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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathu Dunderdale, left to right, wait for the start of the morning session at the annual Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax on Thursday, July 26, 2012.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Canada's premiers are trying to bury the public spat between the two most western premiers over a controversial pipeline project and concentrate instead on health care.

Gathering at a Halifax waterfront hotel Thursday morning for the second day of their Council of Federation meeting, the premiers smiled and joked as they posed for pictures around a boardroom table.

But the smiles belie the tension between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark over the proposed $6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline that would take heavy oil from Alberta to the British Columbia port of Kitimat.

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There is a fear that the very public feud could overtake the agenda at this week's meetings. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, however, who along with Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz is to deliver a report on health-care innovation, is doing his best not to allow that to happen.

He's refusing to get involved in the dispute and predicted the issue would not derail the summit: "Not if we don't let it," he said.

The premiers' working group on health-care innovation was created as a result of the federal government's decision late last year to simply give the province's money for health care with no strings attached.

Premiers had been expecting a protracted negotiation with the Harper government over a new health accord as the one negotiated between premiers and the Paul Martin government expires in 2014.

But the take-it-or-leave-it play by the Conservative government surprised and angered the premiers, who decided to create this group to find new ways of delivering health care with an eye on saving money.

"It's been a huge effort, but we'll be able to talk about some specific things especially when it comes to chronic diseases that we can do differently that work better and provide better value," said Mr. Wall.

In addition to health care, the premiers want to discuss a national energy strategy. That discussion is to take place Friday morning and will be kick-started by Ms. Redford. It is possible then that the Northern Gateway issue could be raised.

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The premiers had adopted an energy strategy in 2007, but Ms. Redford wants to build upon that. She has been speaking individually with her colleagues to gather support and has received some traction.

Mr. Wall believes it could work despite the competing interests among provinces.

"We should be doing more. Governments can do more, but name me another energy power in the world that can at least list the record that we can on the environment, so this is something we should be proud of," said Mr. Wall.

"And I worry that there are interests in the country that aren't proud of the fact that we are an energy power," he said. "Let's start proactively branding the energy that we have to offer the world, committing to do it in a sustainable way but promoting the fact that we have it."

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