Premiers meeting in Winnipeg starts with discussion with Indigenous leaders

Canada’s premiers kicked off their annual three-day conference Monday by meeting with Indigenous leaders on issues including housing, child welfare and reconciliation.

David Chartrand, head of the Manitoba Métis Federation, said the premiers listened as ideas were discussed on ways to build more affordable housing. Chartrand said he pointed to the federation’s recent move to pay for 800 housing units for just $11 million.

“They said how can you do that? Simple, we took mortgages, we (put) down the down payment for a mortgage,” Chartrand said about a program aimed at supporting members of the federation.

“They bought it because they’re all employed. All they needed was a little break.”

Cindy Woodhouse, regional chief with the Assembly of First Nations, said urgent action is needed from governments on several issues, including child welfare and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“All of these issues impact our safety and our dignity as individuals and our collective rights as Nations,” she said in a written statement after the meeting.

The meeting with Indigenous leaders came before a two-day gathering where the premiers will talk among themselves about health care, economic development and other issues.

They’re discussing how to use $46 billion in new health funding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered in February, in exchange for provinces and territories committing to targeted reforms.

All but Quebec have accepted the funding offer, but none have submitted plans on the targets and timelines they’ll use to turn the new funding into fixes for Canada’s public health-care programs.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who hosted the meeting, said the money is welcome but amounts to roughly two per cent of health care budgets.

“It’s not enough but we recognize, we thank them for what they’ve offered us so far,” Stefanson said.

Canadian Medical Association president-elect Dr. Kathleen Ross said health care must remain at the top of the premier’s agenda at the meeting.

She said little has changed over the last few months when it comes to understaffed hospitals, shuttered emergency rooms and excessive backlogs.

The premiers will also tackle economic issues and affordability during their meetings, which take place as Trudeau visits eastern Europe to discuss defence issues.

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