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Constantine PassarisConfederation’s principles – shared values, collective aspirations and a collaborative framework – are essential for Canada’s economic prosperity and social harmony.

And these principles are particularly important in federal-provincial relations.

Canada’s most prosperous years have come when Ottawa and the provinces worked co-operatively to grow the economy, create employment opportunities and raise the standard of living of all Canadians.

In contrast are those periods when the federal government did not acknowledge that the provinces were an integral part of national policy making. Those years are marked by faltering national economic growth and declining regional opportunity.

Canada’s federal-provincial relations are badly in need of repair, after being allowed to atrophy for the last decade. They have become dysfunctional.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signalled that he is determined to put federal-provincial relations on the front-burner. He says he will confront our challenges by sitting down with the premiers and engaging in open dialogue.

He has committed to annual first ministers’ meetings. And Trudeau has invited all 13 premiers to be a part of the official Canadian delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris this month as a first gesture of collaborative goodwill.

The new Liberal government is likely to use targeted funding to alleviate the economic hardship and social deficit confronting the provinces and territories. Areas such as job creation, healthcare, fiscal imbalances and aboriginal issues need attention.

The first initiative is a massive, 10-year federal infrastructure program worth $125 billion. It will provide dedicated funding to provinces, territories and municipalities for public transit, social and green infrastructure. It will also invest in roads, bridges, transportation corridors, ports and border gateways.

Of special interest to first ministers is Trudeau’s promise of a federal-provincial meeting to reach a long-term agreement on healthcare funding. This is of particular interest to those regions of Canada where an older demographic requires a higher funding allocation.

It is essential that all first ministers embrace a federal-provincial policy of purposeful engagement. That means they must endorse the principles of Confederation, establish a modern structure for federal-provincial relations and commit to first ministers’ meetings. From this, they can go about resolving – in a collaborative and co-operative manner – our pressing national and regional issues.

At the end of the day, our economic and social challenges are too complex to be resolved by one level of government. They require a high degree of intergovernmental co-operation.

Only a policy of purposeful federal-provincial engagement can resolve our hot-button issues, such as transfer payments, fiscal deficits, demographic challenges, healthcare, employment creation and post-secondary education.

Such engagement requires a collaborative and supportive partner in the federal government. It is up to Trudeau to follow through on his promises.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick (Canada), an Onassis Foundation Fellow (Greece) and a national research affiliate of the Prentice Institute for Global Economy and Population at the University of Lethbridge (Canada).

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federal-provincial relations

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