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The Globe and Mail

Premiers split over Ottawa's role in stimulating economy

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty talks with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger at the opening meeting of the Premiers' annual meeting in Winnipeg, Thursday, August 5, 2010. Canada's premiers are in Winnipeg this week to discuss economic and social policies.

John Woods/The Canadian Press

Canada's premiers emerged from their annual meeting on Thursday sharply divided over the role the federal government should play in stimulating an economic recovery that remains tenuous.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called on Ottawa not to turn off the funding tap when its massive stimulus program expires next March 31.

As part of the funding aimed at kick-starting the economy, the Harper government gave the provinces one-time money for job-training programs, including $600-million for Ontario.

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A feature of the postrecession economy is that young Canadians will have a number of jobs rather than spend their entire career at one place, the way previous generations did, Mr. McGuinty told reporters in Winnipeg.

"We've got to make sure there are enough training opportunities for people moving from job to job and sector to sector," he said. "The world has changed."

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, playing host to this year's meeting, agreed that Ottawa should play a continuing role in funding education and training programs. The stimulus funding generated a lot of economic activity in the short term, he said.

"The question now is how do we keep the momentum going."

But premiers from British Columbia and Alberta said they think the federal government has already done its part to stimulate the economy and it is now up to the private sector to assume that responsibility.

"Sooner or later, we have to rely on the private sector to lead us out of the recession," Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said in an interview.

The Alberta government has an advertisement in the Winnipeg Free Press, touting that province's oil sands as "the world's second largest proven resource of oil."

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The ad is a not-so-subtle reminder of the role Alberta's oil industry played in creating jobs for Canadians in other provinces. Before the global economic recession, the sector employed many workers from Ontario as well as Atlantic Canada.

The ad gives him an opportunity to talk to his provincial and territorial colleagues about the number of jobs that are dependent on the oil sands, Mr. Stelmach said.

"It's literally billions of dollars of investments that spill across Canada from coast to coast to coast."

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said the provinces and the Harper government have injected billions of dollars into infrastructure projects to help create jobs during the recession - a move that helped kick-start the fledgling recovery.

"Now it's time for the private sector to step up," Mr. Campbell told reporters.

The premiers will wrap up their meeting on Friday.

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