Disasters, economy top agenda at meeting of western premiers

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Six of Canada's seven western premiers converged on the sunny Northwest Territories capital of Yellowknife late Monday afternoon for the first of three days of meetings at the 2011 Western Premiers Conference.Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is expected to arrive late after touring flooded areas of southeastern Saskatchewan.Federal disaster relief programs will top the agenda.Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach is expected to press his counterparts to voice unanimous support for investment in infrastructure that will facilitate trade with Asia, like the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, B.C.

Stelmach has repeatedly stressed that Alberta's future prosperity depends on the province's ability to get its energy resources to Asian markets.

"It is 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," he said in a recent statement.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark has not committed to the proposed pipeline pending an environmental review, and it is not yet clear whether she will back increased tanker traffic on the B.C. coast, a hot-button environmental issue in her province.

However, in a statement issued before the conference she said she is prepared to "look at opportunities that will benefit all western provinces and territories.

"I will be stressing opportunities offered by our strong relations with Asia, our plan to engage citizens in new and inclusive ways, and our patient-focused health initiatives.

"We can all learn from each other's experience and by teaming up, all our citizens benefit."

Geographic location: Alberta, B.C., Asia

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