Canada's premiers talked about a grab bag of issues, such as sharing drug costs, preserving the clean water supply and climate change, before wrapping up their two-day meeting in Winnipeg on Friday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/8/2010 (4067 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Greg Selinger (left) shares a laugh with fellow premiers during a Friday-afternoon press conference ending the gathering of premiers.

JANEK LOWE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Greg Selinger (left) shares a laugh with fellow premiers during a Friday-afternoon press conference ending the gathering of premiers.

Canada's premiers talked about a grab bag of issues, such as sharing drug costs, preserving the clean water supply and climate change, before wrapping up their two-day meeting in Winnipeg on Friday.

On most matters, the provincial and territorial leaders -- they call themselves the Council of the Federation -- ended up on the same page, but not on such issues as cutting greenhouse gases and Ottawa's move to eliminate the mandatory long-form census.

"Each jurisdiction has their own plan to deal with climate change," Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, host of the event, told reporters. "Alberta has their approach. Some of us are working together on the Western Climate Initiative (with some U.S. states) in terms of cap-and-trade. We're comfortable with a diversity of approaches which get results."

Selinger also said later "there was no consensus on the census" among the premiers, meaning it's a fait accompli the census will now be voluntary.

Perhaps the most meaningful decision by the premiers was to agree to create a pan-Canadian alliance to bulk-buy common drugs, medical supplies and technology to keep a lid on rising health-care costs. Alberta and British Columbia already co-operate on drug purchases.

"We'll be able to purchase more drugs for less money," Selinger said of the move, adding officials have already been instructed to develop a plan as soon as possible.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the provinces spend about $10 billion a year on drugs.

"If we can work together to reduce the cost of our drugs, that frees up more money for us to spend elsewhere inside the health-care system in a way that directly affects patient care," he said.

Selinger added the provinces also agreed to lobby Ottawa for a more sustainable form of health-care funding to allow provinces to better manage costs as the population ages. The current agreement provinces have with Ottawa ends in 2014.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said health-care costs account for about 40 per cent of his province's expenses and that a commitment from Ottawa on a more stable funding formula is needed.

"We're at the beginning of a negotiation," he said. "It'll be tough. I have no doubt about that. But we expect we'll arrive at the right result in the spirit of partnership with the federal government."

Ontario's McGuinty was a little more blunt in his assessment of the upcoming negotiations and the current pressure on each province to control costs.

"It's hardly surprising that there might be a bit of sniping from time to time," he said. "The feds in their trenches, and we in our foxholes. There's open ground in between and at the end of the day what we really want to do is occupy the commanding heights."

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell added the provinces also have to co-operate on getting Canadians to eat healthier food, such as cutting down on salt, to reduce the pressures on the health-care system.

"We have to make sure we're eating the best food in the world and the healthiest food in the world, and living the healthiest lifestyles in the world," he said.

On clean water, the premiers endorsed the Council of the Federation Water Charter that recognizes the collective obligation of Canadians and their governments to be responsible water stewards. That includes wider use of low-flush toilets and cleaning polluted water.

The premiers also said they want a bigger role in trade deals with Europe and Asia so they open up new markets in other regions instead of relying on just the United States.

Most premiers left Winnipeg shortly after the meeting ended.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca