ALL TALK

First min­is­ters meet­ing yields no con­crete ac­tion on Al­berta oil price cri­sis

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - Joan BRYDEN The Cana­dian Press

MON­TREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau man­aged to keep the peace at what be­gan as a ten­sion-filled first min­is­ters meet­ing Fri­day but had few con­crete achieve­ments to show for the day­long gath­er­ing.

Trudeau man­aged to mol­lify the premiers by let­ting them talk about what­ever they wanted.

“Ev­ery­thing was dis­cussed,” said Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick’s Con­ser­va­tive premier and the chair of the meet­ing from the premiers’ side. “I was en­cour­aged by the kind of no-holds-barred dis­cus­sion. That’s what we wanted and that’s what we got.”

Higgs, who had never at­tended a first min­is­ters meet­ing be­fore, said many of the oth­ers “said this was one of the most pro­duc­tive meet­ings they’ve been in for a long time.”

Af­ter spend­ing the big­gest chunk of time dis­cussing the oil-price cri­sis that is dev­as­tat­ing Al­berta’s en­ergy in­dus­try, ev­ery­one agreed in the com­mu­nique with Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley’s call for fed­eral in­vest­ments in short-, medium- and long-term help to get her prov­ince’s oil and gas to ports for ship­ment over­seas.

Al­berta has been suf­fer­ing from a glut of oil that has been trapped in­land, away from buy­ers, be­cause there hasn’t been enough trans­porta­tion ca­pac­ity to get it out. Cus­tomers have only been will­ing to take it at a steep dis­count to world prices.

The com­mu­nique says all agreed the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should in­vest in short-term sup­port for en­ergy busi­nesses ham­mered by the price dif­fer­en­tial for Al­berta’s oil. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment should also in­vest in medium-term ef­forts to get en­ergy prod­ucts to mar­ket — which Notley took as sup­port­ing her plan to buy tanker cars to move oil by rail — as well as long-term ef­forts to build the in­fra­struc­ture, pre­sum­ably pipe­lines, needed to get oil and gas to tide­wa­ter.

“I am pleased to say that the vast ma­jor­ity, if not all, sup­ported what I had to say,” Notley said. “I am pleased that we were able to spend more time on the agenda talk­ing about some­thing that I think ev­ery­one un­der­stands is fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant to the eco­nomic well-be­ing of ev­ery Cana­dian.”

The com­mu­nique ac­knowl­edged that while all first min­is­ters agree on re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions, they dis­agree on how to go about it. Four con­ser­va­tive premiers — Ford, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, Higgs and Pal­lis­ter — are go­ing to court to chal­lenge the fed­eral plan to im­pose a price on car­bon in their prov­inces start­ing in the new year.

The one sour note was sounded by On­tario’s Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive premier, Doug Ford, who ac­cused Trudeau of mov­ing the goal­posts on Canada’s cli­mate-change plans, re­quir­ing On­tario to cut its green­house-gas emis­sions more than Ford had ex­pected.

But other premiers, in­clud­ing fel­low Con­ser­va­tive Brian Pal­lis­ter from Man­i­toba, dis­puted Ford’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what the prime minister said be­hind closed doors in Mon­treal and Trudeau him­self dis­missed the charge.

Ford at least did not fol­low through on a threat to walk out of the meet­ing, which he had crit­i­cized for be­ing too nar­rowly fo­cused on Trudeau’s pri­or­ity — re­duc­ing in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers — and not enough on the pri­or­i­ties of prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries.

Trudeau and all the premiers, in­clud­ing Ford, signed onto a fi­nal com­mu­nique that was long on gen­eral state­ments about work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively to cre­ate jobs, grow the econ­omy, pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, re­duce red tape and knock down bar­ri­ers to trade be­tween prov­inces.

Un­der the Paris agree­ment, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment has agreed to re­duce Canada’s green­house gas emis­sions by 30 per cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030. Ford said his plan will achieve emis­sion re­duc­tions of 30 per cent in On­tario — with­out a car­bon tax — but that the prime minister told premiers some prov­inces will have to do bet­ter than that.

“All of sud­den, we have a lit­tle sur­prise in the room. The goal­posts got changed,” he said.

Moe backed Ford’s ver­sion of events but Pal­lis­ter said there was “noth­ing new” in what Trudeau said.

Among the few con­crete re­sults to emerge from the meet­ing, Moe said Trudeau com­mit­ted to amend­ing Bill C-69, leg­is­la­tion to beef up en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ments for en­ergy projects. The bill has been heav­ily crit­i­cized for cre­at­ing reg­u­la­tory hur­dles and un­cer­tainty that will scare off in­vestors in things like pipe­lines.

Trudeau would not spec­ify what changes he’s will­ing to make but said there need to be “clearer and faster time­lines so busi­nesses can have cer­tainty” and elim­i­na­tion of over­lap­ping fed­eral and pro­vin­cial as­sess­ments. He noted that the bill is cur­rently be­fore the Se­nate and said he looks for­ward to any amend­ments the up­per house may make.

On in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers, the first min­is­ters agreed to what the com­mu­nique called “bold steps” — har­mo­niz­ing stan­dards in truck­ing, in­clud­ing tire size and size and weight re­stric­tions, and elim­i­nat­ing du­pli­ca­tion in fed­eral and pro­vin­cial food safety regimes.

Ryan Remiorz/the Cana­dian PRESS

Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley, left, joins premiers Wade Maclauch­lan (P.E.I.), Stephen Mcneil (Nova Sco­tia), Blaine Higgs (New Brunswick), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, premiers Fran­cois Le­gault (Que­bec) and John Hor­gan (B.C.) at a meet­ing of first min­is­ters in Mon­treal on Fri­day.

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