Canada’s premiers say the federal government must step forward with more funding to help provincial governments deal with infrastructure and growing healthcare needs.

The political leaders gathered in Charlottetown, P.E.I. for the first day of the annual Council of the Confederation, where a so-called fiscal imbalance between the provinces and Ottawa was the focus of the talks.

There was no consensus on how much federal funding should be doled out to the provinces, but the premiers agreed that funding priorities should include aid for crumbling infrastructure, and the healthcare costs associated with Canada’s aging population.

“Those two areas were the ones we were unanimous on,” P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz said at a news conference following Thursday’s talks.

The premiers say they have reason to be concerned. They cited a Conference Board of Canada study which found that as Ottawa grows richer, the debt-ridden provinces will continue to struggle.

“(The federal government) is going to be coming into a balanced budget in the very near future and we want to make sure that our priorities … are going to be front and centre,” Ghiz said.

Though Ottawa insists provinces are receiving their fair share, Ghiz said there is particular concern over the growing gap between federal increases to provincial transfers and the cost of providing healthcare.

Western partnership on trade

Internal trade also dominated Thursday’s talks, as leaders of western provinces struck a new partnership to review rules and regulations that leaders say are barriers to interprovincial trade.

The deal to form a so-called New West Partnership was struck between the premiers of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said the new partnership will be a model for other regions of Canada.

“This is the most successful free trade bloc in Canada,” Clark said. “Canada doesn’t have a great track record of being free-traders between provinces … We are trying to lead by example.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall he was surprised to learn that a manufacturer of first-aid kits was required to meet 10 different sets of regulations to operate across the country.

“This seems dumb,” Wall said. “At the heart of improving trade issues is trying to remove dumb from the economy.”

New Brunswick and British Columbia also signed a deal to allow workers more mobility and access to work between the two provinces.

Historic photo

The first day of the conference included a historic photo-op as the provincial leaders retraced the steps of the Fathers of Confederation. Together, the leaders walked up Great George Street to Province House, where 150 years ago, the leaders of Canada, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island hammered out terms for a new country.

With files from The Canadian Press