Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and other provincial and territorial leaders will join Prime Minister Stephen Harper today for a First Ministers’ meeting.
Doer says the dispute over a federal securities regulator has no business making an appearance at the meeting.
"With all the issues we’ve got to deal with in the country right now?" he said incredulously, when asked if the securities regulation issue might derail the meetings planned for today and Friday.
"Let’s spend our time and energy on the areas where we can reach a consensus. "
Manitoba has never been a fan of the idea of a national securities regulator, and Quebec and Alberta are both soundly against the plan. Quebec has threatened legal action if Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pursues it, and there are fears the anger over it could get in the way of other debates this week.
Flaherty said Monday he would pursue the national-regulator issue first with provinces who want it, and more details are promised in the Jan. 27 budget.
Manitoba Finance Minister Greg Selinger is clearly opposed to the single- regulator model, arguing that plenty of progress has been made over the past four years. He said proceeding with the plan now will likely mean fighting it out in court, because Quebec and Alberta are determined not to give up jurisdiction.
"Is this the right time to provoke a fight with provinces like Quebec and Alberta and others and polarize the situation?" he wondered. "Clearly we need to co-operate on the economy right now and not fight about this issue. That is concern No. 1."
He said there has been an unprecedented level of co-operation among the provinces on the file for the past four years and he sees no reason to "throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Selinger maintains that it’s not accurate to say there are 13 different regulators in Canada. Rather, he said there has been much harmonization in securities regulation across the country and that there are benefits to the Canadian model.
"It’s always messier to get a consensus," he said. "It’s easier to have one body make the decision... until they are wrong. There is no buffer in the U.S. model."
It’s hoped the country’s first ministers will be able to agree on a number of ways both the federal and provincial governments can stimulate the economy by creating jobs.
Doer says he’d rather the meeting be spent finalizing an internal trade agreement, discussing aboriginal education and training programs, working on export markets beyond the United States, and finding taxes and fees Canada can cut that make us uncompetitive with the U.S.
One of those fees is the security fee imposed by Ottawa on Canadian airports. They range from $5 for domestic flights to $17 for overseas flights.
In the U.S., the fee is $5 across the board and Doer says the higher fees in Canada affect not only airline ticket prices but also air cargo.
Infrastructure spending will definitely be on the agenda, and for the first time, Doer listed beefing up the roads and railways for Winnipeg’s inland-port project as a priority use of infrastructure funds. The governments are working on speeding up the time frame for the federal infrastructure program that is supposed to shell out money over the next five years.
In Ottawa Tuesday, Manitoba NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis met with Flaherty ahead of the budget to push for improved access to employment insurance and increased support for average Canadian families.
Wasylycia-Leis said that unlike Flaherty, who she says held a series of invitation-only sessions and closed-door consultation meetings, the NDP has been gathering information from average Canadians who are anxious for action from Ottawa to give them security about their jobs and investments.
— with files from Martin Cash