Disasters, economy top agenda as western premiers gather in Yellowknife

YELLOWKNIFE – Disasters, such as spring flooding and forest fires, will be on the agenda when Canada’s western premiers hold their annual meeting.

The political leaders from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C., Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories start a three-day meeting Monday in Yellowknife.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger want to talk about how the provinces can press Ottawa for a new national disaster strategy.

“Most disaster damage and rebuilding costs are entirely preventable,” said Wall.

“Investments in prevention provide a four-to-one return on investment and they limit the misery and anguish these disasters cause our families.”

Both Saskatchewan and Alberta have faced serious flooding this spring.

In fact, Wall’s arrival at the conference will be delayed because he’ll spend Monday touring communities in southern Saskatchewan that have been flooded by a deluge of rain. Up to 75 millimetres of rain fell on southern parts of the province between Friday and Saturday, causing significant swelling of the Souris River.

Selinger said the serious challenges facing the agricultural economy on the Prairies, such as the amount of unseeded land, will also be discussed.

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The Canadian Wheat Board said last week that somewhere between 2.4 million and 3.2 million hectares of farmland will go unseeded in the West, mostly in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. That could suck $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion out of the prairie economy.

Tapping into new economic markets and trade will top the agenda for Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach.

“Our future prosperity will be determined by our ability to tap into rapidly growing Asian economies,” Stelmach said in a news release.

“If we’re going to sell our products in countries like China or India, we need to be able to get those products to market. It’s critical that we in the West work together to ensure the infrastructure we need – the pipelines, the ports, the railways – is in place and up to date.”

This is Stelmach’s last western premiers conference before he steps down from office in October.

Some of the other faces around the premiers’ table have already changed – this is the first meeting for British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski.

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