POLITICS

5 issues on the agenda at the premiers' annual meeting

07/16/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT
Canada's premiers and territorial leaders are gathering in St. John's this week for their annual summer meeting, where discussions around energy, climate change and health care will weigh heavily against the backdrop of an upcoming federal election.

The premiers met with leaders from different aboriginal groups on Tuesday and agreed to support all 94 recommendations arising from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, promising to work to implement them in their own provinces.

- Analysis | Kathleen Wynne takes fight with Stephen Harper to St. John's

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis will chair two days of meetings, with a closing news conference scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. local time.

Here are five things to watch for during the premiers' meeting this week:

1. Energy strategy

Watch for differences of opinion to emerge when premiers discuss pipelines, energy and climate change.

A draft of the premiers' energy strategy obtained by CBC News suggests some premiers want a greater focus on conservation, green technology as well as climate change targets.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on Wednesday expressed concern with taking that view to the exclusion of others.

"Yes, we need to be more sustainable... but increasingly the dialogue in the country seems to be heading in the direction where somehow oil and gas is something that we ought to be ashamed of."

"I just categorically reject that," Wall said.

This will be Rachel Notley's first time at the premiers table since the NDP's surprise majority win in Alberta last May.

Notley was in Quebec City on Tuesday, where Couillard hailed the new Alberta premier as "a new ally" following a meeting to discuss the proposed Energy East pipeline to bring Alberta oil east to Montreal and New Brunswick.

2. Economy and inter-provincial trade

Discussions are also expected to centre around the need to build a more competitive economy, with premiers focusing on innovation, trade, skills and training.

Premiers have also been working on a new internal trade deal, with Wall leading the way. 

"We are trying to improve the deal on internal trade... because we still have freer trade with other countries than we do sometimes between our provincial jurisdictions," he said Wednesday.

3. Infrastructure

Dissatisfied with the federal government's investments in infrastructure and transit, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will continue to push for a national plan between the provinces and the federal government.

Her pitch for a so-called Canadian Infrastructure Partnership seeks federal-provincial collaboration aimed at investing five per cent of Canada's GDP in infrastructure renewal.

Wynne said experts estimate that governments in Canada currently invest between three and 3.5 per cent of GDP in public infrastructure.

4. Health

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose wrote to the premiers this week asking for their cooperation in helping Ottawa to slash the cost of prescription drugs.

Ambrose wants the premiers to let the federal government join the Pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which the premiers started working on in 2010.

"I urge you to please encourage your premier to accept the federal government's request to join this very successful initiative," Ambrose said.

5. The federal election

It may not be an official agenda item - but a federal election is usually seen as a good time for premiers to press their case with federal leaders for important projects or the resolution of sticky issues.

As the premier of Canada's largest province, Wynne will argue the political map has changed and look to other Liberal premiers, such as Quebec's Philippe Couillard and New Brunswick's Brian Gallant, for support on pushing the infrastructure issue, among other priorities.

However, her own backing of federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau may keep other premiers, such as British Columbia's Christy Clark, at a distance.