‘Expectations’ are for Smith to attend first ministers’ meeting but premier’s office won’t confirm

Organizers of the upcoming first ministers’ meeting say they expect all premiers to attend, but Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office has so far refused to confirm that she will be there.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited premiers to Ottawa on Feb. 7 for a “working meeting” to discuss health-care funding.

A spokesperson for the meeting’s chairwoman, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, stated in an email to Postmedia that “current expectations are that all premiers will be attending.”

Smith’s office, however, has not confirmed that, twice deferring requests to Stefanson’s office.

“Premier Smith is working with her provincial and territorial counterparts but will refer all official communications to the chair,” states an email from Taylor Hides, a spokesman for the premier’s office.

MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah says there’s no reason for her not to attend.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Danielle Smith to raise her profile nationally,” Mensah said.

“She has to demonstrate her ability to defend Alberta’s interests, as a nod to her supporters, but at the same time not be an irritant but someone that is able to work with the prime minister and the premiers on addressing some of our challenges, especially on the health care file.”

He says managing how she interacts with the prime minister, a longtime political punching bag in Alberta, will also be key.

“She has to be diplomatic,” Mensah said. “She doesn’t want to come off as a very confrontational leader.”

Last week, Smith published an open letter to Trudeau seeking to meet individually with the prime minister to discuss upcoming federal legislation aimed at helping energy workers get jobs in a low-carbon economy.


Premiers have been seeking a meeting with Trudeau for more than one year amid continued strain on the health-care system.

The prime minister has expressed optimism at recent progress towards a new funding deal but said the two sides remain apart on some fronts.

“It’ll be a good moment for us to gather but we’re not going to be signing deals on that particular moment,” Trudeau told reporters.

The provincial leaders want Trudeau to significantly increase the amount of money the federal government contributes to 35 per cent of health-care costs.

The federal government argues it already provides that through tax-point transfer agreements, but the provinces want an increase in the Canada health transfer. Meeting their target would cost the federal treasury $28 billion.

The federal government has said it hopes to have a new deal tabled before it and the provinces table their respective budgets ahead of the end of the fiscal year in March.

— with files from Lisa Johnson and Ryan Tumilty

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Twitter @ByMatthewBlack



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