Premier Tim Houston chaired the fall meeting of the Council of the Federation of premiers, which concluded Monday with a united front asking Ottawa to pause the carbon tax on all types of home heating sources.
The request was made after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to give residents in Atlantic Canada a three-year reprieve from the tax on the home heating furnace oil used by 30% of Nova Scotians. Programs to assist with the cost of installing heat pumps to reduce carbon emissions and energy costs will take some time.
And while the change has been enthusiastically welcomed in eastern Canada, it has created divisiveness elsewhere.
At a news conference following the meeting, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe called the federal decision “inherently unfair.” Moe said the province had converted 85% of homes from oil to natural gas during the 1980s and the remaining 15% of residents in rural and northern communities rely on electricity and propane.
“The right thing to do is for the Canadian government to not only extend the carbon tax pause to heating oil but to other forms — electricity and propane — and other sources of heating,” said Moe.
Houston went further: “They should get rid of the carbon tax because it doesn’t work.”
British Columbia Premier David Eby disagrees:
Our jurisdictions have different perspectives on how to address climate change. But the discussion was grounded in our shared concerns around affordability and fairness; fair treatment for all Canadians. I want to be clear though. From the B.C. perspective, the big impact on taxpayers has been we spent $1 billion fighting forest fires this year.
We will spend in excess of one billion dollars addressing floods in the Fraser Valley. We had a heat dome that killed hundreds of people. We had pine beetle over-wintering that has decimated our forest industry…climate change is just devastating in British Columbia and no province should expect to be exempt… For us, the carbon tax has been an effective mechanism to address carbon pollution. Since 2017, our carbon emissions have gone down despite a dramatic increase in population.
Premiers bash feds over housing issue
The 10 premiers and territorial leaders who attended the meeting — the premiers of Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Quebec were unavailable — are also unhappy with how money for housing is being spent. The premiers are seeking more cooperation from the federal government.
Premier Tim Houston:
The lack of collaboration to date on certain specific issues has resulted in federal programs — particularly in housing — that create duplicate processes and risk pitting provinces against each other. This is not a good thing. We are asking the federal government to work with us as active partners when developing and executing housing programs and other programs.
It’s so important we agreed to explore legislative options that would require provincial authorization before municipalities or public agencies can enter into any agreements with the federal government.
This is not unlike the complaint by HRM that the province is taking away their control of housing developments.
Here’s what Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said:
It seems to be working for Quebec. They have a law which requires the federal government to negotiate with the province directly rather than go through the municipalities, and that’s what we will be looking at in our province. You can’t argue with success.
Quebec just announced $900 million for housing as a result of negotiating on behalf of all of their municipalities. What we are worried about is the last tranche of federal dollars that was announced for my province — which has 14% of the population — and we only got 2.5% of the funding. We need fairness and we aren’t seeing that with the current model.
Smith said she also briefed the premiers about the reasons Alberta is considering withdrawing from the Canada Pension Plan and setting up its own pension fund, as Quebec did when the CPP was first established. Smith denies the departure of Alberta would reduce the amount of money available for other Canadians, as some fear.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford had this to say:
You can’t have the federal government going into a certain town or a certain city and dumping funding and not even discussing it with the province. That’s unacceptable. We call it ‘jurisdictional creep’… We do want to work collaboratively and we will get a bigger bang for the buck for the people who need affordable homes if we work together.
Recruiting nurses and other health care professionals
Part of the agenda included the topic of health care and presentations about best practices and innovative ideas to improve the system. Recruitment was a hot topic.
“We would like to limit the use of agency or travel nurses because that does not advance anybody’s care and it hurts provincial treasuries,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not advance health care in Canada.”
Furey is a physician.
Travel nurses work on short-term contracts for private companies that send them to provinces experiencing staffing issues in hospitals and long-term care homes. These nurses do not have benefits, but usually make double the wages of the nurses they work alongside. Housing and car allowances are often part of the deal. These positions often attract recent nursing graduates.
“For me, recruiting health care workers who are already employed in a health care system in another province is something Nova Scotia is not going to do,” Houston said.
This suggests no more poaching nurses and doctors from other provinces, although recruiting new graduates from nursing programs and medical schools is fair game.
Smith said Alberta will borrow a page from Nova Scotia’s book when it comes to recruiting to help fill vacancies at long-term care facilities.
“We are working on that same kind of approach. I suspect you will see premiers working diligently and collaboratively to try to recruit from abroad — whether it is Philippines or another nation — as well as working harder on recognizing foreign credentials,” Smith said.
As the host province for this fall’s federation of premiers’ meeting, Nova Scotia was responsible for organizing the Sunday night dinner that preceded the conference.
Premier Smith said the premiers enjoyed a meal that included great seafood at the waterfront restaurant inside the Muir luxury hotel. The Muir is part of the Queen’s Marque development built by Scott McCrea’s Armour Group. McCrea was part of the premier’s transition team after the PC government was elected two years ago.