Premiers focus on energy costs, health care at Halifax meeting

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The effect of carbon pricing measures on the rising cost of living across Canada is slated to take centre stage at this week’s meeting of the country’s 13 premiers and territorial leaders in Halifax.


That focus comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last month a three-year pause on carbon pricing for home fuel oil, along with the expansion of a grant program to help some lower-income Canadians cover the cost of installing heat pumps.


The relief is applicable only to the 10 jurisdictions where federal fuel charges apply, with British Columbia, Quebec and the Northwest Territories excluded because they collect their own fuel tax.


Speaking from Halifax ahead of the meetings, British Columbia Premier David Eby said such unequal distribution of cost relief is unfair.


“I don’t begrudge Atlantic Canadians the ability to get off home heating oil and not to have to endure those huge bills that come when the fuel truck shows up,” Eby said at a news conference. “But I sure am unhappy that there’s not a clear path yet for British Columbia on co-delivery of free heat pumps for British Columbians that are in the exact same situation.”


Ontario Premier Doug Ford also took aim at the carbon tax in a written statement issued ahead of the meeting, , calling on the federal government to “do the right thing” and cut the item outright across Canada.


“As people continue to grapple with higher costs of living, it’s time for the federal government to work with provinces to tackle inflation,” Ford said.


“This includes providing fairness to all Canadians regardless of how they heat their home. People across the country are struggling, and everyone deserves a break.”


The premiers are gathering Sunday and Monday in Halifax for the Council of the Federation meetings, where discussions will also likely venture into topics such as bail reform, health care and Alberta’s proposal to withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan.


Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said ahead of the meetings that health care is the main formal agenda item.


Houston said the discussions will focus on health care innovations in hopes of producing ideas that can help provinces address the problems plaguing the health system.


He said one of his priorities is a discussion on the recruitment of health professionals and whether provinces should be competing with one another for the same pool of available workers.


Houston said he’s asked his health department to stop recruiting in other provinces, adding “it’s a big world with lots of qualified people.”


Eby, meanwhile, said British Columbia’s priorities at the meetings include working with other provinces and territories to “make sure that we’re not cannibalizing each other’s staff” and to co-ordinate training and hiring of medical staff.


He added B.C.’s priorities will also include housing, which plays into the province’s cost-of-living challenges.


“There are a number of different initiatives where we’re looking for greater levels of federal support,” Eby said.


“I believe that there’s huge opportunities for the federal government to work better with us on housing, to work better with us on delivery of a whole array of programs in that area, and as well to work with us on public safety.”


Ford said in his statement that, in addition to health care, labour shortages are also present in other sectors that require the federal government to ensure immigration policies are attracting skilled workers.


Ford also identified economic infrastructure and boosting the domestic supply chain as topics needing more federal support.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2023.

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