National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Maura For­rest

MON­TREAL• Af­ter days of spec­u­la­tion and pre­dic­tions of the most ac­ri­mo­nious meet­ing in years, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fourth an­nual gath­er­ing with all pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial premiers came off with­out any ma­jor hitches — or ma­jor re­sults.

“This meet­ing was a chance to dis­cuss our com­mon pri­or­i­ties, like the need to grow the Cana­dian econ­omy and to cre­ate good, well-paid jobs for the mid­dle class,” Trudeau said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence Fri­day evening.

Trudeau had promised dur­ing the 2015 elec­tion to hold an­nual first min­is­ters’ meet­ings, a change from the for­mer Harper gov­ern­ment’s prac­tice. But with a grow­ing cho­rus of pro­vin­cial premiers who op­pose the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on is­sues rang­ing from car­bon pric­ing to sup­port for asy­lum seek­ers, it seemed this year’s meet­ing was likely to fea­ture more dis­cord than in years past.

In the days lead­ing up to the meet­ing, re­ports cir­cu­lated that the premiers were un­happy with the prime minister’s agenda, which fo­cused on trade and didn’t ex­plic­itly men­tion is­sues of con­cern to them, in­clud­ing Al­berta’s strug­gling en­ergy sec­tor, fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment leg­is­la­tion or the fed­eral car­bon tax.

But by the end of the day on Fri­day, most premiers said the meet­ings had been “pro­duc­tive,” and seemed to feel their con­cerns had been heard.

“I am pleased about the fact that we had some very fer­tile dis­cus­sion on all the items,” said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs. “So the agenda did re­flect the con­cerns that we had.”

All 14 first min­is­ters ul­ti­mately signed a joint com­mu­niqué that said they had “dis­cussed ways to col­lab­o­rate to help grow the econ­omy and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, re­duce red tape, cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for small and medium-sized busi­ness, and im­prove the ev­ery­day lives of Cana­di­ans.”

Still, there was lit­tle tan­gi­ble progress on any of the prov­inces’ ma­jor con­cerns, in­clud­ing what Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley called a “cri­sis in the oil­patch.” Last week­end, Notley an­nounced a tem­po­rary 8.7 per cent cut in the prov­ince’s oil pro­duc­tion, an at­tempt to ad­dress dis­counts in Al­berta oil prices caused by a lack of trans­porta­tion ca­pac­ity.

“We def­i­nitely raised the pro­file of the is­sue. We made it very clear what we are look­ing for. I think there’s will­ing­ness to look at it, but we don’t have the an­swer yet. I’ve got to be frank on that,” Notley told re­porters.

Ahead of the meet­ing, me­dia re­ports sug­gested On­tario Premier Doug Ford might walk out in protest, pos­si­bly tak­ing other premiers with him. But by Fri­day morn­ing, fed­eral and pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials were mak­ing it clear no such plan was in the works. Pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials said it was never Ford’s goal to leave, and he was pleased En­vi­ron­ment Minister Catherine McKenna kept her com­ments brief and left Trudeau to lead the dis­cus­sion on cli­mate change and car­bon pric­ing. “The premiers came to speak with the prime minister,” an of­fi­cial told the Post on back­ground. “They don’t want to be lec­tured.”

Other premiers made it clear that if Ford left, he’d be go­ing alone. “I will be here un­til the meet­ing is fin­ished, push­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for ac­tion that will lead to more jobs in Saskatchewan,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe tweeted Fri­day morn­ing.

Ford touched off an­other small skir­mish later in the day, when he told re­porters Trudeau had changed his ex­pec­ta­tions on cli­mate ac­tion by say­ing that On­tario should do more than cut its own green­house-gas emis­sions by 30 per cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030, in line with the fed­eral tar­get. Ford claims his cli­mate plan, re­vealed last month, will meet the 30 per cent goal.

“I’d just like to know where’s the new goal­post? Where is it now?” he said.

But the fight dwin­dled to noth­ing al­most as soon as it had started. Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil said Trudeau hadn’t changed any­thing.

“He didn’t say they had to do more,” he told re­porters. “What he said was some will ex­ceed more.”

Fed­eral of­fi­cials said there was noth­ing new in Ot­tawa’s po­si­tion that the Ford gov­ern­ment isn’t do­ing enough to fight cli­mate change. McKenna told re­porters the On­tario gov­ern­ment has “no in­ten­tion of meet­ing a tar­get.”

“Premier Ford put for­ward a plan that is a step back­wards,” Trudeau said. “Canada’s tar­gets are na­tional tar­gets, even though the premier may wish to play games with num­bers. If any­one is mov­ing the goal­posts, it’s Premier Ford.”

On trade, which Ot­tawa had high­lighted as the main fo­cus of this year’s meet­ing, there were few signs of progress. Man­i­toba Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter, who’d gone into the meet­ing call­ing for a “uni­fied com­mit­ment” to elim­i­nate in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers, emerged to re­port that the prov­inces had not reached a con­sen­sus to end lim­its on the per­sonal trans­port of al­co­hol be­tween prov­inces, though nine prov­inces have agreed.

But if the meet­ing was thin on re­sults, it was equally light on the­atrics. Over­all, a gath­er­ing that seemed on Thurs­day at risk of be­ing de­railed by dis­grun­tled premiers ended with lit­tle fan­fare or open hos­til­ity on Fri­day evening. Ear­lier in the day, Prince Ed­ward Is­land Premier Wade MacLauch­lan had pre­dicted that no premiers would walk out, in­ject­ing a lit­tle per­spec­tive into a day other­wise con­sumed by po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing.

“We are not in an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis in this coun­try to­day,” he said. “We know what the chal­lenges are for our coun­try. … We know what our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are. And frankly, we know how we can work to­gether and move for­ward.”


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ad­dresses the open­ing ses­sion of Fri­day’s first min­is­ters meet­ing in Mon­treal, which did not see a walk­out by Doug Ford de­spite ear­lier threats.

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