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Canada's premiers discuss demands to new Trudeau government as oil patch struggles

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TORONTO (Reuters) - The premiers of Canada’s provincial and territorial governments began meeting on Monday to discuss their demands to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new government as frustration simmers in the Western oil patch.

The group, known as the Council of the Federation, is gathering for the first time since Trudeau’s Liberals failed to win a seat in either Alberta or Saskatchewan, the heart of the country’s struggling oil industry, in the October national election.

The sense of western alienation stems from the economic difficulties these provinces have faced since the 2014/15 global oil price crash, which has driven unemployment up higher than the national average.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pushing for changes to a federal program that funnels economic aid to the provinces, to allow higher transfers into his province. But he is not likely to find support in the council for this move, because it would likely mean cuts for other provinces.

The premiers could find agreement on demands for more federal spending on health care, which is run at a provincial level but is partly funded federally.

“We’re focusing on three or four solid things,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said going into the meeting. “Stay tuned.”

An end-meeting press conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT).

Right-leaning premiers are on the offensive, taking up the western cause in the hopes it will help them defeat Trudeau in the next election, which could be only a couple years away since the Liberals fell short of winning a majority of seats in parliament.

Trudeau last month appointed his former foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, as his deputy and put her in charge of relations with the provinces and territories. She was born in Alberta and often talks about her roots in the province.

Trudeau will need to negotiate with the premiers if he wants to fulfill his election promise to introduce prescription drug coverage across the country.

The new parliament will meet for the first time on Thursday, when the government’s priorities will be outlined in the so-called Throne Speech.

Many of the premiers have met one-on-one with Trudeau since the election, and the full council is expected to sit down with the prime minister next year.

Reporting by Moira Warburton, writing by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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