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Ottawa threatened to pull research project over health-care dispute: Manitoba Premier

Premier Brian Pallister speaks to media in Winnipeg in a Jan. 31, 2017, file photo.

JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister accused the federal government of threatening to kill a multimillion-dollar research facility if the province continues to hold off on signing a health-care funding agreement.

"A threat was made to renege on a previous commitment and we think that's unfortunate," the Progressive Conservative premier said Wednesday.

"That's not something you bring into a discussion and not something you bring into a negotiation. Not if you have strength of character. You don't do that."

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Tensions between the province and Ottawa have been growing in recent months over a number of issues, including funding for a growing number of asylum-seekers crossing the border from the United States and a dispute over strategies to fight climate change.

On health care, Manitoba finds itself the last province holding out over a 10-year agreement on transfer payments. Ontario, Quebec and Alberta signed deals last week.

Michael Richards, Manitoba's deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs, wrote to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's chief of staff, Richard Maksymetz, this week.

He accused Maksymetz of linking health-care talks with the fulfilment of a 2015 federal promise to pay $60 million for a manufacturing research facility at the National Research Council in Winnipeg. The centre has been touted as something that could help technological advances in Manitoba's aerospace sector.

Making such a link makes for "further unnecessary friction and discord between our respective governments," Richards wrote.

Morneau's office did not directly address the issue of whether a threat had been made.

"Our government has expressed a strong desire to the province in the past few days to wrap up several unresolved and outstanding Canada-Manitoba issues at the same time, including Manitoba joining the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and Manitoba signing on to the health accord," Annie Donolo, Morneau's press secretary, wrote in an email.

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Donolo added it was Manitoba that first linked the health accord with other issues last December, when it said it would not sign a national climate-change plan without first getting a deal on health funding.

Pallister said regardless of the health-care dispute, Ottawa has no right to raise the spectre of breaking its promise to fund the research centre.

"Threatening to break your word is not something that's helpful in a negotiation if you wish to build trust and confidence. Manitoba is a small province, but we have the right to be respected and we have the right to be heard."

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