Premiers need to quit picking fights and focus on Canadians: Ball
Premiers need to quit picking fights and focus on Canadians: BallPremier Dwight Ball was the latest in a series of provincial leaders to cycle through meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following last month's election, but their conversation Tuesday also comes ahead of next week's gathering of the Council of the Federation.
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The premiers are out to report how successful their meeting went in Toronto — having produced a set of demands to which all agreed, supposedly in a spirit of rolling up their sleeves for the good of the country.
Not to pour water on all the excitement, but the common ground the group claims to have found isn’t novel or compelling. It’s perhaps a slight improvement over the normal chorus of begging, in that delegates have produced a communiqué which isn’t a tortured read, including — by my count — two actionable policy requests for the federal government. But the theme remains the same: Ottawa should transfer more and consult more — despite the provinces’ continued disagreement on most of the big national questions. Were the feds to enter a serious negotiation with the Council of the Federation, for how many minutes would its “united front” last?
Ford rallying premiers to call for large increase in federal health transfers
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s top priority at Monday’s meeting of provincial and territorial leaders is to push the federal government to boost its annual health care transfers to the provinces — and this time, there are signs the Liberals are not ruling it out. Ford is expected to rally premiers to again call on Ottawa to increase the health care escalator — the annual increase to the health-care transfer — to 5.2 per cent from the current three per cent."We agreed in Saskatchewan at the COF (Council of the Federation) meeting that we need an increase to 5.2 per cent.
The most contentious policy matter facing the country is likely pipelines, on which the most ardent opponent of construction, Quebec, simply reiterated its position. What the council did say together was that Parliament should amend Bill C-69 — the Trudeau government’s overhaul of the infrastructure approval process — but gave only one direct criticism of the bill and no detail of how its underlying principle should change.
On transfer payments, you’ll be shocked to learn the provinces want more generosity from Ottawa. For Alberta and Saskatchewan — though conceivably for others if the need one day arises — the ask is for more lucrative funding to offset economic downturns. And even more predictably, the provinces have once again called for increases to the Harper-instituted, and Trudeau-maintained, three per cent annual escalator for health-care funding. The premiers say they want five per cent, though this really papers over the true complaint of the poorer provinces east of Ontario: namely, that population aging makes their per capita health transfers far less valuable than those received out West.
Premiers meet outside Toronto, try to find consensus on dealing with Ottawa
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — A meeting of Canada's premiers is underway just outside Toronto to set some collective priorities for dealing with the new minority federal government. 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.
And while some premiers said after the fact that an increase in health transfers should precede any pursuit of a national prescription drug plan, such a declaration did not make it into the communiqué.
The premiers’ letter is, in sum, basically worthless. If these gatherings are going to one day create any value, the first ministers should use their time to make headway on disagreements between the regions — not between them and Ottawa. On seemingly “zero sum” issues like equalization, the “have” and “have not” blocs will need to compromise, lest they continue to talk past each other. On pipelines, the provinces should, at a minimum, concede interprovincial infrastructure is not their domain and recognize the feds’ judgment about the national interest. On health care, it would be helpful to acknowledge provinces are actually competing with one another in many respects — for example, in attracting doctors — rather than simply banding together for their entitlement.
With national unity under stress, premiers back a budget fix to help oil-rich provinces
Canada's premiers emerged from a day of meetings Monday united and with a list of demands for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau including a more generous federal health transfer and a radical rethink to the fiscal stabilization program that helps provinces facing a short-term cash crunch. The premiers gathered in Toronto to meet after a fractious federal election campaign that returned a minority Liberal government with no representation from Alberta and Saskatchewan, two resource-based provinces that have been grappling with a commodity price slump that has blown out big fiscal holes.
This, of course, assumes we owe even this much to the premiers. Having substantial and unique constitutional responsibilities — and in several provinces, looming public debt crises — ought to keep them busy enough, without veering into expressly federal territory. Yet on account of the very transfers the premiers wish to grow, the lines between national and provincial jurisdiction have muddied, most of all on health care.
An alternative? Start with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and economist Brian Crowley’s proposal —— for a “grand bargain” to transfer tax points for health funding, instead of annual cash subsidies.
Such a policy change would remove much ambiguity on jurisdiction. But it would also free the provinces from the ball and chain of promised, though suspendable, transfer dollars — a significant roadblock to local policy reform and experimentation. If there is a better way to deliver health care than no-exception-single-payer, and its resulting breadlines and runaway liabilities, we’re never going to find out.
Unless, that is, the premiers shift their focus from escalating transfers — on health care, and on any other ground where their interests align — to a proposal for reasserting provincial authority where it exists and financing it on a local basis. That would be a more productive use of their time, and ours, than the tired, biannual routine of pleading for more dough.
Next few weeks a test for Alberta-Ottawa relations, Jason Kenney says .
OTTAWA — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney left a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday with no firm commitments on the five demands he put on the table but with an air of accomplishment nonetheless, saying he felt their long-awaited face-to-face meeting was frank and realistic. Kenney said the next few weeks will be a critical time for Trudeau to prove the Liberals are serious about addressing critical issues for the province. NextKenney said the next few weeks will be a critical time for Trudeau to prove the Liberals are serious about addressing critical issues for the province.