Atlantic premiers discuss shared energy, regulation and Northern Pulp

The Council of Atlantic Premiers met Wednesday in Charlottetown.

First meeting for N.B.'s Blaine Higgs, who brings Tory blue to a table that's been all Liberal red

The premiers of Atlantic Canada met Wednesday in Charlottetown. From left: Stephen McNeil, Wade MacLauchlan, Blaine Higgs and Dwight Ball. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

The Council of Atlantic Premiers met Wednesday in Charlottetown.

At the top of the agenda was clean energy and the electrical grid, with a new submarine cable ready to transfer electricity from Newfoundland to Cape Breton once the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project comes online. P.E.I. was also looking for answers as to why the province was completely cut off from electricity from New Brunswick during a storm last November.

The premiers agreed it is essential to maximize clean energy resources through reliable, efficient and co-ordinated transmission.

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan said a shared energy utility corridor could allow the provinces to benefit from the diversity of resources and build on the Atlantic clean energy partnership the council created two years ago.

"That would work by engaging the federal government with a view, and toward a goal, of Atlantic Canadians benefiting from energy that is renewable, affordable and reliable," he said.

This is the first meeting of Atlantic premiers to be attended by New Brunswick's Blaine Higgs. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

It was the first meeting of Atlantic premiers attended by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, a Progressive Conservative who adds an element of political diversity to the group. Until Higgs became the leader of a minority government in November, all four Atlantic premiers had been Liberal, going back to the election of Dwight Ball as the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador who was sworn in in Dec. 2015.

While it's the first meeting with just his Atlantic counterparts for Higgs, the New Brunswick premier did take part in a national first ministers meeting in December.

Cutting red tape in the region, which could involve talks on allowing booze to move more freely through the region, was also on the agenda. On Tuesday the P.E.I. government announced it plans to soon get rid of import restrictions on alcohol for personal use.

MacLauchlan also broached the topic of Northern Pulp with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil. MacLauchlan has written to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna asking for a federal environmental assessment of the company's plan to pump effluent from its mill into the Northumberland Strait.

"Premier MacLauchlan and I talked about it and we both share a different view when it comes to the level of environment assessment that's required," McNeil said.

"We want to assure the people of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island that if we get an [environmental assessment] it will be put through the scrutiny that we believe is required." 

Cut red tape in health care

The premiers are also promising to try to cut the red tape for health professionals who want to work in another Atlantic province.

There are different professional bodies in each of the four provinces and each has its own way of evaluating or recognizing credentials. That makes it difficult for doctors, nurses and other health professionals who want to move elsewhere or work in more than one province.

McNeil told reporters this afternoon a single licence should be enough. 

"If you have the Canadian medical exam and you have a practicing licence in a Canadian province, it doesn't make any sense to those of us sitting at this table why you would need to have different certification or regulation and licensing in different provinces," he said.

"Those are the kind of barriers that we want to be able to break down."

McNeil notes the change would require agreement from the licensing bodies.

"I think it's important to emphasize it will require the co-operation of our colleges."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Jean Laroche


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