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McNeil, Trudeau discuss health-care funding, immigration, trade with China

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. - Andrea Gunn
OTTAWA, Ont. —

Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil was the latest in a parade of premiers to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa since the October election.

“My message to the prime minister was we’ve done a lot of work to get our fiscal house in order, we need the flexibility with the national government now to allow us to take those surpluses to reinvest back into services for Nova Scotians, and that we are a willing partner to continue to grow the region,” McNeil said after the hour-long meeting late Tuesday afternoon.

But speaking with reporters, talk turned to his latest trade trip to China, a major trading partner for Nova Scotia, and what that might mean in the context of growing diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

McNeil said he raised the trips himself with Trudeau during the meeting, as well as the two direct charter flights that have been recently secured between Guangzhou and Halifax to bolster tourism between the countries.

The flights, scheduled to start next fall, have been criticized due to the ongoing travel advisory. So have McNeil’s visits in light of  the detention of two Canadians — former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — widely seen as retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for extradition to the United States. Kovrig and Spavor have been detained for exactly one year Tuesday.

But McNeil said he believes it’s important to continue to keep economic ties open despite tensions.

“We want those two Michaels home. I raised the issue when I've been in China with both (Guangdong province governor Ma Xingru) and others that our citizens need to be able to travel into our countries and move freely in both,” McNeil said.

“What we talked about today was the economic ties we’ve been building and the private sector has been building, not only in Nova Scotia but indeed across the country. We want to continue that, and that direct flight is another way for us as a region to grow our tourism numbers and grow the economic benefit for our citizens.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil speaks with reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 after a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. - Andrea Gunn
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil speaks with reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 after a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. - Andrea Gunn

When asked if he thinks that it sends the wrong message to China to continue to do business in the face of growing human rights concerns, McNeil said it’s best to lead by example.

“Our going in and welcoming more Chinese into our province, we believe, will show the next generation of young Chinese that the governance that we have here in Canada is a model that we believe could be (followed) around the world,” he said.

“Staying away doesn't change anything, not engaging doesn't change anything. The national government is making it very clear through the prime minister and through the ambassador their opposition to what is happening there.”

During his meeting with Trudeau, McNeil said the pair also discussed the importance of continuing to increase Nova Scotia's population through immigration. In recent years, McNeil said, the province has been able to bring in its allocation of 1,400 immigrants as provincial nominees, even borrowing quota from some other provinces who have not been able to meet theirs.

“What we need from the federal government is a more consistent number and (to) allow that to grow over a period of time,” McNeil said.

“If you look at Alberta and Saskatchewan, they have about 5,000 nominees, we get 1,400, that's a substantial difference ... quite frankly and we need more support welcoming new Nova Scotians and new Canadians, particularly in our resource sectors.”

Health-care funding was also discussed at the meeting. McNeil said he reiterated the call from last week’s Council of the Federation meeting for more federal funding for health care.

“I, as a premier, would welcome that funding being targeted whether it’s towards adolescent mental health, whether it’s toward more long term care or care associated with home care, whether it's catastrophic drug coverage, but we believe the national government needs to play a bigger role,” he said.

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