Canada’s premiers are meeting Dec. 2, 2019. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Canada’s premiers are meeting today just outside Toronto for the first time as a group since the federal election.

The campaign laid bare some regional divisions, and the premiers of Saskatchewan and Alberta — where the Liberals won no seats — have been especially vocal about their asks from Ottawa.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to change the equalization formula, but there is unlikely to be consensus on that around the premiers’ table.

Moe, who is chair of the Council of the Federation, says all of the premiers will come to the meeting with various priorities and differing opinions, but the goal is to find a few issues on which they have common ground.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says health care is a concern for everyone, and that all premiers want a 5.2 per cent annual increase to the Canada Health Transfer.

But there may not be consensus specifically on pharmacare, which will be a key discussion Ottawa will have with the provinces, with Ontario sounding lukewarm notes about it recently, pushing instead for better coverage for rare diseases.

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.

The premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick met Sunday to sign a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on developing nuclear reactors known as small modular reactors. They say it could help meet emission reduction targets.

Ford wants to discuss job creation and internal trade. Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney want to discuss amendments to the fiscal stabilization program. Higgs wants to discuss softwood lumber.

But Ford said Sunday he is confident the premiers can find some areas of agreement.

“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.”

Higgs said though priorities differ, the meeting was initiated by a need for national unity.

“Having this meeting prior to meeting with the prime minister in January gives us a chance to focus,” he said.

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