Finance ministers from Canada’s provinces and territories are meeting with their federal counterpart in Ottawa to discuss the country’s economy, competitiveness and trade.
Topics will also include the global economy, the Canada Pension Plan, a review of the efficacy of the cannabis tax, and countering tax evasion.
The meetings began Sunday night, and will carry on into Monday. The ministers typically meet with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau twice a year.
“In my estimation, it should be a constructive opportunity for us to discuss the economy,” Morneau said Sunday night.
He highlighted the country’s low unemployment rate. He also acknowledged there are challenges like the situation in the oil sector to discuss.
In advance of the meeting, Morneau also confirmed that the federal government will be providing $78.7 billion in transfer funding to provinces and territories during the next fiscal year.
The Liberals are billing the gathering as a time to “advance progress for the middle class,” but many provinces have other issues top of mind.
Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have loudly condemned the federal government’s plan to impose a carbon tax, starting in 2019.
Morneau said he’s prepared to listen to the ministers’ concerns, and hopes to provide clear answers as to how the federal plan will work.
However, the objective is clear.
“Obviously we are looking towards ensuring that all parts of the country have a price on pollution. We thinks that’s important,” he said.
Objectives and frustrations
Alberta has asked for funds to buy rail cars to move more oil to market, as delays with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion mean there’s more crude on hand than the province can transport. Because of that, last week Premier Rachel Notley announced a temporary 8.7 per cent cut in oil production.
Even with some frustrations, it’s unlikely to be as tense as the First Ministers’ meeting was on Friday — which Morneau spoke at, along with the prime minister.
In the lead up to the last finance ministers’ summit this summer, Morneau was under pressure to match U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, which slashed the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent.
Canada’s combined corporate tax rate is just above 25 per cent, depending on the province.
While it didn’t equalize Canada with the U.S., the Liberal government’s fall fiscal update committed to spend billions to help corporate Canada compete.
Before the last meeting, Morneau was also dealing with renewed calls to change the way equalization payments are distributed across the country.
Equalization payments are based on a complex calculation that is designed to help poorer provinces provide public services that are reasonably comparable to those in wealthy provinces.