Premiers want more funds for health, infrastructure from Ottawa

Canada's provincial and territorial premiers say there is a fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces and it's time the prime minister re-examined their fiscal arrangements.
P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, who is the host of this year's Council of the Federation meeting in Charlottetown, says the premiers agree the fiscal arrangement between Ottawa and the provinces needs to be re-examined. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Canada's provincial and territorial premiers say there is a fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces, despite assertions to the contrary by the federal government, and it's time the prime minister re-examined the country's fiscal arrangements.

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, who is the host of the Council of the Federation this week, said all the premiers agree the federal government should increase its share of funding for health and infrastructure.

Ghiz pointed to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, which the premiers commissioned last year, showing the federal government is balancing its budget on the back of the provinces.

While the federal government is contributing to health care funding, Ghiz said it simply isn't keeping pace with changing demographics and an aging population — all of which will have an impact on the provinces.

"Under all scenarios examined by the Conference Board, the federal government continues to record growing budgetary surpluses while provincial-territorial governments will face increasing challenges to achieve fiscal balance while providing essential programs and services to Canadians," Ghiz said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the government is providing the provinces and territories with record funding for health care.

The federal government has guaranteed the provinces an annual 6-per-cent increase in health care funding until 2016-17. After that, increases will be tied to growth in nominal gross domestic product, a measure of GDP plus inflation — but is guaranteed to be at least 3 per cent.

The provinces want the government to increase its share funding to deal with an aging population and crumbling roads.

"Premiers agreed that fiscal arrangements must be re-examined... and encouraged the prime minister to work with them on this important priority." 

'Reliable' infrastructure

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the federal government has made the fiscal imbalance worse.

"I think it's deteriorating and I think all the provinces are feeling that, in different ways, and we believe there needs to be an improvement of that equilibrium."

She dismissed suggestions the Ontario government isn't managing its finances, saying, "we have been very clear that eliminating our deficit and balancing our budget by 2017-18 has to happen."

"It's as important as making the investments that are necessary."

Wynne said while the premiers agree the federal government's 10-year, $53-billion Building Canada Plan is a step in the right direction, Ottawa needs to do more.

"Having reliable, predictable, resilient investment in infrastructure is very important for the country and every province has got needs."

The premiers said they haven't costed out their demands yet.

Interprovincial trade, apprenticeships

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Alberta's Dave Hancock also announced they're going to take a look at the New West Partnership to see if regulations are preventing trade opportunities.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, along with the premiers of Saskatchewan and Alberta, said they'll review regulations to try to knock down more trade barriers between their provinces. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
​Wall said, for example, that if a company wants to make first aid kits for Canada, that business would have to satisfy 10 different sets of regulations as to what might constitute a first aid kit.

"So this seems dumb and I think at the heart of improving trade issues is trying to remove dumb from the economy," Wall said.

Clark said all of the provinces have room to improve trade, but pointed to the federal government, too, and said she wants to help it understand all the things it can do to increase trade.

"We know that trade barriers kill jobs. We know that red tape gets in the way of putting people to work across the country. And it doesn't make any sense to any of us that we should be putting artificial barriers in the way of creating jobs, because a job that's created in Saskatchewan is also of benefit to people who live in P.E.I.," she said.

Hancock and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil agreed to harmonize the rules for workers who enrol in apprenticeships.

The agreement would ensure training and work experience hours are transferable between the provinces, and in the long term would fill the provinces' skilled-trade needs.

"It's my hope that we will see this kind of arrangement across the entire country so that young Canadians will get an opportunity, regardless of where they happen to find a job, we will give them credit for the hours and the education that they've earned," McNeil said.

The premiers, just like the Fathers of Confederation 150 years ago, posed on the steps of Government House (also known locally as Fanningbank) in Charlottetown.


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