Premiers to talk economy without PM

Premier Alison Redford (centre) welcomed Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark to Alberta, Dec. 13, 2011.



OTTAWA - The premiers are looking to the federal government for direction on the economy.

But they'll have figure out how to steer their own economic ships when they meet Thursday and Friday in Halifax for a meeting on fiscal matters.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - who has made it a practice to skip Council of the Federation meetings - declined an invitation from the provincial leaders to attend the conference.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, who is hosting the meeting, said Wednesday the premiers realize why Harper may be skittish.

"We do understand the prime minister's concern of simply walking into a meeting where you're the lone figure that is defending everything that's going on," he said. "I can understand a prime minister not necessary wanting to put himself in that position.'

But Dexter said "rowing in the same direction" on economic matters - especially with federal stimulus spending winding down and a struggling global economy - trumps those concerns.

The Conservatives have countered that Harper speaks regularly with the premiers one-on-one and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty noted he invited his provincial counterparts to a pre-Christmas meeting on the economy.

"We certainly worked well with the provinces at the time of the fiscal crisis several years ago during the recession with the stimulus plan," he said during Wednesday's question period.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said previous prime ministers met regularly with the premiers even when relations were tense.

"I don't know how you run a federation on autopilot. You run it by engaging," he said.

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