The host of Monday’s meeting of premiers and territorial leaders says the group is hoping to learn from each other’s efforts to deal with affordability pressures on the public.
While expectations around the summer meeting of the Council of the Federation have focused on urging the federal government to contribute more money to health care, affordability is also poised to be a major point of discussion in Victoria, B.C.
“We’re going to be sharing best practices: What are the different provinces doing to address these issues, whether it’s the price of fuel, supply-chain issues,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said in an interview.
Mr. Horgan is chair of the council, which consists of Canada’s 13 premiers and territorial leaders.
The council is assembling amid concerns about the cost of living and inflation. Canada’s annual rate of inflation hit 7.7 per cent in May, which is its highest level since 1983. Gasoline prices have also been soaring. Mr. Horgan’s own government has been under opposition attack over the cost of housing.
A spokesperson for Quebec Premier François Legault called Canada’s economic situation with a rise in inflation and the cost of living an “unavoidable issue” for the premiers, even as he noted efforts to seek an increase in federal health transfers is top priority for the talks.
On economic issues, spokesperson Ewan Sauves added in a statement on Sunday that they will certainly be addressed by the premiers. “This is a priority for all governments in Canada, including ours,” he said.
The main responsibility for controlling inflation lies with the Bank of Canada, which is currently raising interest rates at its highest pace in decades to try to cool down the demand in the Canadian economy to slow consumer price growth.
Still, governments have been under pressure over the issue. On the federal government front, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said she is mindful of the concerns of Canadians and last month outlined the $8.9-billion the government is spending to deal with the cost of living.
But provincial governments have also been under scrutiny, with the public looking for relief in areas where provinces have some leverage such as gasoline prices, housing benefits and vehicle insurance.
In Ontario, for example, the government has cut the gas tax by 5.7 cents a litre until the end of 2022 in a measure that’s expected to cost the province $645-million. In Manitoba, the opposition NDP is calling on the provincial Progressive Conservative government to form an all-party committee to find ways to help people cope with the rising cost of living. Quebec’s spring budget included a one-time $500 payment to every adult earning $100,000 or less to help offset the impact of inflation.
Research by the Angus Reid Institute, released last month, found the respondents in a poll were most concerned about the cost of living (63 per cent) ahead of health care at 52 per cent. And at least two-thirds of respondents said their province has done a poor job of dealing with inflation.
Shachi Kurl, president of the institute, said there’s a message in the research for the premiers.
“This is a very, very clear signal from Canadians saying, ‘Look, if you want to ask us what’s on our minds, what are we worried about, what we think you’re not doing a particularly good job of managing, it is the issues or the relief aspect around cost of living and inflation,’” she said.
Mr. Horgan is not the only premier thinking about these issues as meeting participants head west.
“This meeting of premiers is happening in a time of record inflation and energy insecurity that we can’t ignore,” Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, said in a statement.
For that reason, he said, Mr. Kenney will be calling on fellow premiers to reduce interprovincial trade barriers that translate into higher costs for consumers, and raising concerns about the economic consequences of the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Plan.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said in a statement that Canadians are facing affordability challenges caused by rising prices, blocked supply chains, labour shortages and global disruption.
“We need to address these challenges through economic renewal driven by immigration, increased free trade, critical infrastructure, sustainable development, energy security and economic reconciliation,” she said.
With files from Mark Rendell in Toronto.
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