated each and every procurement exception. All are gone. It’s time the rest of the country did the same and it can with immediate federal leadership. That means Ottawa must stop playing provincial favorites with its own current 34 exceptions.
Building a stronger social union means funding and fixing the top priority of Canadians: health care. The federal share has dropped from one-quarter to one-fifth of total health-care funding. Yet, demand for better and faster health services is rising as baby boomers age and Indigenous populations grow.
It’s been 15 years since any prime minister brought premiers together to improve health care in Canada. This is an urgent place to start building that stronger social union.
We would not be Canada without the shared values, rights and freedoms that bind us as Canadians. A Canada where rights are upheld all of the time, not just some of the time, and freedoms are defended for all of us, not just some of us.
Building a stronger Canadian union means standing up for those rights and freedoms across the country. Quebec’s Bill 21 threatens the rights and freedoms of some Canadians. It bars government employees from wearing religious symbols such as head scarves or crucifixes at work. That is an unacceptable, and unnecessary, diminishment of the rights of Quebeckers in Canada that sadly diminishes Quebec, too. Quebec is stronger than this.
The federal government must speak for all Canadians when it comes to individual rights and freedoms. It must speak for all regions when it comes to fairness and opportunity. And it must speak with all premiers when it comes to forging a stronger economic and social union for all Canadians.
Just some friendly advice from friendly Manitoba.
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