MISSISSAUGA, ONT. — Canadian premiers are asking Ottawa for more cash for the oil patch and health care, as well as more autonomy over megaprojects, while avoiding topics where provinces and territories don't agree.
The 13 premiers, who largely lean conservative, ended a Monday meeting by asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to meet with them early next year.
"Actions speak much louder than words," Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister told the Free Press on the sidelines of the premiers’ meeting, just outside Toronto.
On national pharmacare:
“We can get to that later. Let's get to sustainable funding through health care… If you can't get (health care) right, don't start with with another program.”
On why unclarity around the child-welfare reform Bill C-92 wasn’t in the communique:
“In some regions, it's not as high of a priority as it might be in say Manitoba or Saskatchewan… The goal here clearly was to come out focused on issues that are of importance to every region of the country.”
On recently running an ad against Quebec’s secularism law:
“We wanted to fill some gaps in the (Manitoba) civil service that are there right now.”
On the November 2018 Maclean’s magazine cover image on premiers forming “The Resistance” against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
“That cover speaks to the power of Photoshop.”
— Dylan Robertson
"It's the follow-up that is the key," said Pallister, who will meet Tuesday with deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland in Winnipeg. She’s in charge of smoothing over disagreements on issues such as infrastructure spending, as well as steering efforts to improve interprovincial trade.
Monday marked the first time premiers have met together since a divisive national election ended with a minority Liberal government for Trudeau and a political fracturing along regional lines.
The largely conservative premiers asked Ottawa in a communiqué to commit to boosting exports, including energy products, without using the word "pipeline."
The premiers repeatedly said they avoided topics in which they disagree, and the communiqué did not touch on the federal carbon tax.
"Without a relationship with Ottawa that is of some substance on an ongoing basis, then we're not going to be able to achieve the goals that Canadians deserve us to achieve," Pallister told reporters. "I have demonstrated we're ready to work."
Pallister succeeded in rallying his counterparts to push for more health-care funding, which means revising the decade-long deal the Liberals put out in 2016.
That accord held to the former Harper government’s slowing of transfers, despite an aging population. The premiers have asked for the current annual increase to rise to 5.2 per cent (from three per cent).
"Without a relationship with Ottawa that is of some substance on an ongoing basis, then we're not going to be able to achieve the goals that Canadians deserve us to achieve." - Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister
Pallister was the last to ratify the accord. He’d asked his counterparts to resist the deal, though they gradually caved as the Liberals announced topped-up spending for mental health.
He’s hoping the new push will be more successful.
"It's unanimous, and now we need to hold together on this ask, and hope the federal government listens," he told the Free Press.
The premiers also asked for a change to the fiscal stabilization program that tops up coffers of provinces who have hit rough patches, but uses a formula that disadvantages those with large amounts of natural resources.
The premiers also want Ottawa to butt out of assessing projects that fall within provincial jurisdiction, which Pallister suggested could include the Interlake flood-channel outlets, although that program is already under a federal review. He said Manitoba Hydro has faced "onerous conditions" and "perpetual challenges" from Ottawa.
In Winnipeg, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler told reporters Pallister will be raising the channel outlets with Freeland.
The premiers didn’t find consensus on national pharmacare, but agreed provinces with existing drug plans shouldn’t have to pay twice if federal programs duplicate what they offer.
They similarly did not reach a consensus on changing the formula for calculating equalization payments, which Trudeau said he would consider if all 13 agreed on specifics.
At a Sunday dinner with colleagues, Pallister raised the numerous outstanding questions about the federal child-welfare reform Bill C-92, which takes effect Jan. 1, and aims to shift control from provinces to Indigenous groups.
While the premiers did not reach consensus on the issue, Saskatchewan expressed disappointment in Ottawa’s outreach, while Alberta reiterated calls to delay the bill. All three Prairie provinces said they support the objective but fear children will be harmed by unclear bureaucracy.
As for the meeting early next year, the premiers asked it not involve ministers or Indigenous representatives, who were numerous at the first ministers' meeting last December in Montreal.
Updated on Monday, December 2, 2019 at 11:51 AM CST: Adds pull quote
4:47 PM: Updates final copy
6:26 PM: Adds video