Canadian provincial leaders seek more money for healthcare and struggling oil patch
By Moira Warburton
TORONTO (Reuters) - The leaders of Canada's provincial and territorial governments showed a united front on Monday in demanding more money from the federal government for healthcare and for provinces facing economic hard times.
The 13 premiers - who have diverse party affiliations
- gathered for the first time since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals were re-elected in October.
The group, known as the Council of the Federation, called on Trudeau to increase federal funding for the public healthcare system, which is run by the provinces, before moving to expand coverage for prescription drugs, a key Trudeau election pledge.
The premiers also urged that a federal programme designed to help regions mired in an economic slump be strengthened.
"I am very happy with the progress that we made in our fight for fairness," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said after the meeting, referring to the economic aid programme. Kenney, a political conservative, lauded the "united voice of premiers across the country" in supporting the measure.
Trudeau gained the most seats in Parliament in October's federal election, but fell short of a majority and failed to secure a single seat in either Alberta or Saskatchewan, the heart of the country's struggling oil industry.
There has been a growing sense of alienation in Alberta and Saskatchewan since the 2014-15 global oil price crash, which has driven up unemployment and hurt growth in the western provinces.
The premiers want the government to make the transfer system "more responsive to economic circumstances and downturns in resource sectors," they said in a joint statement.
Trudeau last month appointed his former foreign minister, Alberta-born Chrystia Freeland, as his deputy and put her in charge of relations with the provinces and territories.
There was no immediate comment from either Trudeau's or Freeland's offices.
The unexpected consensus that emerged from the meeting, which was held near Toronto, may spell trouble for Trudeau, who will need the premiers' support if he wants to fulfil his election promise to introduce a national prescription drug plan.
The prescription coverage plan "must be developed in partnership with provinces and territories," the premiers said in their statement. Some of them insisted after the meeting that there be an increase in federal contributions to healthcare before they discuss the prescription drug plan.
Canada's new parliament will meet for the first time on Thursday, when the government's priorities will be outlined in the so-called Throne Speech.
Many of the premiers have met one-on-one with Trudeau since the election, and the full council is expected to sit down with the prime minister early next year.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton; Writing by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney)