Even if it wasn’t represented in St. John’s, the federal government was at the centre of the Atlantic premiers’ meeting Monday morning.
Health care topped the agenda, and all four leaders agreed that when they sit down to renegotiate a federal-provincial accord, the provinces need more money.
The four premiers argue Ottawa should be responsible for paying 25 per cent of the provinces’ health-care costs, and that funding for each province should increase by six per cent annually.
“The federal government should be a partner in the funding of health care,” said Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter.
“The best we did under the former model was a little better than 23 per cent, but by next year, the federal government’s contribution to the cost of health care in our provinces collectively will slide below 20 per cent.”
The current health-care agreement with Ottawa expires in 2014.
The Atlantic premiers argue Ottawa’s portion of spending isn’t keeping up with the rapid increase in health-care costs.
“People hear about a six per cent escalator, and they assume that the provinces are continuing to get more money,” Dexter said.
Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale argued the new agreement needs to be on a “principles based” approach.
“We believe as a principle that there should be equitable health care across this country — that the same quality of health care that you get in British Columbia should be available in Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward stressed the provinces will present a united front going into negotiations with Ottawa.
“What we don’t need is one-offs,” he said. “We need to be able to negotiate on collective principles.”
Overwhelmingly, the premiers attention focused on the federal government. The communique coming out of Monday’s meetings hit a number of policy notes, from the structure of the EI program through to the number of federal jobs in Atlantic Canada.
“In considering reductions to the federal public service, the Government of Canada should start in the National Capital Region,” the premiers said.
On Employment insurance, the premiers supported changes to the system — but only if it would expand access for workers.
“Premiers support changes to the EI system that would improve access to EI for workers throughout Canada, and ensure that the program continues to provide adequate support to unemployed persons through regular benefits and training opportunities, and does not reduce the level of benefits currently available to workers in the Atlantic province,” the statement said.
The premiers also supported increased immigration, and planned a trade mission to Atlanta, Georgia.