07/24/2012 09:05 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Premiers' Meeting: Halifax Gathering To Expose Rifts Between Provinces And Ottawa


Canada's 13 territorial and provincial premiers are meeting in Halifax this week. With their demands upon the federal government and their disagreements with one another, the premiers could give themselves and Stephen Harper a few headaches.

Atlantic Canada is no stranger to premiers meetings, as the heads of the four Atlantic provinces recently banded together to demand more information from the federal government on the planned changes to employment insurance, as well as special consideration for the region's seasonal industries.

Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia and host of the get-together, spoke out recently against what he calls a vacuum between the prime minister and the premiers. He is worried about the federal government's diminishing role, particularly with regards to equalization and health transfers.

That last issue is a major one for Canada's premiers and is likely to be at the top of this week's agenda. But these concerns are not the only source of problems for Stephen Harper.

Jean Charest, Christy Clark and Dexter are all likely to face voters within the next 12 months. These sorts of forums are good opportunities to raise the rhetoric and get some attention, allowing the premiers to pose as defenders of their province against the federal government. In addition to this trio, Dalton McGuinty still presides over a minority government in Ontario and Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador, is growing more critical of Harper as her poll numbers drop.

And then there is Alison Redford, who is determined to get her premiership rolling with talk of a national energy strategy. She has gotten some of the premiers on board and has recently held private meetings with, among others, the premier of Ontario.

But Clark's recent statements against the planned Northern Gateway pipeline that would deliver Albertan oil to a B.C. port en route to Asian markets throws a wrench into the works. Clark has positioned herself against both Redford and Harper, and that opposition may only get fiercer.

Though Clark might be amenable to some sort of compromise with her fellow conservative leaders, the head of the B.C. New Democrats is not. The polls give Adrian Dix a very comfortable lead heading toward the May 2013 election and he has been adamantly against the Northern Gateway pipeline. He is unlikely to tone it down as premier, particularly as his province is setting up to be a key battleground in the next federal election between the Conservatives and Thomas Mulcair's NDP.

At the other end of the country, Charest's Liberals might be ousted from power and Pauline Marois installed in his place. She is likely to push the Conservative government hard on issues related to energy, the environment, justice, immigration and provincial jurisdiction. As leader of the Parti Québécois, any time she forces the federal government to say "no" to Quebec is a plus for the sovereignty movement.

With British Columbia and Alberta at odds over the Northern Gateway pipeline and the age-old disagreements between haves and have-nots, this week's premiers' meeting might be less harmonious than some of the participants hope it will be. Add to that the likelihood of Dix and Marois joining the club in the next few months and a gaggle of premiers in Atlantic Canada and Ontario who will do no favours for Stephen Harper, the level of tension in inter-governmental relations is unlikely to drop any time soon.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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