Concerns remain after Atlantic Premiers meet

·6 min read

PICTOU, N.S. – On Wednesday, June 29, Atlantic Premiers met in order to continue working together to better manage numerous issues impacting their respective provinces such as health care, the impact of inflation on the region's economy, and to identify circumstances where energy security and self-sufficiency can be enhanced to reach the long-term needs of the region. In attendance were Premier Tim Houston of Nova Scotia, Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick, Premier Dennis King of Prince Edward Island, and Premier Andrew Furey of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Council of Atlantic Premiers released the following statement:

“Premiers noted a recent report by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council shows the strength of the region’s economy, though labour shortages and affordability present significant challenges to residents and businesses. Premiers discussed ongoing supply chain interruptions due to global events, the impacts of climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic. These events are creating challenges for Atlantic Canadians in accessing affordable food and housing, as well as the impact of rising fuel costs. While global issues are contributing to these pressures, Premiers remain committed to addressing affordability, increasing the housing supply and improving food security for the region.”

Port Aux Basques Mayor Brian Button agrees that overall the economy is strong, but the issues of labour shortages and affordability remain significant.

“We are in a sector where jobs don’t seem to be a factor, there’s jobs out there. There’s jobs that can become available just in our own communities. We all see when we go through this community, when you go through neighbouring communities, when you talk to mayors from other communities, they’re all having the same issues hearing of businesspeople not being able to find people. I think our economy overall is not bad. We’re making strides. We are seeing people wanting to come and invest in the province. Developments that are going on across the province, people coming to our community, I think the future, that part of our economy, it’s not that bad. With everything else, the cost of living, the availability of workers, that is something of concern.”

Also discussed at the meeting was the pressing matter health care.

“Premiers discussed moving forward with actions under the Atlantic Health Care Accord including engagement of Atlantic colleges responsible for physician licensing to work urgently to address the barriers facing the recruitment and retention of international health care workers, and to allow physicians to move seamlessly within the region.

“Premiers also renewed their commitment to action through the Council of the Federation, where Canadian Premiers are calling for a revitalized health funding partnership with the federal government. Premiers continue to call on the federal government to increase their share of health funding from 22% to 35% through an increase in the Canada Health Transfer. This increased funding would have a significant impact on the ability of provinces to provide quality health care services and respond to the strain on health care systems.”

With respect to healthcare, Button shared that he has had conversations that suggest that barriers are definitely impacting recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals, specifically in this province.

“Some of the setups on how things go with the recruiting and how things are happening with the College of Physicians, there seems to be barriers or obstacles that don’t allow us the flexibility at times to be able to attract and bring in new physicians. Any steps that are going to be taken to decrease any barriers we have to avail of physicians and avail of medical professionals to be able to come into our communities, our provinces, is a step in the right direction.”

Immigration and retention of international students, regional growth, and sustainable, future-oriented energy development were also discussed at length.

“Immigration and the retention of international students who choose to come to Atlantic Canada to further their education are critical to the continued growth of the region. Atlantic Premiers discussed Atlantic immigration policy priorities and urged the federal government to work with them to enhance the region’s capacity to develop, deploy and retain a skilled workforce. Premiers are committed to work with the federal government to address labour market needs and address barriers to immigration that will strengthen Atlantic Canada’s position as a destination of choice for immigrants.

“The global situation has brought attention on Canada’s dependence on imports to meet our energy needs. The Atlantic provinces are uniquely placed to become a hub for export to international markets in traditional and sustainable energy sectors. Atlantic provinces will continue to work together to demonstrate leadership in the pursuit of emission reductions, clean power generation and transmission, and future-oriented energy development. In particular, Premiers discussed potential renewable energy opportunities, including hydrogen development and use, as well as wind, solar and tidal power, and small modular nuclear reactors. Atlantic Premiers acknowledged the Atlantic Loop will benefit the region but concerns regarding the costs and timelines were expressed. The loop will not fully satisfy the region’s future energy needs, which will require multiple energy sources. Energy planning will be required to improve affordability and while balancing environmental goals. The Atlantic provinces remain four willing partners; they call for further clarity and commitment from the federal government to support these major investments and to meet federal climate targets and timelines. Premiers highlighted the urgency for this clarity and the importance of maintaining reasonable and fair electricity rates.

“Continued collaboration with the federal government is key to achieving national and local emissions targets, as well as working towards future sustainable development goals. Premiers look forward to upcoming Atlantic Growth Strategy discussions with federal ministers on July 24-25, 2022, in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The Atlantic Immigration Program and the Clean Power Road Map for Atlantic Canada and Atlantic Loop initiative are examples of collaboration under the Strategy. Premiers look forward to renewing this partnership in areas such as immigration and workforce development, health innovation, infrastructure, climate change and clean growth, and trade and investment.

“Premiers noted the role aquaculture plays in Atlantic Canada, and across Canada, in creating sustainable economic opportunities for many rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities. The ongoing changes to the federal approach to aquaculture in British Columbia were also discussed. While the federal government has responsibility in managing Canada’s fisheries, the aquaculture sector is well managed under provincial regulation in this region. Premiers are wholeheartedly committed to maintaining the existing system for licensing and overseeing aquaculture operations in Atlantic Canada.”

Button said sustainable energy is the way of the future.

“Whether it’s in my time or in my grandchildren’s time, whatever the case may be, it’s the direction we need to go. It’s a direction which we are going to see worldwide, and to see that we’re already in the steps of being able to move forward and look at these type of things, look at news ways of providing energy, is a big step in the right direction and we seem to be on that page where we are going to be a province soaring ahead on the right path.”

The Premiers also announced the Atlantic Vision Conference, which will be hosted by Premier King in Charlottetown, PEI, will take place on Oct. 13 and 14 and will provide an opportunity for the leaders from various sectors to discuss how to shape the economy of Atlantic Canada, society, and environment to be sustainable, inclusive, diverse, and equitable over the next 25 years.

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News

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