Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial and territorial leaders will get few breaks today as they comb through incoming marijuana legalization laws, the Liberals’ controversial tax reform proposals, the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, and the economy during today’s first ministers meeting in Ottawa.
The first item on the agenda is a meeting with three Indigenous leaders representing Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.
Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to economic growth in the North.
“If this government is talking about growing a middle class, we still have a long way to go create a middle class. We have a median income gap of over $50,000 within Inuit Nunangat, our homeland,” he said.
Obed said the morning sessions with the Indigenous leaders aren’t expected to produce any big announcement, but at some point. the government’s talk has to turn to action.
“We are getting to action, but there still is this overarching relationship piece, the way in which government does its work, the way in which Indigenous peoples and Inuits specifically are partners within this process that it will be good to have a conversation about,” he said.
The morning meetings will also include Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council, and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
In July, the three leaders boycotted the Council of the Federation meetings in Edmonton, because they were scheduled to take part in separate meetings rather than participate in all sessions as full members.
“Ottawa should not be cherry picking which Indigenous peoples it wants to recognize and deal with,” said National Chief Robert Bertrand in a release.
Tax reforms top of mind
Economic growth will also be top of mind for Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod.
He recently sent a letter to the prime minister about the need for the federal government to better consult on resource development in the Arctic, and hopes to raise the issue during Tuesday’s day-long meeting
“People in the South have to remember that people live in the North as well, and we need jobs and we need a strong economy,” he said.
A discussion on the economy will likely dovetail into another hot topic for the premiers: the Liberals’ controversial proposed tax reforms.
They’ll get a chance Tuesday to hear Finance Minister Bill Morneau discuss his proposals to eliminate small business tax provisions the Liberals say allow some wealthier Canadians to avoid paying their fair share.
The proposals have raised the ire of some doctors and small business owners, as well as Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
“We need to be very, very careful with our engine of growth, not to take out the sparkplugs,” he said.
Don Morgan, deputy premier and justice minister of Saskatchewan, said the proposed changes could have unintended, negative consequences in his province, which he said has used tax tools to encourage professionals to move to rural areas.
“There are doctors that have moved to smaller centres than Saskatoon based on the fact that they were able to do some tax planning,” said Morgan, who will be attending the meeting instead of Premier Brad Wall.
“Some of those people may very well not only leave Saskatchewan, but may leave Canada. So we’re hoping that they [the federal government] will look at those things and say ‘This was not what we contemplated. This was not what we wanted’,” he said.
NAFTA, pot also on agenda
The premiers will also meet MP Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and the Liberals’ point person on pot, to discuss the role they will play in regulating marijuana by next summer.
Some of the provinces have been expressing concerns about the tight timeline for legalizalization.
Pallister said there are still too many uncertainties about how that will work, and told CBC he’ll repeat his call for the Liberals to back off the July 1 deadline.
“The prime minister has made a commitment. I support him in his commitment and in keeping it, but he could keep it a year later,” he said.
Rounding out the agenda Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador in Washington, will give the premiers an update on the relationship with the U.S. following the third round of negotiations for the new North American Free Trade Agreement.
The premiers will also hear from Anil Arora, head of Statistics Canada, and Stephen Poloz, governor of the Bank of Canada.