Premiers squab­bled with one an­other more than with PM

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - FIRST MINISTERS’ MEETING - CAMP­BELL CLARK

It looked for a while like a lot of premiers were go­ing to band to­gether to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But it was no united front. They dis­agreed among them­selves more than with the feds.

Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe came roar­ing into the first min­is­ters’ meet­ing in Mon­treal in­sist­ing an oil cri­sis might be the coun­try’s top pri­or­ity, and three prov­inces came in­sist­ing they’d put a stop to fed­eral car­bon taxes.

But for ev­ery pri­or­ity put for­ward by any two or three prov­inces, from oil-sec­tor help to pro­mot­ing pipe­lines to com­pen­sa­tion for hous­ing asy­lum seek­ers, there were other prov­inces who didn’t agree, or didn’t care.

And there was a di­vide be­tween premiers of those oil­pro­duc­ing prov­inces and some of the oth­ers – no­tably Que­bec’s François Le­gault.

Ms. Notley’s big mis­sion here was to get all of the fed­er­a­tion to agree that the top eco­nomic threat to the coun­try is dis­counted Al­berta oil prices ex­ac­er­bated by a lack of suf­fi­cient pipe­lines and trans­porta­tion – and to be seen de­mand­ing that Ot­tawa help.

Mr. Trudeau agreed it’s a cri­sis and said Ot­tawa is look­ing at op­tions – but Mr. Le­gault wasn’t sym­pa­thetic. He ar­gued he’s got the same prob­lem with un­de­vel­oped hy­dro­elec­tric­ity that Que­bec would like to sell.

Those oil prov­inces want more pipe­lines, and New Brunswick’s new Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Premier, Blaine Higgs, has been call­ing for the re­vival of the now­can­celled En­ergy East pipe­line pro­ject from Al­berta to Saint John – but Mr. Le­gault said no way.

There’s no “so­cial ac­cep­tance” for a new oil pipe­line across Que­bec, he said – adding that he’s “not shy about re­fus­ing dirty en­ergy.”

Ouch. That’s not go­ing to cre­ate in­ter­provin­cial unity. In truth, there wasn’t that much from the start.

Mr. Le­gault’s pri­or­ity was ask­ing for com­pen­sa­tion for pro­vid­ing ser­vices for asy­lum seek­ers; On­tario Premier Doug Ford took a sim­i­lar view, al­though he missed the part of the talks that dealt with the is­sue, but the other premiers didn’t re­ally care. Man­i­toba’s Brian Pal­lis­ter wanted to talk about in­ter­provin­cial trade bar­ri­ers, but most of the oth­ers seemed to have other things on their minds.

The premiers never joined to­gether for a full-court press on Mr. Trudeau. The prov­inces that came in ask­ing for money from Ot­tawa mostly left say­ing the PM was se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing their re­quest. Ev­ery­one wanted some­thing, but not the same things. Ev­ery­one wanted to talk about the econ­omy, but their econ­omy.

Mr. Ford came out blast­ing at Mr. Trudeau’s car­bon taxes – but the gist of his com­plaint was that On­tario is be­ing asked to re­duce emis­sions by a greater per­cent­age than other prov­inces. In other words, he doesn’t want to pick up the slack for Al­berta.

Mr. Ford in­sisted that “the goal­posts got changed” on cli­mate tar­gets – ac­cus­ing Mr. Trudeau of sud­denly telling his prov­ince it had to cut emis­sions by more than what was pre­vi­ously set.

It was an ag­gres­sive at­tempt to cast Mr. Trudeau as pick­ing on On­tario – but it sowed con­fu­sion with his chief ally in the fight against car­bon taxes, Mr. Moe.

Canada has a na­tional tar­get to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions by 30 per cent be­low 2005 lev­els by 2030. But at past meet­ings, premiers had ac­cepted the no­tion that some prov­inces will cut more than oth­ers – Al­berta, for ex­am­ple, was never go­ing to meet the 30-per-cent mark. But On­tario, un­der the pre­vi­ous Liberal gov­ern­ment, had pledged to make deeper 37-per-cent cuts un­til Mr. Ford’s gov­ern­ment low­ered the tar­gets.

Sud­denly, it was Mr. Ford com­plain­ing that On­tario had to pick up slack for prov­inces that haven’t cut their emis­sions – and Mr. Trudeau, be­hind close doors, re­torted that if some prov­inces didn’t do more, it would mean shut­ting down the oil sands.

And com­i­cally, as Mr. Moe joined him in ac­cus­ing Mr. Trudeau of “mov­ing the goal­posts” on emis­sions tar­gets, he pro­vided pre­cisely the op­po­site ar­gu­ment: While Mr. Ford com­plained it is un­fair to ask one prov­ince to cut more than an­other, Mr. Moe in­sisted it is un­fair to ask a re­source prov­ince such as his to cut as much as oth­ers.

In the end, Mr. Trudeau wasn’t en­gulfed by a con­fronta­tion with the premiers. Their goals were so di­vided they never made him their com­mon tar­get.

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