Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jul 2017
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2017 The Halifax Herald Limited


If last week's meeting of provincial premiers is any indication, the
issue that most unites Canadian provinces in the summer of 2017 is the
timing of the introduction of legalized marijuana.

Canadians should be forgiven for thinking that the premiers face more
daunting and serious problems - starting with the state of provincial
health care systems. A study by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund
concludes Canada's health care system ranks in the bottom three in a
group of 11 wealthy countries.

Yet all our premiers could come up with following the annual summer
meeting of the Council of the Federation was a pledge to get tough -
maybe - with the federal government over the introduction of legalized

The Trudeau government wants the new marijuana laws in place by July
1, 2018. The premiers decided last week that they will ask Ottawa to
delay implementation of those laws if certain issues are not addressed
by November of this year. In fairness to the premiers, the issues they
identified - road safety, taxation, training for distributors and
public education - are serious enough.

The new federal laws also place a substantial public policy and
administrative burden on the provinces, which will be charged with
managing the distribution and delivery streams for both medicinal and
recreational marijuana.

The wrap-up press conference at the Edmonton meeting left the
impression that the premiers wanted to show some courage in their
criticism of the federal government's marijuana policy - but not too

This is a reflection of some stark political realities. One: Prime 
Minister Justin Trudeau is too popular to attack for many premiers, 
particularly his Liberal peers in the nation's six easternmost provinces.

Two: Important national issues (including equalization and federal 
health care funding) divide the premiers instead of uniting them. 
Western premiers are perennially critical of equalization payments to 
"have-not" provinces like Nova Scotia. And Atlantic premiers generally 
dislike per capita health care transfers that favour (Western) provinces 
with younger and healthier populations.

All that said, the premiers should have shown enough gumption to at
least start talking about the issue that most concerns Canadians -
quality health care services.

The Commonwealth Fund health care report on 11 wealthy countries
concludes that Canada is letting its citizens down when it comes to
wait times for emergency care, the availability of after-hour care,
and the delivery of services like dental care that are routinely
covered by public plans in nations that spend less public money
achieving better health outcomes.

Given that Canadians see state-delivered health care as a defining
triumph of nationhood, the premiers should show more interest in
addressing chronic problems in the system. Instead, they chose last
week to quibble over the timing of the introduction of new pot laws.
Voters deserve better from their provincial leaders.
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