Premiers say they've reached consensus on priority areas


Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says potential reforms to the fiscal stabilization program will be a likely focus of the upcoming meeting between provincial leaders and the federal government.

Topics at Monday's summit in Mississauga included health care and federal involvement on major issues including the environment.

They emerged saying they had reached a consensus on four priority areas, including on federal health-care funding.

They called on the government to raise the current health care spending growth cap from 3 percent each year to 5.2 percent to help provinces and territories better address mounting costs in the sector as the country's population ages.

Nevertheless, the premiers agreed that they should have the right to opt out of any national pharmacare program, something the federal Liberals promised they would move towards during the election. "Premier Moe did an incredible job".

"If you can't get that right, don't start with another program".

"We were very, very productive when we met in Saskatchewan (at the last prime meeting)", said Ford.

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.

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The program, which is supposed to give provinces a buffer from federal transfers when their revenue tanks, is capped at $60 per capita - a three-decade-old limit the Alberta government says should end. Moe said, pointing to both interest among some provinces in reforms to equalization, which could prove contentious, and reforms to the fiscal stabilization program, where unity may be more achievable.

But Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, who has been supportive of national pharmacare, said that in aging provinces such as his own, diseases are becoming more complex and drugs are becoming more expensive.

"This (gathering) was a tremendous moment of solidarity", said Jason Kenney of Alberta.

"The fiscal stabilization program, on the other hand, there's an opportunity there to address a program that was created to be very reactive and when you look at the lack of investment in that program over the last decade or so, it has proved to not be that reactive", Moe continued.

Kenney thanked his fellow premiers for making amendments to the Fiscal Stabilization Program a priority.

Right-leaning premiers are on the offensive, taking up the western cause in the hopes it will help them defeat Trudeau in the next election, which could be only a couple years away since the Liberals fell short of winning a majority of seats in parliament. Higgs wants to discuss softwood lumber.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has been outspoken against Quebec's Bill 21, which prohibits some public employees, including teachers, government lawyers and police officers, from wearing prominent symbols of their religious beliefs.

They also talked about developing resources responsibly and getting them to all markets, but the somewhat vaguely worded communique does not specifically reference pipelines, an area of disagreement among the premiers.