Cochrane emerges from first-ever first ministers meeting

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Fractious federal politics greeted the country’s lone woman premier as she joined her 12 counterparts for a meeting in Ontario Monday.

Northern priorities emerged as one of the touchstones of the meeting, along with the premiers urging for a federal opt-out of national pharmacare, support for jurisdictions facing ailing resource economies, and more healthcare money for from the federal government.

Premier Caroline Cochrane says she aims to build consensus with her fellow premiers.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

Speaking to NNSL Media after the meeting, NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane pitched herself as a consensus-builder in an increasingly strained relationship between the federal government and Canada’s premiers.

At a press conference following the closed-door meetings, premiers from Western Canada took up much of the air space. In fact, Cochrane didn’t get a word in edgewise.

Cochrane attributed this to a difference in styles.

“There’s different ways of communicating,” she said. “Some people will use their time, and some people will pick and choose when they speak things.”

Cochrane said the meeting was in the south, and that consequently much of the media attention focused on southern issues.

“I’m respectful to let them have the chance to speak to their politicians,” she added.

The Northern priorities emerging from the meetings were heavy on nation-building. Infrastructure, including roads into communities, were front and centre for the premiers’ plans to work with the federal government. Parallel to this are climate change efforts, she said.

That same meeting features premiers that oversee resource-heavy economies like Alberta’s Jason Kenney asking the federal government to budget for shortfalls emerging from those ailing sectors.

Asked if she would pursue similar efforts for the Northwest Territories, the premier said “I think it would be foolish for any jurisdiction to turn away financial support from the federal government,” and added resource flexibility would be a key concern.

The Northwest Territories isn’t immune to resource woes: in July, the Conference Board of Canada released a grim economic outlook for the territory as mines mature and markets slump.

The premiers also urged the federal government to “improve” Bill C-69, a bill overhauling environmental rules for large resource projects. Cochrane’s predecessor, former premier Bob McLeod, and other provincial leaders slammed the bill as a threat to national unity this summer.

In the letter, McLeod and his counterparts from Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta said the bill made resources development “virtually impossible” and would be a huge economic burden.

Cochrane said she needed more time to study the bill.

“I think that in honesty, I’ve been premier just over a month. I would need to study Bill C-69 more,” she said, explaining she knew what it was about, but hadn’t done a full enough review to discuss it.

Another result from the meeting was to call for an opt-out option for jurisdictions concerned about the federal government’s national pharmacare plan. Cochrane was receptive to the plan, but also left the door open to support other jurisdictions if they choose differently from a “one size fits all” approach.

“We need whatever resources we can get within the Northwest Territories. I’m open to whatever package they’re willing to give us,” Cochrane said.

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