New Brunswick

Health-care collaboration on the table as Atlantic premiers finally get in-person meeting

At their first in-person meeting since before the pandemic, the four Atlantic premiers discussed a regional approach to a number of key regional issues.

Premiers discuss key issues, say they won't pursue permanent daylight saving time unless other regions do

Pictured at the Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting in Halifax, from left: Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey. (Government of Nova Scotia)

The four Atlantic premiers held their first in-person meeting since before the pandemic on Monday, where they discussed a regional approach to health care and other key regional issues.

At the meeting, held in Halifax and chaired by Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, the premiers talked about a unified effort to recruit and retain health-care professionals and using potential "excesses" to assist patients in neighbouring provinces. 

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the four provinces are not in competition with each other and will be working together to attract health-care workers to the region. 

Higgs also said they discussed how provinces can share existing resources. For example, if one area has an "excess" of some service, it could be used by patients from other provinces. 

"If we have excess capability and we can utilize that, let's not get hung up on where it is," Higgs said at a wrap-up briefing with the media following the Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting. 

He said the patient's home province would pay for the service, but the patient would have to travel to where the service is being offered. 

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston hosted the first in-person meeting of the Atlantic premiers since before the pandemic. (Robert Short/CBC)

Houston said all four Atlantic provinces are experiencing similar challenges when it comes to health care. 

"It's safe to say that health care remains top of mind for each of our provinces and our populations. The shortage of health-care workers is not exclusive to Atlantic Canada, certainly not exclusive to Nova Scotia. It's felt everywhere." 

Making it easier for health-care workers to travel between provinces is part of the solution, he said. 

Currently, licensing criteria and fees structures are unique to each province and complicate mobility between provinces. 

Making it easier for health-care workers to travel between provinces means they could "move around and help each other out," Houston said.

"We are one region and there's lots of family ties between them," he said. "And so those are the opportunities that I'm looking forward to." 

Houston said there was a "high degree of interest in harmonizing that stuff."

Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey said the ultimate goal would be for one licensing system for health-care professionals like doctors. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said "one of the lessons learned from COVID … [is] that health-care mobility is important." 

Furey, who has worked as a doctor around the world, said Canada is fortunate to have "a robust licensing system that could be applied blanket-statement to the whole country."

"We are very well trained in Canada," he said. "Once you're licensed in any jurisdiction, there's no reason to think that you shouldn't be able to practice medicine somewhere else."

Furey said the "exact model and instrument" still has to be determined, but that a single entity controlling the licensing of health-care professionals would be the goal. 

Health care was just one of the issues on the agenda. They also discussed a regional approach to economic recovery, cost of living, immigration and energy. 

Daylight saving time 

The premiers also talked about the movement in other areas to establish daylight saving time year-round.

Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King said islanders support the idea of getting rid of the twice-yearly time change — as long as they're not the only ones doing it. 

In the United States, one of the two chambers of Congress passed a bill that would make daylight time permanent instead of the current March-through-November schedule.

The U.S. Senate passed the bill last week with support from both parties. If it becomes law, it would mean an extra hour of daylight in the evenings year-round.

In Canada, Ontario has a law passed and ready to be implemented if New York and Quebec do the same. 

"I think if that were to happen, we would have to react collectively here in some way, shape or form," King said on Monday.

"Essentially, we've all sort of decided that this doesn't make sense for one of us to do this. If we are to proceed with something, it would be … on a regional basis in response to what might be done in other places."

Higgs said there's also interest in New Brunswick in eliminating the twice-yearly time change.

But until other regions make a move, Higgs said, the Atlantic provinces won't pursue it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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