Le­gault the dar­ling of the first min­is­ters’ meet­ing

Prom­ises of cash help make first min­is­ters meet­ing big win for premier

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - PHILIP AU­THIER pau­[email protected]­media.com

In the great Cana­dian fam­ily of first min­is­ters who gath­ered Fri­day in Mon­treal, one man emerged as the hap­pi­est of the bunch: the for­mer sovereignist-turned na­tion­al­ist Premier François Le­gault. Beam­ing would be a more ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion. With dag­gers drawn be­tween sev­eral premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over Ot­tawa’s plan to slap a car­bon tax on them to fight cli­mate change, the newly elected Le­gault wrapped up his first show­ing in the “Cana­dian club” by say­ing he had a very good day. Not only did he ob­tain as­sur­ances of more fed­eral money to pay for asy­lum seek­ers and a prom­ise of aid for Que­bec’s dairy farm­ers, but Le­gault’s pitch to sell more of the prov­ince’s hy­dro sur­pluses — a green en­ergy com­pared to oil — made him the dar­ling of the event. And the fact he po­litely said ‘thanks but no thanks’ to min­is­ters hop­ing he would al­low an oil pipe­line — a re­turn of the de­funct En­ergy East pro­ject — carry Al­berta oil across Que­bec to tide­wa­ter and ship­ment over­seas will en­dear him with Que­bec’s surg­ing cli­mate change move­ment. The ic­ing on the cake? He and Trudeau seemed to click at the din­ner of premiers Thurs­day evening and the two sat be­side each other at the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble where, face it, Trudeau needed a friend in the face of newly elected irked Con­ser­va­tive premiers. “A gang of sep­a­ratists, is that what you mean,” quipped the for­mer Parti Québé­cois cab­i­net minister when asked if it felt un­usual to watch the other lead­ers ru­in­ing Trudeau’s party, when in the past Que­bec made such head­lines. “On the en­vi­ron­ment, we (Trudeau and him) pretty well agreed,” Le­gault said. “I think we have proof Que­bec has a bal­anced po­si­tion — we are pro-en­vi­ron­ment, pro-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. I sensed there were many peo­ple who wanted to have me in their camp.” Le­gault was asked if he was Trudeau’s new best friend. “I wouldn’t say that be­cause, as you know, I am more a de­fender of pro­vin­cial au­ton­omy,” he said. But Le­gault rolled with the punches, show­ing em­pa­thy, too — par­tic­u­larly for Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley’s re­al­ity of hav­ing en­ergy re­sources to sell, but no way to get more of it to mar­ket be­cause of the stall on the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line. That sit­u­a­tion has plunged the oil­patch into cri­sis and Notley wants help from Ot­tawa. Que­bec faces a sim­i­lar “stranded en­ergy” predica­ment with its hy­dro­elec­tric sur­pluses, which Le­gault is try­ing to ped­dle east, west and south. Hy­dro-Québec’s prob­lem is get­ting new power lines ap­proved in the United States. He said he wants to make On­tario an of­fer it can’t refuse: cheap clean power as an al­ter­na­tive to spend­ing $20 bil­lion re-tool­ing ag­ing nu­clear gen­er­at­ing plants. “The big ad­van­tage we have is that our en­ergy costs less and is clean,” Le­gault told re­porters. On the other hand, he made no apolo­gies for say­ing no to New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, who asked Le­gault to re­con­sider his re­fusal to con­sider a new pipe­line across Que­bec. On Thurs­day, Le­gault said pipe­lines are no longer so­cially ac­cept­able in Que­bec. “I am not at all em­bar­rassed to refuse dirty en­ergy when we of­fer clean en­ergy at a com­pet­i­tive price,” Le­gault said. “I un­der­stand the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue in Que­bec,” Higgs re­sponded. At her own news con­fer­ence, Notley re­minded the other prov­inces, in­clud­ing Que­bec — which re­ceive equal­iza­tion pay­ments — that much of that wealth comes from Al­berta oil, so her problems are also theirs. In fact, on the same day as the con­fer­ence, Al­berta pur­chased ads in Que­bec me­dia, in­clud­ing the Mon­treal Gazette, say­ing delays in the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion are cost­ing Cana­di­ans $80 mil­lion a day. Le­gault said he gets the mes­sage. He, too, wants to make Que­bec richer so it no longer re­quires the $12 bil­lion it gets a year in equal­iza­tion. “My long-term ob­jec­tive is to be as rich as the rest of Canada and I felt sup­port for hy­dro sales, from Man­i­toba, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, New­found­land,” Le­gault said. While Le­gault walked out the door with a smile, the same can­not be said for On­tario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. They ar­rived gun­ning for a fight with Trudeau over the car­bon tax and they got it. Con­spic­u­ously ab­sent at the joint closing news con­fer­ence with Trudeau and the other first min­is­ters, Ford ripped into Trudeau on his way out. He ac­cused Trudeau of “try­ing to move the goal­posts” on the amount of green­house gas emis­sions he ex­pects On­tario to elim­i­nate, from 30 per cent to a higher fig­ure. “What I was told by the prime minister is that is no longer the case, af­ter ev­ery­one signed on to 30 per cent, some will carry more wa­ter than other prov­inces,” Ford said. Trudeau’s re­sponse was sting­ing. “He thinks we should make pol­lu­tion free again,” Trudeau said. “That is not some­thing I agree on. If any­one is mov­ing the goal­posts, it is Premier Ford.”


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with a ju­bi­lant Premier François Le­gault at the first min­is­ters meet­ing Fri­day.

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