Premiers to discuss infrastructure, public safety, affordability and health care recruitment at upcoming meetings

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Provinces and territories are no longer squarely focused on demanding more funding from the federal government for health care, said Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson. Canada’s premiers will meet in Winnipeg this week.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Editor’s note: A previous story said all provinces have accepted the federal government’s health care funding, but Quebec has not.

Canada’s premiers will meet in Winnipeg this week with a focus on issues such as infrastructure, public safety and affordability, but without the aggressive push for more health care funding that dominated last year’s talks.

Instead, the 13 premiers attending the annual summer meeting will be producing their own list of priorities during the two-day talks, with key themes coalescing around green-energy deals and the need to speed up infrastructure projects through predictable funding and streamlined processes with Ottawa .

While improving the health care system will be on the agenda, including the need to recruit and retain workers, provinces and territories are no longer squarely focused on demanding more funding from the federal government for health care, said Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, a group that includes the premiers of Canada’s provinces and territories.

After months of pressure on Ottawa to increase health care spending, all but Quebec accepted the federal government’s offer last March to add $46-billion in new funding over 10 years, even though it falls far short of what the provinces and territories said they needed.

“Our ask is still there for more funds from the federal government. But we also recognize that there are more other pressing issues out there,” Ms. Stefanson told reporters last week.

Instead, she said her focus would be on public safety – specifically bail reform – as well as infrastructure funding and improving the cross-country supply chain. In a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 15 signed by Ms. Stefanson, the premiers called for more certainty around federal infrastructure funding, saying provinces and territories “are experiencing unprecedented inflationary pressures and cost escalations on existing projects due to supply chain issues and input costs that are creating fiscal burdens on our communities.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government is looking to continue its partnership with Ottawa on major projects, after deals on electric-vehicle battery plants with Stellantis in Windsor, Ont., and Volkswagen in St. Thomas, Ont. The agreements will see the province provide up to one-third of almost $30-billion in total subsidies for the projects. Mr. Ford’s government has also offered to cover one-third of the cost of future deals, part of a longer-term vision to compete with billions in subsidies offered under the US Inflation Reduction Act.

“As we welcome hundreds of thousands of newcomers every year, we need to ensure we’re building the required infrastructure to keep pace with our historic growth,” Mr. Ford said in a statement to The Globe.

The statement said Mr. Ford would press the federal government to “reduce unnecessary duplication and streamline federal reviews with existing provincial environmental assessments” for large projects, such as Highway 413 in the Greater Toronto Area or plans to develop mining in the Ring of Fire region.

Mr. Ford will also be pushing Ottawa to pursue a “fair and open” procurement process to consider Canadian-made Bombardier, not US-based Boeing, to replace its maritime control aircraft CP 140 Aurora fleet.

Quebec Premier François Legault is also looking to forge partnerships with the federal government on green-energy projects.

“Mr. Legault wishes to take advantage of this meeting to continue to position Quebec as a leader in the green economy in Canada,” spokesperson Ewan Sauves said. “The battery sector is not only an industry of the future, but an extraordinary opportunity for Quebec if we want to succeed in our energy transition and attract companies.”

Mr. Sauves said Quebec wants its “fair share” of financial investments from Ottawa.

British Columbia Premier David Eby said he, too, wants to focus on infrastructure projects as well as the clean-energy transition in his province. And he said the amount of federal economic development funding that has flowed from Ottawa to Ontario and Quebec was a key topic of a recent meeting of Western premiers as well.

“It’s hard to miss the size and scope of the announcements in Ontario and Quebec,” Mr. Eby said. “It’s great for them, but we really need the federal government to be on side with, and support at the same level, projects in British Columbia.”

Bail reform, recruiting more doctors and nurses into the health care system without poaching from other provinces, and housing are other key areas Eby said he wanted to discuss.

Both Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs also wanted to put in place a plan to increase the mobility of health care workers across the country, and the need to recruit and retain staff. Atlantic premiers agreed last year to make it easier for doctors to practice in neighboring provinces without requiring new licenses, while other provinces have looked to license thousands of internationally trained nurses to make it easier to work in their jurisdictions.

“The medicare system is kind [of] on the ropes in many ways, but I believe it can be saved. But we know we need more health care workers in the country, certainly in Nova Scotia,” Mr. Houston said in an interview.

Mr. Houston said he also wants to address immigration and labor shortages, with a goal to double the population in his province by 2060, as well as infrastructure. Mr. Higgs said in a statement he also wanted to discuss public safety, including bail reform, as well as energy security.

The premiers will also meet Indigenous leaders on Monday. Assembly of First Nations Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, who will be attending the meeting, said in an interview she wanted more co-operation on issues such as implementing the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

She said she would also push Ms. Stefanson to conduct a search for the remains of two other Indigenous women believed to be in a landfill north of Winnipeg, which the Premier said last week was too risky to undertake.

A feasibility study led by the Manitoba First Nations concluded that such a search would be costly but possible, although the federal government has yet to say what it plans to do.

“We can’t just sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened,” Regional Chief Woodhouse said. “It’s just like basically telling us that we don’t matter, if you don’t look for us.”

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization representing Inuit interests, declined an invitation to attend. Both ITK and the Métis National Council said it was “inappropriate” that other groups such as the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Native Women’s Association of Canada were invited to the meeting, because they said they did not officially represent Inuit or Métis people. In turn, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples called for unity among Indigenous groups.