McNeil says talk of any province leaving Canada ‘makes absolutely no sense’

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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says any talk about certain provinces separating from Canada is likely political and “makes absolutely no sense.”

McNeil and his counterparts will meet next week in Toronto under a cloud of western discontent, with concerns emanating from Alberta and Saskatchewan about the level of support they’re receiving from the federal government at a particularly challenging economic time for the two provinces, whose economies are so directly tied to natural resource development.

Those worries have fuelled talk amongst some people about the idea of provinces being better off if they were on their own, rather than a part of the federation. McNeil said he doesn’t have much time for that kind of talk, despite whatever challenges people might be facing.

Some of the concerns aren’t new and McNeil questioned what was driving some of the loudest voices on the issue, particularly in Alberta.

“Some of the issues, in my view, that are being raised today are more politically motivated,” he told reporters in Halifax. “The reality of it is, these are not new things. We should have been building pipelines, in my view, 20 years ago.”

More help with health care

Pipelines, McNeil said, would have pre-empted recent problems shipping fuel caused by the CN Rail strike, which was tentatively settled Tuesday, but not before Quebec experienced propane shortages.

“That’s infrastructure that should have happened successive governments ago. I don’t think we can sit here without saying, you know, we need to continue to improve the federation, but the idea of splitting it up makes absolutely no sense no matter how you look at it.”

When he’s at the meeting, McNeil said he plans to push the issue of health-care funding.

As he discussed with his Atlantic counterparts Monday, McNeil said Ottawa needs to play a bigger role.

“My message to the national government is you need to contribute your fair share to health care.”

Considering demographics

As he and other premiers have argued for years, McNeil said federal health-care transfers need to reflect provinces’ demographic realities rather than simply being population based, a change instituted by the former Harper government and upheld by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

The federal share used to account for about half of provinces’ spending on health care, but has dropped over time to less than 20 per cent. McNeil said even a moderate increase along with targeted funding — the way the last health accord provided specific help for mental health and home care — would make a difference when it comes to ensuring equitable delivery.

Nova Scotia continues to need help improving adolescent mental health services, said McNeil, but Nova Scotia and other provinces also have particularly high incidences of chronic illness and the premier said he thinks there’s a role for Ottawa to play in addressing the issue.