Premiers urge Ottawa to consult them on jobs training, energy

Canada's premiers and territorial leaders urged the federal government to consult the provinces and territories on changes to programs or policy that affect them, including jobs training and energy, as they wrapped-up their summer gathering at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Rail safety, disaster relief discussed at premiers meeting

Provincial and territorial leaders remain divided on the issue of Senate reform, the CBC's Tom Parry reports 1:54

Canada's premiers and territorial leaders urged the federal government to consult the provinces and territories on changes to programs or policy that affect them, including jobs training and energy, as they wrapped-up their summer gathering at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

"There are over-arching issues and policies that need to be addressed at a federal level," Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale told reporters during a news conference Friday afternoon.

The premiers cited changes in labour market agreements and the proposed Canada Job Grant, employment insurance, and raising the age of eligibility for Old Age security as examples of changes the federal government has made without consulting the provinces.

"It is extremely important that the federal government be involved — but they're not at this point in time," Dunderdale said.

The N.L. premier said the federal government should be at the table with the provinces on a number of issues, including when they are talking about a Canadian energy strategy.

"We will welcome them to the table at any time," Dunderdale said.

Disaster mitigation, rail safety

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, whose province was recently affected by severe floods, said all premiers agreed to call on the federal government to live up to a promise it made in 2011 to establish a nationwide disaster mitigation infrastructure plan. The provinces would split the costs 50-50.

Redford cautioned the federal government not to use existing funds for the plan.

"We do not want to see the federal government tell us as provinces that the existing infrastructure funding that's available is what should be used for flood mitigation.

"You can't use the existing pot of money for this," Redford said.

Premiers also discussed rail safety, following the tragic events in Lac-Mégantic, Que., and agreed that the federal government should put in place a system to monitor the transport of hazardous materials by train.

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois said such a system would be "a first step in the right direction."

The provincial leaders also said that federal regulation should include a provision to ensure that railroads maintain liability insurance in an amount sufficient to cover the costs associated with the damage.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said insurance provisions are "very key."

"If you have to bear the costs of the risks of transporting your goods in an unsafe fashion, you have an incentive to do it safely," Selinger said.

The premiers also called on the federal government to improve search and rescue response times.

Bullying and cyberbullying

All 13 premiers and territorial leaders backed a federal-joint provincial report that would make it a criminal offence to distribute "intimate images" without consent.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said changing attitudes is part of the challenge when implementing new anti-bullying strategies.

"We need to make bullying just as uncool as drinking and driving," Dexter said.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay told CBC News on Friday that the federal government intends to act on the recommendations made in the report.

Speaking in Kentville, N.S., after a local funding announcement in support of a project to end violence against women and girls, MacKay said the term "bullying, in some ways, diminishes the seriousness of it."

"This is criminal activity," MacKay said.

Abolishing the Senate 'not a top priority'

Saskatchewan's efforts to get other provinces to support abolishing the Senate did not gain much traction during the premiers conference.

"It's not something that is top of mind for people in Ontario," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said after a working breakfast with the leaders on Friday.

Premier Brad Wall made his pitch to the leaders on the last day of the premiers conference but there was "no more discussion other than that," said Wynne, who is hosting the summer meeting.

Wall joked with reporters that abolishing the Senate would be the 11th recommendation from the working group on health innovation — a group he co-chairs with  Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz.

Wall said different premiers have different positions on the Senate but that "it's not a top priority for Saskatchewan, the premiers or the country."

"There are other issues including the economy and health care, and you know frankly disasters that are happening that are more important," Wall said.

The RCMP is currently investigating the decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright to give Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 to pay off his ineligible housing expenses.

When asked for his thoughts about abolishing the Senate given the scandal surrounding Duffy, the senator who represents P.E.I., Ghiz joked, "I thought he was an Ontario senator."

Ghiz, who said he is in favour of an elected Senate, said it's a hot-button issue because it's in the news right now but it's not "a major priority" for his province.

"Hopefully at some point we will have the opportunity to sit down and have these discussions," Ghiz said

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said talking about the Senate was "a huge distraction" from growing the economy and creating jobs.

The leaders of Ontario, Alberta and Yukon will take over for premiers Wall and Ghiz as co-chairs of the health care innovation working group.

Premiers said the working group helped participating provinces set a price for the six most common generic drugs, which will result in $100 million in savings annually, beginning April 1, 2013.

Next year's summer gathering of the premiers and territorial leaders will take place in P.E.I.