Five storylines to watch at annual premiers’ conference

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Canada's first ministers begin their annual three day conference, Wednesday, in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Dubbed 'The Council of the Federation', the premiers have a lot on their plates for the meetings that conclude on Friday.

Here are five storylines, we'll be watching.

1.) Agenda:

The premiers kick off the meeting on Wednesday with meetings with First Nations leaders about poverty and education.

Throughout the week, they're also expected to discuss the Canada Job grant, infrastructure spending, healthcare, cyber-bullying and revamping the CPP.

[ Related: Aboriginal leaders to press premiers on poverty, education ]

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall also wants to discuss his idea of abolishing the senate.

The full agenda can be found here.

2.) A record number of female premiers

There will 13 leaders at the conference, this week, and for the first time six of them — premiers of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunuvut — will be women.

"It makes it historic and I’m aware of that," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told the Toronto Star.

"I’d like to think we can do a great job because of who’s sitting around the table."

The female premiers represent over 85 per cent of Canada's population.

3.) Health rally

Several health organizations have organized a rally of "health care allies" for Thursday morning.

They're asking the premiers to stand up to Harper and demand that he negotiate a 2014 Health Accord with them.

"Worried about the Harper Conservative government having walked away from negotiating with Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers to renew health funding and improve health coverage and concerned about billions of dollars in impending cuts from federal transfers for health care; thousands are taking a stand in Niagara-on-theLake to protect public medicare and uphold health care for all," notes a rally press release.

The rally begins at 11 a.m. on Thursday morning. They're expecting over 2,000 people.

4.) What will separatist Quebec Premier Pauline Marois say?

In post meeting scrums, you'll notice that the media will be scrambling for controversial quotes from Quebec Premier Pauline Marois.

As explained by the Toronto Star's Robert Benzie, this will be the first time in a decade that Quebec’s representative at the annual premiers’ conference will be a separatist instead of a federalist.

If history is any indication, we can expect Marois to do some sabre-rattling.

5.) No PM...again

At some point over the next three days, the story about Prime Minister Stephen Harper not meeting with the premiers will inevitably come up.

Harper has not met collectively with the premiers in over three years.

[ Related: Is Stephen Harper choosing pandas over premiers? ]

During the Mulroney and Chretien eras, first ministers' conferences were commonplace as Ottawa sought provincial input on matters relating to health care, social programs, job creation, and the economy.

But Harper seems to have a different philosophy. He prefers to meet with premiers on a one-on-one basis.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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