ST. ANDREWS, N.B. - Canada's premiers have agreed in principle to reduce trade barriers regarding the transportation of alcohol across provincial and territorial borders, although they have not released details around personal limits or on when the move will be made.
New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said provinces are willing to act to increase import limits, but some provinces want to consult with the public in order to determine how it will be done.
“Make no mistake about it, there is all an acknowledgment that we have to look at this issue,” he said. “There's an acknowledgment that there should be pushing to have significant increases to import limits.”
A statement from the premiers said some jurisdictions may eliminate limits entirely, as is now the case in Manitoba and Alberta.
Gallant said New Brunswick remains committed to doubling its limit on the amount of beer and alcohol that can be taken across its borders.
Meanwhile, Gallant says the premiers have agreed to take “immediate and meaningful action” to bring down barriers regarding First Aid course content and restrictions on the use of wide-base single tires, as well as size and weight restrictions in the trucking industry.
They will also work on the licensing of abattoirs and on business registration requirements.
Meanwhile, eight premiers met for breakfast Friday to discuss universal pharmacare with former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, who chairs the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, was also in the meeting and said she is encouraged that there is support from the provinces after they came out last year in favour of a national plan.
“They are all in support of reforming our system, they see it in their budgets,” Silas said. “They want to know who is going to pay for the transformation because there will be initial costs, and also how will the pie be divided after that.”
Hoskins, who quit his cabinet post in February to take on the federal appointment, said an advisory council is carrying out consultations across the country.
He said consensus will have to be built, but he expressed optimism that something can be done, pointing out that estimates suggest 10 per cent of Canadians are unable to afford their drugs.
“We are not yet at the stage where we've established what the best cost-sharing mechanism might be, let alone the model itself,” he cautioned.
Hoskins said there are more than 100 different public plans across the country and in excess of 500,000 private plans.
“We pay between 30 and 40 per cent higher than the other similar industrialized countries pay for their medications,” he said. “Part of the reason is that we have such a diverse number of purchasers.”
The parliamentary budget office pegs the total cost of pharmacare at about $20 billion and says about $4 billion in cost savings can be realized with a national plan.
“The parliamentary budget office has indicated that we could spend considerably less if we were to make certain changes and find efficiencies for example in bulk purchasing and other areas,” said Hoskins.
Meetings in the scenic seaside town of St. Andrews on Thursday focused on trade issues, although the talks were upstaged by Ontario Premier Doug Ford who announced that his province will intervene in Saskatchewan's court challenge of Ottawa's carbon tax plan.
New federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc chose to put an optimistic face on the developments, saying the Liberal government remains committed to working collaboratively with the provinces to deal with the challenge that climate change represents because it's part of growing the economy responsibly.
Ford also later joined Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister in calling for more help from the federal government in dealing with asylum seekers who cross their borders.
All three premiers want Ottawa to review its current policy, and they also called for full compensation for the “impacts to services resulting from the increase in non-point of entry border crossings.”