Premiers meet on Doug Fords turf to push Ottawa for more money –

Premiers meet on Doug Ford\s turf to push Ottawa for more money -
Jason Kenney, Scott Moe facing mixed reviews from voters, survey suggests
This file has been updated please see: NewWith national unity under stress, premiers back a budget fix to help oil-rich provinces The leaders of Canada's provinces and territories are in Ontario Premier Doug Ford's backyard today, looking to craft a policy agenda they hope will be palatable to the minority Liberal government in Ottawa.

While many of the premiers have met one-on-one with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since the Oct. 21 election, the Toronto-area meeting is the first time all the premiers are meeting as a group since voters returned Trudeau to Ottawa with a second mandate.

The indication that a sizable number of voters in Alberta and Saskatchewan hold less-than-favourable impressions of their provincial leaders does signal a need to “put the pressure on Ottawa even more to satisfy their own electorate,” said Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

What the premiers think about a national pharmacare plan

On the way into the meeting Monday, all premiers who spoke to the media said they will be looking for more money from Ottawa to shore up provincial budgets, some of which have been hit by sinking oil prices and soaring health-care costs.

Premiers gather in Toronto on Monday to try to come up with a cohesive plan to advance their interests in a national context. The meeting comes just weeks after Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals returned to power, but with a minority government and no Grit MPs from Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Giving new meaning to provincial powers

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said health care will be the most pressing agenda item at this meeting. He said the federal government is pushing a national prescription drug plan at a time when the country's existing health care system is already stretched.

In a web survey conducted in November for The Canadian Press, polling firm Leger found 42 per cent of Alberta respondents had a somewhat positive opinion of Jason Kenney, while 50 per cent had a somewhat negative opinion.

LILLEY: Fords charm offensive brings premiers together

"Our patients are waiting longer and longer for surgeries, emergency rooms, for hips and knees, you name it. This is an issue we need to focus on. Pharmacare — we can get to that later. Let's get the sustainable funding for health care," he told reporters on his way into the meeting Monday.

OTTAWA —  As provincial and territorial leaders prepare to gather, new survey results suggest two western premiers pushing Ottawa to help kickstart their economies face some uneasiness among voters back home.

With national unity under stress, premiers back a budget fix to help oil-rich provinces

The Council of the Federation, which is composed largely of conservative-minded premiers, are meeting at Ford's suggestion in an airport hotel not far from his Etobicoke North riding.

Among those who identified as Conservative voters, 48 per cent said he should remain at the helm, while 40 per cent said he should resign. Twelve per cent said they did not know or refused to answer the question.

Ford, who was wearing Winnipeg Blue Bombers jersey Monday after losing a bet to Pallister over the Grey Cup, is also keen to make health-care funding a priority at the one-day meeting.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball: "This will get more expensive, drugs and diseases are becoming more complicated, more complex… If indeed we go down this road it has to be long-term, it has to be sustainable. The last thing we want to see is a program that comes in and is eroded… We could put a big focus on wait times, and we could reduce our wait times, but if when they leave that physicians office, or leave that health practitioners office and they need medication and they cant afford it then, then what was the point of reducing the waitlist?"

The premiers have been pushing Ottawa to lift the current health care spending growth cap — currently set at three per cent each year — to help provinces tackle their single biggest budget line item.

Ford said the Canada Health Transfer — the money the federal government sends to the provinces and territories to help them pay for health care — should grow by 5.2 per cent a year to better address mounting costs in the sector as the country's population ages.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan: "British Columbia has a comprehensive pharmacare program already…. We would welcome dialogue with the federal government on standards across the country… We were welcoming a discussion about a national pharmacare plan but those of us who already have significant plans would prefer that we first and foremost get back to a more equitable distribution of resources to deliver healthcare broadly."

The Liberal campaign platform pledged $6 billion over four years in new health spending, with funding earmarked for boosting the number of doctors, a move toward a pharmacare program and improvements to mental-health services.

Premiers to meet, try to find consensus amid a host of issues

Pallister said Monday there should be fewer strings attached to the funding Ottawa sends to the provinces, adding the policy area falls under provincial jurisdiction.

Ford, a Progressive Conservative, has tried to present Ontario as unifier at a time when national unity seems to be threatened by fractious relations between Ottawa and the resource-rich provinces in the West. It's a role the province has played in the past during the constitutional squabbles of the 1980s and 1990s.

SENDS A CLEAR MESSAGE: Premiers kick off meeting

"With a group of premiers — all 13 are showing up — we're going to have disagreements, but I think that's healthy, to be very frank," Ford said.

Gauging reaction: It might be overstating things to say federal-provincial tensions have gone nuclear, but we do have three premiers who oppose the Trudeau government’s carbon tax calling for the development of Small Modular Reactors as their preferred solution to fighting climate change. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs signed an agreement in Toronto on Sunday to develop and deploy SMR technology, a small type of portable nuclear reactor that can be used to power remote communities and heavy industries. Right off the top Moe framed the nuclear announcement as a tax-averse climate change solution. We believe we can do this without unnecessary taxes that burden families, businesses; taxes that really do little in actually reducing emissions directly, he said.

"We have to listen to the people out West and listen to their concerns. A lot of people are struggling out West. I mentioned that to the prime minister as well, and he agrees. He wants to support everyone right across this country and I'm going to support the prime minister by making sure we get as much support as possible."

The rest of the premiers made their way to Toronto Sunday and whether or not they sign onto the interprovincial-nuclear pact (“The more, the merrier,” said Ford), the group will have plenty to talk about at the special post-election, getting-along-with-Justin Trudeau meeting of the Council of the Federation. As chair of the Council Moe hopes the premiers reach consensus on amendments to the fiscal stabilization program, while he’ll also steer discussion to the carbon tax and other Liberal environmental policies. But with several premiers taking shots at each other in recent weeks — over Bill 21, pipelines, Wexit and the Winnipeg Jets roster —  it’s not clear how much the group can accomplish in one day.

"We want to send the message around the world that we're a united Canada. We're stronger together and we'll get over these bumps," Ford said, referring to disagreements between Western Canada and Ottawa.

After the Liberal government introduced a series of measures perceived as an affront to the country's natural resources sector, voters this October turfed all Liberal MPs between Manitoba and B.C.

Premiers aim for consensus at first meeting as a group since election

Since the election, Trudeau has restructured his cabinet, redeploying his top lieutenant, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, from the foreign affairs file to intergovernmental affairs as he looks to tamp down growing unease in Western Canada. Freeland, a native of Peace River, Alta., has assumed the national unity file.

Beyond the stabilization fix, the premiers have also agreed to ask Ottawa to bolster the country's economic competitiveness by "improving" Bill C-69, the Liberal government's controversial overhaul of the environmental assessment act. The premiers want Ottawa to exempt some projects that fall under provincial jurisdiction — most importantly in-situ oilsands projects in Alberta — from a mandatory federal review.

Speaking to reporters Sunday ahead of Monday's meeting, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he hopes the 13 provincial and territorial leaders can reach a consensus on joint priorities they can ask the federal Liberals to act on now — such as a tweak to the fiscal framework and directing more money to the provinces for health care.

The premiers will craft a list of priorities they can present to Trudeau when they all gather for a formal first ministers' meeting, which is expected in January.

"My No. 1 priority is to come to a consensus on a number of issues on behalf of all Canadians, as well as on behalf of providing that guidance from coast to coast to coast to what we have now — a minority federal administration," Moe said.

Canadian provincial leaders seek more money for healthcare and struggling oil patch

Moe, the current chair of the Council of the Federation, has had a poor relationship with the federal Liberals. He left a recent meeting with Trudeau expressing frustration, saying he only heard "more of the same" from the prime minister. Moe has urged a radical rethink of Bill C-69, the controversial Environmental Assessment Act that opponents say will make it difficult to build new natural resources projects. Ottawa has so far rebuffed calls for the repeal of, or major amendments to, the legislation.

Premiers meet to chart demands before sit-down with Trudeau early next year

Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also have urged Ottawa to revisit the current equalization formula, something they have said is unfair.

While a major reworking of the formula seems unlikely, the two western premiers have said they will push for changes to the fiscal stabilization program and they hope to bring the other premiers onside.

Kenney — who recently introduced an austerity budget in an effort to get the province back on a more sound fiscal footing amid a prolonged oil price slump — has said Ottawa should retroactively change the formula to ensure his province can tap more money.

Ontario further committed to work with provincial and territorial partners to create an environment that supports growth and job creation in every region of the country. The Premiers agreed to reduce the regulatory burden on people and businesses and to knock down barriers to trade, and reiterated their commitment to growing the Canadian economy.

The program, which is administered by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, provides financial assistance to any province faced with a year-over-year decline in its non-resource revenues greater than five per cent.

“I want to thank Premier Moe for chairing a very productive meeting of Canadas Premiers,” said Premier Ford. “I look forward to continuing to work with my fellow Premiers and the Prime Minister at the next First Ministers Meeting to deliver prosperity for people in every community across the country.”

The problem for Kenney is that his province already has been floated the maximum amount the program allows for each year — $60 per person or, in the case of Alberta, $250 million a year — a sum he said is inadequate given the size of the budget hole the province is facing.

Premiers agree to ask Ottawa for more cash for health care and to help with slumping revenues

In 2015–16, for example, the province's revenues contracted by a staggering $8.8 billion, and yet this insurance-like program paid out just $248 million.

Earlier in the day, Ontario Premier Doug Ford kicked off the meeting by donning a Winnipeg Blue Bombers jersey, after he lost a bet to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister over the Grey Cup, in which the Winnipeg team beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ford then handed out Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys to all the premiers and welcomed them to Ontario.

Premiers want Ottawa to allow opt out for proposed pharmacare plan

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, a Liberal, has said a change to equalization is the "wrong target" but he'd be open to tweaking the stabilization program.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left to right, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sit as they talk to the media in Toronto on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. The premiers signed a Collaboration Memorandum of Understanding ahead of a meeting of Canadas provincial leaders. Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS

"We need to be able to have a fund that's not tied to equalization, but that can respond within the next year. If Alberta is doing well, Newfoundland and Labrador will do well, Saskatchewan will do well, and so, therefore, all of Canada will benefit," he said.

“We’re going to have a real productive meeting today and I think it sends a clear message to all of Canada — all the provinces and the territories and along with the federal government and the rest of the world — that we may have our differences, but we’re united as a country,” he said.

Provinces demand changes to fiscal stabilization program — heres what that means

Academics, including the University of Calgary's Bev Dahlby, have suggested that Alberta focus its energies on securing a new deal from Ottawa on this program, arguing that pursuing a change to the equalization formula (a non-starter for provinces like Quebec and those in Atlantic Canada, which rely on the program as it is currently constituted) is a waste of political capital.

“We were very, very productive when we met in Saskatchewan (at the last premiers’ meeting),” Ford said. “Premier Moe did an incredible job. Yes, we all have our wishlist, but he’s an expert in narrowing that list down.”

"A fair formula for a fiscal stabilization program should meet the same criteria as any good insurance policy. It should cover only significant losses … It should include a deductible to ensure that the insured party, the province in this case, still has an incentive to manage their fiscal affairs responsibly. And it should offer simple and transparent terms along with a streamlined claims process," Dahlby wrote in a June 2019 paper on the topic.

Climate policy will be another tough area to get all parties on side. Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba have all launched legal challenges against the federal carbon price, while others have accepted it or launched their own programs.

Kenney calling for fair deal as provincial and territory leaders meet in Toronto

"Improving the formula will not save Alberta and other resource-rich provinces from all the pain of the occasional resource bust, but it will help alleviate some of it," he said.

Ford, Moe and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs also signed a memorandum Sunday that will commit the three provinces to studying nuclear reactor technology — the deployment of small, modular reactors. The leaders said it would help their provinces lower greenhouse gas emissions as Canada shifts from coal-fired power plants to less carbon-intensive sources of energy.

Council consensus: what premiers are hoping for out of Mondays meeting

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected]

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OTTAWA — As provincial and territorial leaders prepare to gather, new survey results suggest two western premiers pushing Ottawa to help kickstart their economies face some uneasiness among voters back home.

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