Ford stresses na­tional unity

On­tario pre­miere try­ing to dial back the ten­sion in his re­la­tion­ship with PM

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - MIA RAB­SON

OTTAWA — On­tario Premier Doug Ford is try­ing to play the part of Canada’s peace­maker, ask­ing his coun­ter­parts in Ottawa and in other prov­inces to turn down the heated rhetoric and find a way to get along.

“We just have to calm the tem­per­a­ture,” he said.

“I can’t em­pha­size it enough. We have to stick to­gether as a coun­try and send the mes­sage to the rest of the world that we’re Canada and we’re ready to move for­ward.”

Ford him­self was try­ing to dial back the ten­sion in his re­la­tion­ship with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, whom he met in Ottawa Friday morn­ing for the first time since Trudeau made at­tack­ing Ford a key part of his re-elec­tion bid last month.

“It’s pol­i­tics,” Ford shrugged when asked whether he car­ried any grudges or wanted an apol­ogy from Trudeau.

The two lead­ers were calm and cor­dial as they shook hands be­fore their of­fi­cial dis­cus­sion and were even crack­ing jokes about Ford’s re­cent rev­e­la­tion that he is try­ing to learn French. Does Trudeau know any teach­ers? Ford asked. Yes, and I even used to be one, Trudeau told Ford. But I’m a bit busy these days.

“We’re ob­vi­ously not go­ing to agree on ev­ery­thing, but the things that we do agree on, I look for­ward to work­ing (on) re­spect­fully, col­lab­o­ra­tively and co-op­er­a­tively, in ways that are go­ing to ben­e­fit the peo­ple of On­tario and, in­deed, right across the coun­try,” Trudeau said.

When Ford came out of the meet­ing al­most an hour later, he was all smiles.

“I thought it was a phe­nom­e­nal meet­ing, I re­ally did,” Ford said.

That was a far cry from the sen­ti­ment last week af­ter Saskatchew­an Premier Scott Moe walked out of the same of­fice scowl­ing. Moe called his meet­ing with Trudeau “dis­ap­point­ing,” with no signs the two could find any­thing to agree on.

But where Moe went into the meet­ing with de­mands for Trudeau to pause the fed­eral car­bon tax in Saskatchew­an and change the equal­iza­tion for­mula for trans­fers to pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments, Ford went in promis­ing to dis­cuss only is­sues where he and the prime min­is­ter had com­mon ground.

“There’s a lot of ar­eas that we can agree on,” he said.

Like Moe, Ford is chal­leng­ing Ottawa in court over the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to im­pose a car­bon tax on any province with­out an equiv­a­lent sys­tem, but the car­bon tax didn’t come up in his con­ver­sa­tion with Trudeau. Nei­ther did Trudeau’s de­ci­sion to al­low mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments the au­thor­ity to ban hand­guns.

In­stead Ford and Trudeau talked about help­ing Toronto ex­pand its sub­way sys­tem, as well as in­vest­ments in health care and build­ing On­tario’s first French-lan­guage uni­ver­sity. That lat­ter dis­cus­sion alone is a sign the two gov­ern­ments are mov­ing be­yond past in­sults as the fed­eral Lib­er­als stoked anger against the Ford gov­ern­ment when it ini­tially scrapped plans for the uni­ver­sity.

They also dis­cussed the idea of a na­tional phar­ma­care pro­gram to help pay for pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions as part of Canada’s universal health-care sys­tem. Trudeau promised in the elec­tion cam­paign to take the next steps to­ward a na­tional universal phar­ma­care pro­gram but needs to ne­go­ti­ate with each province be­cause health care is a pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion.

Ford has in­vited all the premiers to Toronto Dec. 2 for a meet­ing to dis­cuss fed­eral-pro­vin­cial co-op­er­a­tion while Trudeau leads a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. He sug­gested Friday he will push all the premiers to be more co-op­er­a­tive at that meet­ing.

Ford said Friday he has a great re­la­tion­ship with most other premiers and is also push­ing Trudeau to find com­pro­mises with Al­berta and Saskatchew­an, where eco­nomic anx­i­eties are high as the in­ter­na­tional fight against cli­mate change threat­ens their fos­sil-fuel in­dus­tries.

“I did men­tion to the PM that we do have to lis­ten to the con­cerns of the peo­ple out west,” he said. “They’re hurt­ing out there.”

A year ago Ford was in­cluded with most of the other pro­vin­cial con­ser­va­tive premiers and fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive Leader Andrew Scheer on the cover of a Maclean’s mag­a­zine where the group was dubbed “The Re­sis­tance.” That op­po­si­tion was largely about Trudeau’s cli­mate and en­ergy poli­cies, in­clud­ing the car­bon tax.

In June, Ford was among six con­ser­va­tive premiers who wrote to Trudeau to de­mand he fix or scrap bills C-48, and C-69, ban­ning oil tankers from north­ern B.C. ports and over­haul­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal re­views for ma­jor projects like mines and pipe­lines.

ADRIAN WYLD THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ford and Trudeau were calm and cor­dial as they shook hands be­fore their of­fi­cial dis­cus­sion.

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