Energy Costs and Health Care Dominate Discussions at Halifax Premiers Summit

Nova Scotia Prermier Tim Houston speaks to media during the closing news conference at the Council of the Federation Canadian premiers meeting in Winnipeg, Wednesday, July 12, 2023. Houston says health care is the main formal agenda item as he hosts Canada’s 13 premiers and territorial leaders at a meeting in Halifax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders are meeting in Halifax, with health care and the impact of federal carbon pricing on the rising cost of living topping the agenda. The Council of the Federation meetings, held Sunday and Monday, bring together the country’s 13 premiers to address these pressing issues.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has indicated that health care is the principal item for formal discussions. “We’re looking for innovative ideas that can help provinces address the problems plaguing the health system,” said Houston. He emphasized the need for a collaborative approach to health care innovations, which includes a discussion on the recruitment of health professionals.

British Columbia Premier David Eby highlighted the challenges of fair distribution of federal support, especially concerning the three-year pause on carbon pricing for home fuel oil announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month. Eby voiced his dissatisfaction with the current relief measures, pointing out the lack of provisions for British Columbia residents who face similar issues as those in the Atlantic provinces. “I don’t begrudge Atlantic Canadians…but I sure am unhappy that there’s not a clear path yet for British Columbia on co-delivery of free heat pumps,” Eby stated.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has also expressed his concerns, calling for the end of carbon pricing across the board. Ford’s statement issued ahead of the summit was clear: “As people continue to grapple with higher costs of living, it’s time for the federal government to work with provinces to tackle inflation.” Ford underscored the need for uniform support for Canadians, regardless of their heating methods.

Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser says the carbon policy shift will protect the environment while saving money for Canadians. Fraser discusses why Ottawa made changes to carbon pricing, and the impact felt in his home region of Atlantic Canada.

The focus on energy costs comes after the federal government’s decision to pause carbon pricing in 10 jurisdictions, a move that excludes British Columbia, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories due to their own fuel tax collection methods.

Health care discussions are also expected to cover the competition among provinces for health professionals. Premier Houston revealed that Nova Scotia has ceased recruiting in other provinces, advocating for a broader search: “It’s a big world with lots of qualified people.”

Premier Eby concurred, emphasizing the importance of not “cannibalizing each other’s staff” and coordinating in the training and hiring of medical personnel. Housing, a significant factor in cost-of-living challenges, is also on B.C.’s priority list. Eby is seeking greater federal support in various initiatives, including public safety and housing.

Premier Ford expanded the discussion to labor shortages across sectors, calling for immigration policies that attract skilled workers. He also mentioned the need for more federal support for economic infrastructure and boosting the domestic supply chain.

The Council of the Federation meetings are expected to delve into other pressing topics such as bail reform and Alberta’s proposal to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan. The summits are a chance for the premiers to unite on common issues and to seek fairer deals and support from the federal government, especially in these times of financial strain for many Canadians.