Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders have begun their annual summer summit where they will seek consensus on national issues.
The three-day Council of the Federation in Nova Scotia is shaping up to be an exciting affair with the dust-up between British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and her Alberta counterpart Alison Redford.
And there’s irritation amongst some premiers over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cold-shoulder approach to federal-provincial relations.
Jane Taber, Josh Wingrove, Karen Howlett and Les Perreaux explore the provinces’ competing and complementing agendas.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford during a press conference in Calgary April 24, 2012 after being elected premier Monday night. John Lehmann
Alison Redford, Alberta
Alsion Redford arrives in Halifax carrying a familiar tune – her call for a Canadian Energy Strategy.
She’s been shopping the idea to premiers across the country, one by one, since taking office 10 months ago. The initiative, which so far lacks any detail, is meant to essentially rope in renewable and non-renewable resource sectors and streamline development – presumably helping fast-track major infrastructure projects, such as pipelines that landlocked Alberta needs to reach overseas markets. Ms. Redford has pitched the notion to Ontario, saying it will help its green energy sector, and to Atlantic Canada, which she suggested could refine Alberta oil.
But this week’s dust-up with British Columbia’s Ms. Clark – who wants a “fair share” of royalties in exchange for approving the Northern Gateway pipeline – will put the spotlight on those discussions, Ms. Redford said.
“There’s no doubt some of the comments that we’ve heard [Monday] from British Columbia will probably really bring that discussion to the floor,” Ms. Redford said Tuesday.
She believes that Canada, without an energy strategy, will be bogged down by one-off discussions, such as Ms. Clark’s request for funding in exchange for supporting a pipeline. Ms. Redford said she is unsure of whether they can find middle ground.
- Josh Wingrove
BC Premier Christy Clark speaks to media about former Liberal John van Dongen who recently resigned to join the Conservatives during a press conference at the BC Legislative Building in Victoria, Tuesday March 27,2012. Chad Hipolito
Christy Clark, British Columbia
Christy Clark says the “ball is in Alberta’s court.”
“They need to decide that they want to sit down and discuss this and then we can move forward. If they don’t, it stops here.”
The British Columbia premier is talking tough, referring to the five conditions she has set to allow the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project to go ahead.
Ms. Clark met last Thursday to explain her conditions, which include giving her province its “fair share” of the project’s revenues.
She acknowledges there will be some tension between the two at the meeting but she’s ready for it.
Her conversation last week with Alberta’s Ms. Redford “was difficult,” she said. Still, she was surprised by the Premier’s public response to it this week: “I don’t think it was a constructive response. …It’s not an auspicious beginning for a discussion.”
Ms. Redford accused her provincial neighbour of trying to overhaul Confederation with her demands.
Says Ms. Clark: “So honestly, we don’t have to open the constitution here to have this conversation. There is a lot of money that is going to be flowing from this project. We need to figure out how more of that is going to flow into British Columbia so we can get our fair share in exchange for the risk we are taking.”
- Jane Taber
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, right, is pictured at a news conference at Queens Park in Toronto on Friday, June 15, 2012. Chris Young
Dalton McGuinty, Ontario
Dalton McGuinty, while refusing to be pulled into the rift between Ms. Redford and Ms. Clark, is nonetheless the latest ally of Alberta's premier in her push for a national energy strategy. But he plans to enlist the support of his colleagues for his province's fledgling renewable electricity sector, saying it should play just as prominent a role in a pan-Canadian vision as oil in Alberta, hydroelectric power in Quebec and offshore drilling in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“What we’d like to do together in Halifax is begin to put our arms around what a national energy strategy might look like insofar as it affects every single region of the country,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters on Tuesday.
Mr. McGuinty is also going to Halifax to enlist his colleagues in his long-running battle to rein in doctors’ fees in Ontario. He wrote a letter to the premiers in May, urging them to follow his lead in paring back fees paid to doctors. And over dinner last week with Alberta’s Alison Redford, he discussed the need for all provincial leaders to work together and do a better job of managing health-care costs, which account for roughly 40 cents of every dollar Canadian governments spend on social programs.
“We’re all faced with the challenge of health care consuming ever-larger portions of our own provincial budgets,” Mr. McGuinty told reporters.
- Karen Howlett
Quebec Premier Jean Charest speaks to delegates at the end of a Quebec Liberal Party meeting Sunday, May 6, 2012 in Victoriaville, Que. Jacques Boissinot
Jean Charest, Quebec
Jean Charest’s pre-meeting scrum with reporters Tuesday only lasted a few minutes, but it gave a good idea as to his priorities: election, election, economy, election. It was the Quebec premier who came up with the idea of the Council of the Federation nearly a decade ago, but it’s far from the top of his agenda as he prepares to trigger the campaign for his fourth mandate – a campaign that will inevitably invoke Confederation. What attention he does pay the meeting will be concentrated on linking his northern energy development project with Ms. Redford’s national energy plan.
- Les Perreaux
New Brunswick Premier David Alward stands on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2011.
David Alward, New Brunswick
David Alward’s priority is health care. The report from Mr. Ghiz and Mr. Wall will show that the provinces can lead on this file. This, he believes, will be the start of a national dialogue on health care, one in which the provinces can learn from each other and “do things more collectively.” His province will be following this in the coming weeks, he said, with significant changes in primary health care renewal.
- Jane Taber
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter gives an interview in his Halifax office on March 1, 2012. Sándor Fizli
Darrell Dexter, Nova Scotia
Darrell Dexter, host of the conference, is most concerned with the state of the federation in the wake of Mr. Harper’s hands-off approach to health policy. He’s looking for a “better way of engagement with the federal government, ” noting Mr. Harper has not convened a first minister’s meeting since 2008.
“The federation and the federal government was created by the provinces, not the other way. So we have what is a reasonable expectation …that the Prime Minister ought to meet with us collectively.” He will argue that the premiers be prepared to meet with Mr. Harper on an issue-by-issue basis “rather than just being a free-for-all.”
- Jane Taber
Premier Kathy Dunderdale at her office in St. John's. Greg Locke
Kathy Dunderdale, Newfoundland
Kathy Dunderdale is coming to Halifax with a goal of moving forward on a pan-Canadian energy strategy. The Council of the Federation released an energy strategy in 2007 and Newfoundland, with its burgeoning oil and gas industry, guided that report.
- Jane Taber
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger delivers his annual state of the province speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce in Winnipeg, Tuesday, December 14, 2010.
Greg Selinger, Manitoba
Greg Selinger will be bringing to the table his report on health transfer payments. An outspoken critic of the federal government’s unilateral decision to slow health spending increases, Mr. Selinger says the provinces need a new deal.
“We want to have a proper, long-term discussion about how we address health care, including the innovation and cost-containment. But also ensuring every province has an equitable chance of providing it to its citizens,” he said Tuesday. Any change to the formula could pit have provinces against have-nots.
He will likely be aligning himself closely with premiers Mr. Ghiz and Mr. Wall, who will also be presenting a heath-care report.
- Josh Wingrove
P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, left and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall speak at a press conference to discuss health care innovation in Canada in Toronto on Friday, June 1, 2012. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press
Brad Wall, Saskatchewan and Robert Ghiz, Prince Edward Island
A pillar of the meeting will be a report on health-care innovation by Brad Wall and Robert Ghiz, who struck up a working group at the premiers’ meetings in January.
In short, Mr. Wall and Mr. Ghiz are looking at fundamental changes to smooth health-care delivery and rein in spending. Their report was put together with the help of the provinces and health professionals, and will be made public after being presented to premiers. It comes as Ottawa moves to turn over health policy to the provinces.
“I think we’ve got a really good start on some things that provinces can do to improve health care for Canadians, but also to find efficiencies, to start thinking about sustainability, about bending that cost curve, about giving better care,” said Mr. Wall. His government launched a Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative two years ago, cutting times by pooling referrals, streamlining processes and involving more third-party services.
The two premiers said changes include a plan for provinces to partner up to buy cheaper prescription drugs as well as changes in treatment of heart disease and diabetes.
This will be the premiers’ first chance to review the report as they look for ways to cope with the federal government’s slowing of spending increases. More and more, Ottawa wants to simply cut a cheque and leave all health policy to provinces, some premiers argue.
Mr. Ghiz is seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister, who he says has been clearly avoiding them. The premiers aren’t “looking to fight with the Prime Minister,” Mr. Ghiz said, but “right now Ottawa is not really engaged with the provinces.”
Mr. Wall stressed their report isn’t meant to gather dust – it has clear suggestions that provinces can act quickly on. “We wanted to find some clinical practice guidelines; very specific things we can do in the areas of chronic diseases that obviously weigh heavily on the system and, more importantly, on Canadians, in terms of their health. And we found some,” he said.
Their report comes along with one from Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who looked at the effect that federal changes to health transfers will have on provinces. “What it means is that fiscal arrangements have to ensure we’re not developing regional inequities in the ability to provide health care to Canadians,” Mr. Selinger says.
Mr. Wall will also oppose calls for more mandatory first ministers’ meetings, saying he’s not sure they’re needed. He also argued that a Canadian energy strategy must embrace Canada’s status as an oil producer.“I hope the country itself can be proud of the fact that we are a very significant carbon-based energy, hydrocarbon based energy, power. In other words, oil,” he said. That puts him at odds with Mr. Selinger, who sees green energy as a pillar of any energy strategy.
- Jane Taber and Josh Wingrove
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves after addressing the Canada Day event on Parliament Hill Sunday July 1, 2012 in OttawaFred Chartrand
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be nowhere near the premiers’ meeting in Halifax, but his hands-off approach will be very much in evidence. His government’s no-strings funding formula for health care is forcing premiers to step into the fray at their meeting and fashion a co-operative approach to grappling with an aging population and limited resources. Mr. Harper is leaving it to the provinces to play a key role in shaping national social policy as they see best.
- Karen Howlett