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Constantine PassarisThe recent Trudeau cabinet retreat in St. Andrews, N.B., set the federal government’s economic and social agenda for 2016 – and that agenda should also become a roadmap for the provinces.

Our provincial governments should seize the moment to strategize, synchronize and synthesize the scope and direction of their needs and aspirations with the federal government’s priorities.

The Canadian political landscape in 2016 will be defined by four federal initiatives:

  • a significant federal intervention in the economy;
  • a renewed engagement with the provinces;
  • a new formula for federal health transfers;
  • and the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

At the top of the federal government’s to-do list are initiatives to kick-start the Canadian economy. The lacklustre performance of employment creation and economic growth puts us in a crisis situation. In consequence, the federal government is getting ready to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure and social capital across the country. The provinces should be prepared with a list of worthy, shovel-ready projects that will capture the attention of the federal government.

Second, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signalled his intent to put federal-provincial relations on the front-burner. He has repeatedly stated that confronting our collective challenges can only be achieved by sitting down with the premiers and engaging in open dialogue. He has endorsed a new vision of political engagement between the federal government and the provinces, particularly through federal-provincial first ministers conferences and a collaborative environment that seeks to resolve issues and define the national agenda.

Our provinces should embrace a policy of purposeful engagement with the federal government. This is particularly important if we are to resolve hot-button issues such as equalization payments, fiscal deficits, demographic challenges, the healthcare quagmire and the need to create employment. In all of this, our provinces need a collaborative and a supportive partner in the federal government.

Third, the health accord penalizes those provinces where the number of seniors in the population has precipitated a significant increase in healthcare spending. The existing formula for federal fiscal transfers, based on a per capita calculation regardless of age, does not adequately meet the healthcare financing of these provinces. It is time for the federal government to adopt a new health accord with a formula that takes into consideration the aging population in specific provinces.

Fourth, the federal government is determined to respond to a resurgence in traditional Canadian values manifested in our humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Canada has committed to accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees over the next few months. There are also rumours we will accept another 25,000 Syrian refugees across the country in the next fiscal year.

The arrival of the first wave of refugees is not simply an act of collective compassion. It is also a tool for correcting our population challenges, creating an economic asset and a means for kick-starting our national economy.

The Syrian refugees will empower us with their entrepreneurial talents. They will start new businesses, invest in our economy, spend on homes and cars, join our workforce and enrol in our schools. All of this will help drive population growth and economic activity.

The federal government’s agenda for 2016 provides the provinces with solutions to their challenges and creates opportunities for new initiatives. It is a unique opportunity to make sure that the economic tide rises for all provinces.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick and a national research affiliate of the Prentice Institute for Global Economy and Population at the University of Lethbridge.

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