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Elder Walter Cooke holds an eagle feather as he conducts the opening prayer for premiers from across the country and National Aboriginal Organization leaders during a meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on July 24, 2013. (AARON LYNETT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Elder Walter Cooke holds an eagle feather as he conducts the opening prayer for premiers from across the country and National Aboriginal Organization leaders during a meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on July 24, 2013. (AARON LYNETT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

At Council of the Federation, premiers take on a crowded agenda Add to ...

A proposal to save millions by working together to buy prescription drugs in bulk and cut back on the use of X-rays is the lead health-care item on the agenda. The plan is spearheaded by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz. Provinces face rising health-care costs at a time when years of annual 6-per-cent increases in federal health transfers will be replaced with increases tied to economic growth starting in 2017-18.

Any co-operation between provinces on health care will take place without Quebec. The Marois government announced earlier this year that it would not be participating in the provincial co-operation plans.

CYBERBULLYING

Western premiers put cyberbullying on their agenda when they met last month and policy options to help young Canadians will now be discussed nationally. The B.C. government launched a website at erasebullying.ca to help parents and kids who may be dealing with bullying.

Manitoba has pushed forward an anti-bullying law, one that would, for instance, specifically protect gay-straight alliances.

“We think every child in school should be respected,” said Mr. Selinger, the Manitoba premier.

The law saw pushback from former federal Public Safety minister Vic Toews, who said it threatened religious freedom. Mr. Toews has since retired, and Mr. Selinger believes the federal government is interested in pushing forward on preventing bullying. “I think they’re showing more interest in it. We’ll have a good discussion on it here. I know the provinces have shown great interest in it here,” he said.

NOT ON THE AGENDA, BUT EXPECTED TO BE DISCUSSED:

EMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

Federal changes introduced last year for EI programs are top of mind to Atlantic Canada, and some premiers will raise the issue during meetings. Critics in Atlantic Canada and Quebec say the EI changes unfairly target seasonal workers, a notion the Prime Minister has rejected. Nonetheless, Nova Scotia will push for “ensuring workers have opportunities to participate in our growing economy while employers have the skilled work force they need to grow their business,” Premier Darrell Dexter said.

Mr. Ghiz said any changes to EI must still allow seasonal workers to use it. “Who’s going to operate our fish plants? Who’s going to work on our farms so we have potatoes to process so that you can enjoy potatoes? Or our oyster industry? Or our mussel industry? These are things where we don’t operate 365 days a year,” he said, adding the federal government is “implementing EI changes without really consulting the provinces.”

CARBON, WINE AND CHRISTY CLARK

With the premiers meeting in Ontario’s wine country, Ms. Clark came prepared – each of her six-person delegation brought the maximum two bottles of wine, leaving her 12 to dole out to each of her fellow premiers.

Ms. Clark is pushing for Ontario and Quebec to open their borders so residents of each province can buy directly from the more than 200 wineries in B.C. A federal law last year aimed to open up interprovincial wine purchasing. Some provinces, however, continue to shut their borders. The B.C. Premier is on a mission to open them.

Ms. Clark will also push other premiers to follow B.C.’s lead on implementing a wide-ranging carbon tax, which has led to a 17.4-per-cent drop in carbon emissions, according to one report released this week.

THE SENATE’S FATE

Mr. Wall has lately been voted Canada’s most popular premier, and he’s picked an unpopular subject – the Senate. Mr. Wall’s party voted this year to support abolishing the Senate altogether. The legal path to doing so is murky at best, but Mr. Wall says it would almost certainly require provincial input. As such, he is urging his fellow premiers to consider the issue, and pass resolutions on it to spur the demise of the embattled Red Chamber.

“It’s not in the top-10 issues for Saskatchewan people, but obviously it will surprise nobody here that I’m going to be raising our position [favouring] abolition,” Mr. Wall said.

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