Jul. 13, 2019

An open letter to Canada's 13 premiers

Dear Premiers:

I have been following your recent Council of The Premiers’ meeting in Saskatoon.

I have some appreciation for these gatherings in that I participated in 10 such annual meetings, beginning in 1979 ending in 1988.

Respectfully, I believe you missed a golden opportunity to help to right the Federal Ship. I understand your concern about health care, immigration, skills training, indigenous people etc. But integrity, national economic and financial wellbeing must take precedence and in these areas the meeting’s conclusions said little about them or ignored them.

I submit you made a tactical mistake in sending letters to all federal party leaders asking for their positions on various issues. There is one federal government and 13 provincial/territorial governments. Your first responsibility is to interact with the federal government. If another party is elected then you deal with that government at that time and obviously they will know your council’s positions on the issues. In any case, as you well know, any positions emanating from the other party leaders 10 weeks before an election are practically meaningless, pregnant with generalities with no specific commitments.

Let me go back to what I believe the council should have said:

Integrity – Nothing comes before this. Taxpayers expect and deserve honesty in government. How can there be trust if integrity is lacking? The Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Finance broke the Conflict of Interest law as determined by the Independent Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Just how weak our laws of accountability are can be gleaned from the fines imposed, less than a regular speeding ticket.

Furthermore, the prime minister and his staff, including the clerk of the privy council, attempted to obstruct the regular course of justice by interfering in the internal workings of the department of justice as it relates to deciding on how cases that come before the department are handled.

The information commissioner has indicated that the prime minister’s office has refused to provide data on the PM’s staff expenses, data that is determined by the commissioner to be within the public interest.

Your Council completely ignores these breeches of the public trust.

Economic Wellbeing – The federal government has passed two bills (Bill 48 and Bill 69) which are injurious to the economic health of Canada and seriously undermine the country’s competitiveness. Investment in oil and gas projects has deteriorated and these bills will continue this trend. Furthermore, Bill 69 has provisions that contravene The Atlantic Accord, a Federal Provincial Agreement, duly signed and with federal provincial legislative implementation. The silence of the Newfoundland and Labrador Premier on this is puzzling. Seven Provinces signified their opposition to these federal actions. Yet nothing specifically dealing with this in the communiques from your meetings. Bill 48 discriminates in that the ban is on tanker traffic on the west coast with no such ban on the east coast where hundreds of tankers operate into Placentia Bay, Newfoundland each year. These circumstances cannot be addressed with some general comments on national economic wellbeing. 

Investment “out flows” have increased by $60 billion between 2011 and 2017 and investment “inflows” have decreased from $40 billion to $25 billion over the same period, according to Statistic Canada. Ten of Canada’s main industries spent less on capital expenditures in 2017 than 2014, according to the Fraser Institute. Our country in 2018 stands twelfth in world competitiveness ranking (World Economic Forum) while our largest trading partner, the United States, is first. Canada comes 22nd in the world at ease at doing business, according to the World Bank. The US is 8th, the UK is 9th. Estonia is 16.

Financial Responsibility – The present government promised a balanced budget this past year. Yet, each year the government has produced deficits and there is no realistic end in sight as to when the federal government will attain a balanced budget. This year the federal budget is projected to have a deficit of $19.8 Billion. This government has not balanced the budget in any of the years it has been in power. Imagine if the majority of Canadians acted this way? In ten years the federal net debt has increased by $218 billion. The Parliamentary Budget Officer predicts deficits every year up to 2023-2024. After that, of course, credibility in predictions is very low indeed.

On taxation the country is in bad shape. Note a recent report from the Fraser Institute:

“At an income of CA $300,000, the highest threshold (with the slight exception of Alberta) in which a Canadian combined top rate is applied, Canadians in every province face a higher marginal income tax rate than Americans in any U.S. state. Results are similar at an income of CA $150,000 and Canada’s marginal tax rates are also uncompetitive at incomes of CA $75,000 and CA$50,000.”

These are the big issues which, without successful outcomes, makes the issues you highlight like heath care funding, skills training funding meaningless. They all depend on honesty in government, a competitive economy, and a responsible fiscal position.

In preparing for next year’s Conference in Quebec I urge you to address the fundamentals of this nation’s wellbeing. Leadership is desperately needed if we are to break out of the present mediocrity and be active participants in the global economy. Ignoring these big issues condemns our nation, and our children, to an uncompetitive and hence uncertain future.

Honourable A. Brian Peckford P.C.

Mr. Peckford the former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, now living in retirement in Nanaimo, B.C.