Fu­ture of the re­gion

At­lantic pre­miers dis­cuss trade with United States, health care syn­er­gies dur­ing meet­ing in New­found­land.

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

At­lantic Canada’s pre­miers say they are fo­cused on strength­en­ing trade ties with the United States as Canada looks to es­tab­lish its eco­nomic foot­ing with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The pre­miers emerged from a two-day meet­ing in Cor­ner Brook, N.L., Mon­day pledg­ing vig­i­lance with the re­gion’s largest trad­ing part­ner, and ac­knowl­edg­ing the need to pro­mote their in­ter­ests.

“We will be par­tic­i­pat­ing, as an ex­am­ple, in the soft­wood lum­ber ne­go­ti­a­tions in Wash­ing­ton later this spring,’’ said host Dwight Ball, the New­found­land and Labrador premier. “It is im­por­tant for us to be able to do that.’’

Al­though no for­mal lobby pro­gram was an­nounced, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gal­lant said the four prov­inces plan to sell U.S. busi­nesses on the im­por­tance of the trad­ing re­la­tion­ship with Canada.

“We are go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can in our ca­pac­ity to en­sure that mes­sage gets out there con­sis­tently and ag­gres­sively,’’ said Gal­lant.

The pre­miers said trade would also be a key theme when they meet with their New Eng­land coun­ter­parts in Char­lot­te­town in Au­gust.

Prince Ed­ward Is­land Premier Wade MacLauch­lan said that for the first time the an­nual con­fer­ence of New Eng­land gov­er­nors and Eastern Cana­dian pre­miers would in­clude a fo­rum to bring to­gether busi­ness in­ter­ests from both sides of the bor­der to dis­cuss trade and com­mer­cial is­sues.

“I be­lieve our firms in At­lantic Canada have done an ex­cel­lent job of putting us on the map, of build­ing those re­la­tion­ships,’’ he said. “Any­thing we can do to en­cour­age ... those ef­forts and re­la­tion­ships _ that’s what’s re­ally go­ing to de­ter­mine our trade suc­cess.’’

Re­cently the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has made it clear it will seek greater cer­tainty around soft­wood lum­ber in up­com­ing trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, along with more ac­cess to pub­lic con­struc­tion projects in the U.S. and beefed up worker-mo­bil­ity rights. The pre­miers said they took part in two tele­con­fer­ences with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau on trade is­sues since Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion last month.

Gal­lant said they are “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic’’ that the trad­ing re­la­tion­ship would re­main “ro­bust,’’ and that it might even im­prove. He cited the pos­i­tive tone of the re­cent meet­ing be­tween Trump and Trudeau as proof that Canada’s mes­sage is get­ting through.

“We also see many al­lies in other elected of­fi­cials,’’ Gal­lant said. “We have spo­ken to many gov­er­nors about the im­por­tance of trade be­tween our two coun­tries and they get it.’’

Also Mon­day, the pre­miers pointed to their col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts to bring down health costs, in­clud­ing a re­view of pub­lic drug plan cov­er­age to seek ser­vice im­prove­ments, cost con­tain­ment and more help for high­cost ther­a­pies for rare dis­eases.

Drug costs are a par­tic­u­lar con­cern in Nova Sco­tia, where the prov­ince was forced last year to abruptly shelve a plan that would have tripled phar­ma­care pre­mi­ums for some se­niors.

Premier Stephen McNeil, who was not at the New­found­land meet­ing, left it to his health min­is­ter to de­scribe what is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view, Leo Glavine said while there’s no com­mit­ment yet, the ini­tia­tive could ul­ti­mately see some­thing like a sin­gle drug plan for the At­lantic re­gion.

“If we don’t get as quickly as pos­si­ble to na­tional pro­cure­ment of drugs, at least the At­lantic re­gion can have the buy­ing power of roughly 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple,’’ said Glavine.

He said the po­ten­tial ex­ists for “enor­mous cost con­tain­ment’’ that would keep drug pro­grams vi­able well into the fu­ture.

DIANE CROCKER/TC ME­DIA

Premier Dwight Ball looks off deep in thought dur­ing a photo op­por­tu­nity at Mar­ble Inn in Steady Brook on Mon­day. Ball played host to N.B. Premier Brian Gal­lant (left) and P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauch­lan (right) over the past two days as the Coun­cil of At­lantic Pre­miers met on the west coast.

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