First Ministers Conferences

First Ministers Conferences, gatherings of Canada's provincial premiers with the federal prime minister, a term that has overtaken the older "dominion-provincial" and "federal-provincial" usages. The term appears to have originated in the constitutional conference that led to the abortive Victoria Charter of 1971, which specifically established a "Constitutional Conference of First Ministers." The charter also provided for annual meetings to take place among the prime minister of Canada and the "first ministers" of the provinces - unless of course a majority of those comprising the conference decided otherwise. Since that time the terminology of "first ministers" has been followed, even though the Victoria Charter was never adopted, and despite the omission of any reference at all to the meetings in the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982 (see also CONSTITUTION, PATRIATION OF).

The term has the advantage of distinguishing top-level federal-provincial meetings from more specialized gatherings of ministers and civil servants, and it avoids the issue of whether the first ministers of the provinces are to be called premiers or prime ministers, an issue of importance to some provincial leaders.

To some observers, the first ministers' meetings fill a gap in the Canadian constitution by providing a forum for consultation and regulation of federal-provincial relations; to others they furnish an opportunity for gratuitous grandstanding by politicians. See also FEDERAL-PROVINCIAL RELATIONS; MEECH LAKE ACCORD; MEECH LAKE ACCORD: DOCUMENT.