Maintaining trade with U.S. states, some of whom are promoting a “buy-American” policy, and the complexity of legalizing marijuana will involve the first ministers in lengthy discussions.
EDMONTON — Drugs, from lethal opioids to soon-to-be-legalized marijuana and Kathleen Wynne’s pharmacare push, will dominate the annual premiers conference.
Provincial and territorial leaders are also keeping a close eye on the United States as the Trump administration provides more detail on how it wants to change the North American Free Trade Agreement when negotiations begin in mid-August.
Premier Kathleen Wynne will tout Ontario’s new pharmacare plan, the first provincial plan in the country, as she talks with 12 counterparts until Wednesday.
“I want to explain that to folks, tell them what we are doing … and hope we can advance the conversation on a national pharmacare plan,”
Wynne said of the $465-million program. It will make available 4,400 medications to people under 25 starting in January.
“I think that there’s a lot of interest among the ministers — there has been a pretty full discussion with the ministers of health across the country — so I’m interested to hear where my colleagues are at with that.”
Wynne flew west after spending two days in Providence, R.I., talking trade with U.S. governors at their national conference.
“I’ve spoken to over 20 governors now, and I’ve got a pretty good sense of where we are going,”
she added. Wynne noted that other premiers have also reached out to U.S. representatives about measures in several states, including New York and Texas, to urge purchasers there to “buy American;” the looming NAFTA talks, and new U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber.
“There’s going to be some consternation about that . . . . We will be sharing our collective perspective on NAFTA, on softwood lumber, and that will take up a big chunk of time.”
About 28 states count Ontario as their largest or second-largest export market, and Wynne has been doing to rounds in recent months to explain the importance of two-way trade in preserving and creating jobs.
While NAFTA and other trade talks fall under Ottawa’s jurisdiction, the provinces provide advice and fight for their own interests to battle protectionist sentiment in some states.
The premiers will also compare approaches on the federal government’s legalization of recreational marijuana, which is set to take effect next July 1.
Once the Criminal Code of Canada is amended, it will be up to each province and territory to determine how and where cannabis will be distributed and who can consume it.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has repeatedly warned the timetable for legalization is tight, given all the arrangements that must be made by the provinces.
Last week, Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced a public consultation at ontario.ca/cannabis to help the province determine its strategy.
Ontario’s Legalization of Cannabis Secretariat, which is made up of officials from a dozen provincial departments, will also host public meetings with public health experts later this summer on the impact of legalized recreational marijuana.
Queen’s Park wants to hear from municipalities, community organizations, police, youth advocates, Indigeneous communities and licenced medical marijuana producers as part of the hearings.
Naqvi conceded “the legalization of cannabis will mark a big change in our country.”
“Here in Ontario, we have some important decisions to make, and with so much at stake, we need to get it right,” the attorney general said.
“That’s why we need to hear from the people of Ontario as we develop an approach to legalization that keeps our youth, communities and roads safe.”
The premiers conference began Monday with meetings with Indigenous leaders, but the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis Nation of Canada did not attend.
AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde said keeping leaders from provincial-federal-territorial discussion tables is an attempt to “sideline and segregate” his group, which represents First Nations governments.
“When the provinces come together they should build a respectful relationship,” he told a news conference in Toronto, adding “we are not just another special-interest group.”
He wants to push premiers and territorial leaders to include more Indigenous content in education systems across the country, explaining more about treaties, traditions and the tragedy of residential schools, for example.