Monday, December 5, 2011

Health care, E.I. dominate Atlantic premiers conference

Atlantic Canada's premiers are calling on the federal government to increase health transfers, leave employment insurance alone and let more skilled immigrants come to Canada.

By QMI Agency
December 5, 2011

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale hosted P.E.I Premier Robert Ghiz, New Brunswick Premier David Alward and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter at the 20th annual Council of Atlantic Premiers in St. John's on Monday morning.

Health care dominated the talks because the current federal-provincial deal expires in 2014. The feds will provide $27 billion to the provinces for health care this fiscal year, which covers about 20% of the provinces' health costs.

The premiers want the feds to increase that to 25%.

"Growth in the federal Canada Health Transfer contribution is not keeping pace with provincial health-care cost pressures," the premiers said in a statement issued after their meeting. "The agreement should include additional funding that respects and reflects jurisdictional health priorities."

The premiers also called on the government to ignore suggestions made by a think-tank in November to change Canada's employment insurance formula.

The Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation suggested EI requirements should be the same in all provinces so all taxpayers get the same bang for their buck.

"We need a program that treats all Canadians equitably regardless of where they live, just like other signature programs that form the foundation of the Canadian national social safety net," Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the Mowat Centre, said at the time.

"The current EI program responds well to the challenges faced by rural economies and is designed to take into account the differing economic circumstances in regions throughout the country," the premiers said.

Implementing the think-tank's policy suggestions "would undermine the ability of the EI program to respond to distinct differences between regions," they added.

Finally, the premiers called for an end to caps on the Provincial Nominee Program, which helps fast-track the immigration process for skilled workers and entrepreneurs.

"In order to support regional labour market needs, particularly in light of changing demographics, it is imperative that there be growth in the recruitment and retention of immigrants for Atlantic Canada," the premiers said.

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